Saturday 30 September 2023

Saturday Variety

 On The Bright Side

fbb can remember several articles in the Railway Press that painted a sorrowful picture of train travel in the USA. The thrust of these articles was that everybody flies everywhere or drives a huge gas-guzzling car! 

Over the past ew years, fbb has been following the development of Brightline, which lays claim to being the first privately owned USA railway operation for over 100 years.
The service began by linking West Palm Beach with Miami on the east coast of Florida. Here is the southern terminus at Miami Central.
Everything about this line is new including some very spectacular stations. 

This year the line has bern extended from West Palm Beach to Orlando with a station adjacent to the new Terminal C at the airport.
Again it is spectacular ...
But the station is dwarfed into insignificance ...
... by the airport as a whole!
Somewhere to the south of the terminus, Brightline have been able to squeeze in a depot.
There is an on-line video of the first trial train to run from depot to terminus. It looks equally impressive!
... as was the razzmatazz for the opening of Orlando station.
Yep, it looks real good!
The lounges (waiting rooms in old-speak) are lush ...
... and you can book an add-on minibus for that extra mile from station to hotel.
Currently, trains run every hour ...
... taking something over three hours for the full length of the line.

The map (above) shows that the next target is Tampa.

And a promotional video:-
How is it going with High Speed 2, Rishi?

When Trains Were Trains And Men Were Men!
Back then we were not too concerned about greenhouse gases. The locos were oil-fired.

Naff Network?
This weekend's booby prize must go to Stagecoach on Skye with its superbly helpful network map.

Stirling Uni - A P.S.
Some detail from the branding of this service, a brand which will be appearing on the buses soon.
Travel is FREE if you have your Union Card with you. If not, you are "toast".

Scottish Holiday - A P.S.
What is (was?) going on here ...
... and here?
Maybe involving one of these?
Answer tomorrow.

Fellowship Meetings - Harvest
Tomorrow and Monday our duplicate meetings involve some Harvest Festival stuff. Here is part One of a quiz (fairly simple) to identify the missing words from a well known hymn.
Some pictures that might help?
Another verse tomorrow!

 Next Variety blog : Sunday 1st October 

Friday 29 September 2023

The West Lothian Question

Political Posturing?

The phrase was coined by Enoch Powell way back in the 1970s. Fiery Scotsman and MP Tam Dalyell ...
... repeatedly brought up "The Question" as the Devolution debate began to feature in Parliamentary business. Should, for example, Scottish MPs (e.g. from West Lothian), sitting in the House of Commons, be forbidden from voting on purely English business? 

To a certain extent the debate has never been resolved!

fbb's West Lothian Question was less politically charged, but, as things have turned out, equally distressing for residents to the west of Edinburgh. 

As recently as April 2023 fbb asked ...
... whether McGill's purchase of First Bus operations in the area plus those based in Falkirk and Stirling was a step too far for the company. 

The above timetable book cover reminds us all of happier times when The Scottish Bus Group ran almost 100% of Scotlands bus network with the exception of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen corporations - and a few small independents.

In the privatisation carve-up First gained ownership of vast swathes of operation in Central and Lowland Scotland. including the massive Glasgow operating area.
For a while, First seemed to be making a go of West Lothian, Falkirk and Stirling. Then the rural Eastern Scottish routes were sold to Clyde Coast, trading as Borders Buses.
It has been a tough learning curve but, at least outwardly, things have looked positive in Hawick, Galashiels etc. despite the success of the Borders Railway.

Then suddenly - so it seemed - up rode McGill's on  a white charger and First was gone. 

But in West Lothian First had suffered mightily at the hands of an aggressive Lothian Buses.

Would you buy a First Bus company knowing that it was being beaten into a squidgy pulp by Edinburgh Corporation Transport?
Well, McGill's did and bus watchers wondered why!

During mid-April 2023, it came as no surprise to hear that McGill's was to have a "Network Review".
We know what those words usually mean - they are a euphemism for "Service Cutbacks". And there were -plenty!

Some commentators estimated that 30% of McGill's West Lothian network ended up on the cutting room floor. Services were cut back, merged or simply ditched completely. And ...

