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Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Tales Of The Unexpected!

Quite simply 24 hours ago I had no idea of anything contained in this post, so it's all happened a bit suddenly. First of all I was contacted last night by a BorderBus driver who rather vaguely said there was a red double decker parked up in the yard, and it could be ex London. So as I had to go to Ellough anyway today for other reasons I popped in fully expecting to see a Gemini when a rather striking Scania Omni Citi decker came into view. I have been on several of these in London and they are great buses, at least they would be if it wasn't for one tiny problem - the seats are what Satan would design if you had to spend the rest of eternity on a bus being punished. I have spent 90 minutes on one and it felt like 90 days. So it's fair to say I had mixed feelings when I saw ex Stagecoach London 15137 LX59 CNA gleaming in the Suffolk sun. COULD be ex London? Seriously!!

The Scania at BorderBus depot.
The Scania is on loan to BorderBus for fuel economy evaluation. It will be used on the 146 over the next few days, and if the fuel data is satisfactory it is likely that a number of the Scanias will be purchased. They would be converted to single door, probably have more seats added upstairs as the amount of legroom is way beyond coach standard. I'm not normally in favour of reducing legroom but with these it makes sense. And yes, the seats will be either replaced or upgraded to include foam to boost comfort. I'm not joking - those Scanias give seriously good rides, and with decent seats will really give the Geminis a run for their money. I hope the evaluation goes well, and I'll report back when the decisions have been made. My thanks to Andrew and Dave for the info and I'll watch this space with interest. In the meantime check BorderBus's Twitter account for info on what the Scania will be doing.

One thing we couldn't do, however, was imagine the Scania in BorderBus Livery. Enter Sam Larke and his computer and voila! Thanks Sam, might not look too bad!

How the Scania could look

A quick postscript now - the E300's for Ipswich P&R have coe fro the ex First Borders operation in Scotland, which is now run by a new company called Borders Bus. You probably know where this is going - Andrew Pursey has had to field multiple daily complaints about buses in Galashiels. I just wonder how many complaints are being received in Scotland - or compliments even - about buses in Wangford!

Rear view of the Scania
Next something nice, really nice. It has been sometime since I had anything positive to say about Anglian Bus. The last 3 years has seen a slow painful demise for all concerned. Blame lies entirely with Go Ahead who failed spectacularly to understand how a rural operation functioned, and also failed equally spectacularly to learn from their mistakes. If it wasn't for the drivers and staff at Anglian the company would have been history months if not years ago.

However, today it was my pleasure to meet Mickey Amey, the new Operations Manager at Anglian. I admit I wasn't sure what reception I'd receive, but the welcome couldn't have been warmer. I was there primarily on non blog related business, but obviously the subject turned to the current state of affairs at Anglian. For the first time ever I had the feeling I was talking to someone who wanted to turn the company around, put new flesh on the bare bones, and had the enthusiasm and man management skills to achieve it. Just a quick word to the Go Ahead supremos - GIVE HIM THE TIME TO ACHIEVE!!!!  With backing and investment the phoenix could yet rise from the ashes with a man at the helm who understands how a rural depot works. That was how Anglian became successful in the first place under the Purseys and if Go Ahead let Mickey Amey get on with things it can again.

Most of what I discussed with Mickey cannot be published yet, but one thing I can do is reveal why Konect have registered Beccles as an operating centre. Anglian will also be registered at Rackheath and it's purely so in exceptional circumstances such as breakdown either operator can use each other's vehicles. This will help at Norwich for example and will save time getting spare buses out from depots resulting in less loss mileage and fewer cancellations.

It was a real pleasure chatting to Mickey Amey, and I will only be too pleased to report anything positive coming out of Anglian. Let's hope the bad times are over and the rebuilding can begin.

Switching to the rails and I decided to nip into Norwich as I knew there was a test train in the sidings. Hopefully I'll be seeing a lot of it tonight, but I wanted to see it iin daylight, and so I did, with Colas Rail 37421 heading the train and DBSO

Colas 37421 in Norwich sidings
I thought that was it but no. As I was having lunch Tim rang me to tell me the Class 37 short set, which had been off the track, was coming back with an added DBSO, for storage and braking purposes. So back to Norwich Station I went and sure enough there was the set with DBSO 9705 backing onto 37403.

37403 with DBSO 9705
Apologies for sun interference
I took a video of the train leaving Norwich - with only 37423 active, and just as well as the set promptly failed at Lowestoft and was taken out of service!


So there we are, a full day, none of it expected, and all of it enjoyable and rewarding. If only all days could be like this!

