Thursday 30 November 2017

Reinventing The Wheel Part 6

From Bread Vans to Sillybuses?
Or Bigger Mini?
Throughout the history of bus travel in the UK, there has been a battle to find the best way to cater for lightly used, usually rural services. The problem with small buses is that they still need a driver (expensive), maintenance and testing (expensive) and fuel (a bit less expensive).

Smaller versions of big buses have been used includig the ubiquitous Bedford OB ...
... the Bristol LH ...
... and the glorious London Transport GS ...
... all small capacity vehicles, but they were still real buses. After the bread van craze, bigger, supposedly more acceptable minibuses appeared.
Whilst Arriva's new fleet in Hemel Hempstead is a potential disaster, the company had made a better fist of downsizing in Macclesfield.
Following a £1million investment, Arriva North West has launched nine new eco-friendly ‘mini’ buses in Macclesfield and Winsford, as part of a wider initiative to help the local community.

The new, smaller buses have been adapted in size to suit the routes which they will operate on, where congestion can be heavy and roads are often narrow. The new buses will also provide customers with a more efficient and eco-friendly service, helping to reduce fuel costs and emissions.

The 22 seater buses will feature e-leather seats, wheelchair access, free onboard Wi-Fi and USB charging points on each seat, and will service route numbers 2, 3, 4, 6, 9 and 21 in Macclesfield and the number 2 and 4 in Winsford.

Once again, correspondent Roger has been investigating.
Firstly, it does look more like a bus rather than a toy. It has 22 seats and room for standees.
As a bonus, there is room so sit and room for legs!
They are obviously better than the other rubbish that we have been looking at over the last few blogs.
The boss of Arriva in Macclesfield, Mark Wynne ...
... offered a positive soundbite.

“We looked at a wide range of potential vehicles that would be suitable for use on these routes when we were sourcing our buses, but they were more ‘van like’ and offered a lot less capacity.

“The Strata provides seating for up to 22, while giving a very good first impression by being much more ‘bus like’ than many others on the market. The passengers really like them too, particularly as they include all the features and benefits that they would expect on a standard sized bus."

But this was quoted on the Mellor company web site (they designed and built the bus bodies) so, he would say that wouldn't he.

Next to join the bigger minibus "revolution" has been Scottish company McGills.
Greenock-based bus company McGill’s has placed a £2million order for 20 new minibuses.

The vehicles will be used on a range of routes throughout Inverclyde and Renfrewshire, including a new DRT (Demand Responsive Transport) service in Upper Skelmorlie which will allow customers to book a bus to and from their door.

McGill's placed the order for the Strata buses, made by Rochdale-based Mellor Coachcraft, at the recent Coach and Bus UK event.

Ah, Upper Skelmorlie.
Thus area has never been favoured with a good bus service, mainly because it has never provided a good number of passengers. Small buses have been used for some time ...
... but it has always enjoyed a "proper" bus service. Evening journeys, tendered by Strathclyde PTE ...
... has supplemented a daytime service from Wemyss Bay Station. But with the arrival of McGills Mellor 22 seaters, it has now become demand responsive.
Once again, fbb is indebted to Roger (who gets around a bit!). This is how it works.
Sounds impressive.
The company says the bus will be there in ten minutes. So Roger tested it!

He went to the furthest point from Wemyss Bay Station and rang the number. Withing 5 minutes the bus was there to pick him up and take his to the station.

He was the only passenger. But the bus is nice, roomy and, as for Macclesfield, feels like a "real" bus. Tartan seats are far nicer than Arriva's boring grey ...
.... and there is plenty of room. Well. there would be for just one passenger!
The tendered evening service still runs!
But can "demand responsive" really work. The driver still needs to be paid; the bus still needs to be maintained to the same high standards and there is an extra cost in manning the phone line and organising what could be a complicated zig zag route.

Is there much saving? Or is the idea that the "door to door" service will attract extra passengers?

