Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Wonderful Wednesday

Sometimes it's just one of those days. Sometimes good, and sometimes bad. Today was outstanding. It didn't start off that way though with a girl on the 62 this morning deciding to sing along complete with actions to the Ketchup Song. I have a feeling alien substances were at work. Anyway I decided to get off at Lowestoft for reasons I didn't know myself. Before I got off, however, I saw B9 Gemini 37569 being towed, front wheels in the air by Asda. no idea where to. I hadn't been at Lowestoft 10 mins when I saw the shape of a bus I wasn't expecting to see there at all. Yarmouth Olympian 34114 was on Lowestoft Town service 101. A journey and photo opportunity not to be missed, and I wasn't disappointed. Lovely ride, lovely bus, and friendly driver who seemed more than happy to be driving it!

Yarmouth Olympian 34114 W434 CWX at Gunton on Lowestoft 101 servce
When we got back to the Bus Station I saw that the Kate Moss of the bus world, E400 33423 was parked up in the bus station. Unfortunately not going anywhere as the supervisor informed me for the next hour or so, so I took the opportunity to go to Kessingland Beach on Anglian's Scania Omnidekka 553 and hopefully get a good pic of it at the terminus. I hope you agree I achieved that.

Scania 553 AO57 HCC at Kessingland Beach
It could be a postcard!!!

So on return to Lowestoft 33423 was still there, and joy of joys about to load up for Norwich - talk about timing. So I got on it, settled into those excellent if unusually coloured seats and went to Norwich, nipping off at Beccles to get a pic that it maybe sometime before I get the opportunity again

Yarmouth (sometimes) E400 33423 SN60 CAA at Beccles on the X2 to Norwich
Now I have a plea to First. This is not a criticism, or even an opinion but a plea. 33423 is arguably the most eye catching bus in the East of England. It has arguably the best interior of any bus in the East of England. Those tinted windows are amazing on sunny days like today. There is no other bus I have ever known that has me reaching for my camera everytime I see it like this bus does. Yet now it is rattling more than the Olympian I went on earlier. It deserves more than that. It deserves to have everything perfect about it. You - First - deserve a bus you could take Royalty on and you have one here if you just get those rattles sorted. Plastic seals replaced with rubber seals. Fittings tightened and suspension looked at. It could be so utterly perfect. From someone who has no axe to grind, but just yearns that little extra give it some thought. I like that bus so much I want my spirits to soar if next time I ride her when we go over a bump I hear nothing apart from the expected sounds from the suspension. Then you will have a bus to be proud of - really, seriously proud.

The potential for perfection. 33423 heads off back to Lowestoft.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Konect 512, A Review

Fourth post of the day! I was waiting in Norwich Bus Station wondering what to do next when I saw a Konect Gemini come in. I had already seen a couple on the 601 and 6A but was hoping to see the new arrival from my old stamping ground - Bexleyheath - out on the road. And so it was. Newly converted to one door Volvo B7 LB02 YXA appeared on the 1415 6 to Watton. I decided to catch her as far as Wymondham bearing in mind I was getting on a 12yo vehicle.

First impressions were great. A decent paint job, it smelt new inside thanks to the refurbishment and for a 12yo bus had you blindfolded me I would have guessed from the general rattles that she was no more than 5 years old. A good top speed, and I only have one little quibble. There were little rattles from the destination display box, and from a couple of handrails that would have been easy to tighten up. That would have made it perfect. My conclusion was going to be good but not quite Carling, but after travelling back to Norwich on a President I changed my mind. I love 512, can't wait for the rest to come, prefer them to the E400's and well done Konect for making sure a good job was done. Lord only knows what state it was in after 12 years at Bexleyheath!

Konect 512 Volvo B7 LB02 YXA at Norwich Bus Station
And again with rear not cut off!

Catch The Bus Week

It is Catch the Bus Week, good people, and by sheer chance I stumbled upon a happening outside Norwich Library today. Norfolk Council's Dennis Trident was all dressed up for the occasion and many suited people were floating around. Until I arrived. I mentioned to a couple of the girls doing publicity who I was and within 3 minutes all the suits had vanished and I didn't get the chance to ask any of them how people no longer with a bus service were going to "Catch the Bus", let alone get home if they want a drink after work. Anyone would think they didn't want to talk to me!! Oh well at least I got my "Stress Bus". I joke not. Apparently catching the bus is so stressful you need a stress ball shaped as a minibus to help you. Maybe that's not the message they want to convey. I don't know as there was no one left to ask.

