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Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Commons Transport Committee Report On Buses Outside London

Today the Transport Select Committee, chaired by Lilian Greenwood MP, one of the few MP's I still have time for, published its report on bus services in England outside London. It makes very interesting, and for me personally, satisfying reading as it says mostly what I have been saying for years. You can tell it's not going to be full of glowing praise for the bus industry from the opening of the Summary:


"The deregulation of bus services outside London in the 1980s was meant to address the steady decline in bus use since the 1950s and bring in a new era of bus travel. In the 1984 Buses White Paper the then Government asserted that:

Without the dead hand of restrictive regulation fares could be reduced now on many bus routes and the operator would still make a profit. New and better services would be provided. More people would travel.

[…] bus operators will look keenly to see where and when people want to travel. If one operator fails to provide a service that is wanted, another will.

Successive governments have stuck with deregulation, but the promised benefits have never materialised. Deregulation has, at best, done little more than slow the decline in bus use."


The idea of operators reducing fares on many routes yet still making a (reduced) profit seems laughable and goes against the laws of supply and demand. However, the then Transport Secretary, Nicholas Ridley, seemed to think operators would be happy to reduce their profits for the benefits of passengers. That's like MP's reducing their salaries for the benefit of the taxpayer - never going to happen, and understandably so.

The Committee looked at all aspects of bus travel, from provision of services, funding, accessibility, information and ticketing to preserving rural links, encouraging modal shift and making buses more attractive for young people.

One recommendation you won't be surprised caught my eye was that operators and local authorities work closer together to achieve the best possible service, especially regarding rural communities and new builds. It also recommends that red tape allowing partnerships between Councils and operators be cut. Well I never!

The report points out how funding has been cut and that the reimbursement on Concessionary passes is not doing its stated intention of leaving operators "no better or no worse off". Indeed, reimbursement rates are still calculated on 2005/6 fare levels. No wonder the operators are continually protesting. This is the recommendation:

"At present reimbursement of concessionary fares for bus operators does not meet the principle of “no better and no worse off”. This principal is objectively impossible to test. The reimbursement calculator given to local authorities by the Department for Transport is based on fares in 2005/06. Local authorities, with already stretched resources, often feel compelled to cover the shortfall. This potentially puts bus services at risk. If services are withdrawn it could have a disproportionate effect on vulnerable people, and they may become more isolated. This runs counter to the stated aim of the concessionary fares policy: improving the lives of older and disabled people.

We recommend that the Government review how it finances concessionary bus passes, and the guidance to local authorities on reimbursement of bus operators, with a view to meeting the principle of both local authorities and bus operators being “no better and no worse off”. As a priority, the Government should re-baseline the reimbursement rates on ticket prices for 2017/18 prices; and should continue to re-baseline fares every four years so that the principle of “no better and no worse off” is maintained and the reimbursement rate remains broadly in line with current fares."


Real time information, a national ticketing policy which negates the change/no change, contactless/no contactless anomalies and even integrated ticketing are discussed, as are fares for young people.

But it is the failure of the Department of Transport to deliver adequate leadership and funding that comes in for the most criticism. Neith local authorities or operators are aware of funding amounts from one year to the next, unlike road and rail, and this provides uncertainty in the industry, and for passengers. Local authorities should be able to tackle congestion by parking and moving traffic law enforcement, with the revenue gained used to further tackle congestion. Bidding for grants and additional funding should be made easier and fairer, and an interesting recommendation is that all local authorities should have the power to set up their own municipal bus company.

Another priority is to tackle the concerns of those who DON'T use the bus - again, can't remember where I've heard that before! 

The report doesn't recommend re-regulation, but it makes it abundantly clear that the current system is failing passengers, and there need to be radical changes to encourage more to leave their cars at home and switch to the bus.

Most Government reports are mind numbingly boring but this one isn't. It makes very good reading, and will have a lot of you nodding sagely in agreement. It remains to be seen how the D of T responds, but I commend Lilian and her team on a comprehensive report, taking the passengers' side, and not pulling any punches. 

