Monday, 3 December 2018

Ensignbus Running Day 2018

I'm sure everyone has a few dates during the year they look forward to. Could be anything from a birthday, to Wimbledon, to Trooping the Colour, to First Night of the Proms, to the new fishing season starting. For me, December 1st 2018 had been top of my "looking forward to" list since December 2nd 2017 when I attended my first Ensignbus Running Day. I had basically ordered Tim to keep the day free so he could come too as I wanted to share the experience.

You see there are Running Days and Running Days. There are Running Days which involve a 10 min trip round an industrial estate or big field when you don't know what's going to be doing what or when, and there's this Running Day. 3 routes, 2 of which are roughly 3 hour round trips, the other one being nearly 2 hours. Not only that but you know what vehicle is going to be on which run so you can tailor the day to your own needs. Buses running from 0900 - 1930 and it costs a tenner. Add to that it's becoming the bus social event of the year too, and you have the recipe for a perfect day.

So at precisely 0533 we set off from Blog HQ for the drive down to Purfleet. Although the weather forecast wasn't great there was still an air of anticipation of what was to come, which only heightened when we arrived at Ensignbus' depot in time to see all the stars of the show still tucked up but blinded up ready before action. Despite the now falling rain the atmosphere in the depot was one of excitement and cheerfulness, and we couldn't wait for the day to get going.

Everything geared up for the big day
I had decided that if nothing else happened, Tim was going to get the "RT driven by a Newman" experience, plus I wanted him to see RT8, with all its wartime décor. Ross Newman was only taking it out for one trip so that was the obvious first choice. Empty to Upminster then the X55 to Gravesend via Lakeside, Dartford Crossing and Bluewater. Rain shelters really don't come much better, and when the conductor is a self confessed blog reader it makes it even better - great to meet you, Bob!
RT8 at a very wet Purfleet depot
Ross didn't let us down - 2 hours of brilliant driving and my that old girl is in incredible condition for her age - the RT that is, not Ross! We left her in Gravesend town centre for a pit stop before our second bus of the day, with a VIP driver.

RT8 in Gravesend High St
One of the people I wanted to see during the day was Martijn Gilbert, former Reading Buses supremo, now MD at Go North East. It was Martijn's birthday, and one of his regular birthday treats is to drive on the Running Day. You may remember last year he broke the DMS, which has supplied a year of constant mickey taking. I'm pleased to report he survived the day intact, and his first bus was the Southend Transport Leyland Fleetline. A new bus for me, and a type of bus familiar to my youth.

The Fleetline at Upminster
One of the real joys I've gained from this blog is the people I've got to know, and it seemed totally appropriate that on Martijn's bus I should meet Tom Bowell for the first time. Tom and I have been communicating on Twitter for some time now, not always in complete concordance, but after Martijn introduced us at Bluewater we clicked. Tom is a young man with a great future in whatever he chooses to do. Heavily involved in politics in his native Croydon area, Tom is also passionate about buses and public transport in general, and has recently written articles for local media regarding proposed TfL alterations to bus services in his area. I could have chatted to Tom and his two companions all day, but there were other things to do, so we left them at Upminster as a rather special guest was soon to arrive.

The scene at Upminster Station
Buses are sometimes like buses - you wait 35 years to go on one then you get it twice in a month. This was the case with Seaford & District's ex Maidstone & District Leyland Leopard 2816. I won't go on too much about it as I did that when I travelled on it a few weeks back on Tube Strike day. Suffice to say she looked great, sounded great and the journey to Ongar on the X21 was made even better by chatting to Alisha, a young lady who is simply the Google of London buses. Female enthusiasts are rare, but Alisha makes up for that. Her knowledge of the London scene is unrivalled, and I'm busy trying to persuade her to write a regular article on the London scene for us. So good to see you again, Alisha, and I will keep nagging.

Leopard 2816 at Upminster Station with the rear of Metrobus M1
We left the Leopard at Brentwood High St to catch the third of the three routes, the X81 to Tilbury. At this point we had no idea what bus we would be getting, basically the first one to turn up, so when I checked only to discover it would be a certain Metropolitan Scania we knew the bus Gods were smiling on us. Again, I'd only been on her a few weeks ago, but that is one bus I would travel on day in, day out with no complaints and never getting bored. So ahead of its time, giving a ride modern manufacturers must be jealous of, I reached the conclusion that MD60 is my favourite bus in the country. Beautifully cared for by Paul, who it's always great to see, I get a thrill from riding that bus that I get from no other, and there's plenty of competition! At Tilbury I got what I think is my photo of the day.

MD60 looking majestic at Tilbury
Despite growing up in North Kent I had never been on the Gravesend - Tilbury ferry. Never even crossed my mind and I'm kicking myself. What a useful connection and I will be back. Unfortunately it was too dark to get a decent photo by time Tim and I were there as the lighting both sides was minimal to say the least!

Back in Gravesend we had a choice. I wanted to get RT3251 driven by the Father of the bus industry, Peter Newman, before meeting up again with Martijn for the journey back to the depot, but another surprise was in store first. Again, totally unplanned by us, the ex Southend Transport Astromega arrived, looking superb, and driven by another guest driver, the MD of Lothian Buses, Richard Hall. It was after sinking into those sumptuous seats and taking in the heat, that we realised we were going to get an unexpected bonus. Gravesend High St has long been popular for its Christmas lights - it's where Dad always took us when I was a boy - and now pedestrianised apart from buses, the perfect photo opportunity was given to us. I thought I got some good ones but Tim took the prize with this stunner that would grace any Christmas card.

The The Astromega under the lights at Gravesend High St.        pic (c) Tim Miller

We stayed with the now rather late running Astromega to Bluewater, and 5 minutes later Peter Newman arrived on his beloved RT3251. I was delighted to see last year's conductor with him, and I made sure Tim was in prime position for the journey through the Dartford Tunnel on an RT, which is an experience everyone should have at least once in their lifetime!

Hareing through the Dartford Tuunel on RT3251
Peter, who I'm convinced becomes 10 years old again when he's driving that RT, gave an exhilarating ride, and it was with reluctance we left him at Upminster, as the ride back to the depot would have been something else.

