Thursday 31 May 2018


One morning in December 1824, the Duke of Wellington received an unpleasant letter.
'My Lord Duke,' it began, 'in Harriette Wilson's Memoirs ...
... which I am about to publish, are various anecdotes of Your Grace which it would be most desirable to withhold, at least such is my opinion. I have stopped the Press for the moment, but as the publication will take place next week, little delay can necessarily take place.'

The letter, signed by one Joseph Stockdale ...
... a pornographer and scandal-monger, was a naked attempt at blackmail. The Duke was a field marshal, cabinet minister, national hero, husband and father, while Harriette Wilson was a famous London courtesan past her prime, then living in exile in Paris. Wellington was being asked to pay money to be left out of her memoirs.

His response is famous: 'Publish and be damned' And they did. 

Whilst Stockdale and Ms Wilson earned a bob or to at first, Stockdale was destroyed by Libel suits and Ms Wilson died in poverty and obscurity.

fbb's question is this:-

Why does ...

Sheffield Bus Partnership
Buses for Sheffield
First Bus
South Yorkshire PTE

... reduce bus services in the summer?

In the past this reduction applied "during school summer holidays" usually a little over six weeks. Does this make sense? Surely with all the little kiddie winkies with nothing to do for six weeks, they should be whizzing across Sheffield to enjoy all the excellent leisure facilities that the city has to offer.

Maybe numbers might not increase but extra sprogs on the loose should more than compensate for those jetting off to the Algarve/Blackpool/Skeggy for their hols.
With a bit of marketing, there ought to be the potential to GROW the business during those six weeks.

Listen to the chorus from the bodies listed above, "Marketing, what is that?"

Last year services 52/52A and 120 were reduced from the end of May because they are the main routes that serve Sheffield University and "most of the students go home then." Under the "Partnership" there are probably too many buses on these service even when the students are there; an awful lot of them now travel by car and the rest walk from their Halls of Residence.

Do the departing dons-to-be drastically deplete the drivers' dosh-box?

Roll on to 2018 and all main services get the chop for, not six weeks, but THREE MONTHS. Some of these routes go nowhere near any University hot spots; they serve residential areas inhabited by real life Sheffield folk who will still shop, go to the pub, visit friends and possibly - with a little bit of marketing, take trips out for cinema/footy/parks etc etc.

Listen to the chorus from the bodies listed above, "Marketing, what is that?"

So fbb was excited to receive this communication from a "usually reliable source" - not a "bus nut" or a bus spotter but a retired "bus man" with a lifetime of experience in the industry.

Yesterday I learned the real reason for the frequency reductions.

The Supertram track replacement programme started last weekend with Hillsborough - Middlewood as you know and Stagecoach Yorkshire are providing the replacement bus services as they did for the 2016 rail replacement works. However in 2016 buses were borrowed (hired?) from other Stagecoach companies such as Manchester and Dundee. The difference this year is that Stagecoach Yorkshire are providing the services from their own fleet thus saving the cost of bringing in buses and drivers.

In order to release buses and drivers for the tram replacement services, frequency reductions are imposed on various Stagecoach bus services across the Sheffield network. It is nothing to do with reduced loadings in summer or lower student numbers travelling.

Stagecoach Yorkshire, through the Partnership, persuaded First to bring in their summer service reductions early so that there was uniformity of timetables.

Bet First obviously didn't take much persuading - an easy way to make more £££MONEY£££ by short changing the good folk of Sheffield?

Now that makes more sense (but unpalatable sense) than hiding behind dubious student numbers.

The real reason has been kept from passengers and I think this is deceitful, never mind the so-called Partnership promising improved services.
This programme of rail replacement works continues until 14 September. Does this mean that the "summer holiday" reductions will not be reinstated on 3 September when schools return But continue until 14 September, or not be reinstated at all?

But is it true? fbb's correspondent did not reveal HIS source, but it will be a reliable one - he would not write such a letter based on shallow rumour mongering. 