You can read the report, and I really recommend you do, by clicking here.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Has The Phoenix Grown Its Feathers?

I said in my last post that things appeared to be looking up at Konect. That was good news as a monopoly is never good in a privatised industry. Today Konect revealed their proposals for the next round of timetable changes, and from what I can see there's not a single cut with many enhancements and route extensions. I'll reproduce their summary below, then put meat on the bones.

Please see below *proposed* timetable changes to parts of the Konectbus network for Sunday 7th July 2019. We're pleased to announce significant improvements to our network. Straight8 between Toftwood, Dereham and Norwich will operate up to every 20 minutes in the daytime Mondays to Saturdays, and there will be a later journey back from Norwich to Dereham & Toftwood at 2220. Route X6 will be extended beyond Attleborough to Thetford giving fast bus journey times between Thetford and Norwich via the A11. The 5 series will be enhanced will doubling of daytime frequencies to every 30 minutesbetween Eaton and Norwich, and Rackheath and Norwich. There will be up to 8 buses an hour along Yarmouth Road into Norwich. Park & Ride improvements include; a later bus back to Thickthorn P&R, later buses back to Sprowston P&R and an enhanced evening frequency to Airport P&R. There are other changes which are to reflect requests, improve reliability and better match supply with demand. The routes affected by these changes are listed above with details listed below.

Better still I'll let Konect say it all - I'm sure they won't mind positive publicity for a change!

Route 3 & 6
Thetford - Watton
Ashill - Watton
Watton - Hingham - N&NU Hospital (3) / Wymondham (6) - Norwich
The 6 journeys which start and finish in Ashill will be extended back/to Necton via Holme Hale.
The 1400 and 1500 6 from Watton to Norwich will operate via Hethersett Academy, New Cringleford and Cringleford replacing route 9A.
The 1515 and 1615 6 from Norwich to Watton will operate 10 minutes later at 1525 and 1625.
There will be a new route 3 0835 journey from Watton to Thetford via the villages on Saturdays. This bus will become the 0920 X6 Thetford to Norwich fast journey. There will be a return route 3 1515 journey from Thetford to Watton; the bus will have previously operated the 1420 X6 journey from Norwich to Thetford.


Route 5
Postwick P&R - Norwich

Minor timetable changes at peak to allow for traffic congestion. Saturday afternoon buses from Postwick P&R to operate via the A47 and Bracondale due to continuing traffic problems at the end of NCFC home football matches.



Route 5A/5C
Blofield Heath - Norwich - Eaton (5A)
Little Plumstead - Norwich (5C)

Eaton to Norwich will be served by route 5B (Stalham - Wroxham - Norwich) with an improved frequency of every 30 minutes through most of the day.

There will be a new Mondays to Saturdays evening journey from Norwich to the Plumsteads at 1930.

Blofield Heath and Plumsteads to Norwich routes will stay the same with revised times. Most journeys will continue to Mulbarton replacing route 37A which will offer through journey facilities (including to retail outlets on Hall Road such as Asda, and Mulbarton to the Rail Station) and improved reliability.

The East Harling to Norwich route 37A journeys will be included in the revised route 5B timetable.



Route 5B
Stalham - Wroxham - Norwich

Additional journeys will operate between Rackheath Industrial Estate and Norwich via Green Lane West and the normal 5B route. These additional journeys will operate between 0900 and 1700 giving Rackheath to Norwich a bus every 30 minutes.

There will be minor timetable adjustments to the Wroxham and Stalham end of the route to improve punctuality.

The 2030 from Norwich to Salhouse will be extended to Wroxham.

All buses will continue to Eaton village & Greenways replacing route 5A and doubling the frequency to every 30 minutes for most of the day.



Route X6
Attleborough - Norwich

Most journeys wil be extended beyond Attleborough from/to Thetford offering fast journeys between Thetford and Norwich!

