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 


  1. The other option is that nobody runs the service and all these villages lose their bus service. As much as I dislike First's modus operandi, as the incumbent operator is exiting the scene, it is hardly a money spinner. Yes it looks an operational, rather than customer focussed timetable, but it's a start.

  2. Ah, the joys of the green ink brigade and "Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells".

    Let's look at Keith's missive from another angle...

    1. Foulsham not being served. Well, as FBB points out, it isn't really served at the moment. However, the slight diversion off (costing 2 mins) may be possible. Let's say it is something that First can address.

    2. A missing morning journey. Well, clearly this is a service in a rural area and is built around existing workings to minimise the increase to the PVR. After all, if Stagecoach are pulling out, it indicates that it perhaps isn't a moneyspinner so getting best "bang for buck" is understandable.

    3. The old chestnut. People who get a free pass, don't pay anything and then complaining when they don't get the service that they haven't paid for.

    Keith does forget to mention that, of course, ENCTS passengers can pay a child fare between 0830 and 0930 on First's services. As FBB rightly acknowledges, the timings are to provide consistency of headway with their other services. Why compromise this so Gerald and Maureen can travel for free, rather than paying a child fare across Fakenham?

    4. Norwich is a major city and the service does run later to Taverham et al. How many passengers are there past those points to justify a run to Fakenham and then a run back to the depot? Perhaps it is a fair point but you can appreciate the concern of running a bus for an extra x miles and a driver for another 90 mins for minimal returns past Taverham.

    5. The lack of an arrival before 1000 despite vehicles running empty from the city. I would anticipate that this is because they are arriving into the city, and there is insufficient time to run them back in service from wherever they are arriving, doubtless compounded by rush hour traffic etc. They could perhaps run one empty and start it from (for instance) Foxley and so let it serve some villages but it is dependent on what that bus does beforehand.

    6. City College not served - a fair point

    7. The service looks like an add-on. Well, it is. We all know that. It's being done as an add on to an existing service as the current operator cannot make it pay.

    I'll be the first to criticise First but this is sadly a sign of the times. Has Keith written to Stagecoach to voice his displeasure? Perhaps a note to NCC?

  3. I must, as an old people, protest at Anonymous (who sounds like someone from First's management team!!). I DO pay for my free travel - I pay income tax, VAT, council tax and the dreaded tin tax! I get a relatively feeble state pension which, were it bigger, would remove the need for "free" bus travel, "free" prescriptions and, in a couple of years, "free" TV licence.

    For many people, bus travel is not a luxury, it is a necessity and, despite the cries of commercialism, it should remain, in part, a "Public Service".

    If Fakenhamites cannot travel because of "commercial constraints" they are likely to increase car usage, put more pressure on social services or do the honourable thing and die!

    This all costs more than a pitiful bus fare contribution to old codgers' declining years.

    The commercial plus tenders model for bus operation is slowly (quickly?) unravelling so we need to pay more tax so that public transport can be made to work. Ditto National Health Service et al.

    This is a poor show from First and, like fbb, I reckon it will lose passengers and fail.

    1. Allow me to retort! I am not a member of First's management team. I am a tax payer and do not begrudge paying my share and then some.

      I pay income tax - I don't get a free pass.

      You have a feeble state pension - yes, and mine will be as feeble if not more so and payable only when I'm much older.

      Pensioners are insulated from the worst ravages of price inflation thanks to the Triple Lock. The "poor pensioner" argument, that is factually untrue. As the ONS have stated, in 1977 only 21% of pensioners had a disposable income of £10k (allowing for inflation so its a real terms comparison) whereas it is now 96%. In fact, since 2006, the triple lock has seen pensioners incomes increase whilst the working age population is actually poorer. Yes, there is obviously inequality within any group (there are wealthy pensioners with copper bottomed final salary pensions vs. those who have not) but on average, it is not the case.

      Farepayers don't have the luxury of this, and as well as being poorer are having to pay more to subsidise a poorly funded ENCTS scheme.

      Bus travel is not a luxury and I never said it was. However, people are NOT (aside from the Foulsham example that I agreed with) being cut off. They are simply not able to travel when they want for nothing in this instance of the 0925 departure.

      As for your hyperbole, I'm not advocating some "Logan's Run" style genocide for those of advancing years.

      Lastly, I find it incredible that it is a "poor show from First" - they are replacing a service, avoiding the need for any support (don't know what Konect's timetable was looking like) and yet Stagecoach avoid any culpability.

    2. I wouldn't consider that, for example, riding every bus route in London from terminus to terminus, is essential ENCTS travel that the rest of us should be footing the bill for, so when council money is tight and plenty of other service really NEED the money, then your ENCTS day out to Norwich being delayed for an hour, when I could equally go shopping locally anyway, doesn't really cut it for me either anon old person.. as anon 2 says we'll have to wait many years longer than you've had to to get OUR state pension, and chances are, because of your generation's continual " joy riding" abuse of the ENCTS privilege, we probably won't get ANY sort of free travel, or if we do there probably won't be many buses to use it on!

  4. There are all manner of things that could be said about the ENCTS passes and their introduction, probably too overly political for fbb's blog. However, let us remember that they were arguably introduced as an electoral bribe (we'll keep your pensions low but give you all these extra freebies), and as has been suggested, it is now generally held that pensioners are better off than a proportion of those of working age on higher incomes as a result of the value of their "freebie" extras. The ludicrous "do the honourable thing and die!" comment defies any sensible argument.

