Sunday 30 November 2014

Loose Ends?

A Poke at Stoke
It was way, way back in July (2014!) that First Bus introduced a brand new network in the Potteries. Almost every week since, the local paper ("The Sentinel") has included articles about dissatisfaction, petitions and all round opprobrium for First Bus. "Albert Biggle can't get to his pigeon loft anymore; he's 107 and fought the Kaiser when he was only 7." etc. But there have been serious concerns and the hard-done-by minority have been far more vocal (apparently!) than the satisfied or apathetic majority.

So, from today, First Bus launch a NEW NEW NETWORK barely 5 months after the last new network. fbb is somewhat ignorant of the Potteries in detail but will report in due course. There has also been an unexpected rise in competition in the area.

But this second substantial change does provoke a question.

Is it wise to undertake these massive network-wide re-orgainsations? Two previous attempts (Southampon and Portsmouth) resulted in major changes within 12 months. We Brits are averse to change, so perhaps a softly softly approach is better with a planned progressive revision over, say, a six or twelve month period?

And what happens if this latest re-jig doesn't work?
James Young squared!
Sir James Young Simpson, 1st Baronet (7 June 1811 to 6 May 1870) was a Scottish obstetrician, born in Bathgate, and an important figure in the history of medicine. Simpson discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform and successfully introduced it for general medical use.At the age of 28 he was appointed to the Chair of Medicine and Midwifery at the University of Edinburgh.

Some of us have heard of him. But few of us have heard of his near namesake.
James Young (13 July 1811 to 13 May 1883) was a multi-talented chemist and industrialist who prefected a technique for extracting paraffin from oil bearing shale. The first foray into fracking!

The production of liquid and solid paraffin wax from coal formed the subject of his patent dated 17 October 1850. In 1850 Young & Meldrum and Edward William Binney entered into partnership under the title of E.W. Binney & Co. at Bathgate and E. Meldrum & Co. at Glasgow; their works at Bathgate were completed in 1851 and became the first truly commercial oil-works in the world.

So to launch their new vehicles for the Edinburgh to Bathgate services (there's a clue in there, somewhere!) , these two honorable gents appear emblazoned on the back end of a bus. Here's the front ...
... with the usual gaggle of the great and good that accompanies such events. Left to Right: Michael Connarty MP, Graeme Morrice MP, Paul McGowan MD of First Scotland East, Cllr Tony Boyle & Cllr Alex Davidson

And here is the back end ...
... partly hidden behind a group of excited schoolchildren.

Left to Right : P7 pupils Serena Crossan, Elise Petrie, Ciaran Moran and Jay Findlay find out more about the area's Pioneers with First Bus.

"Look interested for the camera or you'll be in detention tomorrow!"

The new vehicles will operate on the following services:-

Service 20 every 30 minutes between Whitburn, Bathgate and Broxburn with one service an hour extending to Edinburgh

Service 21 every 30 minutes between Fauldhouse, Bathgate, Blackburn, Livingston and Broxburn with one service an hour extending to Edinburgh

Service 22 every 30 minutes between Harthill, Whitburn, Blackburn, Livingston and Broxburn with one service an hour extending to Edinburgh. 

Another First Bus livery for our rapidly expanding collection.
Will They or Won't They?
There have been continuing rumours about First Bus in Plymouth. One minute it's pull back, reduce, wind down; the next, positive developments are announced. Service 6, for example was started in direct competition with Plymouth Citybus, charging a cheap fare of £1. See "It Takes no Efford at all to get to Effort" (read again).
First have just introduced a Sunday service and extended part of the Monday to Saturday frequency to Sainsburys, just along the road from the previous terminus.
The stop is here, on the correct side of the road for the store, with Sainsburys nestling in a deceptively bucolic wooded copse.
The £1 flat fare still applies, all the way. Vehicles are unchanged.
And for many years Western National and successors First ran buses between Tavistock and Callington ...
... as in the 1999 service from the Great Britain Bus Timetable.
This traditional route was lost under retendering to Western Greyhound and then Plymouth Citybus ...
 ... leaving First with a return school journey only. It appears that First's planners have decided to use that school bus to bring back "their" 79; with a difference.
It runs Monday to Friday only between those school journeys, hence the early finish. It leaves Tavistock 5 minutes before CityBus, does not do all the twiddles via Calstock, Metherell and Harrowbarrow ...
... and thus takes 27 minutes rather than 46 or 54. Surely this must hurt the finances of the GoAhead version?