There will be an additional route X6 journey from Great Ellingham (0710), Attleborough (0715) to Norwich via Thickthorn P&R (0740).

The section of route between Sprowston, Harvey Lane and Norwich will be replaced by new route 33.



Straight8
Toftwood - Dereham - Norwich

The Mondays to Saturdays timetable will be increased to every 20 minutes for most of the day! Plus there will be a later journey on Mondays to Saturdays from Norwich to Dereham and Toftwood departing the Rail Station at 2210 and the Bus Station at 2220.

Additional city centre bus stops will be added on Prince of Wales Road (outside Budgens) and Red Lion Street (opposite Debenhams). Tha latter is hoped will appease those visiting the Theatre Royal.

The section off route between Riverside and Thorpe Road will be withdrawn due to lack of use. Buses will terminate/commence at the Rail Station bus stops on Thorpe Road.

All buses departing Norwich from 1850 onwards will call at Thickthorn Park & Ride replacing the late evening route 501 journeys.



Route X11
Sutton - Stalham - Wroxham - Norwich

Route X11 is a new fast journey to/from Norwich replacing similar route 502 journey. These express commuter journeys will no longer call at Sprowston P&R, but will stop on Sprowston Road at Blue Boar and at the Brickmakers. Mondays to Fridays only.



Route 33
Norwich - Harvey Lane - Plumstead Road - Norwich

Replaces route X6 between Sprowston and Norwich via Harvey Lane. This will provide new links between Thorpe Road and Plumstead Road surgery, and Plumstead Road area with Anglia Square and Magdalen Street area. Mondays to Fridays only.



Route 50 & 50A
Eaton Park/Cringleford - Norwich - Mousehold Heath

In the mornings buses heading to Mousehold Heath will omit Anglia Square, and in the afternoons buses from Mousehold Heath will omit Anglia Square. This change, and other timing changes, will improve reliability on this route



Route 501 (Park & Ride)
Airport P&R - Norwich - Thickthorn P&R

The evening Mondays to Saturdays timetable towards Airport P&R will increase to every 20 minutes until 2030. Departure times from Norwich Bus Station to the Airport P&R after 1830 will be at 1850, 1910, 1930, 1950, 2010 and 2030. The 2010 and 2030 departures from Norwich will extend beyond the Airport P&R to Sprowston P&R

For full details of other minor adjustments and links to timetables see here.

Konect are asking for comments on the proposals which should be submitted by May 21st.
I only have one - the 1520 X6 from Thetford to Norwich should also run on Saturdays to give customers from  Norwich the opportunity to visit Thetford. 1320 seems too early for a last bus back.

Apart from that I am heartened and impressed with the proposals. They are bringing new links, later journeys on key routes and congestion avoiding measures. It would seem real thought has gone into it, and I haven't been able to say that much over recent years. I hope fervently the changes are a success, but what I am now interested in is how the fleet is going to change. Konect have taken the fleet list down from their website for reasons unknown, but if Go Ahead are serious about resurrecting Konect from the utter disaster that was the management of Anglian, as well as giving up on routes like the 2 and 7 then they need to prove it by investing in quality new buses, not the constant stream of London and Southampton cast offs we have become used to. That will send signals to passengers, staff, and indeed other operators that they really are intent on coming back from the doldrums. I hope they do, and if I see any of these signs I will support them all the way. These proposals are a very positive start.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Norwich In 90? Not Anymore

Hello all. I've been waiting for something good to report. Sadly nothing has warranted a post so it's back to the moaning. In this case a comparison between today and the glory days of, erm, earlier this year!