26 comments:

  1. Mickey is one of the most genuine guys I've ever met. First met him on Konectbus route 4 around 7 years ago. Nobody would be able to board/leave his bus unhappy. Not just a hello when getting on but a "how's your day been? You didn't have to suffer maths today did you" (for kids) "a long day today? It's okay, I've got the heating on, tell me the stop you want, and if you fall asleep, I'll keep an eye out to make sure you get off and don't come back with me to Dereham!" Etc. Really pleased he got the promotion. After the "Eden project" I'm sure he has been accepted with open arms from staff.

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    1. Thank you for that. If you've been reading the blog for sometime you'll know I don't do false praise - it's meaningless. After the stick I've given Anglian in recent months I couldn't have blamed Mickey if he'd told me to go forth and multiply instead of welcoming me the way he did.

      I had previously only heard good things about him and yes, the Anglian drivers seem to have taken to him. I just hope Go Ahead give him time to put his team together, so to speak, and rebuild slowly. His reaction to decisions taken in the past was refreshingly honest, and I cannot tell you how much I'm looking forward to Anglian joining First and Borderbus, in that if I have a query I can pick up a phone and talk to the boss who will tell it to me straight. That has been missing from Anglian so good luck to the guy, not many would want his job right now, but you could see behind the smile was a steely determination. I like that. For months if not years I and many others have been waiting for Anglian to close. Tonight I'm hoping that with Mickey at the helm they don't, and that a new, fresh start is possible with some lost routes being resurrected in time. Fingers crossed.

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  2. Steve great blog as always it makes my commute bearable!!

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    1. that made me smile! Glad to be of service, Andy!

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  3. I think East Anglia should count itself really lucky! And in my limited experience it is.

    In my experience in the Home Counties I suspect that over the last 50 years I can count the number of drivers who've shown any interest in their passengers on little more than the fingers of one hand, and most of them pre-1980. More that I've heard about, but a fraction of the numbers going the other way, although perhaps not unexpectedly.

    I expect as you say that a good example works wonders, and the problem isn't the drivers but the poor quality of so much of the management. Who are more interested in keeping a clean nose with their bosses than the interests of the passengers. Sad. I don't think ownership really has anything to do with it. Rather, give someone an impossible job and don't be surprised when they fail, often miserably.

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  4. The Chambers Service 111 Sudbury – Halstead – Braintree ceases after the 21st May although their Web site make no mention of it. It is a one return journey a day service and appears to have been some kind of works service

    The Regal services 11, 12,& 13 are still due to go from an hourly service to a DRM service in August

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    1. Andrew Kleissner15 May 2017 at 08:55

      Sorry - what's DRM?

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    2. Demand Responsive Minibus

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  5. Anglian Bus have a lot of work to do before they return to their former glory. In 2010 (under Pursey control) they made a pretax profit of £288,330 on a turnover of 5,347,846. For the year ended July 2016 they made a loss of £1,200,000 on a turnover of £3,772,000.
    You don't have to be an accountant to realise that is not a sustainable position.

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  6. Anonymous at 1041
    The Chambers service 111 is a very longstanding (over 30 years) works contract operated by Hedingham until a few years ago when it was transferred to Chambers under Go-Ahead control. It began when Corning Medical (previously Evans Electroselenium, now Siemens) built a factory at Sudbury to replace the one at Bocking (and ultimately the Halstead premises as well). It's exact legal status in the Hedingham era has not been resolved.

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    1. They seem to have made another late change. It is now carrying on untill the 21st July but will be numbered 89X why the numnber has changed who knows

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  7. I suspect there are more than a few legacy services (and networks) where work patterns have changed, but the services haven't. It seems much easier to tweak than rethink. Perhaps the biggest problem of the industry, even more than money? As with much historic British industry, are the bus companies their own worst enemies, sometimes?

    What amazes me is that even with an hourly service we can't it seems find the demand in the villages. Why won't they use the bus even when it's staring them in the face? They can hardly argue it isn't convenient, can they?

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    1. An hourly service though is of limited use. To attract passengers a services needs to be at least every 30 minutes and then not divert all around the house to get anywhere

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    2. Yep. I suspect that is the conventional wisdom. May be right too. But in a sentence it's why rural buses are inevitably in terminal decline. So few of them can meet the financial criteria for commercial operation or public subsidy on that basis. Better luck with DRT let's hope.

      Essex do seem wedded to their talking before doing. Why a lot of services seem to be kept on temporarily or are on temporary contract extensions and short term subsidies. Does it help though or just put off the evil day? We may soon find out. It buys time, for people to get used to the idea of it perhaps. A worthwhile investment.

