Tuesday 9 September 2014

By Bus It's Hard; Going From Chard [2]

Zapraszamy do naszych
polskich czytelników
Pre-planned parking in Chard was scheduled for Bath Street car park to allow Mrs fbb to augment the grocery stock from Sainsburys, a retailer not available close to sunny Seaton. Her excitement was palpable (?) but when Streetview viewed the street the store was still in the hands of Somerfield.
The car park also offered other essentials! What was really heart-warming was the effusive welcome to the visiting motorist provided by the town and Somerset County.
And there was fbb, looking forward to a bit of racing and reckless driving in the car park. Presumably the car would have to be towed away if it had a flat tyre. Whoops, no trailers. Problems all round! And what would happen if fbb was sinful enough to "stay for more than"?
Truly frightening.

Charges were reasonable ...
... but the arbitrarily adjustable penalty charges might add to the cost. An fbb quaking with fear crept in terror out of the car park, only to be reminded of the dire consequences of ...
... well; living and breathing. Anyway ...
Overall, it's probably safer to go by bus; certainly less intimidating.

First call was to the Tourist information office to seek out public transport information. There is no other source of bus timetable leaflets or booklets in the town. The TIC is in a gloomy little office off the foyer of the Guildhall.
 The lady did not swoon when fbb asked for bus timetables.

And there was some!
The excellent and ubiquitous East Devon book would furnish details of service 30 (Axminster Chard Taunton) as would the current Buses of Somerset booklet. Sadly, the edition in the TiC is NOT the current edition as it is dated April 2013 but (with an apologies label above the rack) actually valid from April 2014!

So three loud and reverberating raspberries to Buses of Somerset. Obviously they have no sense of Chardian Customer Care. There is a slight and fortuitous positive from this shameless incompetence; as the service 30 timetable is the same in past and present books.
The current booklet started on 27th July (2014!). But not a good enough excuse! And, no surprise at all, nothing from Somerset County because they don't produce anything.

But what about a leaflet for Stagecoach 99 and 99A?

"We've only got one leaflet because Stagecoach don't send us any."

"Have you tried asking?"

"Oh yes, many times, but to no avail," was the gist of the reply.
Whilst a modicum of sodium chloride may be taken with that last reply, it is still totally unacceptable that Stagecoach should fail to keep its advertising stocked. In May 2007, Stagecoach bought Cooks Coaches of Wellington (near Taunton) and a significant network of services, both commercial and tendered. Clearly the deal was not the money spinner that Uncle Brian's lads expected and only two of the original Taunton services remain. Service 20 (infrequent and tendered) between Taunton, Honiton and Seaton and the aforementioned 99/99A via Chard.
What is left of Cooks network is squeezed unceremoniously onto the Stagecoach Devon network map in a crude diagrammatic form, unhelpful to any potential passengers.
The map is wrong as well! The 99 and 99A rejoin at Crewkerne becoming one hourly service from there to Yeovil.
To be fair to the TIC, the lady offered to photocopy her remaining 99/99A leaflet for a 10p charge. Understandable, but very, very mean. Tourist Information Centres are there to provide, guess what, information for tourists. The cost of a few photocopied leaflets for one of the two main bus services through the town is utterly trivial and recovering the odd 10p will not make any measurable difference to the TIC's finances. So why be unhelpful?

Of course (and here we go again) it's all available on-line. Even there we find nonsense.
Well, there's a pretty kettle of fish. Stagecoach doesn't operate any buses between Yeovil and Taunton! There are two separate services which, amazingly, have the same PDF timetable.
When fbb belly-ached about this nonsense earlier this year, he was upbraided by a commentator who stridently told him that DfT "guidance" was "instruction" and bus operators had to comply or face death by a thousand red hot exhaust pipes.


Whatever the DfT may "advise" for bus service registrations, (the legally binding document that defines every bus service and on which operators can be judged, fined and removed from the road), the DfT has no authority whatsoever on the presentation of printed or on-line bus timetables. Even the poor-quality traveline does not kowtow to such nonsense. Indeed, there is no legal requirement for a bus operator to print or distribute any timetables whatsoever. So, for the sake of your passengers, stop confusing them!

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck it probably is a duck. If it's a through service than stop trying to pretend it isn't.
Stagecoach Devon General Manager?
Possible? Or is it a duck?

So where are we? We have obtained information for First's service 30 and have failed, on the day, to obtain anything from Stagecoach. OK we might pay the 10p, but we shouldn't have to.

Beyond belief!

And service 14?

So where are the bus stops? And what do they tell us?

We will find out tomorrow.

 Next bus blog : Wednesday 10th September 


  1. Stagecoach actually bought Cooks to get back the Exeter Park and Ride routes Cooks had won. Cooks were never exactly hugely profitable as it's hardly a hugely profitable network area.

  2. Sorry, FBB, but challenging the through service "nonsense" represents a major risk to any operator. It is a pragmatic solution to a problem which, if found guilty, could result in action being taken against the operator's licence. And because several groups place the same Transport Managers on more than one licence, any action could extend to those licences too. A commissioner-imposed fine of £2000 per bus would create a cost of about £1.6m on the Stagecoach fleet. It simply isn't worth the risk.
    However, I agree that the registration-led service inquiry system used by Stagecoach - and in recent weeks introduced by Arriva too - is not always the best way to present timetable information to the public. But by using one database, it should eliminate differences between bus running boards, roadside displays and operator and third party websites.