Let me explain the circumstances. A very dear friend of mine, all 90 years of her moved from Wickham Market to Halesworth last weekend to be closer to her family. That left another dear friend, a mere spring chicken of 85 pining for her best friend, so yours truly has taken it upon himself to ferry the two between each other so their friendship can endure. On Thursday I took said youngster over to Halesworth for 10am, intending to pick her up at 3pm. I had to go to Norwich so decided to do it by bus from Halesworth, instead of driving to Ditchingham as normal, to see how easy it would be now Konect have deserted Suffolk, to be replaced by a very limited First replacement. Remember I needed to be back for 3pm. Halesworth to Norwich is around 25 miles, not much in East Anglian terms.

There was a 1034 to Bungay, where I would now have to change for a bus to Norwich. In these days of "guaranteed connections" where the bus simply changes route number, to have to wait 20 minutes for a connection on what had been a through route for decades is a rude wake up call. Anyway the 99A turned up, ironically with a former Anglian driver at the wheel, and off to Bungay we trundled.

First 44533 at Halesworth
So, you would reasonably expect that to make up for a new change of buses at Bungay the 99A would connect with the fast X41 to Norwich. Actually no, as that departs 5 minutes before the 99A gets in. I kid you not. How can we fight for an integrated transport system when buses from the same company can't integrate with each other. So a 20 min wait it was for the slower 41, and instead of the leather seated, free WiFi B9's on the X41 up turned this!

First B7tl 32214 at Bungay
It still looks as though it's waiting for its top coat of paint. In all honesty I've been on worst Presidents, but hard seats and rattly ride made the journey seem longer than it really was. Which was still 50 minutes. We arrived in Norwich at 1205, 91 minutes after leaving Halesworth, a journey that used to take 54 minutes.

I only had to nip to the bank in Norwich. To get back to Halesworth for 3pm I would in Anglian days have caught the 1400 88, arriving in Halesworth at 1504. Not now. To go back the way I'd come and be back in Halesworth for 3pm I'd need to stay on the President, go straight back to Bungay, and arrive in Halesworth at 1323. The next connecting bus would leave Norwich at 1445, the connection arriving in Halesworth at 1603, having picked up the notorious angels at Bungay High on the way.

This meant having to find an alternative. After a rushed lunch I hot footed it to Norwich Bus Station and caught the 1315 X2 to Beccles. I maintain these nearly 11yo B9's are still the best buses around our area by some margin.

First B9 37576 on the X2 at Beccles
A walk to the Old Market was next, to catch the twice a day Border4bus service 522 to Halesworth. I had half hour to wait, which was annoying, but the next (slower) service from Norwich would only leave me 7 minutes to make the connection, and as you never know what the A146 is going to throw up the risk of missing the last bus of the day at 1415 is just not worth taking. So the gloriously scenic 522 it was, on a baby E200, Incidentally the Borderbus operated 146 from Norwich to Beccles departs at 1310, meaning an even longer wait at Beccles.

Borderbus BB07 BUS at Beccles Old Market.
We got back to Halesworth at 1450, a journey time of 95 minutes, perfect timing for me, although I had 65 minutes less time in Norwich than I would have done a year ago. It also proves more expensive for the fare payer, having to pay separately for the 522. I have to say had the weather been like it was today the journey would have put me off buses for life, so no one express surprise when First start moaning about low patronage. Give the people something reliable and conveniently timed to patronise and they just might!

This got me thinking. I ask Suffolk and Norfolk Councils this - is there any reason why services you fund shouldn't accept the tickets of any operator, so passengers can use alternative routes and operators in these days of ever more service cuts? Simply give all the services you fund a prefix number, eg 8, so for example the 522 would become 822, and evening 40's become 840. That would make identification easy, and would not only help and encourage bus use, but might just sting the operators to take integrated ticketing seriously, because it has to happen if the industry is to survive.