Anyway the bus is going to be at Yarmouth Asda tomorrow (Tuesday), Cromer Wednesday, Swaffham, Watton and somewhere else on Thursday, Dereham on Friday and Norwich again on Saturday, so go and see it if you can. Also this week you can get 20% of First weekly tickets to give new passengers a cheap taster, which is great if you only hear about it on Saturday!!!

Norfolk Council's Dennis Trident with East Lancs Coachworks body W942 SNR doing publicity work outside Norwich Library
And the rear view, complete with drip tray for an oil leak!! Does look good though.

X2 Xtraordinary

I travelled on the X2 for the first time in ages today and had a supremely uneventful but satisfactory journey on 37568. That was this morning, though, and this afternoon proved how 20 mins can make or break a day for a passenger. I had just returned from Wymondham - more later - and got to the bus station in time to see Ex Jersey Dart 43868 loading up for the 1525 to Lowestoft. It was a squeeze believe me. Now wild horses wouldn't have got me on that thing so I would have waited for the next one and boy would I have been rewarded as the second Rowan Atkinson double take in 15 mins took place when 33423 rolled in also on the X2. Quite ironic that the X2 was one of the routes put up on the destination for me in Yarmouth that day. I'm not sure it would be possible to have such a contrast of vehicles on consecutive journeys!

Ex Jersey Dart 43868 EG52 FGX at Norwich loading up for Lowestoft
It was a lot fuller when it finally left - it was just doing a loop of the bus station to get on the right stop at this time
33423 on a new route for her appears in Norwich
And loading up for Lowestoft. Imagine being on the Dart and seeing that behind you!

New Gas Bus Vinyls

Anglian 109 MAN Ecocity gas bus has been given a new set of vinyls. The rear window has been kept clear which should allow more light into the back of the bus, which will be a good thing. I saw her at Norwich earlier today and took these pics.

Anglian 109 AU62 DWC showing off her new vinyls
The rear window has been kept clear.  Incidentally the trident is 712, which was blissfully on the 88's today

It's ok the engine cover is still there!

Ooooookay thanks to Zak from NBP I have now realised this is extremely old news. I went through all my photos and these are the first I've ever taken of 109, so clearly the first time those vinyls have attracted my attention. Amazing how that can happen - I have more of 107 than I know what to do wiith! So new to me but not the bus!!! Cheers Zak.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Spectacular Bus Fire

A little off  our patch but a bus caught fire on the A20 in Kent this morning while on Rail Replacement work. The bus belongs to Buzzlines of Hythe and perhaps some sleuth will be able to identify it. You can read the full kentonline report here but I thought it was spectacular enough to warrant posting.

Not a great start to the day! Pic by kentonline
After initial post I found this pic on twitter from Kent Police. I think it might just be a write off!

Might not be in service tomorrow. Pic by kentpoliceroads on twitter

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Turbostar Odd Working

According to Anglia Gen Yahoo group it would appear that the 1100 Norwich to Liverpool St and 1330 return journey was operated by 3 class 170 Turbostars totalling 8 coaches - 170202/203/271. I assume this has something to do with the engineering works taking place today but still a very unusual occurance

Friday, 25 April 2014

Bus Punctuality Improvement Partnership

It is a quirk of our great country that competing firms cannot get around a table and devise a timetable that benefits both the companies involved and, most importantly, the travelling public. That is against the Law and is why you see 7's and X1's up each other's tail pipes, for example. However, it is perfectly legal for competing companies to get around a table with the Government and pledge that they will do their best to make sure those services run up each other's tail pipes on time.

Such a gathering happened last week when the Suffolk Bus Punctuality Improvement Partnership was signed, initially by Stephenson's, Ipswich Buses, First and Galloway but with more to come. The idea is that causes of delays are identified and rectified by the operating companies themselves and the Council, with twice yearly reports going to the Traffic Commisioner.  Real time information for bus stops will be online soon thanks to GPS sensors in buses.

Now while I welcome any initiative to improve services I also have to say that very, very few delays are ever down to the operators. Vehicle failure or driver shortage can be reasons, but the huge, majority of delays are for reasons outside the operator's control. So it was with a sense of mild amusement that I read the following quote from Councillor Mary Evans, assistant cabinet member for roads and transport.