Undaunted by the gargantuan task ahead, fbb's source contacted officials at the PTE and the participating bus companies.

In simple terms they hotly deny the thesis. 
But as Mandy Rice Davis didn't quite opine, "They would say that, wouldn't they?"

This from a PTE official:-

You are correct that some of the core services in Sheffield have changed this weekend with reduced frequencies. This is as a consequence of lower volumes of people travelling from late May based on previous years’ experience and is designed to match supply with demand in a more intelligent way. As you rightly observe, this is no different from the steps we take every summer however we have pulled them forwards in order to improve the efficiency of the network.

Efficiency - does that mean "profitability"?

The rail replacement work is unconnected to these changes. All arrangements in respect of the provision of bus replacements are dealt with by Stagecoach Yorkshire and Supertram and the planned locations for the work that is taking place this year and in future years was agreed last Autumn. The timing is purely coincidental and has been dictated by the availability of steel for the rail.

No mention of students!

And this from Stagecoach:-

The decision to revise the phasing of the summer frequency reductions in Sheffield was based on experience from last year and reflects the reduction in demand we see when the student activity winds down. The decision was made through the Sheffield Bus Partnership.

i.e. via legalised "collusion"?

The additional bus requirement for Supertram replacement works is being funded in house and the dates are coincidental. 

Neither fbb nor his correspondent is convinced by these replies. IF the numbers make such a poor piece of customer service essential, then let's have some figures. By how much did passenger numbers at Hemsworth, Greystones, Batemoor etc decline from the end of May last year?

And is there a similar decline at Easter, Christmas, half terms or mid-semester "reading weeks"?

One final point of interest. The above replies are from responsible and experienced senior officials within the Sheffield bus management. fbb's correspondent's source is also a senior official within the Sheffield bus management.

Official truth?

Or real truth?

One final point. We are assured that services will return to normal from the start of the school autumn term. But the hordes of absent students will not return for another month. If they were the real reason for the cutbacks, why not maintain the chop until October 1st?

Bur PLEASE don't!!!

And An Apology - Sort Of?
With reference to the tram rail replacement programme in Sheffield, currently between Hillsborough and Middlewood, fbb has written (at least twice!) about the lack of any timetables for the revised Supertram Link bus services SL1 and SL1a between Middlewood and Stocksbridge.
These are extended through to Hillsborough and, over the bank holiday weekend, were the ONLY means of getting near to the unserved tram stops.

The map on the leaflet shows how inconvenient this arrangement was.
The dotted orange lines show where you had to walk!

But yesterday, whilst mining the depths of the Supertram web site, fbb found timetables! Those for the Bank Holiday weekend were unbelievable - literally! Unless fbb was being more incompetent than usual, he did not notice these tables BEFORE the weekend???

For Saturday 26th ...
... no buses between 0804 and 1918!

For Sunday 27th and Monday 28th ...
... nothing between 0902 and 1802 and nothing other than a couple of short workings to Oughtibridge (pronounced Ooty-bridge) with no way back.

Perhaps it is a good thing that folk were not trying to understand these tables - and what, pray, is an SL1b when it's at home. No explanation was given.

A more understandable timetable now applies.

Pedestrian Parcel Progress
Having been "expected" at 1805 on Sunday, fbb's exciting package from Hattons at Widnes ...
... had made it all the way to Warrington by 1030 yesterday morning.

 Next P.S.  blog : Friday 1st June 

Wednesday 30 May 2018

Playing Catch-up - Insignificant Snippets (2)

Free Advert for Coastliner
The BBC broadcast one of the most positive bits of bus news that fbb can remember. fbb was idly watching the 1300 bulletin on Bank Holiday Monday (28th May) when up popped a long item about Transdev's Yorkshire Coastliner route 840, Leeds to Whitby. 
fbb would have liked to show you  the timetable ...
... but Transdev seem disinclined to let you see it! Extra journeys for the Bank Holiday weekend were still available yesterday.
The news "headline", at the start of the bulletin, announced the item above, "the UK's most scenic bus route", and the story itself  began with an aerial shot of a shiny blue bus zipping past Goathland Station  (North York Moors Railway).
Other roadside shots ...
... showed the route in all its picturesque glory. There was an interview with a very smartly attired driver who confessed that driving the 840 was a privilege and a pleasure. Thanks to a gorgeous bit of moorland weather ...
... the bus looked superb.