RT3251 at Lakeside
However, there was one last treat, and something completely different. I well remember the Duple Laser bodied Leyland Tigers of the early 1980's. Absolute beasts of their time, and I loved them. So did Martijn Gilbert, who used to travel on them as a boy, and  had reverted to 10 years old himself when given the opportunity to drive one of the very coaches of his boyhood. The Southend Transport Tiger was lovely, Martijn was clearly in clover, and apart from anything else it gave me half hour with one of the most respected bus mangers in the country, an opportunity that doesn't come around that often, especially with him now based in Newcastle! It put the icing on the cake of a day that left me with not much voice left, but totally fulfilled.

The Tiger, and Martijn, at Upmnster

One sad thing to note - a few mins after we got off the Leyland Leopard a stone flew up and smashed the offside windscreen. Thankfully there were no reported injuries. Such a shame, and I hope a new one is sourced soon as there can't be too many 1968 Leyland Leopard windscreens sitting on shelves.

The Leopard, minus windscreen looking rather forlorn back at Purfleet
I have only covered what Tim and I did. There was so much more, and so many more vehicles. If anyone wants to send in their pics of the day so I can do a supplementary post that would be great.

My thanks to so many people - Ross, Steve, Peter and especially Paul Dickson at Ensign for once again making me feel part of the Ensign family, to Tom, Alisha and numerous others from all areas of the industry I met on the day, to Martijn for being just a nice guy, and to Tim, for not taking offence when I frequently deserted him to talk to others! Roll on December 7th (I presume) 2019!

Tim wanted to say a few words so I'll leave the rest to him. I'm hoping to do a lot more with Ensign over the coming months, including their own bus operations so watch this space.

Hello It's me! I will admit it was an early start from mine and rather late when I got back to bed but it was worth it. The sheer scale of the operation was a thing to see and enjoy, plus the spectacle of that first bus to Upminster which was totally packed 30 seconds after arriving. I saw so many people hopping on and off just to get the bus they wanted for a tick in the book, and to be honest I was bowled over by the sheer numbers of enthusiasts that had turned up. Martijn was over the moon that a man from Newcastle had travelled all that way and was on his bus too! I also freely admit as much as I like the old buses I do have soft spots for the Astromega and the Tiger which I was very happy to get 2 good runs on.

 I really felt welcome too, it was such a friendly, happy day that was my first and hopefully not my last. Thanks for the invite Steve and here's to next year!!

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Future Is Arriving

A couple of weeks ago the first of Greater Anglia's new fleet arrived at Norwich for testing. Unfortunately I was restricted to sick bay and couldn't get out to see it.

However, today the second Stadler Flirt was delivered, and I was at Diss to see it glide through, hauled by 66001. A damp and murky morning didn't make photographing a 70mph moving object easy, especially as it's the first time with a new phone, but I hope the sound makes up for that - more like a tram than a train.

I would also like to thank those of you who have made contributions to the debate on bus passes. I'm a little concerned that many of you seem to want to restrict use of them even further, as surely that defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. We should be finding new ways to bring money into the bus industry, not disencourage people from using them as much. To o many times in this country now we find reasons not to do something, or to object to something, rather than finding reasons why we should do something. But keep the debate going as it's been one of the best so far. 

Saturday sees the annual Ensignbus Running Day, when the heritage fleet comes out to play. Tim and I are both going, so look out for reports early next week. 

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Bus Passes - Good or Bad?

I was approached by the Association of British Commuters last week, asking if I had ever made a post on Concessionary Bus Passes. I knew I'd mentioned them many times, but a quick search suggested I had never made a dedicated post on them. So here goes, and I think I could possibly break my own fairly impressive record of upsetting more people with one post than ever before!

For those who don't know I have a Bus Pass due to my eye condition, which is variable, particularly affecting me at night, in unfamiliar territory. So I speak as a pass holder, not a jealous bystander or someone who has never had to rely solely on public transport in the past.

First some background history. The National Concession Transport Scheme (NCTS) was introduced in April 2008, extending the provision of free bus travel within local authorities to allow travel throughout England. Prior to that, local authorities had various schemes. I remember Kent issuing half fare passes which cost an annual fee - one fee applied after 0900, and if you wanted to travel before that our pass would cost more. I'm told Suffolk and Norfolk had similar schemes. What I don't know well enough to discuss is how the bus operators were compensated, if at all, as the data gathering technology we have today just wasn't there in those days.

It is worth noting at this time that London has different rules. The London Freedom Pass has been around for many years, and is covered by the GLA Act 1999.

The first point that immediately comes to mind is that the word "National" in NCTS is entirely misleading. Yes, the 2007 Act dictates basic requirements of the Travel Concession Authorities (TCA'S, or Councils to us), ie that free bus travel is to be provided between the hours of 0930 - 2300 Monday - Friday, and at anytime weekends, and that there should be no charge for the passes, but then the Act turns into a free for all, no pun intended, by allowing each TCA to offer additional benefits, eg free travel for the disabled before 0930, or reduced fares pre 0930. This has led to utter confusion, particularly for the disabled, as to where you can use your pass and when, particularly before 0930. As part of my research for this post I looked for a guide as to which TCA permits what and when, but to no avail. It seems you have to search authority by authority, which is a minefield of confusing websites, which considering the passes are for the elderly and disabled makes little sense.

Some offer free travel for the disabled before 0930, others don't, and Surrey County Council are proposing to cut their funding for pre 0930 travel next year, which is what triggered the debate and this post. I imagine others will follow, despite the Chancellor's assertion in his Budget that "austerity was at an end". This announcement by SCC has caused outrage and consternation among the disabled folk of Surrey, but are they right to be outraged? Let's explore why the passes were introduced in the first place.

As I have already stated, prior to 2008 there were no free passes for anyone outside of London. If you were elderly or disabled you got half fare, if you were lucky, and had to pay an annual fee for your pass. NCTS was created to get those people out of their homes more often. It wasn't to make it cheaper for people to get to work, or even hospital. It was designed for leisure travel, to get bums on off peak seats, to hopefully give the bus industry a lifeline by subsidising passengers instead of routes, to encourage operators to use initiative to boost passenger numbers instead of relying on route subsidy. Sadly, in 2010 that all changed with a new regime and austerity. Reimbursement fell, routes were culled anyway, and those very people the passes were created for lost the services they used them on.