“Suffolk County Council wants to encourage more people to travel by bus to ease congestion and improve air quality in our bigger towns. Two of the key factors in deciding to take the bus instead of driving are the punctuality and reliability of the bus service. I am really pleased to see bus operators sign up to the Punctuality Improvement Partnership.
“The agreement means that buses are fitted with equipment which tracks their journeys giving Real Time Passenger Information, so that passengers can know exactly when their next bus is due. It also monitors the punctuality which allows the county council’s Urban Traffic Management Controls in Ipswich and Lowestoft, to prioritise buses at traffic lights so they can keep up to time.”

Nice rhetoric, Ms Evans, but I think you may agree that it hasn't got off to the greatest of starts this week with the chaos seen in Lowestoft Tuesday and Wednesday. Thousands of passengers were delayed, in some cases for hours, because the Council, allegedly, refused to accept responsibility for the roadworks causing the delays. No point giving buses priority at traffic lights if it's taking them 2 hours to get to the lights in the first place.

A good way of getting more people to travel by bus would be to restore the services lost in the austerity cuts, with sensible timetables to encourage both commuting and social travel.  Now obviously the Council can't afford to pay for the services so here is my own blueprint of how it could be achieved.

  • Charge £20 a year for "free" passes. I have asked many pass holders their views on such a charge and not one has said they would object. The money raised should be ringfenced to pay for rural, evening and Sunday services. 
  • Rather than sponsoring services directly the Council should underwrite losses that companies brave enough to launch new services on routes currently without a service incur for an initial period of two years before review to give the service a chance to take root and gain publicity and passengers.
  • A Government tax initiative encouraging private industries to sponsor bus routes in the same way they do other areas of the community and sport etc. So for example a Sunday service through Woodbridge, which currently doesn't exist could be sponsored by BT. They get a tax break, positive publicity, and advertising on the buses. The public get more buses, which creates jobs. Everyone's a winner.
  • It is a shame the companies signing up to the BPIP are the same companies who refuse to agree to a rover ticket accepted and issued by all operators. Until that happens you will not get the leisure passengers travelling by bus, or people travelling where change of operator is required as it just works out too expensive. You might be able to time your watch by the bus, but people think of their pockets first so launch that ticket and see numbers soar.  
One final point though. If you want, and hope that more people will start going places by bus you simply have to make sure there is a sufficient enough service for them to get home too without having to leave halfway through the afternoon. When the last bus from Norwich to Halesworth, for example leaves at 1800 where is the incentive for parents to even think about getting a family ticket and taking the kids to Cromer for the day, if they have to leave by 1600 to make sure they get home. So my message to SCC is prove you are serious about wanting more people to get the bus and this isn't just a publicity stunt.

The full report on the SCC website on the BPIP can be read here.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

A Vast Improvement

I arrived back in Halesworth today on the same bus as yesterday, except today we were 55 mins earlier than yesterday. So a big thank you to whoever finally DID stand up and take responsibility for those traffic lights at Lowestoft. Apparently the problem was that whenever a pedestrian pressed the button the lights changed regardless of how long it had been since the last change. As there is always a steady stream of pedestrians there that meant the green man was on far more than the green light for traffic. So there we go.

Here is a pic I took today at Southwold - no particular reason, just like it!

Anglian 108 Man Ecocity Gas Bus AU62 DWG at a hazy Southwold Pier

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

All Change On Anglia

Anglia's timetable changes have also seen some changes in vehicle allocation. I was in Halesworth this morning undecided whether to go to Lowestoft or Norwich. The decision was made for me when Scania Omnilink 451 YN07 EZB came round the corner on the 88 to Norwich. I have a lot of time and respect for Anglian and have very little to moan about, as will be shown later, but I simply refuse to sit on those seats for 75 mins. So I decided to wait for the usual gas bus to Lowestoft. Except it wasn't. Round the corner on the 62 came Scania Omnidekka 550 AO57 EZM. Very surprising and apparently now a regular thing owing to the school journey the vehicle operates previously. Seats just as hard but somehow more bearable with a decent view upstairs! I got some pics of it showing 62 in Halesworth but the sun wasn't very helpful in getting a decent one so here is one I took in Lowestoft after I got off.