The "sitz im leben" should have been the presentation of the award ...
... but that only appeared as a "still" on the BBC News web site.

But there was an on-bus interview with Paul ...
... in which the Wetherby-resident bus supporter was able to lead into stats and comment about the shameful reduction in rural bus services caused by government cutbacks.

So well done Paul Kirby and Bus Users UK for getting some really upbeat bus reporting on the Beeb.

The item ended with a very short mention of Moorsbus ...
... portraying the service as the only link to the moorland villages and how it relies on donations to survive; not completely true but a reasonable point nevertheless.

Observed En Route
No 1 son is not renowned for his railway knowledge or enthusiasm, but does "commute" from Didcot to London several days a week. A couple of light-hearted observations have graced his twit site recently.

What exactly is this?
It looks, says the lad (aged 44), like a mediaeval illustration of a comet bringing doom on the overly superstitious populace.
In fact it is the lock on the door of a Great Western Railway HST guard's (train manager's) cubby hole worn from 50 years of use. An fbb guess; you would hope it isn't one of their very new bi-modes!

And, to quote, "currently stuck by the grooviest building on my commute."
It is (more correctly was) Southall water tower and is now refurbished as flats.

Not far away is the Southall gas holder.
Is Southall the only national rail station to have its name in Bengali?
Not to be outdone, if the fbb's peer over the new housing development adjacent to their extensive estate ...
... they can just spot Seaton Tower peeping up above the trees.
This, too, is an ex-water tower converted into just one dwelling but with more spectacular views!

Tram Track Renewal Snippets
The current rail replacement programme at Sheffield Supertram continues until mid September. The Supertram people have been admirably thorough in their at-stop publicity. The current work is between Hillsborough and Middlewood on the "Yellow" route to the north of the city.

Meanwhile, at the Halfway terminus to the south-east of  the city, (and about as far from Hillsborough as you can get by tram) everything is fully explained.
There's lovely!

There is also summary of the actual arrangements.
A fuller explanation is available on line as previously blogged.
Replacement buses are provided but timetables for the revised SL1 and SL1a remain a state secret.
Nobody has actually managed to publish a timetable anywhere. Presumably Sheffielders have to guess!

It's All On-Line No 421
fbb has been spending hisd pennies again on something brand new for the model railway in addition to the £34.90 three way point. It is coming from Hattons, formerly of Liverpool but now of Widnes.

It was ordered on Friday evening and the order was processed on Saturday. fbb was amazed that his goodies were "picked and packed" on Sunday afternoon and he could, thereafter, "track his delivery".
It was still "expected" by Royal Mail all day Monday 28th but, as it was a Bank Holiday, fbb "expected" nothing more.

Yesterday morning (29th), alas, it was still "expected" and at 1900 was, (pause for amazement at the power of modern technology) ...
... still expected at 06:08pm on Sunday 27th. At 2200 last night the Tracker page was ...
...completely blank.

When will it be delivered to fbb?

 At last The Scoop blog : Thursday 31st May 

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Playing Catch-up - Insignificant Snippets (1)

That's The Whole Point
Visitors to fbb mansions are often surprised to see a minimalist OO gauge model railway adjacent to the servants' entrance. More mature folk are sometimes exercised about the terrifying dangers of live electricity outside in all weathers.

The electricity is a modest 12000 millivolts and only gets plugged into the mains when (a) it is fine enough for fbb to venture "en plein air" and (b) when trains are actually running - hence not under adverse meteorological  conditions.

