Monday 30 November 2015

East Bank Bus Bosses Encounter

The Second Battle of El Alamein (23 October to 11 November 1942) took place near the Egyptian railway halt of El Alamein.
With the Allies victorious, it marked a major turning point in the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery had taken command of the British Eighth Army from General Claude Auchinleck. This victory turned the tide in the North African Campaign and revived the morale of the Allies, being the first major offensive against the Axis since the start of the European war in 1939 in which the Western Allies had achieved a decisive victory.
It brought a particularly Churchillian sound bite:- "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Winnie's wise words might well be a basis for the outcome of fbb's meeting with the Sheffield Bus Partnership publicity team last week. fbb's relationship with such groups means that details must be confidential until any public announcement is made. 

The meeting took place at Olive Grove depot, formerly East Bank Bus Garage ...
... one of three new-builds to accommodate tram-replacement buses. The other two were on Herries Road at Wadsley Bridge ...
... and Greenland Road at Darnall.
These joined Townhead ...
... and Leadmill both on the fringes of the city centre ...
... and both adapted from tram sheds. Of these five, Herries is a warehouse, Leadmill remains in light industrial use in part, Townhead and Greenland have been demolished and First Bus retains only East Bank. Many Sheffield services are worked from the extensive Midland Road depot in Rotherham.

But back to the meeting.

There had been agreement all-round, fbb understands, between operators, consultants and politicians that the Partnership's November revolution was necessary commercially to create a network in the city that makes enough money to justify investment in new vehicles with the now essential wifi stuff, posh seats and other luxuries like engines. There is grudging acceptance that the implementation of the scheme left a lot to be desired, particularly as far as publicity (or lack of it) was concerned. Suggesting that bus service cuts were an "improvement" was undoubtedly an own goal.

The local press, doing its job in printing the worst news rather than the best, is still ready to print derogatory letters, this one from a week ago.

What did you expect? Who seriously believed the Sheffield Bus Partnership, (SBP), when they said they’d been “working together to improve your bus travel”. And just who are the SBP? My heart sank when I read that the discredited First bus company, was one of the participating organisations, and it all became crystal clear. Especially when other partners were revealed to be Sheffield City Council, (surely the Wiggy Bobs of town hall politics), and the insipid SYPTE.

But, prejudices aside, at least they were supposedly working together.

For whom? Not for me or other people at Wisewood or Loxley, that’s for sure. And definitely not for the 5,000 incensed passengers who signed the petition to reverse the vindictive changes.

The SYPTE wants people to complain to the SBP. Don’t! There was never an initial consultation document in the first place. Rather it was an imposition borne of misleading information.
But fbb's observations during last week's visit suggest that the vast majority of Sheffielders have coped well with the changes (although many of them have no choice - car ownership is not as high as in some cities).

And there is a real deep-seated desire to "get it sorted". Horrific road works as part of the "Streets Ahead" project (Streets Chaos project?) have been making things very difficult on some routes. Likewise the annual Yorkshire Water "Digging Up West Street" Christmas show is in full swing.

These are due to end on December 13th, so things can only improve thereafter, we are told.
Emergency registrations are now with the Traffic Commissioners for implementation from 3rd January. These are designed to do some "firefighting". fbb wonders how they will be publicised.

But then what? fbb's lips are sealed, mainly because no major decisions will be taken until the road works are clear. But there are hopeful rumblings of improved publicity (don't hold your breath; although it couldn't get much worse!)

When fbb ran a catering team for childrens' summer camps, a "wise word" in the staff manual said, "treat the local butcher with polite suspicion." We are at the stage of treating the publicity team with "polite suspicion".

Maybe, just maybe, the Partnership will begin to accept the dictionary definition of the word?

A relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal. (Running buses efficiently?)

A business entity in which two or more co-owners contribute resources, share in profits and losses, and are individually liable for the entity's actions. (and for sorting out the mess?)

If the "Partnership" can be tweaked into working properly, or maybe beaten with a huge stick until it does, then things really can only get better.

We can but dream.
Or will it be a nightmare.
Our Northampton correspondent writes:-

I am told, by what the press would call "an informed source", that the new Stagecoach website "might" go live this week to be followed by an "app".

All this and Christmas too!
 Next bus blog : Tuesday 1st December 

Sunday 29 November 2015

Bellicosity in Bristol (2)

What Would Mr Cribb Think Today?
No-one rally knows who Cribb was, and why he had a causeway named after him. The causeway isn't over anything, like a river or a marsh, it's just an ancient road, possibly Roman. The whole area has changed out of all recognition.
There's an M5 with its A4018 access road, there's Filton airfield (now closed) and lots of housing development with much more to come. And then there is the new Cribbs Causeway. Technically the big shopping centre is called "The Mall" and is situated in a sea of retail parks, hypermarkets and entertainment "facilities". The Hamlet of Charlton has gone for ever.

