Friday 16 November 2018

Deck The Halls ... Part The First

Residents of Northamptonshire and over the Warwickshire border in the Rugby area are invited to join fbb in a not-so-jolly Christmas Carol. All together now ...

Deck the halls with boughs of holly 
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la 
'Tis the season to save lolly 
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la 
Dust and sackcloth our apparel 
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la. 
Sing the gloomy Yule-tide carol 
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

See the bus routes vanish for us.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la 
Strike the harp and join the chorus. 
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la 
Watching ev'ry saving measure. 
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la 
Souter keeps his share-price treasure. 
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

Fast away the old year passes. 
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la 
Grim the new year, lads and lasses 
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la 
Sing we bus-less, all together. 
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
We'll have to walk whate'er the weather. 
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

To bring festive cheer to their customers, Uncle Brian's lads have announced their "service revisions" for the new year, so all can enjoy the anticipation as they chomp on their turkey and trimmings.

Of course, times are tough for bus companies. Their businesses are, frankly, struggling thus making the shareholders grumpy. There's nothing wrong with wanting to keep your shareholders happy; after all it is their money that finances the business and they are entitled to expect a modicum of interest and/or capital growth for the risk they have taken.

To what extent the loss of passengers is the result of continual cut-backs and above inflation fares increases to keep the shareholders (the grey men of the Stock exchange in particular) in eternal joy and bliss is debatable. fbb learned of the Law of Diminishing Returns in his "A" level economics lessons from Mr Harris.

Although that nice Theresa would love to reduce congestion, emissions and stress by getting us all to use public transport, her penny bank is nearly empty and what small change is left will be needed to pay johnny foreigner to give us permission to leave "Le Club d'Europe"!

So what's happening?

To understand the changes and their consequences fbb will need some maps of the new network AND the timetables, but these are not yet forthcoming, so this blog will adumbrate the more spectacular cut-backs.
Note the Daventry brtanding on the picture above! The half hourly not-very-X 7 becomes hourly.

We are promised extra buses between Market Harborough and Leicester and between Northampton and Brixworth "at most times of day" but as yet these "most times" are unspecified.

Between MK and Northampton we are promised a new X6 which looks like it will be even less X by filling in for some withdrawn Northampton town services.

Hourly service 3 is withdrawn completely ...
... reducing the Harlestone Road frequency by half. Bearable, perhaps, but much less bearable is at the other end of the route ...
... where Hackleton, Horton and Piddington lose their service completely. Picturesque Piddington ...
... with buses running almost to the far end of the village ...
 ... and turning at Salcey Rise with its lavish passenger appurtenances, is by no means a hamlet - neither are the other two denuded communities. You would have thought some sort of service could at least cover its operating costs. Apparently not.

Service X89 to Towcester and Milton Keynes ...
... is withdrawn completely reducing the service to Towcester to every hour. Likewise Towcester to Milton Keynes is left with just the hourly X91. The 88 is diverted via Milton Malsor and Blisworth as a replacement but ...
... the villages of Pury End, Paulerspury, Potterspury and Deanshanger lose their service. No replacement is planned as Northamptonshire is as much "dans la merde" financially as Auntie Theresa.

It goes on and on. The bus service from Moulton, a significant residential area and former village ...
... will lose its "local" hourly service 10 to the town, just leaving the hourly X10 which has trundled all the way from Kettering. It is also being diverted to replace a just part of a town service running every 30 minutes.

Arguable, Rugby fares just as badly. Service 64 (DARK BROWN in the map below) to Leamington Spa is withdrawn completely ...
... depriving villages Like Marton and the gorgeously named Long Itchington ...
... of their important links.
Buses on the associated route 63 (ORANGE on the map) will remain to cover Rugby to Dunchurch and Southam to Leamington Spa but, obviously, at half the frequency.

D4 from Rugby to Long Buckby is withdrawn completely ...
In this form the service has not been around for long, so it was either a simple failure OR, more likely, some "Section 106" funding from a developer came to an end. Note that it gave an hourly service to Long Buckby railway station.

Also withdrawn from its double run from town to station is service 96 (Northampton to Rugby).
The 96 (above) is seen waiting at the "interchange stop" where, on a recent visit, correspondent Alan found no bus stop sign, no shelter, no timetable frame and no timetables in the ticket office.

Now you do wonder why people didn't use it OR the D4. It is such a mystery.

The above is just a sample of the more obvious withdrawals. Every town served by Stagecoach is having its service pattern "revised" and fbb has only found one service that has an improved frequency.

Of course, when local authorities had money, they would tender for replacements and the incumbent might face a newcomer who, emboldened by his tender "prize" might well try a bit on competition elsewhere. Prudent operators were often prepared to sustain a lower margin to protect their whole network.

But with empty Local Authority pockets there is no chance of any intruder, so it is a risk free short back and sides.

Once again we should be concerned about the failure of "the commercial model" to deliver what is required and, more importantly, concerned about the increased costs to our "society" from bus-less communities.

There will be more from the Stagecoach changes in due course.

And, Talking Of New Trains ...
A snippet from Alan concerning the Gospel Oak to Barking line in London.
i.e. were frantically mending the old ones at the weekend.

So what is wrong with the shiny new class 710s?
A further thought from Alan.
Ah, the electric is not finished yet? Now that could make running the new trains a tad on the tricky side!

 Next Weekend snippets blog : Saturday 17th November 


  1. Is part of the passenger 'loss' due to fewer journeys being made by bus pass holders? In recent years the age for eligibility has risen from 60 to 66 or is it67 now? I certainly see a lot fewer pass holders travelling on our local services.

