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Monday, 8 January 2018

2018 - Looking Into The Crystal Ball

Happy New Year everyone  - that's wishful thinking isn't it on the day 5 train operators are affected by strikes and Ipswich Borough Council announces it's bailing itself out so evening and Sunday bus services in Ipswich can continue. So I thought I'd gaze into the crystal ball and predict what's going to happen this year in the East Anglian area of public transport. We'll start with buses.

Let's be frank here, not even the most optimistic of crystal balls can come up with anything remotely positive for East Anglia regarding bus services. More subsidy cuts loom threatening to cut off yet more isolated rural areas. We are all waiting to see how big the axe is, but an axe there will be. At the same time Reading Buses are introducing gas double decker buses, and Transdev revolutionising bus travel in the North including the most luxurious seating ever seen on buses over here the comparitive apathy will continue. Not that I'm blaming local management who in some cases work miracles with one hand tied behind their backs. But all the time our bus services are dictated from Aberdeen and Newcastle, not to mention how much of our Council Tax is put back into public transport then we stand no chance. There are still no hybrid buses in Suffolk or Norfolk. Go Ahead seem Hell bent on destroying everything they have in the region, First still can't decide on a replacement bus for the E400's on the X1, or XL as it's ridiculously going to be called on the Western side. The modernisation of Ipswich depot STILL hasn't happened meaning 15yo deckers can't be replaced. Speculation over who will buy Ipswich Buses will continue, with no one actually wanting to buy it as Ipswich is such an island and can't be linked up with anywhere else.

I do predict more investment in deckers at Borderbus though. The 146 is really taking off now, as is the 580. Deckers may become necessary. However I do feel that the system of taking passengers into Norwich on deckers to a half hourly frequency only to expect them to tolerate an hourly frequency single deck service to return on needs to be looked at. It could be the 146 is now too popular to be worked around school services, a victim of its own success. With no Anglian around Kessingland now more people, especially tourists will start choosing Beccles and Norwich, and if the service isn't there to cater for them, especially PM then it will be an opportunity missed. If First have any sense they will restore the Kessingland - Yarmouth through service vacated by Anglian as the Pontins crowd like that. Either that or Borderbus introduce a Kessingland - Beccles - Yarmouth service incorporating the 580. There are openings for the courageous out there, but is anyone courageous enough?

From an enthusiast's point of view East Anglia will become less and less attractive. There really is nothing in the region now to whet the appetite compared to other parts of the country. Hate to say it but it's true.

So let's switch to the railways. Here we have total confusion. Every TOC you listen to is boasting of investing in new rolling stock. Nothing to do with the fact DDA for trains comes into force in 2020 then, which means no more slam doors anywhere, or toilets that dump onto tracks, and disabled facilities in every train. Or that the Department of Transport has dictated that the most uncomfortable seats in the history of railways be installed on the new trains. Yes, the government decide on the new rolling stock specification, not the operating companies. So when you board one of the gleaming new Greater Anglia trans next year don't blame them. The new trains won't stop the regular signal and points faiures, late running freight trains or bridge bashes either, you'll just be delayed in less comfort. Guards or no guards, how many more strikes before common sense makes a breakthrough. Until then we still have the Class 37 hauled short set for another year, regular test trains, excursions and charter trains to keep us amused, although I'll be surprised if we have the Flying Scotsman, Tornado and Union of South Africa visit our shores in the same year again! Make the most of the variety of rolling stock on offer this year, as next year it will become very 2 dimensional.

Well that's all very depressing isn't it. Sorry about that. If anyone can find a glimmer of positivity around feel free to let me know and I'll be overjoyed to publicise it  Is Essex any better this side of Chelmsford? What are the solutions to bring public transport in this region out of the doldrums? Will I be able to feel more upbeat this time next year? Discuss!

44 comments:

  1. there really dosn't seem to be much option regarding the replacements for the X1 only the enterprise or Scania. the 5 year period for the E400s ends in sepetember. on a scale of 1 to 10 how do you think the E400s have Perfomed on the route?

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    1. Can't I give a minus number? I said when they arrived they were wholly unsuitable for the route, and the amount of replacement engines and gearboxes needed for the fleet backs up my view. I agree Enterprises are perfect for the route but if my information is correct that won't be happening.

      I do know what is being tested next but as yet I'm not allowed to say what. However my enthusiasm wasn't exactly roused when I was told!

      I might add it's not local management who decide but the folks up in Aberdeen who know as much about the route as I know about quantum physics.