I have had some positive news this evening regarding Konect. It would appear changes in the management structure are reaping rewards. Vehicle reliability has improved beyond measure it seems, and a new cleaning manager has transformed the appearance of the interiors. Nothing will undo the monumental cock up that was made of Anglian, but if a phoenix can rise from the ashes that will be good for passengers. No one operator should have a monopoly in a privatised industry, as East Suffolk is finding out. Different if everything is regulated as that operator is held accountable, but when little things like 40 min gaps in the service from Poringland to Norwich start creeping in - between 0820 - 0900 to be precise, then it's only a matter of time before the rot sets in. The same old story, once the opposition has been seen off services start getting scaled back. So I genuinely hope Konect come back strongly, as we know First aren't eager to resurrect or develop anything, so it will takes others to give them a run for their money.

Thanks to those who have contacted me - it really is appreciated. Back when I have something to say!



Friday, 22 March 2019

The Future Of Rural PublicTransport Is......

Autonomous pods, apparently.  Yes, I was surprised too, but that's what we were told at a consultation meeting today in Beccles, where representatives from Suffolk County Council's Public Transport team came to meet with the peasants of the land to discuss the future of Rural Public Transport.

Delegates present included yours truly, the Mayor of Bungay, and a lady who confessed to not having used public transport for over 50 years. I don't think she was a Go Ahead director.... There were also people from Snape and Mutford, who like my village have no bus service at all, were looking for answers and a glimmer of hope. Joining the Council team were managers from BACT and CATS, who provide the Connecting Communities minibuses and Dial-a Ride services in the area.

We were first asked, rather optimistically I thought, to say what we thought was working well in respects to rural transport. The unanimous consensus was currently nothing is working well so we quickly moved on to what improvements could be made. Various suggestions were made, but it all boiled down to one thing - reliability and accessibility, and by that I don't mean can you get a wheelchair on, which is law now anyway, but you must be able to get a bus to go where you want at regular times you can work round. Like normal buses in fact. Having to book in advance rules out spontaneous travel, and not being guaranteed your preferred time slot means it is completely unreliable, so unless you have the flexibility of a gymnast it is beyond useless.

That triggered the expected "we haven't got any money" excuses, which I'd fully anticipated. Of course if the service was better more people would use it, revenue would increase, and so the service could improve even further. But it was here the chicken and the egg problem surfaced, not for the first time. That being no one will use a poor service until it improves, and no one will improve a service that no one is using. Catch 22. So how do you break the cycle? Well, if you have read the last couple of posts you'll understand why I wanted a brick wall to reshape my head against. How about Councils, communities and operators working together to create demand and supplying the demand which has been researched so communities get the bus they want and operators get the passengers they want. No! Seriously? Why hasn't anyone thought of that before!!! Trouble is the operators won't finance that research - I discovered that rather painfully a couple of weeks ago. The Council certainly won't, and the communities, quite understandably, won't believe they can achieve anything if the Council and operators appear disinterested.

So having ascertained what needed to be done, but unspoken acknowledgement that no one wants to do it, we then got a fascinating presentation on the future of transport, or rather a lot of things that are happening elsewhere but are decades away from happening here. Electric buses - we haven't got so much as a hybrid in East Anglia - electric cars, and yes autonomous pods like they have in Milton Keynes and Heathrow Terminal 5. On top of E and M Tickets, contactless and bus tracking. At this point one of the gentlemen from Snape pointed out most of the area was yet to get a decent mobile phone signal, let alone think of autonomy. I know several people who have had problems getting a strong enough signal at bus strops to get M-Tickets to bring them up to show drivers, therefore having to pay again. I asked the guys from Snape to let me know when their pods arrived so I could do a write up on them. Might not be next week.

Can we please get the basics right first. There is no gimmick in existence that can make up for not having a bus in the first place. The Snape team said they were working within their community to get a regular band of passengers together to block book the Connecting Communities minibus. That's a great idea, and the sort of enthusiasm needed. Unfortunately if they did book the bus that means those who already regularly use it wouldn't be able to, and the manager of CATS conceded that point. So if one person travels it is at the expense of another. As business models go it's not going to win any awards. But use a bus that's resting between school runs to operate that journey for Snape, and suddenly everyone's a winner. I'm grateful to Anonymous who posted after my last post to tell us about what Dorset Councils have done - take a look. I read that post out, which shows if there is a will there is a way, and yes, communities WILL take responsibility for their own bus service if the support is there.