Anglian 550 AO57 EZM on the 61 today at Lowestoft
En route we passed Optare Excel 216 on the 88A from Southwold which becomes the 88 to Norwich - the first time I have seen it on that route, and also surprising as I have never seen anything but a decker on that diagram. I dread to think how packed the 1600 out of Norwich was this afternoon unless the other decker on the 61 - Scania 553 was swapped with 216 at Norwich as it was due to arrive at the same time.

I did get to Norwich eventually - couldn't resist a trip on 60807 which appeared on the X1 shorts on a diagram which was normally operated by one of the Paragon coaches. Is there a reason this diagram is single decker operated? Anyway it was pretty enjoyable and the old girl sailed along at quite a good pace.

60807 at Market Gates loading up for Norwich
Now a plea to Suffolk County Council and the Highways Agency - GET LOWESTOFT SORTED NOW!!!  Apparently the sequence of the lights controlling the roadworks by the station has been altered. As a result my bus back to Halesworth from Lowestoft was 45 mins late leaving Lowestoft. When I have a Suffolk Links minibus booked to connect with my arrival at Halesworth that is simply not good enough. This was not Anglian's fault in anyway. In fact when I rang them to ask if they knew where the bus was they couldn't have been more helpful. Luckily the minibus driver was able to wait the 45 mins for me so I was saved the £15 taxi fare I would have otherwise incurred.

I was informed that Anglian had contacted the Council to see if the lights could be sorted out to be told it was down to the highways Agency. The Highways Agency in returned blamed the Council saying it was down to them. Gentlemen and ladies the travelling public couldn't give a flying fig whose responsiblity it is - just can someone PLEASE get those lights sorted so 45 min delays to buses can be avoided.

Would it be possible for the bus stop outside Lowestoft Police Station to be suspended during the afternoon peak until the roadworks are completed so buses can go the back route to the bus station and turn there - even load on the opposite side of the road Kessingland bound? I don't know how busy that stop is, but I don't recall ever stopping there to pick up.

Anyway I'm really grateful to the Suffolk Links driver for waiting for me, and thanks to Anglian too for their reassurance and subsequent Twitter updates - I know you guys were as frustrated as I was.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Before They Were Famous 1

Well famous in this neck of the woods anyway. While searching for a pic of  now Anglian Trident 725 I came across Guaguas Photo's photostream on Flickr. Like myself he is one of the kind souls on Flickr who doesn't mind his pics being downloaded (the possessiveness among some enthusiasts never ceases to amaze me - after all we are all into the same thing) and I found a couple of pics that caught my eye. The first, of Konect's ex Anglian Optare Tempo 414 is very useful as I got my first pic of it on Saturday in Watton. Then I came across Great Yarmouth's 30888 in a former guise.

Seen in Sunderland in 2006 YJ55 BLX working for Go Wear. Pic by Guaguas Photos
Seen in Watton now with Konect in Anglian livery 414 working the 1 to Kings Lynn
Seen in Bradford in 2003 then First Yorkshire Rider 5743 W743 DWX needs a bit of work on the destination screen. Just look at those fuel prices!! Pic by Guaguas Photo's
Now with First Great Yarmouth but fleet number in same place 30888 just outside Caister Rd depot. My pic

Anglian Fleet News

A surprise on the Anglian Bus website today is the news that Konect Loylne bodied Trident 725 W825 NNJ has joined the Anglian fleet and NOT gone to Hedingham as expected. This is presumably because Anglian Trident 711 T811 RFG has been withdrawn from service.

Konect 725 has been transferred to Anglian. Pic by Guaguas Photos

Monday, 21 April 2014

Is This Unique?

I finally got the chance to take a pic of this bus stop on Saturday. It is on Anglian's 88 route at Hedenham, near Bungay. I certainly have never seen another bus stop with a thatched roof and wonder if any of you know of another one. If you do let me know, or send me pics of other unusual bus stops you know of and I'll publish them. Thanks to Wayne for stopping long enough for me to take the pic.

The bus stop at Hedenham, Bungay bound - does it have an equal?

Saturday, 19 April 2014

E400 Excursion

As promised I set out today to sample for the first time Konect's 3 and 6 services to Watton. I also later ended up at Fakenham this afternoon, have been on 4 different E400's today, and found myself having to mentally rewrite this report 4 times!!