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    2. i do agree with the point and not being suited for the route TBH i'm not sure how much longer they can hold up with all that work and im hoping they get replaced asap plus they must really getting up there with the millage. there are plenty of other buses that need replacing here in Norwich like the old 2002 presidents. aperently there are more B9s coming to Norwich soon in March

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    3. That doesn't surprise me as Leeds Council have insisted all buses must be Euro6 so there will be a lot of B9's looking for a new home. Dear God can you imagine the panic if Norwich City Council did the same!!

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    4. it would be Mayhem since virtually none of the buses here in Norwich are euro 6 only the Streetdecks and possible some of the streetlites. we badly need a fleet modernisation tho

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  2. My prediction following the loss of rural buses is that the MPs will finally listen and announce a flat £1.50 bus fare for concessions (this would have the advantage of being more than the operators get and save all the admin of councils making repayments based on a complex calculation)

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    1. And how would that preserve loss making rural routes? Far better to charge an annual fee for the passes, say £25, with that money ring fenced by Law to subsidise services. Then it doesn't matter how often the passes are used. If you charge per journey then yes, the money goes to the operator, but the passengers won't travel nearly as much, meaning the operator would still lose out in real terms, the seats would remain empty so services would be cut!

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    2. My bus pass counts as part of my pension package and I think it is up to government (national rather than local) to ensure that the scheme is funded properly. That said I cannot remember ever travelling on a bus where my use of the pass meant the bus company was deprived of a fare from a passenger left standing at a stop.

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    3. It may count as part of your pension package but it won't count for jack if there are no buses to use it on. I agree a pass on a seat is better than an empty seat, but far better if services are guaranteed by a small annual charge.

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  3. I think it is going to get worse before it gets better.

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    1. I fear you are correct, Chris, because no one who can make decisions has the vision necessary to make improvements where they are needed most. Even then to make a positive change requires power AND balls, and balls are conspicuous by their absence in the corridors of the mighty right now.

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    2. Exactly Steve, I have been reading about proposed cuts to Norfolk services and I think we may well see a similar circumstance next year. I live in South Lowestoft and the bus network has changed dramatically over the past few years a surge of buses to Kessingland in the past now there is a trickle. Now first have no competition there have been situations of 99's being cut or missed out.

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  4. There are some stories of note to report in Essex. Regal Busways have finished operating bus services over the new year, with Essex Council still to fill some gaps left behind. First Essex is going through some rationalisation this year. PVR and staff requirements will be reduced from 18th February as a number of service cuts and changes will be taking place. The X30 will be receiving some cascaded double deckers to alleviate overcrowding. Other buses have and will be cascaded in from around the First empire to replace some of the oldest fleet, such as the 2002 Chelmsford Solos. It doesn't look like any investment is forthcoming in the area. Rather it seems to be the case of make do and carry on through 2018.

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  5. Maybe operators can b e allowed to charge a small fare for Concessionary passes if a service becomes non commercially viable. Many services could be saved by this. The current situation in my view cannot continue. The constant cuts are simply making travel by bus non viable

    In Suffolk the schools service are now back out for consultation. This will result in cuts to them and may well have a knock on affect with commercial services. Another problem is the tendency to use double deckers buses. This are expensive to operate and have difficulty getting around many routes and are hardly ever needed as the run around 75% empty most of the time. Using smaller buses but with more frequent services is the way forward and in the very rural areas an Uber type flexible bus service that can be booked almost in real time rather than 24 hours ahead

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  6. Why cater for the Pontins camp visitors at Pakefield? The vast majority don't pay a fare and block seats for the regular travellers ! Mr Happy Pakefield .

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    1. I'll ask First to reserve you your own bus! Do you pay adult fare btw? Without tourists putting their bums on seats you wouldn't have half the service in Pakefield you do.

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  7. Anonymous @0843
    I'm afraid that's not how bus economics works. The capacity of the bus is broadly determined by what is needed at the peak, which in most cases will be at schooltimes. Let's say the load at that time is 60 passengers. That pays for the vast majority of the fixed costs of running the bus. After that, off peak use broadly only needs to cover the marginal costs incurred. In rural areas, around 10 passengers per journey will cover that. The marginal difference in fuel consumption between a double deck and a single deck doesn't affect this calculation very much, because the main cost is the driver - probably 75% of costs.
    Changing to smaller and more buses therefore not only incurs more capital costs, but adds oodles and oodles of driver costs, as these are the most significant element. So a hell a lot of extra passengers are now needed - let's say three buses to accommodate 60 peak passengers (so costs up 3x against a revenue increase of nil). There is no way that those extra costs can all be recovered in the off peak - especially as most operators will tell you that this is the time of day when passenger numbers are falling fastest. Keep changing the scale and that explains why taxis, including Uber, will almost always be a more expensive way to provide 'public' transport than conventional buses.

