Sunday, 5 January 2020

More Of A Trim But More Of A Mess (2)

In yesterday's blog, fbb took his readers from Dronfield's civic/shopping/leisure centre down the steep and wiggly hill to the station on the old A61, the "down the middle" route from Chesterfield to Sheffield, no longer served by a simple direct bus.

There is a slightly better route between station and community facilities but it, too, is spurned by bus services.

We pick up the story at the bottom of yesterday's Soaper Lane.
Straight across is Snape Hill Road which is the bus route up the hill opposite to the Coal Aston area. But we turn tight, towards the station; but before we get there, we turn right up Lea Road.
(pause for fbb to apologise for mis-reading the map for yesterday's piece. Access to the station can be achieved by the footway from Lea Road, not Soaper Lane).
The corner over the railway bridge is tight and there is a sharp right by the Oaks Community Church ...
... takes you back up the hill to the Civic Centre. The high Street is narrow but there are plenty of bus routes serving equally narrow roads. It is not clear to fbb why small buses have not used this route. perhaps someone knows why.

There is a bus service that crosses from east to west, but not the way fbb has taken his readers.
The 14 and 15 run from the Civic Centre via Wreakes Lane (pronounced Rakes Lane), then along Sheffield Road, missing the station, before turning up to Coal Aston. The 14 and 15 have arrived at Dronfield as 16 and 16A.

Derbyshire's timetable explains "the join" by cross referencing notes, whereas the operator, T M Travel, shows how the through journeys work.
If ever you are in Chesterfield with just over an hour to spend, the round trio from New Beetwell Street or Packers Row via Holmesfied, Dronfield and Apperknowle and back to Elder Way is a picturesque and enjoyable ride.

Historically the two services were separate (Chesterfield to Holmesfield and Chesterfield to Apperknowle and Dronfield) but common sense has joined them together. T M Travel's map is a little economical with the truth on both sides of the town (click on the map for a larger view) ...
... but it's better than nothing and detail is available from Derbyshire and, of course, the timetable.

So, back to the 43 and 44 and present ...
... and from Monday 27th January. Through journeys on the 43 are reduced to half hourly, but at inconsistent times past the hour,  and an extra journey running from the Civic Centre to Sheffield ...
... which, with the 44, provides a fifteen minute frequency between Sheffield and Meadowhead but an unbalance headway everywhere else.

Here is Stagecoach's combined version taken from their raw CSV files, hence crude layout.
So we have a nice tidy 15 minute frequency from "Woodseats Library" (actually applicable from Meadowhead roundabout) but nothing neat and tidy anywhere else. 

Passengers like a nice tidy and menmorable frequency and the 43 and 44 don't achieve that anywhere except in Sheffield itself where there are oddles of other buses. fbb guesses that the short workings from Dronfield will be lightly used and withdrawn at the next re-jig.

On Saturdays there are no short workings so the ends of the route have a 20 minutes frequency but still with a 20/40 spit in the middle on the 43, the middle being the main source of passengers one would think.

fbb would suggest running the 43 every 30 minutes Monday to Saturday, the 44 every hour and IF demand requires it, something different every hour to enhance the service to Gosforth Valley.

There is also another problem with the 43.

Coming from Sheffield, for example, it climbs Wreakes Labe and stops near Sainsburys ...
... then a few yards furthger on it turns sharpe right ...
... doubles back on itself and never actually reaches the Civic Centre.
Deatil above, overview below.
At the other end of the "estate loop" it beetles off down Gosforth Lane and Hollins Spring Avenue to Unstone, again missing the Civic Centre at the other end of the loop.
Apologies for an old overview map, there is now no 43A.

fbb is sure that Stagecoach have cosidered all these options and come to the commercial conclusion that this is the "best way of matching rescources to demand" (a k a making a profit!!!) and any further decline in passenger numbers can be solved by yet more trimming.