My first port of call, after arriving from Halesworth on one of Anglian's Scania Omnicitys (really like them) was Watton. The purpose of my trip to Watton was to see how Konect's E400 have coped with the constant punishment of Norfolk's B roads. After travelling on 611 on the 3 to Watton the words "not well" were in my head. Very rattly, by far the most rattly E400 of Konect's I had been on thus far.

Konectbus 611 SN62 AVO at Watton
Not sure about Watton. First time I've been there and might be the last. Mind you the cafes there seem cheap and good quality so not all dubious! Anyway I waited so I could come back on the 6 and was rewarded with 612. It is amazing that they come from the same batch, and presumably were assembled by the same people. Such a difference. No rattles and a much quieter ride. I prefer the 3 to the 6 though as a route. So the headline now read "none the wiser"!

Konectbus 612 SN62 AVR at Norwich Bus Station
I hadn't decided what to do with the afternoon when I got back to Norwich but that was settled when I saw a Norfolk Green E400 sitting in the layover area. So a trip to Fakenham was called for. Last year I rode this particular E400 to Spalding when it was virtually brand new, and I joked with the driver that we should make the most of it as it would be rattling in 6 months. Well I was wrong. Very wrong. It is IMMACULATE! Quite simply the best journey on an E400 I've had, and certainly the quietest. And unlike the others it's not on a dedicated route so goes all over the place. Loved it! Headline now read "Norfolk Green Magicians"

Norfolk Green 10055 SN13 EBB - a truly nice bus

I was expecting an Optare Tempo or Solo on the way back but no, round the corner came another E400. However this one, 10053 wasn't in the same state of excellence as 10055. Not by any stretch of the imagination the worst I've been on, but certainly not as good as her sister. But then of course she is a year older. I guess today NG 10055 was by far the best, 10053 and Konnect 612 about level and Konect 611 at the bottom.

Norfolk Green E400 10053 SN12 EHO
 So I am now confused. Today has provided no answers at all. I can't judge the Konect vehicles out on the 6 and 3 as I have nothing to compare them with because nothing else runs on those routes. You will always get discrepancies within batches anyway - that has always happened. There has really only been one genuine conclusion from today - Norfolk County Council: some of the roads are in a truly awful condition and need resurfacing urgently.

Apart from that my day riding the E400's has only thrown up three words - inconclusive, inconsistent, and incomprehensible! Oh well it was a nice day out! Happy Easter everyone.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Pleasant Surprise

I have been using Ipswich depot services a bit this week and I think it's time for a bit of honesty. First Ipswich don't have a bad fleet these days. Yes the 51 reg Scanias and remaining Scania saloons could go and no one would miss them, and from what we are hearing that won't be long in happening. But the ex P&R B7rle's are quiet and a joy to ride on, the older B7rle's are meaty and comfortable, and the B7 ALX 400 deckers are in good nick for their age. Today I had a really pleasant surprise when I got on 65692 Scania L94 YS03 ZKM for the first time.  In fact it's the first time I have been on any of the three of that batch they have, and I have to say it had the most comfortable seats I have sat on for a very long time. Sumptious and extremely well padded. I can say in all honestly the nicest First Scania I've ever been on. If only all buses had seats like that!

In the past I have commented about the worst vehicles going on the longer routes in the Ipswich area. Well I can only say what I see and this week has been the opposite with just about every vehicle I've seen on the 64/5 being a newer vehicle. Nice to see and long may it last.

First 65692 sits in the sun at Saxmundham

Ex P&R 69426 at Wickham Market

Interview with First

Sam Larke, of Norwich Buses blog, was granted an audience with Chris Speed, Business Manager at First in Suffolk and Norfolk. Sam has written a full account of the meeting, which can be viewed here

I'm not slow to criticise First but I like to think I also praise where it's deserved, and it's really good to see First give time to the young enthusiasts of today. So well done, Mr Speed, and I am looking forward with great interest in seeing the developments at FEC you have spoken of.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Dedicated Bus For Bildeston

Ipswich buses recently took over operation of the 111 service to Bildeston and Hitcham via Somersham from Galloways. Sponsored by SCC they have bought a brand new ADL Enviro 200 for the service, which has its own branding. I did hear they were planning to put WiFi in it but there was no publicity on the bus for that so the idea might have been abandoned. I spotted her yesterday in a sunny Old Cattle Market in Ipswich.

