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 


  1. While I wouldn't disagree with the reasons listed contributing to the demise of the X52, the level of reimbursement for concessionary travel is of far more significance. With most counties operating a flat reimbursement rate, the money received for a very long distance trip is simply not enough to sustain such services.

  2. When I used it between Poole and Exeter, using a First day ticket and then continuing on to Taunton, Wells and Bristol, I was one of the last to board the full bus and the driver told me mine was the first fare he had taken. Sitting on the top deck no one got off before Lyme Regis and many were still with me when I got to Exeter. Wonderful as the service was it could not expect to run on the ever decreasing amount authorities are prepared/able to pay, particularly as many of the ENCT holders would have been tourists.

  3. Kent County Council have announced cuts of £2.0m in bus service support over each of the next two years. This represents some 70% of current funding. Planning to introduce as one major change next September. A report goes to their Environment & Transport Cabinet this Friday warning what the cut means on their current criteria for support (several school and all day services) and seeking guidance to go out for consultation - but decision on which services planned for next month!! Report warns of potential impact on smaller local bus operators.

    Suppose I should be glad that our main road Arriva service/s were only reduced from every 7/8 minutes to 6 buses an hour on a split 15/5/10/15/5/10 - which usually run in pairs or occasionally three together. The app is supposed to be the wonderful answer - yesterday it recorded several journeys as not being 'on the system'.

  4. Kent County Council have announced budget cuts in the bus service support budget of £2.0 for each of the next two years, which represents some 70% of current spend. Report goes to their Environment and Transport Committee this Friday listing the many services that would be withdrawn using their current criteria for support, They are seeking a decision on the list of affected services over the next month so they can then go forward with public consultation. The target for implementation is September 2018 - as one change.The report makes it clear that the list includes several school and all day services, and that the change could have serious implications for local smaller operators, particularly in west Kent.

  5. Sorry for two messages - system appeared to have kicked out the first one.

    1. My message disappeared too - here I try again!!

      FWIW, I agree with many of the points already stated. The X52 may well have been popular with tourists but that means it would have been a toxic mix of a long off peak/seasonal market so a long dark and unprofitable winter allied to a summer where First have to manage with parlous ENCTS remuneration. There are, of course, errors on the way but that toxic blend will have done little to aid the X52.

      As for the 10, if FBB digs in his archive from 20-25 years ago, he'd have found that the Dorchester to Weymouth service would have been a mix of 10/X31 combining to provide an hourly service, supported by the odd W&D service running through from Blandford or Poole. Anyone who has driven along the Dorchester Road in summer will know the gluepot traffic conditions that destroy any sense of service reliability. Faced with a choice of putting in more resources or keeping the same to improve reliability, it's no surprise the end result is the latter.

      The Slowcoaster was a curious beast and even excusing the poor publicity, you wonder if it would ever have had a market. Would the pensioners have paid to use a service when they could spend nothing and use the X53....not really a question worth posing!

      However, no operator can sustain running long distance services that are predominantly based on pass holders for which the returns are barely adequate to cover the direct costs let alone anything else. After all, we are seeing smaller operators collapse on a regular basis whilst the larger operators are all trimming back in various geographies. As has been said, this is the result of the cuts to central funding of local authorities by the government. Ben (not Bradshaw) is right to highlight the irony of many of the "very same protestors who will be appearing in the local papers decrying the loss of their "essential" bus service will more than likely have voted for a part whose policies have caused this issue." Of the eight Dorset MPs, each is Tory with the West Dorset MP (Oliver Letwin) scraping in by a mere 16k votes. The two Devon constituencies mainly affected are also resolutely blue as well!

  6. 1/2 (sorry for the long post!) I think FBB's assessment is overly damning on First for the X52 situation and doesn't take account of the wider picture, particularly under ENCTS.

    In a pre-ENCTS world First in conjunction with the relevant local authorities invested, promoted and developed the service. It seemed to me to be a good example of local authorities and a private bus company working in collaboration. Perhaps the situation was (?overly) fuelled by optimism following the inscription of the Jurassic Coast on the World Heritage List, but nevertheless the service seemed popular.

    FBB notes himself that the X53 iteration of the service was "very popular with tourists", whilst as Daddysgadgets highlights above some summer journey carried very good loadings.

    However services like this fare poorly under ENCTS, with reimbursement rates being poor and operating costs for longer distance routes being high. It is no good simply being popular if the service is still not making money. There is no point investing in a service if the financial framework that First must operate under (ENCTS) means that there is no way that investment can ever be recouped.

    The response here is fully in-line with First's national policy. As First themselves have clearly stated on a number of occasions that "low UK bus profitability meant investment could not be sustained unless councils take steps to help the company grow revenue and reduce costs". They have been explicitly clear that they can no longer continue to invest in services "unless we have partners who are going to work with us". This isn't happening in Dorset and the cuts that are now being witnessed are a direct result.

    Yes First have made some odd and poor decisions (the SlowCoaster being a prime example - would the money spent on this service - vehicles, drivers, new livery and designers fees, etc have not been better spent on their existing services).

    But, in Dorset we are seeing a combination of negative factors coming together - many of which are entirely outwit First's control - low ENCTS reimbursement, a damaging strike, a local authority offering little support, relying on a uneven (as in peaks and troughs both throughout the year, but also unpredictable even in high season) tourist market, and in Weymouth quite appalling traffic congestion. Yes First haven't covered themselves in glory and FBB is right to highlight some poor publicity, and cuts as being contributing factors, but they are perhaps an effect of the above mentioned issues, not the cause of the services decline as FBB (constantly) decries.

  7. 2/2 (sorry for the long post!) f as FBB claims the service was "very popular with tourists" perhaps the local authority should be looking to work in partnership with First to help the service succeed given the very great economic benefits the tourism industry brings to Dorset. Perhaps the local chamber of commerce could work proactively and the tourist industry as a whole could look to support the service that benefits their clientele? Why should First continue to invest in a service if they are doomed never to make a return? Why should First lose money in order to benefit a service "popular with tourists"?

    Perhaps we should have joined-up local government thinking, that looks at the overall effect to decision - how do cuts to one budget affect other areas - what is the net saving when looking holistically, not just at at headline savings?

    Sorry to end on a "political note", but unfortunately "austerity Britain" doesn't allow local councils to make such decisions - the financial pressures on them are just too great. There is a vast political disconnect in this country - whereby people don't seem to appreciate that the negative cuts and issues at a local level are a direct result of decisions stemming from the national vote. Many of those very same protestors who will be appearing in the local papers decrying the loss of their "essential" bus service will more than likely have voted for a part whose policies have caused this issue.

    The issue is much more nuanced than FBB suggests.

  8. Reading, and agreeing with, the comments above about ENCTS one can't help also wondering how the new 26-30 Railcard will be reimbursed....
    Have any lessons been learnt? If they have will the learning flow both ways?

    1. Does anyone here know how railcards are financed? My guess is that it's a self supporting system albeit with Dft interference.