Most "demand responsive" services have become normal timetables buses or disappeared altogether. Those that remain work more like a shared taxi in wider rural areas, often requiring booking the day before.
One interesting oddity, however. After Roger had booked his bus, he received a confirmation txt on his phone.
Weird, or what? Blue MGB4?
Not quite!

In a future blog we will look at yet another version of "demand responsive" in France.

 Next Routemaster blog : Friday 1st December 

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Re-inventing The Wheel Part 5

Minibus Mayhem 2
This shot (from contributor Roger)  ...
... shows the toy buses at Hemel Hempstead. Comparing the inside of the "little And a Bit Less Often" vehicles in Ashford ...
... with the rolling stock in Hemel Hempstead ...
... reveals a less "overbearing" environment - with less comfort - but with no noticeable improvement in leg room ...
... especially over the wheel arch.
fbb well remembers a ride on Barton's Denis Loline, a low height chassis which was fitted with a lowbridge body (with sunken side gangway on the top deck).
A notable lowbridge bus is Barton Transport's no. 861, registered 861 HAL. It is unique in combining a low-height chassis (Dennis Loline II) with lowbridge bodywork, built by Northern Counties. With the combined effect of both these height reduction techniques, the height of the vehicle is less than 12 ft 6 in, which remains the lowest ever for a British closed-top double-decker.

For those brave souls who sought to travel top deck front, there was a snag. To get a high enough cab, the floor under that front seat was only a few inches below the seat squab. You sat clutching your knees under your chin.

Not at all pleasant.

The Merc minibuses, be they Stagecoach or Arriva, provide for similar contortion over the wheel arch.

The vehicles are not "low floor" but are provided with a manual folding ramp. To operate this, the driver has to leave his cab via the offside door ...
... and walk round to "ackle" it. 
So, as Roger succinctly puts it from personal observation, they don't bother; leaving the passengers to manage as best as they can.
A very poor advert for accessible public transport - shameful indeed.

Even paying your fare is not easy, especially when you have shopping bags and a pushchair. Here is an unencumbered passenger handing over his fee for this luxury example of bus travel
But, never fear dear reader, the bus does have USB charging points ...
... although quite where you might find the arm and body room to use your "device" is unclear.

But, for Roger, worse was yet to come.
fbb latched on to the above headline, expecting a tirade of vituperation directed at Arriva for this really silly vehicle deployment.
Sadly not! It tuns out that "Storm" is the name given to Hemel's basketball team.
How many basketball players can you fit into a minibus?

We’re about to find out when Hemel Storm Basketball help Arriva launch a fleet of nine new minibuses to be used on town routes.

The new vehicles, which will be more fuel efficient and quieter on routes around residential streets and the town centre, come into service on November 6.

An Arriva partnership with Hemel Storm will see one of the buses carry the club’s branding and it will be used to take the team to away games around the country.

Before the next home game on 12th November, the whole Storm first team squad plus juniors will be attempting to see just how many players can be squeezed onto their newly branded minibus.

"Storm" branding - the mind boggles!

As Roger said.
Contravision is universally hated by operators, drivers and the travelling public, so much so that most bus companies no longer have any truck with it.
Pity the poor passengers who have a bone crunching sweaty cramped ride and, as a privileged bonus, can't see out properly. What a wonderful advertisement for bus travel!

Yet Hemel Hempsteaders have little choice.
Glen Shuttleworth ...
... Area Managing Director of for Arriva, said: “The new buses are a great addition to our local fleet, and we’re excited that Hemel Storm will be travelling the country on our specially branded vehicle."

“We have invested significantly across the region to enhance our fleet and services for our customers and the launch of the nine new buses for Hemel is just the latest stage of that programme.”

Glen is a big fellah, so you have to wonder whether he has tried the silly-buses, preferably pushing one pushchair with child, hauling two bags of shopping and with a "pot" on his left foot.

