Saturday 12 February 2022

Saturday Variety

It Doesn't Happen Often, But ...

... occasionally the Press does realise that there is Good News about buses. A columnist in the Portsmouth local paper (The News) has taken a drive - in a bus - along the "Eclipse" busway that links Gosport with Fareham and is run by First Bus.

This is an extract from his piece:-
Now that is a good piece of positive writing.

But More Usually ...
It is absolutely astounding how many politicians think they can run a bus service. It is even more astounding to realise that said politicians simply do not understand that First Bus and Stagecoach are running a business for the benefit of their shareholders who provide the money to run the show!

There may be other ways of running buses but this is how it is at the moment.

As usual, fbb adds his comments to the report - a report which will delight Dan's fans.

In a letter to Janette Bell, managing director of First Bus and Martin Griffiths, chief executive of Stagecoach, Mayor Jarvis urges them to reconsider recent decisions which affect bus operations in the region.

Nobody seems to know what these "recent decisions" are, but we ALL know that cut-backs and fares increases are commercially inevitable. Like gas prices!

Mayor Jarvis urged both operators to act more in partnership with the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority ‘to take some responsibility for the wider health of public transport which you say you support’ which is ‘implied’ in the consultation towards an Enhanced Partnership.

And mess up their business?

Mayor Jarvis said: “Operators appear to be acting according to one concern only: their short-term bottom line. You are rushing to cuts even as Covid rates remain high and many people are still working from home."

Seems sensible business practice if the passengers really aren't there?

“Rather than maximising the chances of a full recovery in passenger numbers, by hiking fares and slashing services at the earliest possible moment you are guaranteeing that recovery will not happen – locking in damage from Covid that might otherwise have been temporary."

"Hiking and slashing" is a bit too emotive without any corobative detail.

Dan is, in a rose-tinted glasses world, right about the plan, of course. BUT, someone's got to pay the bills. It is either the passenger through fares, or everybody through taxes. It is a stark choice!

"If we want to realise the potential of our buses, this is strategic short-sightedness of the worst kind."

So put up the council tax and pay some of the bus bills that way, Dan.

“But let’s not forget that your company received millions of pounds of subsidy to keep services running – at a profit – during lockdown. I am not asking companies to bankrupt themselves operating at a loss indefinitely, but the least South Yorkshire has a right to expect is that you reduce cuts and fare rises to the minimum as we get back to normal, even if that means reduced profits or even a short term loss."

So Dan wants First and Stagecoach to bankrupt themselves temporarily? It doesn't work that way in the real world.

It is time to give something back – and that means cancelling the changes that are currently being planned.
You wonder what the reaction might be if Dan the Man popped into his local Tesco and suggested that they give half price food out for a month to help local residents cope with increased fuel bills!

The tough fact of the economics of business is that PROFIT is what is left after ALL the bills are paid; and, for a PLC (Public Limited Company), the profits are distributed to the shareholders to offer them a return on THEIR money which keeps the company in business.

Last year Stagecoach profits were relatively small.
Currently Stagecoach shares are about £1, so for every £1 you invest, you get 3.8p less tax which varies according to your total income. You can be left with, as Paul Daniels used to say, "not a lot!".

First is Worst!
The group last paid a dividend to shareholders in 2013!

So Dan really doesn't get it! The bus companies are not making (implied) large profits.

In one sense, Dan is right. SOMETHING needs to be done to help the public transport industry SURVIVE in the next few years. The big question is what - and who is going to pay the bills.

Answers on a postcard, please to :-

Rishi Sunak
11 Downing Street

fbb is sure he would love to hear from you.
Or maybe not?

More sort-of political stuff from DaFT in tomorrow's blog. Now that will be worth waiting for, won't it?

P.S. Whatever happened to the Dan Jarvis report that was going to bring dramatic improvements to the bus network?

Once upon a time a Diamond "Jubilee" was 75 years, but Good Queen Victoria made sure she had one by downgrading it to 60 years. The true colourless Jubilee, celebrated way way back in Old Testament times was a happening every 50 years.

But with HMQ outliving all the modern Jubilees, we now have Platinum for 70. But we are running out of metals! Scientists tell us the Nihonium is "probably a metal", so that will do for 75 years.

The stamps are out, both pictorial ...
... and special ordinary (definitive).
But there is no plain and simple 1st or 2nd class stamp in a "platinum" colour (whatever that might be). It could be a shiny reflective silver-grey!

The Royal Mint has issued a wide range of coins with a pack of three gold sovereigns at £1800 being one of the higher priced goodies. 
And Reading is the first to outshop one of their buses ...
... tastefully adapting their standard livery style ...
... with official  logo ...
... and appropriate lettering.

Interesting Interchange Inadequacy?
It used to look like this.
The dotted line is for GWR local services from Paddington (DARK BLUE); then two things happened.