But those weather conditions do mean that the model, like the big railway, needs much maintenance after a grim winter.

The big railway has, in the past, saved space in its stations and goods yards by installing "three way" pointwork ...
... although such delicacies are become increasingly rare. But for the same space-saving reason they are popular with model railway builders - and that includes fbb.
But there is a problem with all OO gauge pointwork when used outside; dirt, snow and cat! Normal track can be cleaned quickly and easily, but those little metal tabs that ensure the electric gets from point blades (that move) to stock rails (that don't) become unreliable  under the onslaught of all the above problems.
They are a pig to clean and bend easily then refuse to bend back and make contact. There are four of the little blighters on a three way point, so four chances of electrical failure.** Then there are the "over centre" springs that hold everything firm. They can fail as well.

That means that Toby and Thomas come to a shuddering halt and have to be rescued by "the Hand of God"!!
So fbb toddled off to Peco at Beer and bought a new one at £34.90 OUCH.
But it does all work now.

Until the next time.

P.S. Just looked on-line for a picture of the necessary replacement and found one (new) on offer at £25. WEEP!

** fbb is well aware that clever modellers use "live frog" points.
The "frog" is the "V" shaped buts of plastic where the two tracks diverge.

With this design power is fed to all rails and you add special switches and mysterious electronics to control which trains spring to life when you turn the knob on the controller. How would that lot survive under 9 inches of snow?

Luton & Dunstable from A to Z
Old news which has only just found its way into fbb's mental ambit.
One of the first bus routes to use the Luton and Dunstable busway was Arriva's service A. It ran from the Airport via Luton Interchange to Dunstable and continued to Houghton Regis.

Today's timetable looks different.
It terminates at Dunstable not Houghton Regis - or does it? If you are wondering about the Dunstable Church Street line of blanks; well, wonder no more because a couple of evening journeys go there. FROM Dunstable ALL buss call at Church Street. So they all go there but Arriva keeps it a secret? - or do they?
The "A" is now joined by a "Z".
This goes half way along the busway then veers off to the Hospital and, eventually reaches Houghton Regis before terminating at Dunstable - or does it?
Looking at the timetable it would appear that Zs turn into As at Dunstable ASDA (and vice versa) thus retaining that faster run from Luton via the busway.

fbb does not think that the 01 arrival at ASDA sits there for 14 minus before becoming the 15 minutes past  back via Houghton Regis.
It is a lollipop shaped loop but secretly so.

In December last year, Centrebus started a similar "copy cat" service, but only every 30 minutes round the lollipop. Their map implies the "loopiness" of the service ...
... but the timetables are similarly unhelpful.
And they ALL go to Church Street, not just the last two. But the route numbers (letters!) DO imply loops ...
There you have it! As become zs; Zs become As - easy when you know ...
... see, the 1456 Z arrival at ASDA becomes the 1458 A back to Luton. Shouldn't the column head be "ZA"?

But why, oh why, do bus companies invent such useful services and then refuse to explain them properly?

For the record, Centrebus also operate route B and E via the busway
Stress Testing Result?
But not quite fbb's stress. In his self appointed role as the Fat Controller of the back yard layout, fbb usually perches on a stool.
Sadly, and for no obvious reason, there was a major structural failure on Saturday. But, readers will be joyful to hear, no injury was sustained by your blogging old man who leaped smartly to his feet when the first sounds of rending timber emanated from beneath the ample posterior.

First's Fares Farce
Many of the fares were "revised" on Sunday 27th May. Nowadays you don't have fares tables; the ticket machines are updated remotely by wifi, blue tooth or fervent prayer.

Sadly, for Mr F's corporate piggy bank, this message was displayed on these wonder machines when drivers inserted the key as they started their day's duty.
Please be aware that your fare prices will update and go live today if they haven't already done so.

Only they hadn't and they didn't - in some cases not until late afternoon.

What a delight it is to live in such a such a stunning technological world.

Dinosaurs unite!

 Next catch-up blog : Wednesday 30th May