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    1. Thank you, saved me saying all that!

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    2. Well its not working is it. It ends up with high fares and very infrequent services and very strange timetables. You are as well dramatically understating the costs of DD which are very high

      If b us companies want to continue to drive passengers away all they need to do is carry on as they are using their failed business model

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  8. Looking at the emerging First Bus results I think you have to ask whether they have any future? The pensions liabilities are horrific on top of the standstill on revenue and ever increasing costs. Where have we seen that before? No business can sustain that, before you even get to dealing with the local issues you mention.

    The hope for the future. You start to address it, but then stop. It's with the small boys. When you look overall at the amount we (the public) pay in our taxes to support not just service buses, but health and social service and education transport to make up the shortfall, it's massive. Are we wasting a heck of a lot of money? A couple of years ago the figure I saw for Hertfordshire was some £11m on taxis and around £2m on buses. £13m not enough? Well . . .

    The Department of Transport, and Essex and Suffolk County Councils may have cottoned on. So may be there will be changes. But on-one has a magic wand. It's the sort of thing we should discuss. If only anyone was interested! If we are looking to preserve or recreate the past, then the future is gloomy. Wasn't it always so? If we embrace innovation, change, and yes, improvement . . . that may be not quite so. Change is always uncomfortable and something that frightens all of us. But it is inevitable . . . If anything is wrong with this country it is that we are too stick-in-the-mud, in or out.

    We can look at other parts of the country with envy. We can always compare our worst with their best. (As for Essex, we are offered the enticing prospect of less for more; though we can say it makes a change from more for less, which didn't work either, unsurprisingly. I don't think any of that was what I was taught in economics, which it was called in those days before fancy names). Perhaps we and they need different solutions . . . Haven't we tried (and failed) with one size fits all for long enough? First say they'll concentrate their limited investment where it is matched by public support. That may be necessity having thrown all their capital at the US. Stagecoach and Go Ahead have to face financial reality too. Perhaps it's just us pensioners that don't and we are too wrapped up in ourselves.

    So I am an optimist, but none of us reach heaven without a lot of pain. Me, I'm going to hell, anyway ... but, of course, I'm not a bus enthusiast. Just, I hope, a realist. Perhaps we need to take off the rose-tinted spectacles through which we so often look at the past.

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  9. Perhaps I'll just say one thing on the Essex First changes I'm seeing. The usual problem. The devil is in the detail. We always seem to exhaust ourselves with the question whether and what we change, leaving ourselves no energy or time for the how, which is the question that really matters. So often, therefore, we end up making things worse, not better because we didn't think. And it's not the fault of the change, but the way we chose to do it. (Often because we left it too late, anyway). But for us lazy Brits, it's always so much easier to stick our head in the sand and feet in the mud, and just moan our heads off and blame everyone else. That matters, more than anything.

    Let me just use a local example. I've mentioned the strange case of the Essex 72 before. It's now being withdrawn, apparently because Essex need to reduce PVR (and they do). It duplicates the 71, which because of the A12 is one of the biggest headaches for the entire network because of consequential problems when buses and drivers are in the wrong place. Why not adjust the 71 (which is a big problem), and modify the 72 (which isn't)? Simple. It's too hard. It needs a bit of thought. Same old story then.

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  10. There is a brilliant example in the post above mine. "That's not how bus economics works". I agree, of course. But does that have to mean there was nothing that could be made of the suggestion, or others that appear from time to time? Or could we do something? Life just isn't all or nothing, black and white. Some of us normal people do have to compromise, sometimes. And the bus industry is no different. (But if I was to be unkind, not on the railways where it is all a matter of safety, obviously).

    We (and I include myself in this as a prime example, of course) are so negative. We can always reason of a reason why not, but are nowhere near so good at thinking of how? I know just how comfortable it is to criticise from an armchair. I get enough practice.

    I walk the dog and even around just the village I am often surprised at the amount of empty passenger carrying traffic around. I understand why and how it happens. But I can't say it's not a waste; the fuel, drivers wages and even just the marginal expenses all add up. I can easily say, sorry, that's the way it is, nothing can be done. Would I be right? The honest answer (not the easy one) is I don't know. There might be a lot of toes, not least the politicians and administrators, even drivers, trodden on in the process. But we have to start thinking the unthinkable. Just perhaps? I know I'm a dreamer. It'll never happen. Too many of us are too set in our ways. Too many excuses. Whether masquerading as reasons, or not, no one knows.

