Wednesday 28 February 2018

Sheffield Scheme Shocker! (Part 2)

Spot The Difference!
fbb is well aware that most of his readers are knowledgeable and will be cognisant of the difference between fact and press release. So a little game of "contrast and compare" may be of interest. Sheffield Bus Partnership ...
... has, for five years been "improving bus services in Sheffield", mainly by reducing frequencies and re-organising services to confuse the travelling public. Over the five years' life of the partnership it has become increasingly difficult to obtain printed timetable material while the quality and timeliness of on-line information has steadily declined.

It appears to have come as a huge surprise to the partnership that these policies have caused passenger numbers in the city to drop faster than the national average. The use of Senior bus passes has dropped dramatically since the PTE insisted that they could only be renewed on-line. Another eye-widening surprise.

Suddenly, finding out what the partnership stands for has become difficult. For example, click on the link at the bottom of the PTE's "bit" about the "partnership" ...
... ( and see what you get. Or you could follow a link on the First Bus web site ...
... ( and, lo and behold, you will find ...

... nary a squeak about the "partnership". You will, however, be introduced to the new super-smashing exciting logo below.
... which announces that it will deliver "improvements" to Sheffield's bus system.

Only Stagecoach's web site now admits to the existence of the Sheffield Bus Partnership ...
... and on the results so far.
And there's more!
So there have been substantial improvements? Really?

It would appear that this "partnership" has been a fantastic success.

So why has it been sidelined in favour of "Buses for Sheffield"? And how will the trendy and lovely "Buses for Sheffield" be different from the now-abandoned "partnership"?

The best way to understand is to read an article in the local press - a regurgitation of the mega press release.

Now remember; the challenge is to "spot the difference" between (a) the "partnership" and Buses for Sheffield" and (b) between both of these "brands" and reality.

fbb has highlighted some phrases worthy of interest.

Bus operators in Sheffield have unveiled plans to reverse a recent decline in passenger numbers by making it easier to get around the city. A new London Tube-style map plotting high-frequency routes around Sheffield and the connections between different services is at the heart of efforts to simplify bus travel. The new Tube-style maps will be displayed at all bus stops.

fbb bets any amount of nothing that this new map WON'T be displayed at ALL bus stops!
When Harry Beck designed the iconic tube map. he realised that, as most of the journeys were underground, geographical realism was not necessary. Above ground a network like Sheffield's is far more complicated and the mangling of the truth is both off-putting and unnecessary. It has, as we saw yesterday, been seen before.
It was awful!

Why not simply publish a version of the excellent geographical map?
Timetables will also be coordinated to include all services, regardless of which company operates them. And providers will work more closely when planning to alter routes or timings, to ensure there are fewer, more coordinated service changes in future.

Erm? Hasn't this been happening since the "partnership" created its new (un)improved network? Services 1/1A, 7/8, 24/25, 52/52A, 83/83A and both 120s have been advertised by the PTE as joint services. Stagecoach are wont to provide a link to the PTE timetables whilst First (partnership rules OK?) only promote their own times.

The PTE presentation is pretty crummy ...
... but both operators' services are combined.

These measures are part of a major re-branding operation to unify services within the city under the name 'Buses for Sheffield'. The new name and logo will soon be displayed on all buses and bus stops in the city, to help people more easily identify which services they can use with a combined ticket and to provide a single point of contact to report issues ranging from cleanliness to punctuality. 

To help us all understand that we can use our City Bus ticket on all city buses (there is a tiny little clue in the name) the companies will be adding stickers to their vehicles.
Illustrations show a First Bus (above) and a Stagecoach bus (below).
The B2, by the way, was a replacement service for the tram when track was being renewed on the route via Norfolk Park.

Why not call the new scheme City Bus?
The boss of Stagecoach Yorkshire explains the thinking behind the "revolution" (?).
Matt Davies, Stagecoach Yorkshire's chief executive, said: "Having a common identity and making the network easier for people to understand is key to growing bus patronage. The city has a very good bus network but the perception will be that some are First, some are Stagecoach and others are TM Travel".

Yes, Matt - that's because they are!

"If people get used to seeing the network map it raises awareness that the city's very well covered between the different operators."

Canny Sheffielders will not be conned by a few coloured stickers on the buses. To change perceptions needs a root and branch re-think of the whole publicity and management machine. Telling the customers when and where the buses run might help. 

But fbb has an even better idea. Paint the buses cream with three blue stripes ...
... and call it Sheffield Transport. Then you could "co-ordinate" all the services in one Timetable "book" and only change timetables a couple of times a year.
fbb does wonder why no-one has ever thought of that method of integrating the services into a common network. It might actually work.