A few reminders of the past history of the area can be found. The Hollywood Tower still stands (top left) ...
... and Pen Park Hole remains although well hidden.
But of course, far more interesting than any of this is the joy and delight to be experienced from a visit to The Mall shopping centre.
Sadly it is too far to go from Seaton for the old folks. 
One more acceptable excitement is the Cribbs Causeway bus station; with the atmosphere of a Shakespearean blasted heath.
It is here where Wessex Buses have chosen to retaliate against the perceived success of First Bus in its services to the University of the West of England (UWE in acronym and Yew-ee in speech) and Bath University.

Recent timetable changes and route number simplification (whereby small numbers apparently attract huge numbers of extra passengers who cannot count to more than 9) have come to benefit (?) the travelling public. The reasonably direct 1 and 2 ...
... now have colour branded buses with tastefully not-quite-matching orange slash.
The timetable leaflet shows a bus every five minutes on a Saturday ...
... but with a halved headway on Monday to Friday.
Shouldn't that read "then every ten minutes on each service"?

Two indirect routes have recently been renumbered 3 and 4 ...
... to "make it easier for passengers" travelling between city centre and Clifton. Lets hope not too many of them take the 3 to their retail therapy and enjoy a time consuming tour of the delights of Avonmouth!
Sadly the rich architectural heritage of the Grain Silo has now been demolished. Surely it should have been a Grade 1 listed building?

At last we get to the point, because whilst fbb was following the horrors of Sheffield, Wessex Bus have started a competitive route from Bristol centre to Cribbs Causeway.
Offering "lower fares" and buses "every 7-10 minutes" ...
... actually every ten with a few extras to Westbury appearing now and then. A correspondent was out bus watching a few days ago and reported that First appeared to be carrying the majority of  customers.
"The One" is, arguably, Weseex's first foray into commercial bus operation in Bristol city, away from tendered work or services associated with the universities and  (service 3 and variants) with Azrec West business area. "The One" will join tendered 622 and 625 (Sundays only) at Cribbs Causeway.
It is probably reasonably easy to make money in the run-up to Spendmas; it will be interesting to see how things progress as the cold winds of January and February whistle across the bleakness of Cribbs Causeway bus station.

Will First enter a fares war, or just wait and see?
fbb dispatched a correspondent to have a look and report back.
His highly subjective and statistically inaccurate comments are as follows:-

The presentation of "The One" is generally very good.
The reliability is less than ideal
      (roadworks, also affecting First, and staff shortages)
Occasional signs of "improper" behaviour to get in front of First
Wessex doing better on Sundays 
       with a 15 min frequency matching First's
 Next bus blog : Monday 30th November 

Saturday 28 November 2015

Bellicosity in Bristol (1)

But First : Fame for fbb.
Stagecoach South West publish a staff bulletin every couple of weeks. The current edition has a report on the launch of Stagecoach Gold last Friday 20th November.
The opening paragraph attracted your noble blogger's attention.
And there, in all its journalistic glory, were word for word extracts from you know who's you know what. fbb knew nothing of this accolade and can now look forward to a substantial cheque from Stagecoach HQ.

Maybe not?

If you missed the full unexpurgted version, the two posts in question are (here) and (here).

But now to news from Brizzle.

The Orange One versus The Red One
Going back a bit, Wessex bus were kings of services to the University of the West of England (UWE), alma mater of fbb's oldest boy (although he did hos stuff at the Bower Ashton site). But a while ago, things became a bit tricky with poor perfomance and the like and First were "invited" (?) to help out. 

First has developed their services to the Filton site ...
... with the recent arrival of flash new vehicles with coloured flash.
Meanwhile along the road in Bath, the two operators run head to head to their University with Wessex intruding into First's comfort zone.
Newcomer Wessex was numbered U18, matching (sort of) First's 18. fbb hasn't tried to understand the Wessex timetable ...
... but it challenges First' near identical service.

First used to be orange ...
... linking the City's two universities. Of course you are nothing in the civic stakes unless you have TWO universities! For a time there was competition from Bristol's Buglers bus business.
First's latest fusillade in the battle is to relaunch its Bath uni route with some razzamatazz ...
... and purple passages in the publicity.
New Service U1 was launched on Saturday 19 September (replacing Service 18) and operates 24 hours a day seven days a week. During the main part of the day the U1 operates every seven minutes ...

... and, for the first time, at peak times double deck buses will operate between the City Centre and University of Bath providing a U1 every three – four minutes.

All the buses on the new U1 have been painted in a distinctive purple colour complete with a new Bath Uni Bus identity. The smart new look will help students easily distinguish which bus is theirs.