Again, the question has to be posed. If we are really keen to save the environment, the planet, ourselves (mostly the latter!), is the commercial model of bus travel really thee best way to achieve it?

Of course it isn't.


 Next Monorail blog : Monday 6th January 


  1. Your closing query implies that under a different model service reductions would not happen. Regardless of ownership and control if you can't afford what it costs reductions happen. It's happening in regulated London, it happens in 'municipal' networks, it happened in PTE lands pre 1986, it happens in Northern Ireland and the Republic. Surely therefore a regulated market isn't the best way either.

  2. The commercial model will prevail until such time as public authorities accept that providing the holy grail of a "comprehensive" service can only be provided with mountains of subsidy.
    There are various figures for the cost of the London bus network, but most of them scale out at £100 per head of population. The equivalent figure for Manchester is £10. Mountains to climb...

  3. Unless the government is prepared to put large amounts of money back into the system then the commercial model is the best way to go. Government control is not some great panacea to all ills and is more costly & inefficient that the commercial model so requires more money to run and the slow decision making seen in government circles makes it harder to react to changed circumstances or customer needs.

    The Big Group model is not ideal but it is government interference that has driven out many of the small & medium sized operators who kept the system afloat. Ever increasing red tape, greater interference & hoops to jump through, reduced income (through things like the under funded concessionary fare scheme) & increased costs (higher fuel taxes for buses caused by reduced fuel duty rebate & LEZs requiring more expensive & complex vehicles to be bought & existing fleets to be made obsolete early) have made life difficult for independent operators. The big operators have always struggled on the margins but in many places the smaller operators who picked up the pieces have gone and there is no one left to cover this work.

    On top of this for too long developments have been allowed to happen in a manner difficult to serve by bus. Small developments spread across areas mean demand is too small to support a good enough service to attract custom. Poor road layouts & development design mean that to get a service that covers enough of the area it becomes too indirect to attract people from many parts of the route, again depressing demand and making providing sufficiently good levels of service almost impossible.

  4. It is, of course, easy to criticise the new timetable and routes, but FBB doesn't provide any indication of the level of use of the previous network. Without that information (which is, admittedly, not easy to obtain) it is not really possible to make a fair and balanced criticism.

    I am not an apologist for Stagecoach, but, over the years, they have tried to innovate in various areas. "Speculate to accumulate" is a good principle, but if the operator doesn't accumulate, sooner or later the speculation will have to end. This applies even if the speculative funds come from a public body. Public bodies will not spend their limited resources on running lots of empty buses - and that would also not be particularly good for the environment. That was also true in the 1970s, just as it is today.

  5. Some interesting comments here. FBB asks 'It is not clear to fbb why small buses have not used this route. perhaps someone knows why.' Mainline/First services 15 and 16 did indeed follow this route until their withdrawal in the early 2000's. For passengers from Dronfield Woodhouse/Gosforth Valley journey times were much longer than alternative services. They were normally operated by minibuses. Stagecoach also attempted to provide 'Dronfield local services', a series of three different loops around the town numbered D1, D2 and D3, which lasted about a year a number of years ago. Presumably withdrawn due to a lack of patronage.

    The main traffic flows are between Dronfield and Sheffield and Chesterfield. At peak times the 43 carries good loads, mainly commuters and college students. The uneven departure times in the peaks are due to traffic congestion and longer journey times. Off peak the service is quieter. Between Dronfield and Chesterfield there is a much lower density of housing/potential passengers which must make four buses an hour harder to justify, hence the cut to three an hour. As FBB indicates, the 43 and 44 are better considered as separate routes rather than coordinated, since they serve different parts of Dronfield. That said, the common section between Sheffield and Meadowhead does carry significant numbers of passengers improving the viability of the service making coordination sensible from an operational perspective. Presumably Stagecoach believe that three buses an hour on the 43 is still a viable option, even with an uneven split, otherwise they would have simply cut from three buses an hour to two?