Sounds less like Glen Shuttleworth and more like John Shuttleworth.
John Shuttleworth is a fictional singer-songwriter and radio presenter, created by English comedy actor and musician Graham Fellows in 1986. Shuttleworth is in his late 50s and is from Walkley in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. He has a quiet manner and slightly nerdish tendencies. His musical talents are usually expressed through his PSS portable keyboard.

John Shuttleworth would tell Glen Shuttleworth to send the sillybuses back to where they came from.
There doesn't seem much doubt that this outbreak of Minibus Madness will quickly die just like Sir Harry's laudable but ultimately doomed efforts. They will either fail (as in Ashford) because the costs of the increased frequency are not met by increased passenger numbers or ...

... in Hemel Hempstead because more passengers will simply not travel, the experience is so unpleasant.

But there might be a better way ...

 Final Minibus Mayhem blog : Thursday 30th November 

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Re-inventing The Wheel Part 4

Minibus Mayhem 1
Arriva has struggled over the years to evolve a commercially viable town service network for Hemel Hempstead. Some bits get a bus every ten minutes - other struggle to justify one journey every hour.

A 2010 map shows services numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5; but with changes in 2013 and the recent 2017 alterations, these numbers have acquired different recipes of areas served.

Service 1 (GREY) which ran from Adeyfield, then wiggled into town and out again to Northend Farm Estate ...
... was abandoned by Arriva and is now run by Red Eagle.
In 2010 (and later) 2 and 3 (RED) were part of the same service with buses branded appropriately.
These ran to the west of the town centre ...
... and off to the north east.
fbb does not pretend to understand how the route numbers worked out, especially on the "lump" via Allandale (bottom left). These services have been "simplified" and now run as a one way loop via Gadebridge as service 3 (ORANGE) ...
... and a service 2 (RED) much as before ...
... although its Allandale loop has transferred to route 4.

Grovehill Route 4 (GREEN) used to be numbered 4 and 5 (BROWN) on the 2010 map and ran to Bennetts End operating alternate ways round a loop.
In the 2013 rejig (?) the Bennetts End route was linked to the 2 ...
... but since August this year has achieved its blissful independence as a new (we've been here before) route 5 (BLUE) ...
... but no longer looping the loop!

Services 2 and 5 run every ten minutes ...
service 3 every 20 ...
... and service 4 every half an hour.
This all provides the background to the horrific happenings from 27th August as witnessed by correspondent Roger.

But there is a bigger snag.

There has been no increase in frequency on any of these routes according to Roger.

We will enjoy (?) Roger's impressions of the revised service tomorrow.
Dark Days for Dorset
Following the departure of the affable Simon Newport from First Dorset And Other Places, now comes news of more cut backs following negative changes earlier this month.

This staff notices was posted at Weymouth depot on 24th November.
It tells us that, from 21st January, service X52 and service 5 will cease.
X52 is the pointless service of two round trips between Lyme Regis and Exeter which is simply not good enough to attract a viable number of passengers. It is sad to see this service go; it once ran every two hours all the way from Bournemouth to Exeter as X53 and was very popular with tourists. Its recent decline has been caused by appallingly bad publicity, always delivered late (if at all) and the split of the service into three non-connecting chunks. First have done a really good job of running the service down and putting the prices up.
Now it will be popular with nobody. Its loss will hardly be noticed.

Service 5 originated in a tender from Dorset council for the service between Dorchester and Crossways.
It was extended commercially via Warmwell and Osmington to Weymouth on a route that had not seen a bus for many a year.

Presumably it just didn't work.

The third change reduces the every 12 minute route 10 ...
... to every 15. Not long ago it ran every ten minutes

It always seems a capitulation to failure once a frequency drops below every ten minutes - the ability to just turn up and go seems far more unpleasant at every 12 and significantly less attractive again at every 15.

fbb predicts that it won't be long until it sinks to every 20.

STOP PRESS - A contact has reported that Simon Newport is moving to Yellow Buses at Bournemouth, but on a six month contact.
 Next Minibus Madness blog : Wednesday 29th November