I have been in regular contact with the Association of British Commuters since May of this year, when the debacle of the May 20th rail timetable happened. They know that I champion disabled travel and access. I clearly remember one bus manager's face, who having proudly shown me around one of his new buses, complete with USB chargers, went pale when I asked him where the charging point was for the wheelchair bay. I am for disability equality in all forms, but sometimes with equality comes some things we don't like. Why shouldn't disabled people pay like everyone else before 0930? That would be true equality wouldn't it? Arguments include that just existing as a disabled person costs more. That's why benefits such as Disability Living Allowance etc exist, which the able bodied don't receive. It also only seems to be those in wheelchairs complaining, I've heard nothing from the blind, deaf, or those with invisible disabilities. The entire bus fleet of the UK has been altered in the last 20 years to rightfully accommodate wheelchairs. So why shouldn't the occupants pay their way before 0930? Everyone else has to, and I'd much rather see the money spent on that used to subsidise the services they are using the passes on. No, I'm not having a go at wheelchair users, Lord knows they have it tough, especially on the railways, but if they are on a bus before 0930, with everyone else then they should pay something, like everyone else - me included. Equality is equality, not just when it suits you.  Another argument I've heard is that hospital patients currently using their pass for free will switch to more expensive to provide free hospital transport. I am well aware that if you are on certain benefits you get fares to and from hospital refunded, so no excuse there, I'm afraid.

Speaking of the railways a disabled Railcard costs £20 a year, and although there are time limits you only get a third off, and fares are higher before 0930, especially if travelling locally ,when you can't book in advance.

Of course, and I know what you're thinking, I've avoided the big issue, which is the cut in funding for the scheme. Since 2010 some 3,500 bus routes have been lost, and the amount of reimbursement for operators, who are legally obliged to accept the pass, has been slashed. The pass was introduced by a Labour Government in 2008, and severely affected by the austerity policies of the Conservative Government in 2010. One gave, the other snatched away, but because the Bus Pass was set in legislation they couldn't abandon the scheme. It's even more entrenched in Law now, the irony being there are now far fewer buses to use them on. Looking at forthcoming Council budgets that trend will continue - Suffolk CC are even thinking of doing away with timetables at bus stops. Won't be that long before they're not needed anyway at this rate.

The good people of Surrey should count themselves lucky they have buses to complain about having to pay on. There are now vast swathes of the country where people have a bus pass, but precious few buses to use them on, and that wasn't the idea behind the scheme. However, and here's where I break my record, the operators haven't exactly helped themselves either. Several operators I know of give reduced fares pre 0930 to pass holders. How often have you seen that publicised? You'd think it would make sense to encourage them on before 0930, as even with a reduction it's a fair bet that the operator would make more money from that journey than they get reimbursed from the TCA. I'm sure it's on the various websites, but as I said before - you're dealing with the elderly and disabled....

One local firm has worked with the community, and told them outright it couldn't afford to keep a route going if everyone used their passes all the time. That route has survived due to pass holders voluntarily paying a fare once or twice a week. It shouldn't have to be that way but it is. More operators should try working with the communities they serve, to encourage the community to help save their bus service. Wouldn't work everywhere, but you can't use a pass on a bus that doesn't run.

So now I've upset wheelchair users, Conservative supporters, operators and just about anyone else connected with transport what are the solutions? How would I sort this mess out?

The first mistake the Labour Government made (got the matching pair now) was to make the free pass, erm, free. No one realised that people would do what they wanted and go out more. The more they travelled the more the Councils had to stump up in reimbursement, and it seems the maths was done on the current loading figures of the day, not projected ones. No wonder the next Government took a deep breath and said they couldn't afford to keep the funding at that level. So, charge for the pass. If a Disabled Railcard costs £20 a year and you only get a third off, then charge £30 a year for a buss pass giving you free travel, and legislate that the money is used on bus subsidies. No pass holder I have ever asked has indicated they would object. Except a leading wheelchair disability activist last week, who went very quiet when I asked him if he would pay an annual fee to use his pass before 0930... There are over 12 million pensioners in the UK. If all of them paid £30 for a bus pass that would mean £360m extra for bus services. Per year. If that figure was announced tomorrow we would all be celebrating. Then you'd have the income from disabled passes on top. If more routes were subsidised more buses would operate, meaning more people would once again get out more often. More bus routes means more income for operators and more custom for the local economy.  But at the same time operators need to work with communities so buses are run at the time people want them - there must be drivers of a certain vintage reading this who remember the busiest buses in the evenings were when the bingo halls emptied. You won't make much from two pass holders on a service, but you will if there are 20. Won't be as much as 20 fare payers, but more than 20 empty seats.

Secondly there simply must be an end to the postcode lottery. There needs to be a National standard, and if anyone wants to use their pass before 0930 then they pay more for it, like they used to in Kent. It needs to be emphasised that the pass is to encourage leisure travel, and is not for commuting. Information needs to clearer and Councils need to stop assuming that all elderly and disabled passengers not only have access to, but are also competent on the internet. Community groups and charities, such as Age UK need to be brought on board as consultants, so the potential for the Concessionary Pass can be fulfilled.

Finally, and here we board the bus with the destination "Cloud Cuckoo Land", the Government, Councils, Operators, passenger groups and yes, the passengers themselves need to work together (stop laughing) to ensure that services are provided to those who need them regardless of their post code. If the infrastructure is put in place, and is marketed, promoted, and encouraged well enough it will be used. But you won't get the elderly finding out about bus services in a quiet corner of the internet. Why isn't the local bus timetable printed in Parish Magazines, for example. Everyone needs to muck in, be honest (I warned you), and together we might, just might save the bus industry outside major towns and cities. That will benefit everyone, regardless of how they get on and off the bus. It's ironic that in years to come, the people making the cuts today, destroying the fabric of the bus network, will be the ones complaining there's no buses.

The Concessionary Bus Pass was, and still is a great idea, but right now its framework and financing is not what was intended. Until that is returned passengers will continue to lose services, operators money, and everyone will lose when everyone, so easily, could win.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Tube Strike It Lucky!

I am one of those people who much prefer going to bed at 3am rather than getting up at 3am. Always have been. I did permanent late shifts on the buses, have done night work, and to get up at 3am either requires illness, a call of nature, an emergency, or a lot of cash.