    The new service is not perfect, but it has surely been designed to cover as much of the old one as possible in an operationally convenient manner. Adding an extra vehicle onto the service to directly replicate the old one may make it just as much unviable as not running those journeys.

    Unfortunately, a vocal minority of pass holders seem to think that bus services are paid for by magic beans and are entirely there for their convenience. heaven forfend they may have to travel an hour later than they have been used to. Surely that is better than having no service at all, which is what they might have ended up with had First not provided something. Or, as has been suggested, they could just... pay! These being the same minority who think they have been paying for their passes "all their lives", are remarkably spritely when it comes to bagging their preferred seats, nigh-on ordering fare-payers to stand so they can sit, complaining that a child might dare to speak above a whisper, etc etc etc.

    In my experience, those who have most need of passes are the least vocal, and would be too embarrassed to shout about it.

  5. Coo . . . . hasn't this topic opened the proverbial can!!
    Just a few random points:
    1. Norfolk CC have the power to instruct operators to accept their ENCTS pass before 0930 (on payment of a small amount of money). Plenty of routes elsewhere in the UK do just that, so that comment is not yet germane.
    2. We don't know yet how FirstBus are intending to run the route; Stagecoach (as did Norfolk Green) have an outstation in Fakenham . . . maybe FirstBus will assume this as well, and offer the Fakenham drivers employment? After all, ECOC did just this - outstations to minimise light running. Again . . the comment is not yet germane.
    3. It is a feature of many rural yet interurban bus routes that there is a gap between c0800 and c0900; there's a good reason for this! The commuters and scholars have already travelled for their c0830 start and the OAP's can't travel yet because their passes aren't valid. Additionally, this hour is just when the PVR is at its full stretch, so offering a journey which won't carry many passengers, yet costs a peak vehicle isn't good commercial sense.
    4. Something that hasn't been mentioned yet is that this is a fully commercial service; Norfolk CC (assuming they will undertake their appropriate responsibilities under the Transport Act 1985) will, on seeing the final timetable, look at buying in top-up trips or diversions . . . . Foulsham not being served may well fall into this category.
    5. I doubt that the current 1855 ex Norwich will carry more than a scattering of passengers as far as the urban boundary and probably penny numbers thereafter . . . an 1810 trip sounds about right to me (shops closed or nearly so; commuters collected for an 1800 finish at work and so on).

    Let's all remember that the condition of the bus industry is where it is because of Local and Central Government intransigence - the ENCTS scheme wasn't wanted by the industry, but foisted on them by Whitehall and the behest of the Prime Minister who was desperately looking to avoid losing power. The funding was neither ring-fenced or adequate, and cuts to Local Government funding for almost 10 years have left no money in the back pocket for anything other than essentials.

    Stagecoach have determined that they can't continue to lose money in Kings Lynn {they're a business that needs to make some profit to continue). Lynx are a small outfit that need to be careful how much they expand, otherwise they'll be under-capitalised and will fail. FirstBus do have a garage in Kings Lynn, but have already walked away from KL town routes as being unprofitable . . . . might they return if there's no competition?
    This is actually a prime example where Lynx and FirstBus should be able to take on specific routes without fear of competition from each other in the interests of a stable network of routes and inter-availability of fares, but aren't allowed to do so because of Competition Law, which wasn't written for buses but nevertheless applies. {It's worth pointing out, however, that Norfolk CC CAN act as honest broker between the two companies . . . . whether they either will or indeed wish to is another can to be opened . . . . }.

  6. Much of my detailed thoughts have been given above. The First timetable under discussion was issued as part of an initial response to Stagecoach announcing that they were in discussions to close their Kings Lynn depot and associated routes. Stagecoach’s cancellation of route licences did not happen for another couple of weeks after First’s announcement. First’s timetable is described as “preliminary” and early April. The news item does state that Fakenham will be included in the Norwich Fare Zone so for paying passengers the fare to town includes anywhere First goes in Norwich. This is a big plus point that pass holders don’t consider.

    This timetable is part of a scene setter by First within the Norfolk County Council negotiations as to what needs to be tendered v commercial provision to replace Stagecoach. Lynx have said they cannot take on all the services. The existing X29 is partially subsidised, but I don’t know what journeys that facilitates, but First will know that and the preliminary timetable could be more or less than Stagecoach currently run commercially. I suspect that First are not planning to actually operate that timetable, but could if they have too. First’s route is registered from April 3rd, but Stagecoach’s withdrawal is not until April 29th. I doubt that we will get 4 weeks of duplicate services. I would expect the actual First X29 will be based on what has been issued, plus county contract facilities, plus possible positioning journeys depending on the base for the buses and the whole integrated as part of a wider North Norfolk package to start April 30th. It could continue to be Kings Lynn - Fakenham - Norwich, but from First's depot. As always county educational travel is not always publically visible, but is part of the transport scene.

    First have already seen Konectbus withdraw their offer of providing a service from Fakenham to Norwich. Previously First have seen the withdrawal of Anglianbus (now Konectbus) from Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.

    I just wish I could have a bus pass before I am 66, but I understand the economics and as Dorset CC said the money is better spent on care in the home than rural buses.

  7. I have notice recently a number of articles pointing out that the biggest age group using buses is 12-20. ie Children and students who have no income beyond pocket money / student loans. How do we stop them needing to buy a car?