But if I'm brutally honest I can't see it happening here. It could, it really could, but no one is prepared to say, yes, we'll give that a go. I heard more than once the Council Reps responding to suggestions "how can that be financially viable?". When they said there would be a £700k shortfall in the transport budget over the next four years I suggested a £5 levy added to Council Tax, which would more than cover that shortfall. The argument that non bus users shouldn't have to pay for bus subsidies came up. My Council Tax pays for leisure centres that I don't use, and a whole ream of other services I could use but choose not to. Why shouldn't buses be added to that list? Then they would be there for people who did choose to use them. If you're paying £1200 a year in Council Tax another fiver isn't going to make much difference.

Concessionary passes were mentioned, with the vast majority agreeing that there should be some contribution from pass holders, either in paying a flat fare or an annual fee for the pass. Unfortunately that would require a change in legislation, which won't happen as it will be deemed a vote loser. Unless you're Suffolk County Council, that is, who have decided the best way to increase patronage of community buses is to cease accepting concessionary passes full stop. When asked why I was told that because some areas couldn't accept passes (no idea why) to make it fair for everyone no one would be able to use passes. I'm not sure if anyone suggested that passes be accepted everywhere, obviously that would be problematic. Of course it's perfectly fair that those without a regular bus service should have to pay when those who do, don't. Yes, that's fair.

I asked about the legality of that, since Connecting Communities is registered as a local bus service. However, and I was told this with a straight face, because they are bookable (they HAVE to be booked) that makes them the same as National Express so they don't have to accept passes. That's right, Mrs Miggins going from her tiny hamlet to get her hair done in Saxmundham is the same as Auntie Gladys getting the coach from London to Plymouth. Except Gladys knows when her coach will leave, when it will arrive, she will definitely be able to go when she wants and it will take 5 hours not 15 minutes. It seems lost on SCC that Connecting Communities is a substitute for a regular bus service, so these people have a double whammy - no regular bus, and now they have to pay for the privilege. That'll fire the enthusiasm up!

And that was it. A nice idea that gave no room for optimism. I'm not sure what SCC expected to gain from this, except to be seen consulting with the public, but when I got home I looked at the lovely bus stop across the road, and try as I might I couldn't envisage it being back in use anytime soon.

So, moving on, and a couple of weeks ago I went, with Roy from East Norfolk Bus Blog, to see Borderbus's latest Scania, and very smart it is too. Yesterday, Borderbus's Diplomatic Correspondent, Bernice Carver sent me a couple of pictures with the Scania sporting its new registration of BB61 BUS. That means the 6 Scania deckers carry the registrations BB53/6/7/8/9/61 BUS. BB58 being the only double door example. Many thanks, Bernie.



I was asked a serious question by an operator this afternoon - that question being is Contactless vitally important on rural services? I know what I think, but I'd be really interested in what everyone else thinks. Is it worth spending many thousands upgrading ticketing equipment to enable contactless payments? Let me know what you think.

Finally Go Ahead's figures for the last year have been published., including the final year of Anglian I will publish them below but make no comment, as they speak for themselves.

Anglian

Turnover                        2017                 2018
                                    £2.226m            £1.044m

Loss before tax               2017                 2018
                                     £1.64m             £1.081m


Konectbus

Turnover                        2017                   2018
                                     £7,9m                   £8,2m

Loss before tax              2017                   2018
                                      £77k                    £701k

Hedingham

Turnover                        2017                   2018
                                    £4.026m              £4.856m

Loss before tax             2017                   2018
                                    £708k                  £884k

Chambers

Turnover                       2017                    2018
                                   £1.721m               £1.759

Loss before tax             2017                     2018
                                    £302k                    £787k