However, on Wednesday I was out of bed at 3am like a five year old on Christmas morning. There was a strike on the Central Line and lots of toys were coming out to play. Transport for London were puting on 100 extra buses to supplement existing services to cope with the demand, and my friends at Ensignbus were responsible for a lot of it. I had, by chance, met with Ross Newman, one of Ensign's Directors last week, and he had informed me that Seaford |& District, from Lewes were supplying 3 buses from their heritage fleet, one of which was former Maidstone & District Leyland Leopard 2816, OKO 816G. You may remember it featured as my header picture back in April.  I have many personal memories associated with that bus, including one in August 1983 I'll never forget. So the chance to ride it again was a fair few of my increasing number of birthdays put together. Not only that, but Ross arranged for me to meet up with the Seaford crew at Ensign's yard, to be on the "light" run from there to Loughton, Essex, where the Leopard would operate the 167 to Ilford.

So on a wet and windy 5am I was at Purfleet, met Paul Green, the nice, cheery and not to mention lucky chap driving 816, and suddenly lost 35 years!

The Leopard, interior and cab at Purfleet
The Leopard is in superb condition. Original seats, still got the splitter gearbox, and looks and sounds just as I remembered. A time machine if ever there was one. The journey to Loughton Station, which we found more by chance than design, took over half hour, and I cannot describe just how nostalgic it was. Just one problem  no one knew the 167 route, including the extra bus behind us. So it was decided to follow the regular 167, a mid length E200, in convoy. A wise decision as it turned out, as by the time we reached Gants Hill all three buses had a full load.

It was then the tone for the day was set. Despite the inconvenience of a tube strike the majority of passengers looked rather happy, and many passed positive comment. I told Paul to note that he was being thanked by people who would normally not even consider thanking a bus driver. All to soon, although I'd been with the Leopard for around two and a half hours, we reached Ilford and I said my farewells as I was transferring to the 25's. I hope it's not another 35 years before I ride 2816 again as those steps that I didn't notice when I was 17, but did on Wednesday, might just be beyond me!

Arrival at a very wet Ilford
The weather at Ilford wasn't pleasant, but I knew before long something interesting would turn up. A few minutes later and RM2179 did. Sadly, though it was already full up.

I was just about to start walking to the next stop back when two regular 25's turned up, followed by Ensign's 1988 Metrobus, which I had yet to travel on. It was virtually empty so thank you very much, front seat upstairs and Aldgate here I come! It's been a long time since I was on a Metrobus, so long I can't remember the last time, and again a lovely rattle free ride.

MCW Metrobus F292 NHJ
The bus terminated a bit before Aldgate Bus Station, but that was good, as I got to check out something a bit quirky. Last time I was up there I saw what looked to be a shell of a C Stock Underground train in the foyer of an office building next to Aldgate East Station, but couldn't tell if it was the genuine article or not. It is. Quite why it's there or how it got there is a mystery, but it is the real thing, minus everything underneath, but with genuine graffiti! Worth a look if you're ever passing Aldgate East.

At Aldgate Bus Station there was a sight to behold. Two Seaford & District ex Southdown Queen Marys, an Olympian coach from Panther, and a certain Metropolitan Scania I may have mentioned once or twice in the last year.

Not only that but the MD was the next bus back to Ilford. No, really? What were the chances! I genuinely hadn't planned to ride MD60 but when it basically lands in your lap it's rude to say no. My word did she sound good back on her old patch. Great to catch up with (another) Paul, her head keeper too. This day was starting to excel itself!
The MD at Ilford
I took a break from the heritage scene, and checked out the EL1 to Barkingside operated by East London Transit (Go Ahead) using one of the last batches of Borismasters built. Sadly the traffic prohibited me seeing them at their full potential, but no ride on a Boris is a bad one, and I quite like the livery they are in too.

L907 at Barkingside
The traffic was getting really heavy by now so I made the decision to get back to the 25's at Stratford, which meant switching modes and getting the train. This enabled me to get my first ride on a Class 345 Crossrail train. Amazing acceleration, pleasant interior, good info screens, a nice voice doing the auto announcement but seats with slightly less padding than a brick. I have to ask if the new District and Metropolitan Line trains can have comfortable seats, and they are, then why not the Elizabeth Line? Surely they are all covered by the same regulations? Answers on an email please! One little touch anoraks like me will like is the journey ID number displayed on the destination screens. Nice.

So back at Stratford, and a spot of guesswork required. I knew Ross Newman was out in RT8 somewhere, but had no idea which direction he was heading. I guessed wrong, so an interesting gallop along Stratford High Rd was witnessed as I legged it after him, jumped on board, and came face to face with Peter Newman, founder and Big Chief at Ensign, who was doing the conducting! That was totally unexpected, but a real pleasure, as Peter is one of those bus people who enjoys what he does so much it's infectious, and being a clippie again was clearly very enjoyable. Not only that but RT8 has a PA system, which Peter was using to inform passengers about the history of the bus, why it was out, that his son was driving, and that it was all free. Quality.

RT8 looking magnificent at Aldgate
At Aldgate Driver Newman turned into Fitter Newman, and got under a Routemaster whose starter motor had failed. Using the Jeremy Clarkson "I've got a hammer" method, he only went and got it going! This is top management getting out, getting dirty and mixing with it at the sharp end. I can think of a few managers who would struggle to find a starter motor, let alone fix it. That, in a nutshell, is why Ensignbus are one of the leading operators in the country, and why their staff always seem to be happy. Every person is important there, and everyone mucks in.

The bottom half of an Ensignbus Director reaching parts other directors fail to reach
It was a long journey back to Ilford, but thanks to Peter it didn't feel it. I mentioned earlier that passengers who would normally stay in their bubble came out of it. It's a fairly non English part of the world there, yet people of all races and creeds were getting on, smiling, laughing, asking questions, chatting amongst themselves and thoroughly enjoying being on a 79yo bus. I've never seen anything quite like it, and for me it made the day. Some of these folks were hours late getting home. Some, not used to step entry buses were having trouble with them but were still smiling. Some tried to scan Oyster cards on ticket machine holders! I had face ache as I just didn't stop smiling the 4 hours l was I was on it. I'll dedicate a separate post on RT8 in the near future as it warrants it, an amazing machine crewed by 2 amazing guys, and that was before Ross transported us to one of those speeded up 1940's news reels on the way back to the depot. Heck that bus can shift!