The Greenford Branch  became a shuttle from West Ealing ...
... and the stopping service to Reading was taken over by TfL Rail a k a Crossrail a k a The Elizabeth Line. So to get from the Greenford Branch to anywhere except West Ealing you need to change to the Elizabeth Line.

Normally "interchanges" between Underground and National Rail are shown as white blobs with a black edge, linked by a diagrammatic representation of a tunnel or bridge also in white with black edges. The graphic is seen below at Ealing Broadway.

Note that TfL/Crossrail/Elizabeth (DARK BLUE) is a similar colour to GWR (DARK BLUE) and the Piccadilly Line (DARK BLUE) !
But there is no graphic link between blobs to interchange along at West Ealing.

It would be easy to correct, especially when the Elizabeth Line turns the proper shade of purple, by simply swapping the GWR and Elizabeth Line routes. 

Seemples! Done by fbb but very VERY rough!
fbb did not have time to make the GWR line dotted** - but the colour swap works at Paddington and all the way to Reading.

** Confession time - he does not know how to do dotted lines on this bit of computer cleverness!

P.S. A Bit More On The 84
See previous blogs!

 Next Variety blog : Sunday 13th February 


  1. Happily the 84 (St Albans to Potters Bar) is already in the process of being transferred to Sullivan Buses with support from Hertfordshire County Council. News and a route map are already on their website!

  2. So put up the council tax and pay some of the bus bills that way, a resident of South Yorkshire and a regular bus user I will not be voting for this. Alright comments like this coming from someone who is a. Not a SY resident. b. Old enough to have a council tax rebate.

  3. Why not charge OAP's half fare to fund bus services instead of it been free. I bet many reading this blog are living off a final salary pension that they've had since before bus privatisation and could easily afford it

    1. As operators are currently reimbursed by councils for revenue lost due to bus pass use, increasing revenue by charging half fare would reduce the reimbursement payment. Coupled with the reduction in journeys that charges would bring this is hardly a panacea for funding loss making routes.

    2. Withdrawing the free OAP pass is not seen as politically acceptable at present.

      The starting age has however been raised from 60 to 66 outside London and ?. So fewer active people now get one and far fewer who are actually still in employment (men from 60 to 65 used to do very well.)

      A lot of people do not have private pensions and do not own their home. A single person paying rent out of a state pension doesn't leave much, hence Pension Credit exists.

    3. Offer them free Bread and Milk passes then instead. My Grandad is 92 and 3 times a week pays £2 plus to catch his bus before 0930. He lives in a council house and certainly not a rich man. Why do politicians always moan about the way bus companies are ran. I know let's introduce Labour Party Supermarket that promises food prices at 1985 levels. Maybe then the Conservative Party could open up a competitive store charging bread at 1970's prices. Move off buses and concentrate where all would benefit. Food and fuel

  4. Charge half fare and keep reimbursement rates the same. That way additional funding that is likely to be required to keep bus services running comes from the very people who will moan and groan when it's withdrawn. After all they only use it because they get it for free.

  5. "The tough fact of the economics of business is that PROFIT is what is left after ALL the bills are paid"

    Many people think that, but it is not ALL bills, but only allowed bills from operation (doing things, so fuel, bus maintenance, wages, etc). The cost of buying buses and depots, upgrading depots, buying up a competitor, corporation tax, loan repayments, dividends, etc all have to paid out of Profit and if the business wants to continue, then dividends can well be at the bottom of the list of priorities.

  6. Dan Jarvis is not entirely accurate that companies received subsidy to keep running services during lockdown at a profit. The initial CBSSG support was actually structured to prevent profit being made as much as possible, full accounts were required and payments were adjusted based on actual income to ensure profit was not being made - even unrelated income was factored in to the calculation. There were ways this could be used to assist the business, not to make profit but to leave the business in a better position than it might, by bringing payments forward. The subsequent BRG scheme worked differently but from all the feedback I had it was less than expected or needed when it materialised so it is unlikely many or any operators made a profit out of it - many operators are reporting currently running at a loss at the moment.

    Operators are facing massive uncertainty at the moment, BRG is due to end at the end of March and despite rumours there has been no announcement of any replacement. Passenger numbers are still 70-80% of pre-COVID numbers. The DfT has also announced that from 1st April that concessionary payments will start to return to being paid per passenger trip (rather than at a standard pre-COVID amount), a group that is slower to return to normal travel than others - many councils don't want to do this yet as they understand the position operators are in but the DfT has done everything short of issuing an explicit order to ensure this happens.

  7. It is worth noting that First Group has not paid a dividend since 2013, but hopes to start this year having sold its American operations to clear debts.

  8. While the claim that a route is "historical" is good for tugging at heartstrings, it is irrelevant to modern conditions.