Thursday 2 February 2017

Ashford's Astounding Announcement (3)

A Fantastic Idea - Or Is It?
Stagecoach have announced changes to their Ashford Network from 13th February. Some seem to be routine; for example the K (MID BLUE) which links the Hospital with Park Farm estate ...
... is withdrawn completely. Not too surprising as most of the route is along the southern by-pass dual carriageway with little potential for passengers.
Bad M√ľnstereifel Road?

Bad M√ľnstereifel is a historical spa town in the district of Euskirchen, Germany, with about 17,000 inhabitants, situated in the far south of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The little town is one of only few historical towns in the very south of North Rhine-Westphalia, and because of this is often overcrowded by tourists throughout Spring and Summer.
In the north of Ashford two weak services, E and H ...
... are merged. The H (LILAC) via Bockhanger is withdrawn and the E (LIGHT BLUE) via Eureka Leisure Park is extended to the Hospital via Willesborough Road (centre right) in its place.

Back in South Ashford, route A (RED) currently has an evening and Sunday variant which, instead of separate routes to Singleton and Stanhope ...
... operates in a mega loop (PINK) serving both estates. From the changes the evening and Sunday journeys are (mostly) the same routes as the "normal" A. Just to confuse us all, the new A becomes ORANGE on the map.

The other significant route change is on service B (DARK BLUE). This is currently every 20 minutes with one journey in three as B1 via Kingsnorth Road instead of B2 via Designer Outlet (ASDA) and Romney Marsh Road.
All the new B journeys are via Romney Marsh Road but the Park Farm loop via Roman Way loses its bus service completely. 
The new B becomes RED and will be extended to new development at Bridgefield to the east pf Park Farm. You get there over this bus only bridge (over the A2070 and the railway) ...
... which, currently, leads to a ploughed field!
Apparently it is due to open in "Spring 2017".

So where is this fantastic idea? All route A buses going the same way? All route B buses going the same way? Route B crossing an unfinished bridge?

Nothing like that.

Stagecoach has come up with the most astounding brainwave. Instead of running a big bus every 20 minutes or so ...
... you run MINIBUSES much more frequently. On route B and C buses will be every 5 or 6 minutes and are branded "little and often".
Here is how Stagecoach has announced this revolutionary scheme.

New ‘Little & Often’ minibuses will run up to every 6 minutes (during the daytime) Mondays to Saturdays, linking Kennington, the town centre, the rail station, Asda, Park Farm and Bridgefield (when the bridge opens).
During the evenings and on Sundays, minibuses will run up to every 15 minutes.
New ‘Little & Often’ minibuses will run between William Harvey Hospital, Willesborough, the rail station and the town centre up to every 5 minutes (during the daytime) Mondays to Saturdays.
Minibuses will run up to every 15 minutes during the evenings and on Sundays.

New idea?

Some of our readers might have arrived recently from the planet Zog; some might be too young to remember the mid 1980s but this man ...
... Harry Blundred, became the owner of former National Bus company Devon General. He replaced "normal" buses in Exeter (for example) with more frequent minibuses. Sounds familiar?
It became a craze and East Kent joined in at Ashford. First came their red and yellow "bread vans" ...
... followed soon by slightly larger Ford Ivecos. Note that route numbers are in the 500s.
The scheme did, as predicted by Sir Harry, attract more passengers but never enough to offset the higher cost of running three buses instead of one. In some cases, as with the busy cross-city 52 in Sheffield ...
... the number of passengers dropped as canny Sheffielders voted with their feet and waited for the more reliable parallel big bus services. The manager who introduced minibuses to the 52 was one Bob Montgomery ...
Now, with a bit less hair, he is Robert Montgomery, chief executive of Stagecoach Bus.

You can't help admiring the man for trying and trying again; but surely he should have learned his lesson?

How long will it be before big, less frequent buses arrive back on the streets of Ashford?

And Bob also has plans for a more environmentally friendly bus service.
Great idea, Bob!

Tomorrow, another report from the land of route 52!
Confirming one of a selection of rumours, local press ha revealed the impending sale of Thamesdown Transport (formerly Swindon Corporation Transport) to the GoAhead group
More on this in due course.
 Next South Yorkshire bus blog : Friday 3rd February 


  1. Andrew Kleissner2 February 2017 at 07:47

    I'm not sure that the idea always fails. I seem to remember a London route (?the 31) which went over to the "little and often" approach in the 80s, saw ridership increase and ended up with a "big and often" service. Of course the operating conditions in big cities are different to a place like London.

    Two thoughts: 1. Presumably the higher staffing costs are, to an extent, set off with lower depreciation costs? (Mind you, little buses don't probably last as long as big ones). 2. Quite apart from peak-hour loading issues, don't passengers find big buses easier to get into and get out of?

    1. The buses intended for use are fully accessible low floor vehicles, which don't have many access issues . . . . who remembers the Optare Metrorider (seriously high-floor with tiny step entrance) or the Ford Transit conversion with a gangway narrower than a shopping trolley!

  2. What our younger readers may not recall is that, in the 1980's, bus patronage was nose-diving towards the ground, with the only solution being cutting routes and journeys and then cutting again.

    Those of a certain age will remember how Blundred's minibuses saved the day in many small/medium towns. They seldom worked well in the big conurbations, where frequencies had to be so high that bunching was inevitable (in part caused by the difficulties of getting full-sized passengers plus shopping trolleys onto tiny buses)! I don't recall (for example) just little locals.

    In many cases we've come full circle now (and remember it was 30 years ago!!!!!!!!); then the high frequency services DID revive patronage such that the ubiquitous Dennis Dart came along and replaced the bread-buses in the nick of time.
    Now we're seeing town service patronage decline again, and in a small but affluent town like Ashford, who's to say that the miracle won't repeat itself.

    I'll just refer fbb to the Really Nice Bus Company in the Midlands, which believes that brands need refreshing every several years and uses new swanky buses to do just that. They win awards and have stayed independent, so maybe they're doing something right? Changing the colour is just part of the refresh.

    I'm not convinced that Ashford is the right town to try, but credit to Uncle Sir Brian for trying . . . . if it works, then we can see other towns being treated to the same magic . . . . if not, well at least they've tried!!!

    1. Incomprehensible comment alert!! What it SHOULD say in para 2 is that I don't recall (for example) Birmingham having big minibus conversions, just little local routes.
      The curse of eyes and fingers not always engaging together!!!

  3. Google StreetView is a little out of date - the bridge over the A2070 now leads into a housing estate. Some of the roads in the new estates are quite narrow for Solos, hence the trial of something smaller.

    Routes H and K were created with help from the local NHS - presumably the money ran out?

  4. Your wrong about Beavers in Sheffield. They actually increased ridership and saw off two competitors, and restored profitability to Greenland Garage. I was part of the team that brought them in! Changed to B10M operation 3 years later after the market had stabilised a bit.

  5. There is a more modern presidence for this as Nottingham City Transport replaced deckers on some routes with more frequent solo operation - the solos have since been replaced by larger Enviro 200s.
    It will be an interesting study as society is moving towards a "I want it now" approach as technology makes things near instant. Having a turn up and go frequency rather than a 20 minute one may encourage more people out of the car (although it really should be alongside increased bus priority).

  6. Your comment about Roman Way in Park Farm losing its service is a little misleading as 2A is diverted to serve this section of route......