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    1. Ok picture the scene. You need a decker on a school run but not on the off peak journeys, but again for afternon school run. Ok after the school run you go back to the depot wherever that is, using fuel. you pick up your smaller bus, which needs to be taxed, insured, MOT'd and maintained. Drive back to where you were to start the off peak service. Finish the off peak early so you can go back to the depot to pick up your decker for the school run. Yup makes perfect financial sense.

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    2. OK, all repeast after me "Nothing can be changed".

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  11. It's easy to think that running a transport service is merely a matter of throwing more buses, or whatever, out on the network. First Essex shows that it isn't. Not, of course, the first to do so, either.

    Their network gives all the appearance of running hot (as well as, and perhaps because of, being comprehensive). Is it all to the benefit of passengers? Not necessarily (as with Govia Thameslink, perhaps). Their resources look often stretched too, and beyond the limit, as drivers are landed with the impossible job to keep to timetables (not least because of swopping times as well as the congestion), engineering struggle to get enough vehicles out in good (or any) condition, depots to provide enough drivers and vehicles, and management struggle to cope with regulation of the service. The end result is increasing unreliability and passengers, and increasingly drivers, desert in droves. You can hardly blame them. Passengers complain and, it seems like, nobody cares. Of course they do, but they are overwhelmed much of the time. We don't live in a world of unlimited resources nor do we have a magic wand either. The road to hell is often paved with good intentions. Often less can be more. But it needs careful thought which is as much, perhaps more, important than anything. We are, I know, not the only part of the country (nor operator) blessed with these problems. All of them have it, somewhere or another, however envious we may be. (Except perhaps London, where resources are no problem - and perhaps the Essex problems arose from trying to copy it, without the resources? No answer.)

    That is why I am suspicious of simple slogans, and easy answers. It's hard. Think Eastern Counties a decade ago. We have plenty to complain about. Yes apparently failures like the Ipswich Park and Ride deprived of huge public subsidies, the terrible deterioration of the 64 to hourly and the 800 hourly extension perhaps, and of course the dreadful Borderbus and Stephensons, perhaps? Not quite my experience, I'm afraid. Even many, or most, journeys on First Essex are good. But we can do much better, and in many, perhaps even most cases, it's not about throwing money (which we don't have) at the problems. Sometimes, it actually makes things worse. Why don't we concentrate on what we can do, rather than what we can't? Putting passengers first would be a start. And that's more looking at the result rather than the process and just counting numbers or miles travelled. In many cases we need more reliable buses not more of them not appearing when they should, or at all, or more routes or frequency = a better service. It doesn't necessarly. Even, perhaps, a large element of subsidy going to evening town buses, when people (not just the rich, think sharing) seem to prefer the door to door service of a taxi, even Uber, and who could blame them? Sorry for the rant but just perhaps we should celebrate and do the best with what we have, before we start complaining about what we haven't?

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    1. My dear Smurf, when one is being sarcastic one should get facts right. The 64 went to 2 hourly serving places that only a couple of years previously had benefited from a twice an hour service, and I have never described Borderbus as "dreadful". In fact they buck the trend - out of the services the operate only the 521 is subsidised. Just saying.

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    2. I think you have rose tinted glass. Most service are now at a very basic level and reliability is poor and breakdowns frequent as are constant cuts to the services. The level of service are such that for most working people they are simply not a viable option and this is coupled with very high fares. It is simply driving passengers away from the services. Most service are barely viable and constant instability of the services is a further disincentive to use them. There will be more cuts this year that's a certainty. Without change the bus services face all but disappearing

      It probably needs some government help but the bus companies have to raise their game from the abysmally low standards they currently have.

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  12. Yes I always pay a full adult fare thank you as you do I expect? . Best of luck trying to get First to reserve my seat I normally commute to work on the 146 so that will be most helpful, do you use the bus to get to and from your place of employment? Mr Happy again .

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    1. There isn't a bus service within 5 miles of me so that would be difficult. And why are you worried about Pontins folk using the buses to Lowestoft and Yarmouth if you commute to Norwich on the (excellent) 146?

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  13. Erm Southwold ! Who said anything about Yarmouth and Lowestoft?

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    1. I did in the post and never mentioned Southwold. Are people traveling from Pontins to Southwold a problem to you in Pakefield?

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  14. Yes they all come from outside the area and know the lot . Unfortunately it is a problem the county over .