I owe a lot of people a lot of thanks. To David Mulpeter and Paul Green at Seaford & District for allowing me to travel on 2816 and rekindle memories very close to me. To all the Ensign staff and drivers, especially Paul, who always make me feel so welcome, but especially to Ross and Peter Newman. Thank you, you made a good day a special day for me, and put a silver lining on a grotty day for a lot of passengers. I struck it lucky, the passengers struck it lucky. Roll on the next Tube strike!!

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

More Konect Cuts Proposed

Konectbus have revealed their proposals for the January timetable review, and surprise surprise it's more cuts. Among other selected journeys going by the wayside the 5 is being scrapped between Queens Hill and Norwich, and the 87 Monday - Saturday except evening journeys being scrapped too. This means that Upper Stoke and Broome will lose their service completely, and Poringland, Brooke and Bungay will be down to a basic hourly service, with the last bus to Halesworth from Norwich leaving earlier at 1745. There is also a two hour gap in the afternoon from Southwold between 1453 and the LAST BUS at 1658. Here is a full list of the changes, taken from Konect's website.

Route 3, 6 & 6A
Thetford - Watton
Toftwood - Shipdham - Watton
Watton - Hingham - N&NU Hospital (3) / Wymondham (6/6A) - Norwich

Summary; please note: 
  • The 0700 and 0745 6 departures from Watton have been advanced 5 minutes and will now depart at 0655 and 0740 respectively. 
  • The 0745 3 from Thetford has been advanced 5 minutes and will now depart at 0740. 
  • The 1645 3 from Norwich will now leave 5 minutes later at 1650 to ensure a prompt departure in the evening peak. 
  • The 0815 6 from Norwich will depart at 0810 on schooldays and 0820 on non-schooldays and Saturdays. 
  • The 0840 from Watton to Great Hockham, and the 0857 Great Hockham to Watton have been withdrawn due to low usage
  • The 1044/1444 from Thetford to Watton, and the 1124/1324 from Watton to Thetford, will omit East Wretham Camp due to low usage. 
  • Journeys arriving into Watton High Street from Norwich will continue to Swaffham Road roundabout bus stop opposite the petrol station. 
  • Journeys starting and finishing in Shipdham will be extending from/to Toftwood, Shipdham Road, Westfield Road. 
  • The change to the 6A only affects the 1910 departure from Norwich which has revised times. This journey will connect with a new journey from Watton to Toftwood via Shipdham. 

Route 5
Queen's Hills - Dereham Road - Norwich - Yarmouth Road - Postwick P&R
Route 5 will be withdrawn between Queen's Hills, Dereham Road and Norwich. This difficult decision has been made due to unsustainable losses on this corridor. Route 5 between Postwick Park & Ride and Norwich will still operate and operate to a revised timetable. We would like to thank our customers who have used Konectbus route 5 since it started in 2007 and advise there is an alternative with First's route 24/24A .
We welcome your comments on the above proposed changes so please get in touch via email (

Route 5B
Stalham - Wroxham - Norwich
Revised Sunday timetable including revised times from and to Stalham. Route 5B on Sundays will connect with route 8 to Dereham.
Route straight8
Toftwood - Dereham - Norwich
Revised Sunday & bank holiday timetable with better train connections at Norwich Rail Station for trains to/from London. We have allowed more time to help improve punctuality.

Route 9
Attleborough - Wymondham - N&NU Hospital
The 0655 9 from Wymondham to the N&NU Hospital will be advanced 5 minutes to give it more running time with increased traffic in the Wymondham/Hethersett area and condition of the highway between Hethersett and Lt Melton.

Route 11
Dereham - Watton - Swaffham
The 0710 departure from Dereham to Watton has been advanced 5 minutes and will depart at 0705. There are also minor revised times on Sundays & bank holidays to improve punctuality. 

Route 37A
Mulbarton - Norwich
Revised timetable on Sundays & bank holidays to improve punctuality.

Route 87/88
Southwold - Halesworth - Bungay
Bungay - Poringland - Norwich
Due to continuing unsustainable losses we have made the difficult decision to withdraw route 87 (Bungay - Poringland - Upper Stoke - Stoke Holy Cross - Caistor St Edmund - Trowse - Norwich), except in the evenings and on Sundays & bank holidays. Stoke Holy Cross and Caistor St Edmund will be served by Konectbus route 84. Upper Stoke will no longer be served by Konectbus.
An hourly timetable (route 88) will operate between Southwold and Bungay via Halesworth, and Bungay and Norwich via Poringland with through connections (no change of bus required) in Bungay. The train connections at Halesworth Rail Station for trains from/to Ipswich are maintained.
Due to very low usage and to improve punctuality Broome will no longer be served. Simonds route 581 links Broome with Bungay five times a day .
To improve punctuality Norwich's St Stephens Street will no longer be served on journeys heading into the city; it will still be served after Norwich Bus Station.
From 19 December 2018 we will no longer be operating the Norwich to Framingham Earl High School contract to Norfolk County Council. We will update this page when the new operator is announced.
We welcome your comments on the above proposed changes so please get in touch via email ( . Alternatively you can contact Norfolk County Council by emailing

Anyone get a feeling of deja vu here? Obviously three years of Anglian cuts that did nothing to improve things, in fact drove customers away has gone completely unnoticed. A few months ago there were 4 buses an hour between Norwich and Poringland. That will be down to 1, and how long before the 8 gets scrapped completely. Certainly Saturday when I was on it there weren't many passengers, but worth noting that everyone going into Norwich on Saturday got off at St Stephen's St, the precise stop Konect will no longer be serving....... obviously much data analysis there!

I'm not going to go on as you've heard it all before, but sure "Phil" you come on and say how this is going to benefit anyone. A spokesperson for First, when I told them about these changes, simply said "wow"!

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Comment: When Will They Learn?