    Whatever the feeling regarding whether bus passes should be available or not its patronage and revenue.

    1. Pension age, hence bus pass age in most of England (exc London), is currently 65, but increases over the next 12 months to 66.
      This does appear to be having a big impact on the number of travellers with ENCTS passes - the older people are the less they are likely to travel.

  2. On the whole, the proposals reflect wider changes in society. The well-charted decline of town centre retail nationwide is particularly accute in Northampton, where even the Marks & Spencer has gone. Rural villages are increasingly inhabitated by people who are not there during the day, having commuted by car to every point of the compass. As a rough rule of thumb, every house sold to an incomer brings with it one more car than was there previously, and a much reduced tendency to participate in the life of the village.
    There is little that any bus operator, publicly or privately controlled, can do to stem passenger numbers against these wider trends.
    Certainly my last few trips in Northamptonshire have rarely had as many as 10 people on the bus - even an X7, which lost around 4 of its 12 passengers in among the warehouses of Grange Park.

  3. Some of these withdrawals are hardly surprising, as the services have been on their last legs for some time.

    I recall the X7 being hourly with extra infill journeys before, which implies there isn't the market for the half-hourly through service, as Shieldsman suggests.

    The 3/96 is also unsurprising, whilst at the other end those villages only retained their custom last time (when service... 14?... was withdrawn) after last minute desperate measures.

    I believe the D4 is developer funded, and presumably as with so many new housing estates, there hasn't been the take-up of passengers. I don't know how large Daventry is, but most towns of the size I estimate lost "town services" years previously.

    The 64 is in Warwickshrie's rural hinterland of car-owning paradise, and again only retained some elements a few years ago (when service 665 was created).

    I think it's less a case of ain't no dosh, and more ain't no people.

  4. It's more that LO now have no spare trains. The 710s were meant to be in service about a year ago so the existing 172s are going off lease. Being only a few years old the 172s have been snapped up and the new operators (WMT) need them now. Any further 710 delays will leave LO with less units then they need for the timetable.

    The Delays at Bombardier are compounding future deliveries too. The 720s for Greater Anglia were meant to be in service next Spring but so far only 1 unit has been completed and it's yet to leave the factory. I understand Bombardier is now having to pay for some of the existing fleet to be modified to meet the 2020 accessibility rules (even though they will be withdrawn within 18 months) to cover for the delayed delivery.

    Also the first Stadler Flirt for GA arrived yesterday. It's the first low floor train in the UK so might be worth taking a look at.

  5. No reference maps for the changes in the towns of Northamptonshire? Go back to the service changes page on the stagecoach website and hover the cursor on the almost obscure 'click here for map of service changes' PDF files!

  6. When I saw the changes come out, I waited for fbb to vent his spleen, and waited for his "correspondent" to provide the salient on the ground evidence. Now I don't think anyone can dress up these as anything other than extensive cuts but to cover off some of fbb's comments and also support some of the commenters on here:

    The 3 has long been a highly marginal service as has been mentioned. The Rye Hill runs off peak and fits in around schools and carries few passengers.

    The D4 has indeed been propped up with s.106 funding. However, fbb ventures "The 96 (above) is seen waiting at the "interchange stop" where, on a recent visit, correspondent Alan found no bus stop sign, no shelter, no timetable frame and no timetables in the ticket office. Now you do wonder why people didn't use it OR the D4. It is such a mystery." Hmmm.... perhaps it might be that the station had a substantially increased car park a few years back? Might that be a reason and that it serves a rural hinterland. I used the D4 earlier this year and it didn't attract many in Daventry or Long Buckby Village - places with bus shelters and timetables etc!

    Similarly, the 64 and 65 trundle through some very sparsely populated areas.

    Of course, fbb closes with...

    "Once again we should be concerned about the failure of "the commercial model" to deliver what is required and, more importantly, concerned about the increased costs to our "society" from bus-less communities."

    Very true on the issue of the potential costs for social exclusion etc. However, the reality is also this - we are seeing some of the largest shifts in how we work and, most notably, how we shop. We see this reported all the time and the decline of the high street with more emphasis on on-line shopping. If fbb won't recognise that as a key driver to some of these changes, then he's kidding himself. In addition, what does he suggest instead of a commercial model - if central government isn't prepared to spend a little to prop up tendered routes, what hope for a franchised system? You can call the operators "fat cats" but look at London now the cash tap has been turned off and look at the margins operators are making. Where's the money going to come from - increasing the burden on taxpayers?

    Shieldsman and LVBM are absolutely right in their statements.

  7. It's funny how it's taken rail 20 years longer than bus to get onto low-floor.

    1. Since UK train stations have high level platforms why do we need low floor trains?

    2. @padbus - The low floor* means the doors are level with UK standard platforms, no step up into the train and no wheelchair ramp needed. (Other routes with level boarding (ie Heathrow/Crossrail) have higher then normal platforms which limits what can pass them.

      *IIRC it's about 200mm lower then normal stock, not much but potentially a big boost to accessibility

  8. Stagecoach are also making similar changes across the whole of Warwickshire at the same time. Perhaps the most notable of these is that one Gold service in Warks (G1, Warwick - South Farm) is becoming plain (non Gold) 1 - I believe that the Gold Solos have already been swapped with standard Enviro 200s from Wales.
    Several of the frequency reductions in Warwickshire will bring them back to the levels they were at around ten years ago, but some are rather worse, particularly in Rugby.