Monday 14 June 2021

Then And Now (1)

 Did fbb Really Do This?

fbb was, at the time, working for Southern Vectis producing the Great Britain Bus Timetable when boss Stuart Linn (camera shy lad) enquired in passing whether your aged blogger (then not aged and not a blogger) could, way back then, produce a full colour timetable book.

The answer was, "Yes, probably - but give me a week to see how it might be done." "Might Be Done" would be with simple software on an Acorn series computer derivative of the celebrated BBC Model B; not with over complex over "engineered" software on Windows nor with professional printing software on an Apple Mac.

fbb went home that very day, and after a yummy nosh from Mrs fbb, retreated to his "office" and started "playing". No samples were ever kept but, using a simple spreadsheet programme, it seemed possible to do what the boss wanted. This was intended to be a full colour all mode transport information booklet for the Isle of Wight.

Produced (with the exception of the Rupert Besley cartoon on the cover) entirely "in house" up to the point of the actuall printing.

Not only had Southern Vectis never done this before, but neither, scarily, had fbb.

Could it all be fitted in 96 A5 pages plus cover (which gave fbb 98 pages to play with.

Contrast And Compare
The main purpose of these blogs is not just a nostalgia-fest for fbb, but to compare the provision of bus services in 1997 with those on offer just over a quarter of a century later.

During those intervening years there was a major change of policy chez "The Vectis". Instead of services running from coast to coast via the county town of Newport, it was decided to slice the route network into smaller chunks, easier to manage if things go wrong, and easier to adjust timetables to match demand.

So we explore in sections, beginning with 

Newport to Cowes 1997
There always were three basic ways to get a bus into Cowes. In 1997 service 1 (ORANGE) ran via Round House - which really is - centre left.
Service 2 (also ORANGE) followed a more direct route via Newport Road. There were variants with A or B suffix, usually at school or works times. The two routes formed a massive circular via Ryde, Bembridge, Sandown, Shanklin and Godshill, labelled "The Big Orange" although "branding" only extended to an orange background for the route number.
Each route (1 and 2) ran half hourly ...
... and fbb (even then desirous of showing loops properly) was able to devise shading (in pale orange, of course) to show those journeys which did go all the way round. And, as shown in a note on the main route diagram, there was a summary of buses between Newport and Cowes.
The third route into Cowes was via Mill Hill Road and was served by routes 91 and 92 (RED).
These routes had their origins in the Hydrobus service-by-bread-van ...
... connecting with the Red Funnel Hyrofoil service to Southampton ...
... then a bus from terminal to Southampton Central station and train to London. Obviously the trains showed a headcode 91 - what else?

91 and 92 ran limited stop between Cowes and Newport and the 1997 book showed connections all the way to Southampton Central ...
... and there was (just!) room for a rail connection diagram.
And there were train simetables in summary as well; for London ...
... Weymouth ...
... and Cardiff.
Sadly, despite herculean efforts, it was not possible in the space available, to cover Cross Country trains to Birmingham etc.; there were too many "varieties".
But No 3 son was able to recreate two very "difficult" logos!

Newport to Cowes 2021
Things have, indeed, changed. It is now all route 1 (RED) with journeys every twenty minutes each "way round". So still six buses an hour between Newport and Cowes.
Once branded the "RED 1" ,,,
... all buses ran to the Red Jet terminal - with a very tight turn under the arch.
fbb does not know whether it is temporary (to allow double decks on route 1) but nothing now runs to the ferry - all buses terminate the the "traditional" Cowes terminus of Carvel Lane with a little walk map showing the way to the ferry.
The "third way" into Cowes, via Mill Hill Road, once served by two buses each hour ...
... now has a very poor, barely nominal service which we will meet later.

So in 25-ish years the service has maintained its number of buses between the two towns but some local facilities in Cowes have been lost. There are no through buses to the rest of the Island, so any journeys beyond Newport will be longer and less convenient.

Has this major change in emphasis reduced passenger numbers overall - or were there not that many "cross Newport" customers in the first place? Clearly the majority of bus business always has been between Newport and Cowes, a service which is now, effectively, "turn up and go".

The other loss is a jointly marketed through service from Newport to Southampton and London. All the bits are there but ticketing is far less user friendly.
But you do now get a posh double decker in Southampton!
It's certainly a bit more whizzo than it used to be!

It goes without saying that the vision Stuart Linn had for a complete guide to transport to and on the Island has long since evaporated.

Public transport as become more diffuse, less co-ordinated and much much more difficult for the newcomer to use.

Extremely disappointing.

More contrast and compare tomorrow.

And P.S. : thanks to Island good guy Alan for sending the current timetable book.

 Next IoW Then And Now blog : Tuesday 15th June 


  1. Never realized in the good old days when we visited the Island that I was looking forward to picking up a Bus Timetable book produced by ffb. Those were the days never to be repeated.

  2. Andrew Kleissner14 June 2021 at 16:19

    Interesting to note that, when I was a student in the early 70s, there was an hourly non-stop Southampton-London service usually taking just 70 minutes (with an hourly semi-fast taking a bit longer and also a "stopper"). One peculiarity of those days was that one couldn't travel between So'ton Airport and Swaything as the only trains that called at the former were the semifasts: the London slow service (and trains to Alton, until they were withdrawn) called at Swaythling.

    At the beginning of the academic year the Students' Union used to put on a special train, non-stop from Waterloo to Swaythling!

  3. I'm not sure that the cover picture of the SV 1997 Timetable book was really a very good advert for SV services, amusing though it may be. The bus appears to be stuck in traffic, with the jam being led by a Reliant Robin (or some near relative). If I wanted to "get around" the island, I'm not sure that picture would persuade me to use SV at all!