Ipswich Buses 78 ADL E200 YX14 RWL departs Old Cattle Market
The Suffolk County Council and route branding for the 111 on IB 78

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Steve's Sunday Soapbox

So it would appear First are going back to Kessingland and the 99 is coming back. Can anyone tell me why they left Kessingland in the first place as I don't know the history - were they pushed out by Anglian or did they abandon it as a loss making route and Anglian filled the gap?

Either way I seriously don't think Anglian have much to worry about, despite reports I have heard saying they are. Let's look at this logically. First have only registered the route from Lowestoft Bus Station to Kessingland - as yet we don't know if Kessingland Beach is going to be served. So anyone going further than Lowestoft - including many many students heading to Gorleston will remain. Those coming from Southwold and Rentham will remain. First already outnumber Anglian between Pakefield Tramway and Lowestoft yet without exception, in my experience anyway, Anglian always pick up passengers along that stretch.

And of course there are the fleets involved. According to NBP the 99 is going to be operated out of Lowestoft depot with 2 or 3 vehicles brought in. What vehicles and where from because they will be competing directly with a fleet of buses that are slowly but surely taking passengers from the X1 between Yarmouth and Norwich. Somehow I can't see the good people of Kessingland defecting to Jersey Darts on a permanent basis when they are used to gas buses now. The proof that if you have a good service people stick to it is evident in Ipswich, where the 13's operated by IB leave Tower Ramparts full, and the 53 operated by First leaves virtually empty despite it being cheaper. So it's probably only Pontins where the visitors won't know the local bus scene where First may take passengers off Anglian.

 I have already written to Anglian advising them to take on First on the 3 this year using heritage vehicles. I have not had so much as the courtesy of a reply. So let me amend it. Start a Yarmouth - Norwich via Caister and Hemsby service. At the moment the holidaymakers, not to mention local residents have to go in and out of Yarmouth if they want to go to Norwich. Now there isn't even the attraction of Routemasters to entice them to keep their cars at the caravan. Surely the potential is there and starting a new route for a new customer base makes more sense than trying to fleece a few passengers off existing routes. Where is the vision? I am available for employment btw!!

So in my opinion, and it is purely my opinion, will the 99 be a success? No it won't, unless Bentley have suddenly started building buses and you get a free Flake when you board!

And finally the most ironic advertising ever seen on a bus. I took this yesterday at Norwich Bus Station on maximum zoom so apologies for quality but I literally DID laugh out loud when I saw what was on the side of 33816. Good colour co-ordination though.

Nothing needs to be said!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Day Trip To Cambridge 1

I am always up for a challenge and when Jim Long mentioned that Stagecoach's E400's were on a Scania chassis it seemed an ideal opportunity to see how the Cambridge Guided busway E400's are bearing up now they are 5 years old and hammering up and down the guided busway and on to Huntingdon and Peterborough everyday. I loved the busway when I first travelled on it a couple of years ago and that was reaffirmed today - there should be a national network of busways as far as I'm concerned - we have so many miles of disused railway lines that could be converted, and it would be a lot cheaper than trams. Include a walkway/cycle path alongside and hey presto.

The Cambridge to St Ives busway. A great concept
So the burning question is what are the E400's like? I clearly remember not having an issue with them the first time I travelled on them and I think I might owe Alexander Dennis a partial apology. Quite simply they rattle no more than the former X1 B9's do now. In fact the one I took the above pic from was virtually rattle free, and my sound readings were surprising too. According to my sound meter the Scania versions are 4Db quieter upstairs on average and quite simply downstairs they give the quietest reading I've ever taken downstairs on a decker - the Dennis E400's are by far the noisiest - at speed they are bordering on the levels that would have the Health and Safety people demanding the issue of ear protectors. I went on 4 E400's and none of them made me wince. The seats were TRULY comfortable, plenty of leg room, and by each pair of seats there is a power socket for phone/laptop chargers. There are air chill units but they appear to be saved for extreme temperatures as the buses come with the novel concept of windows that open, thus reducing the need for very loud air chill systems constantly working overtime during the journey.