One of the problems with a policy of trimming is that, very soon, your remaining passengers lose confidence in the network and seek solace elsewhere - e.g with Lothian buses or buying a bike. 

So it seems almost inevitable that the ultimate announcement would follow soon.

Cancellation of Eastern Scottish routes 21, 23, 25, 26, X22 & X24

McGill’s Group has announced that it is to cease its bus services in West Lothian.

The operator took over West Lothian services from First.Bus in late 2022. Since that time, McGill’s Group has injected a total of £4.5million into McGill’s Eastern Scottish to turn round the ailing business.

Despite this substantial investment – a mixture of one-off investment and mainly ongoing subsidy from McGill’s Group and its owners - McGill’s Eastern Scottish has faced constant challenges on a number of fronts.

The West Lothian network has endured sustained head-to-head competition from a nearby publicly subsidised operator, which entered the market several years ago. This, alongside a new electrified railway, has meant that Eastern Scottish routes to Edinburgh had to contend with huge competition as well as the challenges of the capital’s roadworks, diversions and congestion. 

The business also had historical and current issues, including driver shortages and long-term, sustained passenger decline.

McGill’s Group said it would enter into consultation with staff and union representatives at Eastern Scottish but said it was committed to avoiding redundancies where possible. The announcement follows a meeting with staff held this evening.

In terms of services, McGill’s Eastern Scottish intends to cease services X22 and X24 between Livingston and Edinburgh from October 15th. (Alternatives exist on Lothian Country routes 72, X27 and X28.)

From December 2nd, services 21, 23, 25 and 26 will no longer run. McGill’s is currently consulting with the local authority on these services and it is hoped an announcement will follow in due course.

There will be no changes to routes 20, 63 and 68 at the present time.

As part of their "just can't be bothered" policy, McGill's no longer show a network map for West Lothian. But X22 ...
... and X24 ...
... are the two remaining "main line" services into Edinburgh. They will both be gone in a couple of weeks.

You will still be able to enjoy the other four until the beginning of December.

Six routes?  What a shadow of former First's network and an even more pathetic shadow of the original Eastern Scottish services.

fbb guesses that some replacements will materialise, but not c/o McGill's.

The end of a very short and questionable West Lothian era!

Elsewhere, however, there are more positive developments. This is the new brand for Stirling University.
Frequent, too ...
... but reduced to every 20 min during vacations.

 Next Variety blog : Saturday 30th September 

Thursday 28 September 2023

Euphoria : Manchster's "New" Bus System

Bee Network Starts (Sort Of)

A chum emailed fbb earlier this week asking (Excitedly?) about "all these new bus services in Manchester".
GoAhead in particular has gone for this big time.
The company have drafted in extra drivers from all points of their operating compass to ensure their bit of the franchise works without a hitch. And they have dressed them all in yellow!
The shirts are a far nicer, a far richer, a far more distinctive yellow than the pallid shade on the buses!
Not only that, but these new livery buses have been running around for weeks. Weak Launch?

There is even a commemorative medallion to show how good it all is.
Wow! It has a certificate of authenticity as well.

Mayor Burnham has been telling us how wonderful it all is - maybe better to say how wonderful it all will (might?) be in a few years'time.


Mr Burnham said: "I'd like to apologise straight off to anybody who's been affected by late-running services or services not turning up, but I would ask that they understand the scale of what we've had to do in the last 48 hours."

He earlier explained the network's inception comes four decades after the last time bus services were in public hands.

"In that time routes were cut, fares went up and passenger numbers halved," he said.

"[But this] will be a regulated system that will put the public interest first. If buses don't turn up on time or don't turn up at all there will be consequences for the operators.

"We are cutting the cost of fares across Greater Manchester by 20% offering new combined bus and tram tickets so moving very much towards the London model that works so well."

Mr Burnham said the network going into operation was "a hugely significant moment".

"It's about public transport having the public interest back at its heart," he continued.

"It's about getting people out of their cars using buses and trams."

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: "We're supporting passengers and local economies by investing £3.5bn into England's buses, protecting routes and capping fares at £2.50 until the end of November 2024."

Sounds a bit like the "old dawn", old polices and old management (bus companies and PTE) with yellow buses and and a new name.

