I said I would put my head on the block over this so here goes! You've read the criticism so it's only fair that I say how I would try and stop the Anglian rot. Now obviously I don't have any of the figures or budgets, or commands from Newcastle. What I do have, however is experience of travelling hundreds of miles on Anglian routes a week, and although the eyes still aren't right there is nothing wrong with my ears and I keep them open to what people are saying. Also I have not heard of a single instance of Go-Ahead management travelling on their own services asking their own customers what they want. All their research seems to come from a computer, and we have all heard the phrase lies, damn lies and statistics.
Let's start with the 7, which has the unenviable task of competing with the X1. Anglian put a lot of noses out of joint when they abandoned the former A47 serving the likes of Brundall, basically sacrificing those passengers in an attempt to muscle in on the fast services between Norwich and Yarmouth. However, they still decided to run the services via Thorpe, so Norwich Station could be served. A good idea, but already it meant a longer journey time. These days time is everything, so what does the 7 have that the X1 doesn't. Basicaly nothing. It's no secret that I think the gas buses are the best single deck buses ever built, but that is totally irrelevant. We are talking about normal passengers who couldn't give a monkeys if their bus ran on gas or ham sandwiches. The 7 doesn't have wifi, leather seats - gas bus seats are great but the Scanias are as comfortable as racing bike saddles. The 7 doesn't have air chill, and quite significantly for what is a major tourist route, it has no top deck. You bring the kids on holiday and where do they want to travel on a bus? Exactly.
So the 7 has all that against it so what can be done to get bums on seats? How about running buses when people want them. You would not believe the number of times I have been waiting at Yarmouth listenng to people asking Anglian drivers when the last bus back from Norwich was, then expressing surprise at the early time. This leaves passengers without flexibility if anything goes wrong, or plans need to change. At the moment the last 7 leaves Norwich at 1840. From November it will be 1800. That means even more people will revert to the X1 as they will be able to return when they want to, not be forced to return by 1800 at the latest.
Therefore if you are going to effectively compete with an established route like the X1 you need to give people more not less. So I would trade in all the Scania Omnilinks for deckers that had decent seats, look into the possibility of wifi which despite my initial misgivings seems to be gaining in popularity, and run evening services so people on a day out could have a whole day out and make sure those services connected with trains from London at Norwich. Run promotions with various establishments in Norwich and Yarmouth to encourage use of the evening services - you can't just expect passengers to turn up these days.
I now worry for the 61. So much that it would surprise me if it survives another 6 months. You simply cannot survive charging 140% more than your competitor. The 61's saving grace was that firstly it continued to Yarmouth, and secondly that tourists weren't aware of the fares discrepancy between the 61 and 99. It also runs through to Southwold, although I am reliably informed that many passengers from Southwold, Reydon and Wangford are abandoning the 61, catching the 146 to Pakefield then changing to the 99 into Lowestoft. Kessingland Beach has all but been abandoned, and with the service now terminating at Lowestoft the fares to Yarmouth from Kessingland and Pakefield have effectively been raised unless through fares will still be available, which I very much doubt. Oh and if you're travelling from Lowestoft to Halesworth via Southwold - which you have to do now both the 62 and 60 have been axed you'd better hope that bridge doesn't go up as you have precisely 4 mins at Southwold now to make your connection. If you want to go to the pier, as many from Pontins and Lowestoft do in the Summer than forget that too - the 61 now terminates at the King's Head and the 88 which now goes to the pier leaves 10 mins before you get in! Also the busiest 61 out of Southwold is currently the 0922 from Southwold Pier, so of course that's gone and replaced with a 1005. BorderBus must think Christmas has come early!
I would therefore run the 61 to Pleasurewood Hills, whch is a far easier place to change than the cramped Lowestoft Bus Station - persuading the Council to provide better shelter facilties. The 7 could then run along the X1 route between Lowestoft and Pleasurewood Hills, thus reducing journey times, yet Gunton and Lowestoft College would still served with through buses from Southwold and Kessingland. A new all day ticket of £5 covering the length of the 7/61 routes would be introduced thus preserving the fares currently paid and obviously I would match First's fares on the 99 - it was tantamount to suicide to ignore that.
A trick has been missed with the 88. I know the morning X88 from Halesworth is extremely popular so why it has been withdrawn truly baffles me. The afternoon one would take more if it didn't leave at exactly the same time as the Bungay stopping service. When I heard that more X88's would be running I was feeling very positive, but it seems it is no more than a re-numbering exercise, with the services running no faster than the currrent 88's. Passengers from Halesworth and Bungay are crying out for faster services to and from Norwich and the new timetable has improved little if anything. Again it shows how out of touch with their customers Anglian are.
If Brooke really needs a half hourly service (I'm not convinced) then one of the 87's should extend out there instead of serving Stoke Holy Cross, which certainly doesn't need a half hourly 87 as well as the 84's. That would allow the X88 to run faster as it should do.
I am utterly confounded by the cuts to the 80/81. No matter where on the route I have been it has been well used. The fast link between Beccles and Bungay was very popular too. I regulaly use the route between Beccles and Yarmouth and I'm so surprised at these cuts. Anglian have said all journeys will from November be operated by "larger buses" to cater for the extra loadings. They may have 10 or so more seats but they won't have any extra buggy, trolley or wheelchair spaces. Also with some journeys operating via Aldeby it's going to be pretty tight round there too. But at least you'd think that with only 7 journeys a day now Anglian would at least make sure there were easy connections with other routes. Think again. If you're travelling from Halesworth and want to change at Bungay for the 80 you have a 30 min wait if you want to go to Diss and a convenient 45 min wait to go to Beccles and on to Yarmouth (first connections after 0930). If you catch the 60H to Beccles from Halesworth thinking that will be better I'm sorry - if you're going to Yarmouth you'll have a short wait of 81 mins. Only 5 mins if going to Bungay but quicker to go direct from Halesworth anyway. Coming back from Yarmouth you won't be surprised to hear that it's no better - buses from Yarmouth arrive at 1301, 1501 and 1647 wih the 60H leaving at 1416 and 1616. Anyone else get the impression that things are being made as awkward for the passenger as possible?
Surely it would have made more sense to extend the 60H and 60S from Beccles to Bungay, either as the 60 does now via Gillingham and Kirby Cane, so the 80 can stay fast between Beccles and Bungay, or fast itself. It would also make sense to make sure everything connected with each other.
I'm not claiming my ideas to be perfect, or a miracle cure. But they have been created based on travelling on the network, and listening to passengers. Maybe if Anglian had done the same they might not be in such a mess right now. Services should encourage paseenger use - after all if they don't no one's going to use them leading to more and more cuts. I see no passenger encouragement from the latest Anglian timetables. Really wish I didn't have to be so negative, and if anyone can find anything positive to say I'll happily shout it from the rooftops!