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  15. The whole situation in Ipswich with the council propping up Ipswich Buses with handouts for late/sunday routes is a joke - it’s about time the sold up to a decent company (although who’d want them!?) Go-Ahead = poor reputation in east Anglia. Stagecoach = May not be keen and with cuts to Bury service 11 coming seems less likely. First = ruled out by competition act. Transdev = not in their area. Arriva = would make sense to tag into colchester especially as IB now run between the two towns. Although Arriva have been selling up recently so probably unlikely now. The outgoing MD appears to have ruined the company, over spending on new buses, purchasing the abismal carters operation (just look at how the carters network is being cut back every 2-3 months!) with another change for 93 in February. They should be concentrating on getting the network right in the town first and foremost! And as for the ‘new’ livery it’s awful, doesn’t inspire anyone to want to travel by bus - And what a waste of time it was having all those demo’s coming and going last year! And they even had the cheek to display the ADL enviro city decker at that event on the cornhill too!

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    1. The new buses were inevitable, DDA regulations are to blame. You can't blame them on the 3 Citaros- they were built to a much poorer quality than the demonstrator. The livery is awful, I agree the purple then that harsh "green" just don't work together without white separating them. To be honest I don't know why they bothered with the demos last year when they knew they would always end up buying cheap and cheerful stock vehicles anyway.

      I would like to see Stagecoach take over, but if they're all like the ex-Stagecoach M.D they had last year then I'm not so sure. Arriva can't manage what they already have and If threy did takeover I'd just expect some cast off Wright Streetlites from Yorkshire in a few years time. Now, Transdev would have been the best option. They know how to run a bus company, very good marketing and investment. If only they hadn't taken over Rosso! Don't get me started here on Go Ahead - it's almost the swear word of the East Anglia bus industry!z

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  16. Out of Area - Update to First Berks changes


    Reading Buses taking over Slough Daily route 5 (also evening 4 and Sunday 6) from 20 January,

    Courtney starting a new Daily 10 (Dedworth via Windsor and Datchet to Terminal 5) and 15/15A on M-F Maidenhead & Slough via Eton Wick.

    A week later from 30th both Reading Buses and Courtney are to run on route 2, Daily (Slough & Dedworth via Windsor).

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  17. A few years ago it was ok for councils to subsidise bus services so why isn't it now? After all that is why you pay taxes is it not for services to be provided ?

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  18. At least with a subsidy going to council owned Ipswich Buses it doesn't line the pockets of First Group share holders .

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    1. They will be going out to public tender

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    2. And who’s going to want to bid on a handful of single journey services at that time of the day!? It’s pretty obvious that Ipswich Buses/Ipswich Borough Council know what they are doing - it’s all political for votes and another way for them to give the company extra money.

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    3. Don't bet against Norse stirring things up but bet they don't get anything!

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    4. They are currently SCC has put them out for tender the closing date for submission of tenders being 29th January with the contracts starting on 19th February

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  19. When are the details of service changes being announced?

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    1. I don't know . The track record of availability of revised timetables is very patchy . It is something bus companies and councils are very poor at

      There are changes in the Reading and Slough area starting tomorrow and the new timetables have only appeared today. A part of the problem lies with the traffic commissioners that allows changes to happen with almost no notice

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  20. Interesting comments about Ipswich Buses here. The First Essex post alludes to trying to get what they have to work and I think that's what IB are doing. Unless you run a city bus operator, any large town or rural bus service outside of the peaks will need to be subsidised in some way shape or form. Quite simply IB is a victim as much as the motorist in trying to get about town, no one is going to pay to sit on a bus in the same traffic as they would in their car. I agree constant changes to timetables just confuse the average punter but with increasing congestion extra running time is always being added. A Stagecoach Cambridge "Citi" style cull to run core services on a frequent basis would work well in Ipswich, leaving marginal services to be less frequent and joined up and supported if required by SCC/IBC.

    The new livery is causing much debate within enthusiast circles, but does the average punter care - not really. As long as its clean inside and out and gets them from a to b. I feel IB is trying to drag itself up but let us not forget politicians are on the board...

    As for the abysmal Carters comment, don't forget the Commercial Manager for IB is an ex-Carters man so knows that network inside out, if it is being tweaked its because its needs it. Running anything into Ipswich or Colchester is a nightmare as road networks are always short termist and nothing is planned for 10 years time.

    Whats the solution? Good question. The only financially viable version of rural bus services is core routes fed into by Community Transport (ala Lincs InterConnect) with local coach operators doing the market day runs. Town / City networks need to be simple and frequent using the most economical vehicles possible. Just look at Nottingham's Go2, Glasgow Simplicity etc.

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