Tomorrow, we will examine what is on offer in detail from the pre-launch "Buses for Sheffield". We are asked to look forward to a new website - so everything we be all right!

Won't it?
The Beast from the East
The Pest from the West
Yesterday, at 1615, the expected blizzards landed at Seaton, bringing chaos to the Peterville Railway Station.
More snow is expected today and tomorrow.
 Next Buses for Sheffield blog : Thursday 1st March 

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Sheffield Scheme Shocker! (Part 1)

Positive Publicity Project (?) Propounded
Starting "in March" a new logo will grace the streets of the Steel City. Announcements have been made, there have been detailed reports in the local press and excitement is mounting as the city's bus operators join together to publicise bus travel.

It sounds like a miracle when you look back over the last few years.

Way back, First Bus had a cunning plan to promote their business nationally. It was called "Overground". It promised stable networks and core services with a frequency of at least every 10 minutes. There would be "London Underground" diagrams of the network showing useful interchange points and using coloured lines just like "The Tube" in the Capital.

But not exactly like "The Tube" as Glasgow's first efforts show.
Later versions, still showing only frequent routes, were more like Harry Beck's original thoughts with slopes at 45 degrees but with far less geographical accuracy. Then it became more detailed and thus more confusing!
Some areas still use the map style, e.g. Aberdeen ...
... but, slowly and surely, the "Overground" brand disappeared and with it the promises of stability and frequency.

Sheffield had a First Bus Overground scheme and map.
It was awful! Not only was geography unnecessarily mangled, but the resulting "diagram" was often simply misleading to the travelling public. The Parson Cross area to the north of the city was farcical. And, of course, it did not include Stagecoach routes; you had to refer the their map for that.

Then came Optio.

See "Oscar Oversees Optio" (read again)
First came "Orange", with a joint ticket (but not for all fares) on services between Fulwood, City and Mosborough where First and Stagecoach operated "jointly".

This was followed (back in 2011) by Optio Red.
This covered service 52 which, confusingly, had two different routes in the Woodhouse area of the city BUT the same route number.

No more Optio schemes appeared and, slowly but surely, the scheme fizzled out.

Meanwhile in Stoke on Trent we had a network based on fruit!
But very soon the fruit started to rot away and the present network lacks fruitiness.
Back in Sheffield, in November 2013, came the Sheffield Bus Partnership.
This offered much but delivered little. Routes were reorganised, some long-standing traditional links were broken and it was all intended "to make bus travel easier in our City".

Of course it wasn't and it didn't. It was a thinly disguised plan to reduce costs, and to take the main companies into profit. The publicity mendaciously talked about "improvements" but there were none, only cuts.

Also, the publicity was inaccurate, unhelpful and largely non-existent as far as usable information was concerned. But, commercially, it began to work. At least one of the main constituent parties moved into "profit", but the other, reputedly, still struggles.

And passenger numbers continued to fall.

Something had to be done.

Did "the partners" improve their publicity? NO! Indeed, the PTE stopped producing printed material and the operators made only a pathetic attempt to replace them, with leaflets often appearing days (sometimes weeks) after a timetable change.

The only benefit that came out of all this was a set of two network maps.
They were (and are) nearly accurate and have been produced (in inadequate quantities) for some (but not all) of the route changes.

There was also a Citybus multi operator day fare ...
... which, in a true spirit of partnership, did not allow you to ride on tram for which privilege you have to pay and extra 30p! At £4.50 it is hardly a replacement for a discounted return fare, but did, just about, offer a very slightly better deal if your "commute" involved two routes with different operators. Weekly and Monthly versions are also available on the same basis.

Did it make such travel decisions easier?
No! Each of the "partners" retained their own schemes, all of which offered a cheaper price than CityBus.

Big Deal, Partnership!

And passenger numbers continued to fall.

So, now, we welcome a brand mew scheme ...
... the detail of which fbb will explore tomorrow.
 TOP BIRTHDAY GIFT AWARD  goes to No 1 son for the weirdest gift fbb has ever received, ever. Here is a clue:-
For those of our readers who are not familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet, or for languages written therewith, the full picture is more helpful.
Hopefully the Russian is correctly translated and the original is not a set of rude words!

Believe it or not (and fbb didn't, at first), it is 192 pages (hardback) of pictures of bus shelters dotted around the former Soviet Union. There can be few things more stimulating to an old man's jaded mind than such an exciting volume.

Because of a stint of three major "performances" - Church Service 25th, Bible Study 26th, Talk to Fellowship 28th (long-suffering congregation and/or audience!) and blogs to create, your author has not yet had time to explore this surreal publication. Expect a fuller review on due course.