So What IS Changing?
At the heart of the change is "Franchising". In this version of the franchising model, the local authority (Transport for Greater Manchester) decides what routes to run, what fares to charge and, in essence, collects all the money. All publicity, fares deals, special promotions etc rests with the authority.

All the operator has to do is to drive the buses and collect the fares.

In fact the bus company does not care whether it carries any passengers at all.

From the passenger's point of view, the bus ride will be no different from before. You will get in, pay your fare, enjoy a ride and get off.

But the first day did not go well!

Obviously the press is going to latch on to every moan available.
Perhaps it was foolish to think anything much would change from day 1. 

Here is an old TfGM timetable leaflet ...
... and here is a trendy new Bee Network leaflet.
Spot the dramatic change!

The timetables look the same ...
... indeed, apart from a few minor tweaks, they are the same. The leaflet maps are as awful as ever they were ...
... and the new Bee Network maps look remarkably similar to the old TfGM network maps.
That is because they are identical! There have been no changes to the network whatsoever.


It is all very much "same old, same old!"

Surely, with all the resources available, the PTE could manage some bright attractive leaflets? Apparently not!

Here is a video deploring the use of pallid yellow unbranded buses on the Leigh Guided Busway services.

The new Bee Network certainly sounds wonderful ...
... but there is one tiny little snag.

Mayor Burnham has no idea where the money is coming from.

 Again : The West Lothian Question - Friday 29th Sept 

Yesterday's blog was not published until 1100 due to utter incompetence - AGAIN! So here it is, repeated.

By Bus To Palma Nova

Sad to say, rather than flooding fbb's in-box with pictures, timetables and maps, No 3 Son seemed to feel that he was in Palma Nova for a holiday! What better holiday can there be that riding around on an excellent network of red and yellow buses?

The kids today? Sigh?

So fbb had to work it out for himself. The old man decided to take a virtual ride from Palma itself along the road to Palma Nova and beyond. It all kicks off at the superb underground bus station, plonk in the centre of the city and fully integrated with trains and metro.

fbb also has the full network diagram which is a good quality PDF file, so will enlarge really, really well.
But it is a bit baffling. Remember fbb's mantra, "you can be either compressive OR comprehensible but rarely both"!

Google Maps suggests that there are several routes that trundle along the busy coast road via Palma Nova and Magaluf.

104 to 107 follow the same route to the resorts and then spray out to various locations at the end. Thankfully, every route has a proper timetable and a computer generated map.
104 to 107 leave Palma conventionally, but join the coastal motorway to whizz westwards. The 108, by the way, does not use the motorway.

The four routes soon return to "ordinary" roads.
A short nip down the hill and you are on the sea front road! Here is one doing it!
Of the four routes going thisaway, fbb decided to virtually ride the 105.
It looks straightforward, doesn't it? A nice straight pink line south from Magaluf to a terminus at Sol de Mallorca.
Oh, how deceptive a simple diagram can be!

Although the 105 wiggles frantically along the top of rocky cliffs and crags, you hardly ever see the sea. The view is obscured by greenery and the highly priced residences that do have a view.
Eventually the terminus is reached and it is superbly underwhelming!
The stop is opposite a small casino.
But, if you walk on a bit, views of the sea are to be had.
And there are steps which lead down to the rocky coves, in this case ...
... Cala Xada.
Real timetables are displayed at the stops; here is an extract of that for the relatively infrequent 105.
The more frequent 104 has its repeat pattern ...
... in Spanish, Catalan and English.
... and there is a good service until late.
Impressive, eh?

One thing is certain. Were fbb ever to visit Mallorca, there would be at least two full weeks' of bus riding before the old man ever thought of hitting the beach.
Thanks to No 3 Son for enticing his old man to take a look. Pictures did arrive but mostly of timetables in the rain ...
... a bus shelter in the rain ...
... and a real time display in the rain.
fbb does not know what the sideways display might be there at the top!

Also passing was a tib articulated bus which No 3 Son explained to his house mate was "a bendibus".
Yes, there would indeed be plenty for the old bloke to investigate. Forget the bars, beaches, birds** and booze; explore the buses!

** of the feathered kind, of course!