First Plymouth ain't dead yet - well not quite. First's web site, however is a bit moribund. As of yesterday there was no mention of 79 in the PDF timetables list under the general heading of "Timetable Booklets".
No map either.
The HTML timetable was, however in place.
The Stagecoach Gold Rush - Devon Style
It was just over a year ago that Stagecoach launched their Gold service between Torquay and Plymouth and between Torquay and Dartmouth. fbb was well impressed with the celebrations and the gold biscuits with edible labels. His original blog is (here). Susequently doubled in frequency to Plymouth with the Datmouth service being a shuttle from Totnes, the service has obviously done well. Indeed done better than the First bus equivalent which faded gracelessly from the scene soon after Stagecoach started.

Flagship Stagecoach Gold bus service carried it’s one-millionth passenger during week commencing 24th November

Stagecoach Gold runs up to every half hour between Torquay and Plymouth, 6 days a week and up to every hour on Sundays

An anytime day return between Torquay and Plymouth is just £7.20, and between Torquay and Totnes is only £4.90

100% of Gold customers would use the service again and recommend it to a friend*

This time, the PR brought out, yet again, the local Great and Good ...
... presenting a prize to the lucky millionth passenger. She was awarded an annual season ticket for the service worth £940.
Kirsty Fawthorpe, who uses the service on a daily basis, said “"I use Gold to commute to work every day to Totness (Whoopsie! Stagecoach PR gurus really should know that Totnes only has one "s" - bad housepoint!) and think it's a fantastic service - really comfy seats and, of course, the free wi-fi is great. When I heard I'd been selected as winner of this competition I was absolutely over the moon - it was a lovely surprise!"

Well, what a surprise. The millionth passenger was a well satisfied regular user of the service. It was good thing they didn't get grumpy old Ethel Figgis from Paignton who would have said, "it's too (expletive deleted) expensive. I can't afford it more than once a month. It used to be sixpence when I were first married to Arnold, bless his dear departed soul. You can keep your prize."

And young Kirsty uses he free wi-fi as well. What a paean of passenger perfection!

Cynical, fbb; surely not?
 Next bus blog : Monday 1st December 

Saturday 29 November 2014

Red Arrows : PS

fbb in Trouble Yet Again!
He forgot the Red Arrow experience in Tyne and Wear!
"Northern" originated in the early 1900s when Gateshead and District Tramways asked Parliament's permission to extend their Tramway, which finished at Low Fell, to Chester-le-Street. Parliament denied this, so the directors decided to set up a motor bus operation instead. Hence the Northern General Transport Company was formed and its first depot was built at Picktree Lane, Chester-le-Street in 1913.
Of the company's many claims to fame, two are illustrated by the picture above. It was the only significant non-London user of the Routemaster; and its vehicles oft extolled passers by to "Shop at Binns"
Binns Store - 1909

Binns became part of "House of Fraser", no longer a feature of the front of GoAhead deckers.

Back in Great Britain Bus Timetable days (circa 1998) GoAhead had gone ahead with its revamp of the "Northern" bus company, serving areas south of the Tyne. It was part of the UK that was not well known to fbb, so recording changes was far from easy.

Tradional routes, like the all-stops 194 to Easington Lane were accompanied by limited stop versions, like the hourly X94.
click on the image to enlarge

A bit like Trent, GoAhead began an extensive programme of route branding. 
There would be loads and loads of them. fbb's favourite is "The Lambton Worm", as previously blogged. See "The Wear-side Worm of Washington" (read again). This re-branding was not just about silly names and a coat of paint; it was accompanied by some dramatic service changes.

Thus it was that the service to Easington Lane became "The Red Arrows"; note plural!
Four buses evey hour in 1998 (only one from Newcastle) become every ten minutes (from Newcastle) in 2014 with a further service from Heworth. Direct comparisons are not easy because of changes elsewhere in the network but by every measures it's a lot better now than in 1998.
Double decks provide the bulk of the service although previous versions offered single deck buses to Sunderland and a higher frequency between Newcastle and Washington.
In a re-jig, Sunderland to Washington remained as Arrows but turned silver!
Today's "Red" double decks are of very high qualiy.
Fares discounts are available via the group's national "smart card", The Key ...
... which, sadly, does not cover single tickets, just day and "seasons". Bus companies and/or local authorities really do need to look long and hard at systems similar to London's Oyster. [whilst being aware of the financial dangers of the new "touchy-feely" bank cards!]

Thanks to a correspondent earlier in the week for reminding fbb of this particular aspect of omnibological archery.
And Number Six!
Red Arrow Coaches operated private hires, tours, holidays and at least one stage carriage service in Huddersfield until 2008, when the company closed down. The 384 bus route ... now operated by Stotts.
The business was absorbed by Yelloway. In case you are mystified, that is not the Yelloway of fond and happy memories which passed away in 1988.
Yes, it is a model!