Stagecoach 15456 Scania E400 AE09 GYC on the busway
15457 at the beginning of the busway in Cambridge
So my partial apologies to Alexander Dennis. Partial because no one will ever convince me that the E200 is anything but an abonimation that shoud have been scrapped at concept. However, the E400 Scanias have lasted the distance in Cambridgeshire. The E400 Dennis's belonging to Konect and Norfolk Green appearing to be doing ok and I certainly had no complaints about the Konect E400 I travelled on this week. So it begs the question even louder than before why on earth are the X1 E400's so poor? Is it the wrong chassis for such a demanding route and would the Scania chassis have been a better choice? Certainly on a volume level it would appear so. But that doesn't account for the rattling and general noise both passengers and drivers have to tolerate. The public deserve answers and dear Lord so do First.

But as for the Busway itself if you haven't travelled on it I implore you to get over to Cambridge and give it a go - you truly won't regret it - as a certain Vulcan might have said - "It's bus travel - but not as we know it!"

Stagecoach also run some Volvo B7rle's on the busway, Here is 21232 AE12 CJO

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Well I Never!

When I first suggested the new X1 Enviros were maybe not what you would expect on a flagship route I was met with disdain and opposition. Well I think the poll speaks for itself. Only 25% of voters think the E400's are doing a fine job. That is quite a condemnation for vehicles launched with such pomp and ceremony a few short months ago. Again today I travelled on a Konect E400 to Dereham and continued to Kings Lynn on the X1. My opinions haven't changed and it now seems more and more people are agreeing with me.

I now publicly challenge on anyone from First to contact me with the official views on these buses, if you think they will last the required 5 years, why nothing has been done to address initial concerns including the route vinyls on the upper deck windows, and how you intend to cope with hoards of kids trampling over the seats in the Summer when a 13yo teen has only this week said in disgust he can't see over the seats. I would be delighted to accompany you on a trip on the X1 so we could discuss the issues and gain passenger feedback. Are you up for it?

Just one more gripe I've recently noticed with them - First made a big thing about the luxurious leather seating. Trouble is on the lower deck there are only 10 such seats. Just 10. The rest are extremely hard and barely padded. This means that more elderly people are forced upstairs if they want to sit in relative comfort. It does make you wonder if those who finalised the layout have ever travelled by bus.

For those who might have missed the final results of the poll, of 40 votes cast 17 (42.5%) said the E400's are a disgrace and First were ripped off. 13 (32.5%) said they should be given a couple of years and then re-evaluated, and 10 (25%) said they were doing just fine.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Out And About In Ipswich

I had an engagement in Ipswich today which gave me the opportunity to do some catching up. I travelled both ways from Framlingham using the Galloway operated 118/9 service which passes through some really spectacular countryside. Spectacular isn't the word to describe the vehicles on that route though - either Solos or in todays case a 52 reg mercedes 814 Beaver. Mind you anything is better than an E200 so let's be grateful for small mercies!

I was hoping to get pics of the three recently painted Ipswich Buses Omnidekkas and luck was on my side as all three were out and I saw them all within 15 mins. There was also an oddity with an Omnicity operating the X5 to Ipswich Hospital. Nothing else really to report - I think this may well be the calm before the storm of activity at Ipswich this year.

My apologies for the quality of some of the pics - the sunshine was very welcome but it was extremely bright and made photography very difficult today.

The last to be re-painted but the first numerically Ipswich Buses 60, Scania Omnidekka PJ54 YZT in standard colours
IB 61 Scania Omnidekka PJ54 YZU in hybrid colours in sunlight so strong it was affecting my camera
IB62 Scania Omnidekka PJ54 YZV also in hybrid colours at Tower Ramparts
IB 75 Scania Omnicity YN56 NYG on the X5 - a real rarity.
Norwcih Volvo B7L 66333 is still on loan to Ipswich, here seen at Tower Ramparts on the 55's
And finally, and I have to admit it deosn't look as bad in real life as it did in that first pic I published....

IB Solo 245 on its regular Town Shuttle in its pink and black livery.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Special Guest Post

I was delighted to receive an email from fellow enthusiast Kieran Smith this evening, reporting hiis day sampling the X1 today. When I asked if I could publish his report he immediately offered to tidy it up and include some pics. Many thanks. Kieran - I think it is an extremely thorough report and you are far from alone in your conclusions. Kieran also wishes me to emphasise that the views are Kieran's alone and do not reflect on any group or organisation he is a member of. All pics are copyright to Kieran also. (except my one obviously!)