The word on the street is that First is whopping Wessex big time in Bath.

Hey ho - the benefits of competition. Lots of empty buses to university Campi?

Just as a passing aside, one of the launch buses is registered KFX 791. It is seen here before Bath uniBus branding was added.
This heritage registration as once carried by a coach ...
... operated by Comfy Lux of Cattistock, taken over by Cawlett, aka the privatised Southern National.

Tomorrow we will take a closer look at Wessex Bus' aggressive (?) response to First's apparent aggressive success at both UWE and Bath.

 Next Bristol bus blog : Sunday 29th November 

Friday 27 November 2015

Surprising Snippets from a Saunter to Sheffiel (2)

Via a Viaduct. Beauty (?) at Bennerley.
The Great Northern Rail Derbyshire and Staffordshire Extension (snappy name eh?) tends to be known as the Derby Friargate line, because, oddly, the only station of significance was Derby Friargte. Amazingly Friargate (the station) was close to Friargate (the road) and, to this day the bridge remains.
The GNR didn't make it easy for themselves. Whilst the Midland Railway struck north via the Derwent and Erewash Valleys, the GNR needed to cross over them and at significant height. A viaduct crossed north of Derby Station which was blown up in 1979.
But the structure between Awsworth and Cotmanhay still stands.
Unusually it was built of wrought iron because it was thought that a stone or brick structure would be at risk from collapse as its weight pressed down on old mine workings. When it came to demolition the quoted price was too high and the viaduct survived.

The structure is in the care of Sustrans and proposals have been on the table for ages to use it as a cycleway and footpath.
It is now a listed building "at risk".

The canal bridge at the western end is gone ...
... and there would be similar access problems at the western end. So it can't be demolished and the cost of putting in to use is probably prohibitive. Where next?

In the meantime it was particular pleasure for fbb to see her unexpectedly on his train diverted between Derby and Chesterfield due to a wonky windscreen wiper.
This wrought iron lattice work viaduct is 1452 feet long with the rails 60 feet 10 inches above the Erewash River. The viaduct was built between May 1876 and November 1877 and forms part of the Great Northern Railway Derbyshire Extension which was built in part to exploit the coalfields in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The contract was given by the Great Northern Railway (GNR) to Benton & Woodiwiss with the line laid out by, and the viaduct designed by Richard Johnson (Chief Civil Engineer of the GNR); Samuel Abbott was the resident engineer. The viaduct consists of 16 lattice work deck spans, each 76 feet 7 inches long supported on wrought iron columns with stone capped blue brick foundations.

And so to Sheffield. Due to bulk and old age, fbb tends to alight from his train and catch a tram one stop to the city centre. A recent development at tram stops has been railway style electronic departure screens. Ominously those at the station stop (and presumably those at every stop) were "under test" - AGAIN!
Certainly the information on the screens bore no real relationship to anything running along the track. A tram was "due" as fbb wheezed on to the platform. The announcement disappeared with no tram in site.
Worry not, there's one due in seven minutes. But just two of those seven minute had elapsed when a "rogue" tram arrived.
Yet another example of expensive technology that would appear to be of little use.

fbb's pad for the night was at Travelodge Central and his room was provided with an excellent view of tramway activity at the foot of Commercial Street.
But he had one little expedition to complete before dining extensively with the Colonel. In a blog of a few weeks ago, fbb railed against the poor publicity for Sheffield Bus Partnership services 1 and 1A. See "The Horrors of High Green 3" (read again) If you don't want to read again, here's the relevant extract.
Well, the good news is that the various agencies did provide a bus stop at the foot of Hucklow Road.
Note pool of mud for waiting passengers, lack of timetable frame; indeed, lack of anything. Looking from the Firth Park roundabout direction the flag is hard to spot in the tree (left).
Welcome to public transport in Sheffield. Remember to wear essential clothing for your bus journey.
After exploring bus stops fbb returned to the city on the new Partnership service 1 (Stagecoach) and 1a (First).
The joint service provides a bus every 6 minutes at the time fbb was travelling, one evety 12 from each operator.
The 38 "due" for Meadowhell was at the stop. fbb's 1a "due" is just behind and the second 1a "due" 12 minutes later was just approaching as fbb boarded, overtook the chubby one five stops later and the two ran nose to tail in to city.

Apparently an informed source has stated publiclly that "the 1/1a is not working as well as we would like."

What a surprise.

fbb enjoyed his meal with The Colonel ...
... but sadly that Chicken loving military gentleman is struggling with literacy.
Now that is "Finger Rapping Bad"!

And finally : the new Streetdecks for the X78 Sheffield Rotherham Doncaster ...
... don't look a bit like the Mendip Xplorers recently featured in this blog!
Well, they are both blue!

 Next Bristol bus blog : Saturday 28th November