How often do you get unwanted phone calls asking you about PPI, offering you a phone or Sky upgrade, or a myriad of other things. How often do you get stopped in the street by market researchers wanting to know your opinion on everything from deodorant to the price of onions. Bloody annoying, but obviously gets results or they wouldn't do it. Now how many times have you been rung up, or stopped in the street, and asked about your local bus service, and what would encourage you to use it more/at all? No, me neither.

I saw a Twitter poll over the weekend that was asking what was the most important aspect of bus travel. The options were reliability, punctuality, price of fares or leather seats/WiFi. Well hang on just a moment, but the most important aspect of a bus service is actually having a bus in the first place. You can have an interior to rival Buckingham Palace but if it doesn't run where you want, when you want it's as good as useless. This is the lesson that the vast majority of operators still have to learn. In this day and age, when people have a choice, you simply can't sit back, set up a route and expect the public to come to you. You've got to be different, think outside the box - take the service to them rather than assume they'll come to the service.

So how DO you attract new custom to fill those empty seats? Bus operators seem to think in completely different ways to most businesses. If I'm going to open, say, a fish and chip shop, then where do I want to open it. Right next door to an already successful chippy might not be the best place. You might get a few folks try you out of interest, but on the whole people will stay with what they are familiar with - it's the nature of the beast. Yet how many operators set up a route in direct competition to another operator assuming that everyone will immediately jump ship, well bus, and desert the operator that has been serving them for years. It seldom works. Unless the new operator undercuts your fares by 60% and you don't match them, of course, thus becoming a laughing stock and driving your operation over a cliff.

Why do they do that? Why are the only seemingly viable new routes those already with bus services when we have lost in excess of 3,500 bus routes in the last 8 years. The population is growing, not shrinking. The answer, as alluded to above is because no one bothers to ask the public where and when they want a bus service. Every year we get operators proudly boasting customer satisfaction figures as published by Passenger Focus, who survey thousands of bus passengers to get their opinion on everything from the standard of the seat to if the driver's tie was straight. But hang on a sec - these folk are ALREADY ON THE BUS! They have already decided that the bus is the most convenient way for them to get around - hooray! So this annual love in doesn't do anything to fill the empty seats, it just says that 93% of the 6 passengers on that double decker were happy. Line up those bonuses!

Why aren't Passenger Focus stopping thousands of people on the street, calling up random people, in other words making a bloody nuisance of themselves finding out why people DON'T get the bus, and what would entice them on. I can guarantee "because the bus doesn't have WiFi" wouldn't enter the equation because neither has their car you're trying to get them out of. It's damn useful once you're on the bus, but that's not going to be a reason people switch modes. Having a bus go where they want, when they want, at a cost effective price will, but how do you know where these people are and where they want to go if no one asks them?

The successful operators are the ones who listen to their market, realise that some people get held up at work, or like to stay to socialise, so making the last bus at 1730 is of no use to them. Chances ae the cost of the taxi home is more than their weekly bus ticket so may as well use the car. It's pointless encouraging passengers to use a half hourly double decker service to get into town if you then expect them to use an hourly single decker service on the way home as the deckers are tied up with school work. If you have two operators on a route passing a holiday camp which one is going to attract the custom - the one making the effort to go into the camp, or the one forcing the unhappy campers to cross one of the busiest roads in the county in order to reach the bus stop?  Are passengers more likely to catch the bus to the train station if the buses connect with the trains or if they miss each other by 5 mins? As for DRT it's utterly useless if you have to rely on it. Impossible for commuting, and not knowing if you'll get a journey when you want it is an awful way of operating. Pot luck doesn't work in transport.

It's no use bleating, as one operator does frequently, about the small remuneration on Concessionary passes when you charge fare paying passengers the earth to make up the shortfall without making an effort to encourage more on. When did you last get a flyer through your letterbox with a 50% off voucher for a bus journey? How many other industries do you see having exclusive offers for "new customers"? Not buses that's forsure.

So that's the rant - so what are the solutions. Well there are many, but I'm blowed if I'm going to give them away here just for operators to nick them and use them as if they had thought the idea up. That's already happened more than once. I don't get paid for this blog so my ideas don't come free as well, but believe me they would bring results if, and only if the majority of operators change their way of thinking. If they don't then the bus industry outside major towns and cities is dead in the water, and will probably never resurface. I am available for consultation. Nothing to lose as more and more buses are running around with fewer and fewer passengers on them and businesses are going to fall.

But I will give you this for free - if customers are already using your business regularly then they are happy. It's not them you have to ask what's important, but those people NOT using your business, as it's those people who will increase your income. If you are an operator using Twitter it's unlikely any of your followers are non bus users! Numerous other industries recognise that, hence the annoying texts and phone calls, so why not the transport industry? Lethargy, pure lethargy.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

A Southeastern Super Saturday Part 2

"And I would ride 500 miles, and I would ride, erm actually 80 more"! Doesn't quite scan I know but not bad just riding around one county all day. Part one finished with me having returned from Kent's answer to Love Island, otherwise known as Sheppey, to a very wet Sittingbourne, where I was roughly two thirds of my way through a marathon journey round the Southeastern
network, thanks to their £20 all you can ride Super Saturday ticket. Next on the list was Victoria, so I thankfully left the rain and boarded my 375/6 to the Capital.

375603 at a very wet Sitt8ngbourne
A quick pit stop at Victoria and it was time for the bonus train. During the week it had been decided that the Catford Loop wasn't on the official list of routes to do as Southeastern don't actually stop anywhere between Ravensbourne and Nunhead on a Saturday. However, as the 1842 to Dover Priory was sitting on platform 4, going to Bromley South via the loop it seemed rude not to, particularly as it was a 465/9, an upgraded 465/2 to include 1st class and universal loo.

465903 at Bromley South
Have I mentioned I like the 465's? Just a shame it wasn't a 365 with original interior, just about my all time favourite train interior (Yes, Matt, I know the TC coach on VEP 3582 was better). Anyway we were soon at Bromey South and I waited for the Ashford via Maidstone East service, which turned out to be an imposter. Southeastern have recently acquired some 377 units that were on loan from Southern to Thameslink, but were displaced due to the 700's introduction. So Southeastern have now got them, and seem to be using them exclusively on the Maidstone East line, only this one was still in full Southern livery. Sorry for the blurred pic - it was dark again!