A bit late to the game, I must say, however; today I set out with the intention of seeing what all the fuss of these new X1 buses is about. My only previous experiences of an X1 journey have so far been a Volvo B9TL in June 2013 on a one-way trip to Lowestoft, and a return to Great Yarmouth in August 2013 on a Volvo Olympian/Alexander Royale and one of my personal favourites, 20514 on the return journey. 
Venturing into Norwich on board First's 33149, I used my fairly priced day ticket to head out to Dereham. 

Arriving at Norwich just in time to catch 33821, I boarded and caught the first glimpse of the eyesore which is the luggage rack placed immediately behind the stairs. This makes the downstairs of the bus appear cluttered and packed, contrasting with the bright interior of Norfolk Green's Alexander Dennis Enviro400s, on which I travel regularly. With the whole upper deck to myself, I set about picking apart the good and bad features of the upper deck. Some quirky and somewhat sexist adverts for the service were displayed and brightened up the upper deck, however, with one held in solely by the lower part of the frame I was surprised it was not hanging out. I was also shocked at the deep rumble which the vehicle produced when the driver is not accelerating. Leaving the departure stand the abundance of rattles and squeaks stunned me, as these are not experienced on similar vehicles operating in Norwich which are up to two years older. The main culprit for these noises was the air conditioning unit and the joints of the handrails which let out creaks at the slightest shake of the bus.

The onboard announcements are useful, and with a voice uncannily similar tone to that of Apple's latest "Siri" feature. The first announcement made me jump as I forgot about this feature, however, my ears soon adjusted to the volume of it. As the bus picks up at all stops in Dereham and Toftwood, the journey along Norwich Road and Crown Road was rather unpleasant with an announcement every few hundred yards. On 33821, the announcement were otherwise flawless, other than the scrolling parts which are a distraction to some of the amazing views which can be seen; let alone a real eyesore to passengers who may be trying to relax on the journey. Arriving in Dereham, I ended up queuing in a row of buses waiting to use the bus stop at Dereham Market Place, a problem which is regularly occurring and which I feel should be addressed in some manner by the local authorities... a large bus stop maybe?
33821 in Dereham
As my journeys were for no particular reason other than enjoyment, I planned to catch the other X1 bus which was heading the queue, however, the long wait meant it pulled away for Lowestoft just as the doors of 33821 opened. Instead, I waited for the next bus, which happened to be 33808 running with a total delay of around six minutes - not bad if you ask me! My initial recognition as I boarded the bus was the fact the next stop screen was jammed on an earlier stop before my boarding point. This remained like this for the entirety of my journey back towards Norwich, meaning there were no announcements and the bus was apparently stationary in Dereham whilst reaching speeds of up to 50mph along the A47. My original intention was to stay on this bus all the way to Acle, where my ticket validity terminates, however, on arrival at Norwich I was tempted by the sight of Great Yarmouth based 60813 preparing for a "short" run to Great Yarmouth. With the inability to resist my temptation I dismounted and waited the short while for the beautiful bus to pull round to Stand D. The driver was one of the friendliest drivers from First I have met, and his prompt departure meant we left bang on time. I found this vehicle quieter and a more enjoyable ride, and would choose this over an Enviro any day. With no idea where I was getting off, I followed the crown of bus pass equipped gentlemen and soon found my bearings. A sprint across the road and I was back on board another Enviro400, with a working next stop system. I pondered over the though of 20514 and 20515 as I saw them heading towards Yarmouth on X1 shorts, wishing I was on board one of those.
33808 at Norwich
I just happened to be in Yarmouth when 60813 left for Norwich today so seems a good place to put the pic!

Back in Norwich, I had a nice ride on 36168 to Riverside. These are my personal favorites in Norwich with an almost silent ride and the most comfortable bus seats I have ever experienced. Any passenger who was lucky enough to ride on these buses when one of the batch had a brief spell on X1s last year may agree with me in saying that these vehicles would have been a better choice for the service.
Norwich B9 36168 complete with new Wilco ad
I must give First my respect for their investment on the route, however, I personally feel that these new buses are a disaster and their feel of luxury has long gone since their early days, and I also believe the route of the X1 is too complicated to be branded as "EXPRESS", with the route through estates in Great Yarmouth and the route on the way to Dereham being very complicated. My personal opinion is that First should continue X1 shorts to Dereham, operating via Easton, Hockering and Norwich Road with standard X1s operating direct into Dereham and turning off of the A47 near the Tesco store in Dereham. I must also give my dues to First for being able to complete seven bus journeys across Norwich for just £3.60, top noch!