Compiled by Christopher Herwig and published by Fuel it is currently on offer on Amazon at £13.30. (Other bookshops are available!).

And there is a sequel.
Clearly, that would be too much excitement for the old man. Think of his blood pressure!
 Next Buses for Sheffield blog : Wednesday February 28th 

Monday 26 February 2018

First's Foray to Fakenham - P.S.

But First - A Birthday Report
 TOP BIRTHAY CARD AWARD  goes to our Senior isle of Wight correspondent. Outwardly the card is good bad enough!
But, when you open it ...

Back to Fakenham
Correspondent Keith, as well as being bemused by bus information in Brum (earlier blog), lives in Fakenham and is most dis-chuffed by First Bus' timetable for their "exciting" new X29, replacing the Stagecoach (erstwhile Norfolk Green) route.

Here is Keith's missive to First Bus with additional comment by fbb.

I refer to your new X29 timetable and would make the following comments:

1) Why is Foulsham not served? This is a very popular stop on the current Stagecoach timetable. There will be an absolute outcry from the village.

fbb did not spot that. First is ignoring Foulsham,
The (current) Stagecoach version diverts to serve this village ...
... only it doesn't. It only gets as far the very edge of picturesque Foulsham, here at a non-existent stop called Gunn Street.
Before reaching Gunn Street itself (next RIGHT), it turns left to get back to the main road as Bintree - see map above.
So perhaps not so big a disaster as Keith suggests? Or have First just looked at a map and ignored potential customers? But the timetable is (deliberately?) misleading.; maybe Gunn Street for Foulsham?

2) Why is there no bus from Fakenham (Oak Street)on Mon-Fri between 0710 and 0925?
Keith refers to the stop in the centre of town, not "Toll Bar" which is on the road northwest-bound near the by-pass roundabout.
Note that, between 1000 and 1600, buses appear to "wait time" at Oak Street (xx25) AFTER Toll Bar (xx08) ...
... which means passengers from the end of the route have an extra ten minutes to enjoy (?) the town centre stop.
fbb also spotted an equally long, long gap in departures from Norwich, presumably at school times.

3) Why is the 0925 from Fakenham Oak Street timed 5 minutes before concessionary passes are available? This will annoy most of your customers meaning that a day trip to Norwich will have to be on the 1025 arriving just before noon! You cannot appreciate the anger that this will cause. Why not drop the bus back 5 minutes to 0930 and run it off frequency 5 minutes later recovering its time back in Fakenham at 1225.

First Bus will probably argue that X29s have to be part of the 15 minute frequency on the "Yellow" route to Taverham. Of course the company could charge from Oak Street to Warren Avenue (due away 0933) then provide free travel? Or would Norfolk Council be prepared at accept an exception; it does happen elsewhere in similar circumstances.

4) The last bus back from Norwich is too early at 1805. Just look at the existing loadings on the present Stagecoach 1855.
Norwich is not a small town that shuts down at 1730, many shop workers work much later. Please reconsider this.

5) The first arrival into Fakenham is at 1008 despite buses arriving empty from Norwich.
Keith has a point there. Buses run "light" to Fakenham to leave at ...

... but NONE of these conveys passengers from Norwich. That would seem to be a very poor aspect of the new X29.

6) City College is not served for the students.

Quite so. Stagecoach diverts a journey from the bus station to serve the college instead.
OK, it is only three stops away and these student types can always walk; but is it sending out the right messages about "service"?

7) The timetable is very operational and not customer focused. It is driven from the City end and Fakenham looks like an 'add-on' or 'after thought'.

Keith's number 7 is the core of the problem. Service X29 has been created to offer as low a risk as possible to First Bus. Compared with Stagecoach, the First Bus is saving money by making it part of the Yellow Line 28/29; it is saving money by not running a full service when buses can be used more profitably elsewhere (i.e. between 0710 and 0925 from Oak Street) and it is saving drivers' wages by running four buses out to Fakenham without allowing passengers to join them.

It is a timetable for the convenience of the bus operator and, in many aspects, not ideally suited to those awkward beasts, the passengers.

Question? Will these "operational" savings encourage passengers? Or will usage decline, post Stagecoach, to the point at which First drops their route to Fakenham as they have done once before?

Keith prudently concludes ...

Please consider all of the above points as there is still time to change. Otherwise you will be receiving a lot of grief from customers.

Please reply.

fbb will be interested to hear from Keith about the company's response - if any.

And an fbb moan. How does a visitor know which "Fakenham" stop is at the town centre? A sensible convention in these circumstance is to list stops as ...
... which gives the uneasy passenger  bit of a clue.

 Great News from Sheffield blog (?) : Tuesday 27th Feb