Finally finally it's always interesting when someone outside the area comes for a look at things. Roger French OBE, for 25 years MD at Go Ahead owned Brighton & Hove did just that last week, covering Colchester, Ipswich, Southwold and Norwich, with many places in between. He spends his, I presume, blissfully happy retirement touring the country, sampling bus and train services, and writing reviews. His speaking sand writing services are in high demand, and when Roger says something the industry normally jumps. You can read his interesting and forthright review by clicking here, and again I'll make no comment, except to say a lot of it is rather familar.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The Way Forward

First of all my apologies to Steve Lee, who sent me copies of the First Ipswich 2005 timetables. I was going to do a comparison with today but it was just too depressing. Thanks Steve - we'll meet up for a natter.

At the end of my last post I said something had died in me. That spark, which got me out, sometimes at silly times to follow my hobby and report back has been extinguished. There's a test train tonight, maybe going to Sizewell, and you know what? I just can't be bothered. I think it's only fair to tell you why, as you have supported me for so long.

One of the reasons I started this blog back in 2013 was not only to share my passion, but to hopefully lay the foundations of a career back in the industry I love. At first I thought that might be in the written media, but no. I'm too forthright. If I don't like something I say so, and I'm not afraid to speak the truth. Much of the public transport media doesn't do that. It likes its cosy relationship with operators/manufacturers too much, and won't point out the obvious like new buses that rattle or rail operators treating customers worse than cattle. Maybe I'm not diplomatic enough for that.

Then I started looking locally. I had seen the bus network in this region literally crumble in front of my eyes and I felt powerless to do anything about it. When I relayed my frustration on these pages I was quite often told rather bluntly to do something about it. I wanted to. I still want to. I believe my observations over the last 6 years have shown me what works and what doesn't, most of all that East Anglia is a unique area, and unique strategies are needed. Go Ahead tried to run their operations here like everywhere else and look what's happened. First, despite the great efforts of Chris Speed, wouldn't be in nearly the position they are if Go Ahead had taken the trouble to listen to anyone. I cannot think of a route operated by First that has more services now than it did 6 years ago, new routes excepted. I'm happy to be corrected. Many independents have gone to the wall in that time, and the biggest victim of all has been the passenger.

But amongst the carnage there have been one or two phoenixes. It is no surprise whatsoever that the men behind the phoenixes know the area and the people like the back of their hand. Julian Patterson left Konect to form Lynx, who have basically taken over in Kings Lynn. Yes, they were helped by Stagecoach making as big a mess of the former Norfolk Green as Go Ahead did with Anglian - someone else who didn't recognise the unique strategies required, but Lynx were doing well anyway.

The other phoenix is Borderbus. Smaller than Lynx, but just as successful. A lot of 146 jouneys now require deckers, as opposed to mini Darts when the route first started. But their shining light, and inspiration for me is the Beccles Town Service. The success of that route proved to me that if you actually take the time to involve the local community with their bus service they will support it to the hilt.

So if it works in Beccles why not other parts of the county. There are larger parts of Leiston not served by buses for example. It's a half hour walk from the nearest bus stop to the job centre, and there must be people crying out for a bus service to take them to Tesco and Waitrose in Saxmundham. Yet no one asks them. I wanted to. That is just one example. There are many more, including those I mentioned in my last post. While I'm on that topic I mentioned a new development in Melton that had a bus stop one side but no means of crossing the busy road to get to the other. I'm pleased to reveal that a new pelican crossing has appeared, which although it must cause utter chaos with the traffic leaving the A12, does mean bus passengers can cross the road.