The Southern 377, now with Southeastern
I confess I don't remember much of that trip - we were delayed at Swanley due to a passenger alarm being activated in one of the loos - and then I fell asleep, and woke up somewhat disorientated at Ashford, realised my next connection was on the adjacent platform, which was just as well as the doors closed as I boarded. This was another 375/9, ghastly seats, but I have to admit the interior to the universal toilet was very attractive.

Universal toilet interior on the 375/9
This train, from Ashford to Paddock Wood closed up all the mainline routes for me, just some suburban routes to do, but I had to get there. That meant repeating myself a bit, so a second trip up the Medway Valley Line, again on 375306 12 hours on from my first trip. Not much to see in the dark so not for the first time I was grateful for Southeastern's free WiFi. I was somewhat worried when I saw a 50MB limit, but needn't have. If you use it you just reconnect and carry on - some bus operators could learn from that!

375306 at Paddock Wood
One final Javelin from Strood to Gravesend, and then onto platform 0 for the trip to Lewisham via the Bexleyheath branch. Another 465, a bit chilly this one!

Final Javelin of the day at Strood
Now those of you who haven't yet lost the will to live will have noticed I still had one London terminus still to do. Cannon Street is far busier now than it was in my day, now used 7 days a week from start to end of service, and rightly so as it frees up capacity into Charing Cross. But Lordy it has changed. I barely recognised the place as I wandered around before boarding my penultimate train of the day, the 2332 to Dartford via Greenwich and Woolwich. Top bloke driving who put the heating on!

Cannon Street Station
It's the first time I have travelled through Abbey Wood station since it was totally redeveloped for Crossrail, and I'll have to make a separate journey to take a look in daylight as had I not known the old station well I'd have never believed what it used to be like! Next time I'm up that part of the world I'll take a detour.

465020 at Cannon Street
Arrival at Dartford signified the end of my mission, but not the end of my day. I still had to get back to Greenhithe, and it was either a 29 min wait for a Southeastern service, or jump on a Thameslink service sitting on the platform. Sorry guys, I cheated and caught the 700, and immediately sat on the worst seats of the day. Any lingering doubts I had of those seats being utterly heinous were dispelled. When you've sat on train seats for over 19 hours you know a hard seat when you get one and boy the 700 seats are hard! 6 minutes was 6 minutes too long!

70057 at Greenhithe
So how to sum up? 24 trains, all of which departed on time, 23 arriving on time, 23 connections made, total travelling time 19 hrs 9 mins (not including 4 hours driving), and, thanks to the brilliant Southeastern Twitter team for doing the maths, 160 stations and 580 miles covered. That works out at 3.45 pence per mile. If only all train fares were that low!

So, my personal journey excepted, was the Super Saturday a success? The weather didn't help matters, and it was difficult to judge who would have been on the trains anyway, or would they have been much quieter because of the weather without the Super Saturday ticket. I hope it was a success. It deserves to have been a success, and a venture that I hope will be repeated, and copied by other operators. There has been precious little to smile about on the railways recently, and I saw a lot of smiles on my travels, and some happy passengers as well as some very obvious enthusiasts! Anything that brings some positivity back to the railways has to be supported and applauded, which is why I made so much of an effort, and why I'm allowing Southeastern to use portions of this write up for their staff newsletter. There need to be more initiatives like this more regularly to get people back to thinking well of the railways, because as my stats show, when it all comes together it simply cannot be beaten. Thank you to all at Southeastern, from the organisers, to the wonderful CC and CH on the Twitter team, to the on board cleaners who make such a difference, and all others concerned. A great, if very long day, and one I'll remember for a considerable time. Now to convince Greater Anglia to do one....

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

A Southeastern Super Saturday Part One

Those of you of a certain vintage will remember when the Network Southeast area was created in the late 80's, there were a number of Saturdays designated Network Days, where, for a fiver I think it was, you could ride unlimited in the NSE area all day. I remember walking up the entire length of a 12 car Waterloo - Portsmouth service, a 12 CIG, and there was not a single seat available. Those Network Days were hugely popular yet have never been repeated, mainly due to the splitting up of the network. Yes, various operators have rover tickets, but as a rule these have relatively small areas or a limited Network. A national rail rover does exist, but a 7 day rover will set you back £510, so in reality you're probably better off booking everything in advance if you know what you are doing.

So when Southeastern announced, with only 7 days notice, that they were doing their Supersaturday ticket, which gave unlimited travel on Southeastern services, including HS1 for £20 I started salivating at the prospect. Not only that but they set a challenge to see who could cover the entire network in a day. Red rag to a bull that. Hence most of the week was spent poring over timetables, getting frustrated with nonsensical connections, and a lot of shredded itineraries. The conclusion was finally reached that to cover everywhere in one day was impossible, so I dispensed with the Tonbridge - Hastings branch, which was the most time consuming, and concentrated on getting round everywhere else, which isn't as easy as it seems, as a fair bit of doubling back is required. So itinerary finally worked out, submitted to Southeastern, a reliable car borrowed, and at precisely 0307 I left my Suffolk village for Greenhithe in Kent, where I had decided to start and finish my day. Just a word about the disappointing quality of many of the photos. It was a miserable day weather wise, and my camera is not good at taking moving images in the dark, so apologies for the blurriness in some.

My Supersaturday ticket at Greenhithe

Having grown up on the Southeastern network it was like turning the clock back 40 odd years, except the trains were different. None of my beloved slam door trains now, but Networkers, Electrostars and Javelins covering areas some of which haven't changed in half a century, and others totally unrecognisible. Here is the network.