The rights to the name were bought by Courtesy Coaches from ovver't Pennines. Their web site claims they are successors to Huddersfield's Red Arrow company.
A London P.S.
When fbb was looking at London Transport's very first red Arrow (April 1966), he searched on-line for some early publicity for the service. His search was fruitless until some days after writing the blog. On-line is an esoteric blog about "E" plates. The were the stove enamelled metal squares that were bolted to London's busy bus stops.
People collect these. fbb has/had one which reads, enigmatically, "Southdown Gossops Green".

But on the E-plates site is a selection of Red Arrow publicity viewable (here). From this site here is an extract of a leaflet for the first 500 ...
... and a piccy of the cumbersome and unreliable tunstiles.
Here endeth the Red Arrows blogs!
 Next bus blog : Sunday 30th November 

Friday 28 November 2014

Red Arrows Reach All-over [5]

 No 4 from December 1st
According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia ...

Services commenced at short notice on 9 October 2012 after Countryliner went into administration the day before and took over their West Sussex operations. The Directors of Sussex Bus also are directors of several other companies involved with public transportation, broadly under the banner "Heritage Coaches".

The history of Countryliner is tortuous in the extreme with a series of financial crises and hearings before the Traffic Commissioners ...
... but from the maelstrom emerged Sussex Bus. Its owners, in turn, faced a Traffic Commissioners' enquiry as reported in the local paper.

Issues were raised over the number 31 Sussex Bus route serving Bolnore, Haywards Heath, Uckfield and Heathfield, which was reported as running early, late or not at all on more than one occasion. There were also safety concerns over other buses. One had a cracked windscreen and a fuel tank leak, while another, believed to be a school bus operating in Burgess Hill, had been driven for about 200km with a faulty accelerator.

Reports also indicated that passengers were concerned about two frightening vehicle fires on buses in service, one near Pyecombe in March 2013 one on the A23 in September 2013. A third fire on a private hire vehicle occurred in October 2013.

Indaunted by these setbacks, the company started two Crawley Town services from 1st September this year under the branding "Crawley Reds".
These served estates to the west and south of the town centre, half hourly in each direction, in direct competition with Metrobus.
Metrobus service 1 runs from Bewbush and Gossops Green cross-town to Southgate and Broadfield.
Metrobus runs top quality vehicles on its Crawley locals ...
... whereas Crawley Reds bring the usual crop of second-hand darts to their intended passengers.
Y248 NLK (above), for example ...
... saw extensive service with Metroline before being sold to Ensign. It was bought by Countryliner and taken over by Sussex Bus before moving to Crawley.

Two changes to the Crawley Reds timetable happen from Monday December 1st. The CR1 and CR2 disappear and become absorbed into a new CR3 running every 15 minutes. Despite publicity which mentions CR4 it would appear that the route via Southgate and Broadfield is abandoned.

Also from that date a brand new route starts up.
Well there's a surprise. London's former Red Arrow 500 route is revived in Crawley!
Tilgate - Crawley - Three Bridges
Maidenbower - Crabbett Park
Manor Royal - Gatwick Airport
Poking its little rubicund nose into another Crawley Suburb, this competes with Metrobus route 2 to Tilgate ...
... and with Fastway 10 to Gatport Airwick.
Metrobus 20 (every 30 minutes) and 100 (every 30 minutes) also link Crawley with Gatwick; that totals 16 buses an hour. On frequency alone, it is hard to think that the Red Arrow will have much impact.
But how do fares compare?
Metrobus' fare on the 10, for example, is £2.20. Will Crawley folk be willing to sacrifice frequency for 20p? Doubtful. The 500 takes 31 minutes; the 10 a mere 19. Presumably the Arrow is excluded from the Fastway guided bus and bus priorities sections.
Hmmm, again.

In view of the chequered history of this operation, you have to wonder what its chances of survival are? Sussex bus watchers report that they are not hopeful of a long term future. As usual, fbb will keep a watching brief.
Western Greyhound Update
Route One, a trade rag, amplifies the current situation.
Staff and unions have been given 100 days’ notice that if a buyer for the business is not found, then it will be closed. A proposed sale of the business around 18 months ago to French group RATP was not progressed. It is understood that the high amount of fleet replacement to meet the January 2015 deadline for full DDA compliance by buses under 7.5-tonnes was the stumbling block. Western Greyhound runs 21 Mercedes-Benz Varios.

The decision comes after a period of poor operation over the summer, caused by severe staff shortages of drivers and fitters. Since then drivers have continued to leave, mainly for rival First Bus.

No real surprises; the article merely confirms he current position in a little more detail.
Sadly, Seaton
Sometimes Suffers
Seafront Sunlessness
But not often : the view on fbb's "constitutional" yesterday at 0945. 
 Next bus blog : Saturday 29th November