If communities want bus services, particularly rural communities then those communities have to support the service. In this region the way to do that is to make them feel part of it. That has been proved with the 62, a little minibus that operates between Woodbrudge/Framlingham/Saxmundham. The Saxmundham journey only operates on Wednesdays, and Nigel, the driver for PF Travel has re-written the timetable many times after listening to feedback from his regulars. When I saw him loading up for the return journey from Saxmundham a couple of weeks ago I thought he was going to have to leave some behind. I have no idea how he squeezed so many AND their shopping trolleys on board. In the grand scale of things insignificant, but to those 15 souls on board an invaluable lifeline, which only survives because the operator worked with the community and listened. It has retained its subsidy where many others have lost.

So I wrote to Giles Fearnley, MD of the UK bus division of First Group, and put the idea to him, that someone who worked with communities and village/town councils to encourage bus use, as well as investigating grievances such as bus stop removal or service withdrawals could be worth a go, bearing in mind First in Norfolk & Suffolk are now making healthy profits, and working with communities would only enhance their reputation as well as building business. Chris Speed had encouraged me to write, as he was enthusiastic about the idea when I discussed it with him, but said he didn't have the power to create the post.

I got an email back from Giles Fearnley basically saying sod off. At no point did he mention communities or liasing with them, or give any reason whatsoever for rejecting the idea. That's what winded me, not that I hadn't secured a job, but that he gave the impression he couldn't care less. He didn't want to try to build the business, interact with customers, ride into areas without a bus service on his lilac horse. That hurt. Not just personally, as the last 6 years have been building up to that, but I hurt for the area I love too. Those people and communities who could have benefited. The youngsters who will still have to rely on parental lifts everywhere, and their grandparents, who will have to carry on driving, if they can, far longer than they should because there is no alternative. My guess is in 5 years there will be nothing left. Not unless there is a huge change of attitude and ambition from those who are in the position, and have the power to make a change. Don't hold your breath. I think this time it's terminal.

So, I have to look in different directions now. The goal I've been working towards for the last 6 years has been dismantled. I was hoping my hobby would become my career again. It hasn't and I doubt it will now, so it must return to being just that - a hobby. However, I'm not just going to walk away from 6 years work, and more importantly the people who have inspired me to carry on over the years. So I'm going to carry on, only with a difference. I'm only going to report positive news. Granted that won't mean much from here but I'm sick of only having negative news to report. That is going to start right now.

Starting on 23rd April Borderbus are going to take over the 90 from Konect operating from Beccles to Halesworth and Southwold. Except it won't be called the 90 anymore. Borderbus have reverted back to the original Anglian numbers of 522 and 524, which makes sense as they also operate the Halesworth - Aldeburgh 521. Some good news for Halesworth is that the Dukes Drive estate is getting a Beccles service back, after the brains at Go Ahead decided all passengers in Halesworth lived by a car park and stopped the bus going round there.  The only journey to go is the late afternoon service from Beccles to Halesworth, but I'm not exactly surprised at that.

And finally, and this is the sort of thing you'll be seeing more of, someone is tackling the age old problem of feet on the seats. It was a battle that was never going to be won, so Martijn Gilbert, supremo at Go North East, which is as different to Go East as curry is to ice cream, has come up with a solution - the feet seat. On those rear facing seats that are prone to having feet placed on them he has designed a tip up mechanism for the seat, leaving a space for feet to be placed. If someone needs those sears they can be put down and used with no shoe residue on them. Simple but brilliant. Now to tackle the little scrotes who sit length ways on a double seat, with their knees up and feet on the outside seat. Martijn has kindly sent me some pictures of his new brainchild. Except I'd post them if I could save them, which 3 devices won't let me do, so here is the official publicity! Click here, and I'll ask Martijn to resend the extra pics he sent me.

I did start to worry about losing contact with those friends I've made over the years, but then it dawned on me that the likes of Chris Speed, Andrew, Dave and my mates at Borderbus, Martijn, John Bickerton at Reading Buses, Ross and the incredible team at Ensign, not to mention my old(er) school percussion partner down at Stagecoach Southeast (remember Tom Sawyer) are going to be just the people who'll be giving me the positive material to report, so no worries there!

Next post when I have something nice to report unless someone relights my spark!