One thing you will notice about the network is, London terminals excepted, how few dead ends there are. Even Hastings can't really be regarded as a dead end, well not in railway terms anyway, as other services pass through it. So that leaves Bromley North, Hayes and Sheerness. When you think we have Sheringham, Great Yarmouth, Felixstowe, Harwich, Clacton, Walton, Sudbury and others up here it shows how comprehensively Kent is still connected.
465183 at Greenhithe
My first train of the day was the 0527 from Greenhithe to Hither Green. Also the first class 465 Networker of the day. When these trains were launched in 1992 I resented them as they were replacing the old slam door EPB's which I loved and had grown up with. Now, though, I appreciate what quite superb trains they are. The ride they give is, in my opinion, unparalleled. They accelerate fast and brake smoothly. Comfortable seats and good heating complete an all round decent experience, and they do not feel 26 years old. It is bordering on the criminal that there is an uncertain future for the class 365 Networker Expresses, as they are far superior to the 319's currently being given new leases of life elsewhere.
The uid 376 at Hither Green
At Hither Green I changed onto a Class 376 Electrostar for the one stop journey to Grove Park. I was hoping to travel on more of these as I've yet to give them a real workout, but alas it was not to be, and this was my only 376 of the day. But we got to Grove Park in time to make my very tight connection onto the Bromley North branch, my first new territory of the day. It only takes five minutes to travel the line, operated by a 2 car class 466, and I gave my sympathies to the driver who must have lost count of the number of times he had to change ends that morning!
466020 at a deserted Bromley North
A tactical cheat followed, as I caught a bus from Bromley North to Hayes, the other dead end in the area, and also the only other new territory for me. I'd been as far as Elmers End, which connects with the Croydon Tramlink, but not the section between Hayes and Elmers End. Another 8 car 465 took me to Charing Cross, where I had a 30 min stop for breakfast before hitting the mainline.
465244 at Hayes
The class 375 Electrostars replaced the mainline slam door stock, and I'm not sure I've forgiven them yet. Yes the ride is quiet and smooth, but the trains are just soulless moving metal tubes. I'm also not completely sure the seats haven't got harder since their recent mid life refresh. I do like the colour scheme now, but there just isn't the anticipation of a train journey there was with the slam doors - the air brake tests, the vacuum pumps doing their thing, even the sound of the doors slamming. It was an atmosphere we'll never get back, and that's a shame, if romantically nostalgic. Will these trains be as revered when they retire? I somewhat doubt it.
375616 at Charing Cross
Anyhow the 375 whisked me undramatically to Tonbridge, an old stamping ground where, as a sixth form student I spent many happy hours watching the old Hastings diesels, Uckfield thumpers, Class 101's on the Reading line, and boat trains from Dover and Folkestone hammering through. The station has barely changed since then, although the layout to the country end of the station certainly has. It was here I changed onto a 3 car 375 for my trip up the Medway Valley Line, a true homecoming as I lived on that line for the first 22 years of my life. Most of it still looks the same, although it was a real shock to see Aylesford paper mill flattened.
375306 at Tonbridge

Strood is one of the coldest stations I know. It has its own microclimate, which is roughly 30 degrees colder than it is outside the station. It has always been like that, and I have spent more hours shivering there than I care to think of. In recent years, though, Strood has had a change of identity. Whereas it used to be where the fast trains to Victoria branched off, leaving Strood passengers to catch the slow trains to Charing Cross, now the High Speed trains stop there, and have halved the journey time to London. The class 395 Hitachi Javelin rolled in, and off to St Pancras I whizzed.
395002 Seb Coe at Strood
No time to linger there, not even to get a decent picture, as I literally jumped off one Javelin onto another, which was going to be my home for the next 140 minutes. Southeastern High Speed operate circular journeys from St Pancras, via Ashford, Dover, Ramsgate, Faversham, Gravesend and reverse. I was travelling to Faversham via Ashford, and the train was packed. I was quite surprised Southeastern hadn't lengthened more trains in anticipation of the extra passenger numbers and this was the biggest argument as to why they should have. 6 coaches was just not enough, and I was forced to sit on a pulldown seat in the wheelchair area which was devoid of any padding whatsoever! It did have a plug though, which was invaluable.
Quick change at St Pancras International

The Javelins look good, go like stink, and do a job. But the seats are hard, don't give good back support, and the interiors are devoid of any character whatsoever. I found over 2 hours on one tough going, whilst appreciating very few people actually spend that long on them. I was grateful for my recharged phone battery when I got off at Faversham, but equally grateful to just get off it!
395028 at Faversham
This is where it got interesting. To do all the routes around East Kent takes some planning. It's impossible to do without some doubling back, and some of the connections are frankly hopeless. During the week there are a couple of trains from Ramsgate to Sandwich, for example, that stop at Minster and reverse. However, on a Saturday if you want to travel from Minster to Sandwich you have to travel via Ramsgate, and endure a 58 minute wait as the train to Sandwich leaves 2 minutes before the train from Minster arrives. Therefore you can't do the Canterbury West branch, changing at Ramsgate onto the Dover branch. It is not the only example. If you do Ramsgate to Ashford via Canterbury West, hoping to change onto the Dover line there forget it - it's a 50 minute wait there too, so you will see why many different routes had to be attempted before I finally worked it out.
375827 at Faversham
A swift journey from Faversham to Dover on another 375 and I was back on a Javelin returning to Ashford.
3 375's and a Javelin at Dover Priory
There was only a 20 minute wait for the Canterbury West branch, but a shock was in store. The 375/9's are a high density seating version of the Electrostar, which replaced the VEPS, and it's fair to say were not popular with passengers or staff alike when they entered service. They were the first to have "ironing board" seats, and so when an 8 car 375/9 came rolling into Ashford I clenched in anticipation. They may have had a bit more padding put in during the refresh but if so it's not that noticeable. I would truly hate to commute on these trains.
375920 at Ashford International
But it got me to Ramsgate, another old stamping ground, just in time to cross over and get the train back to Faversham, my 3rd Javelin, and on to Sittingbourne, to do the third and final dead end.

395013 at Ramsgate
The Isle of Sheppey has never been a favourite place of mine. I'm told whenever we went there when I was young I would sprout horns and turn into the devil child, which I didn't do anywhere else, and I've never really felt comfortable when there, for reasons I'll probably never know. It's not what you'd call exotic either, making Lowestoft look like Monte Carlo, but had to be done, so now with the weather really closing in my little 466 took me on a rather uninspiring trip to Sheerness and back, including a Conductor who seemed as enthusiastic to be there as I was.
466003 at Sittingbourne
Now I should point out that despite the criticisms of the trains, and dislike for Sheerness, I was really enjoying myself. Everything was on time, the Twitter banter with the guys at Southeastern was good, as was watching other people's progress round the network. It was so good seeing old places and areas from my past again, and it was only 1710. I'd been on trains nearly 12 hours but still had another 7 1/2 hours to go! Part Two coming soon.