  3. Correct the DfT have no power over publicity but they do over the legislation & interpretation of drivers hours legislation and in this case their 'guidance' states that if an operator (they cannot be held responsible for how external organisations display the information - and Traveline is just as likely to get it completely wrong as right as fbb has previously shown) advertises a single service then it will be considered to be a single service for drivers hours purposes which will mean Euro Hours with all the costs that entails, which in the case of many of these services will result in the service no longer being viable so no through journey. It's daft but no operator is going to risk their license & repute to make a point that they know they will lose over guidance which may not actually be legally valid in the first place if anyone tested it in court, the basis largely being there are many services that are clearly separate services where some journeys are shown as guaranteed through connections without changing vehicle. I'm sure all operators would rather not have to do this but they have to work within the law & guidance they have not that which they would like to have (and no amount of wishing or righteous criticism will alter that).
    That does not however absolve Stagecoach from its decidedly unhelpful new website design not clearly displaying the full timetable summary when offering it on the website (even if they listed them together as 2 services) but this is the same with parallel services not being listed together even when they are on the same timetable pdf. When Stagecoach redesigned their website it made it much harder & more complicated to simply find timetables (whilst offering journey planning options that I really struggle to get to work properly) than previously, which is pretty clever given the original site was hardly a model of simplicity & clarity before, just like the Arriva redesign is hardly an improvement on what was offered before (which could be glitchy but fairly simple to follow when it worked). You can only assume that the people involved in these processes never actually have to (or try to) use their own sites for normal enquiries to spot these issues.

  4. Apologies - the 0846 comment is not from Shieldsman, some kind of Google mix up when I published the comment.

  5. Is the DFT guidance available for all to read on the interwebs?

  6. Reply to Shieldsman 0846 (even it if it wasn't Shieldsman). The benefits of a single database for everything is that, with no effort whatsoever, everything can be equally misleading. Horses for course is an ESSENTIAL principle in delivering timetable information to the public. And despite all that has been said above presenting unsplit split timetables to the public is SIMPLY NOT a requirement of the D(a)ft - advisory or otherwise. Bus companies have no need to do it and SHOULD STOP!

  7. Before we get tangled up here . . . . . the term Department of (for) Transport is, I suspect, being used here as a "shorthand" term. It is government policy to implement EC legislation, however stupid. The phrase "DfT" is better than "to comply with EC legislation we have to show the timetable in several parts. We think it's stupid, as do our Government, but we have to do it, and hang the consequences. However, rest assured that the buses will operate through, through fares are charged, and passengers may remain on the bus (unless they'd like to have a stretch." There'd be no room for the times!!

    I haven't used the Stagecoach website yet, but the Arriva one is awful . . . how in Gawd's name does one find a pdf? At this rate I'll be forced to use Traveline (and that WOULD be tragic!

  8. But we DON'T have to show the timetable in several parts. We MIGHT have to register the timetable in several parts but that could be challenged. It is "interpretation". We are only playing this silly game because we (nationally) or we (bus industry) are too gutless to challenge it. France often says "piff paff pouff" to EEC legistation.

  9. The whole "guaranteed connection" business is indeed a confusing nonsense but at least we seem to have moved away from the earlier practice - and even bigger nonsense - of changing the service number as well.
    And to "Anonymous" above - surely this is our own way of saying "piff paff pouff" to EU regulations?

  10. Funding to TIC's in Somerset is ZERO. Toursim is the largest component of the Somerset Economy in terms of employment and "the party that supports business" provides ZERO support for the entire sector - having cut it all from April 2011. The TIC where I live (Shepton Mallet) relies on a monthly raffle to keep going and don't have a photocopier. That having been said Stagecoach should provide timetables as indeed First should let Shepton know that Southern National no longer run buses!

  11. The EU regulations merely state that European drivers hours apply to all services over 50kms, this presumably being set at the point above the longest route likely to appear in cities (just as it is in the UK where only a few outer circle services in medium sized cities like Leicester or Coventry push the 50km limit) as once you get out of urban areas in most European countries rural & interurban services are sparse & lower frequencies. The UK is comparatively unusual in the density & frequency of their rural & interurban services across the country. The EU has not, as far as I am aware, made any comment on splitting routes and how they are defined, this was all caused by previous drivers hours cases (against Northumbria, Carlisle to Newcastle, being generally mentioned as the precedent) which defined when & how a service could be considered as separate services for drivers hours purposes and one of the big proofs that this was in fact a single service was that whilst it was registered in sections the timetable did not show any mention of this in the publicity.

    Due to the inability of the UK government to spot the problem & deal with it before this came in (it would have made as much sense to use a more UK definition of a service where passengers can board & alight within 15 miles, or similar, which would have exempted all the problem routes) the DfT was forced to come up with some guidance for UK enforcement agencies on what they defined as a domestic route to fix the problem. Before this guidance, based on previous case law, either the passenger or driver had to alight the bus at the changeover point with issues over through fares and they had to be advertised as separate services. Following campaigning by operators (led by Western Greyhound) & Bus User Groups the DfT released guidance to operators that as long as the service was advertised as separate with guaranteed connections then they could be considered under domestic hours. It was never entirely clear on route numbers as to whether they had to be different on each leg and most operators opted for the safer option of different route numbers for each leg of a route, Stagecoach took a different route and in most cases retained the same route number for all legs and slowly, as nothing has happened to them over this, other operators have started to drift back to this practice of the same route numbers but it is neither official or universal that this is happening. It is a mess, largely of the UK making, and operators are doing their best to accommodate this as best they can, some better than others.

  12. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the DfT “guidance”, I am inclined to think that having different service numbers for the various registrations would actually facilitate a simplification of the explanations given to the travelling public. The operator can then put a note worded something like “Buses continue as service 99A to Taunton” at an appropriate position in the timetable. This avoids the need to use the word “connection”, which in my opinion always implies a change of vehicle. The Stagecoach notice quoted is certainly confusing, and refers to something as a “connection”, when in fact it is not.

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