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    3. Andrew Kleissner17 May 2017 at 08:15

      The service interval question is a real one. If you are a car driver, you may well feel it is worth paying for petrol and parking when you're going shopping or even to the doctor, if you know that taking the bus may leave you "high and dry" (or wet!) for an hour.

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    4. I suspect (hope?) it's not just timetabled intervals. A poorly managed service will have missing buses. Not infrequently. A timetabled hourly service passengers can live with. You can plan for it. An hourly service with missing-in-action buses they can't, or won't. So often it seems a quarter or half hourly service means an up to an hour wait, and an hourly service can mean a two hour wait, or longer when the next bus is late - how much time does that take out of the day? Add the impact of "missing" stops, even for "justified" reasons. Of course for commuters it's much worse, for them time is money. So they're more critical but so often more neglected too.

      In short it's why I'll keep banging on about management. (And I don't mean or think any amount of tweaking or nagging by the higher-ups at HQ, local or national, makes any difference). And before anyone mentions it, congestion is an excuse not a justification. The buses have to be managed around it. As with everything else in life the First Commandment is don't go and make the impact worse.

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    5. The issue with the Regal 11/12/13 services was summed up by a lady from Essex County Council after a public meeting, half the people said it was wonderful that they serve the villages either side of the main road and the other half said it was no use because it took an hour to go round the houses instead of 20 minutes straight down the main road. It has to be said that the service is a huge improvement on previous decades when there was a handful of journeys per week.

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    6. Andrew Kleissner19 May 2017 at 13:53

      @Smurfuk - re. congestion, I have often been puzzled why IB's timetabled running times seem to be much the same throughout the day. London Transport - admittedly with longer routes - have always tweaked theirs to allow for rush-hours.

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    7. Likewise Andrew, I'm often bemused that First Essex tweak theirs what seems every few months, by the odd minute or two! Depends how cloudy the crystal ball is, I suppose. Perhaps more realistically my theory is that it's a useful way of keeping the Traffic Commissioners off your back; if they are ("look 'ow 'ard we're trying guv, 'onest") in the bus playground.

      I suppose if you have the technology you have to find a use for it, or not. But I think the argument was that regular times were easier for passengers to remember. Not perhaps so important with realtime data, though if anyone can make sense of it with its missing and disappearing buses bemuses me! Perhaps it's like satnav estimates, or licking your finger and sticking it in the air!

      Re: Regal. Sounds like the UK, half us of want to keep what we've got and half of us want something else, entirely. At least ECC now can do what they were going to do anyway; after all no-one has come up with an agreement on anything better! I remember too (1970s) when there was a couple of buses a few days a week! It wasn't all the gold old days.

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    8. I have never come across a real time system that actually works. You get buses that claim to be a few minutes away that mysteriosly disappear into a black hole routes missing totally and frequently showing old time table information/ Other times the display just shows timetable information and then there is the display that are not working and left like that for several months if not longer

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  8. Ipswich P&R

    It appears that first bus will be operating the service without subsidy. I find it difficult to how that will work unless there is a dramatic increase in the number of passengers which seems unlikely. The council are picking up the cost of the two P&R sites this is costing £200,000 a year which sounds to me to be very excessive.

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    1. I suppose that's why they are moving from 5 to 4 buses an hour, which I don't think is adverse (perhaps outside peaks). But I agree, I suspect it's not enough. They also seem to be throwing enough PR at the P&R which is good. Keep it up.

      The trouble I suspect is with Ipswich's attractiveness. Outside Cambridge, and other select places, from what I can see P&R earns its keep from commuters, and finishing at 7pm, and with the rail options round-a-bout, and the local network in town, the attractiveness of P&R is limited. And further handicapped by changing pensioners extra. You don't give people a free pass then take back with the other hand! It's not the British idea of fair-play! The £1 parking charge in Cambridge made them see red for the same reason, and even Stagecoach thought it affected the viability of the network.

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    2. Andrew Kleissner17 May 2017 at 15:54

      I see in the latest Traffic Commissioners Proceedings that FEC are proposing quite a few changes to their east Ipswich routes. Is this all part of the bigger P&R picture?

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    3. Yes it will be, Andrew but I don't have details yet. As soon as I do I'll publish them

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    4. P&R buses in general just do not generate enough traffic and they are also very expensive to operate. THey arlso tend to take up most of the money councils have to support bu serves so it leads to cuts to those services

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  9. Chambers route 111

    Well it now appears that what has happend is that Siemens have stopped subsidising the service. They were orginally going to axe it but now has a reprieve and has been re registered as an 89X with a slight variation in the route to take in Sudbury bus station, It will operate onm a commercial basis and hass been regisrered to July. Given the times of operation I cannot see it generating much traffic

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