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Monday, 8 July 2019

Modal Shift? In Their Dreams!

Last week, in case you missed it was "Catch The Bus Week". Suffolk County Council must have missed it as there wasn't a peep out of them. In fact Ipswich Buses were the only Suffolk operator I noticed give it a mention. While the rest of the country had lightning ticket sales and special events to encourage more people to use the bus in East Anglia it was depressingly quiet. Go East will point out that they Tweeted encouraging messages, and so they did. However, I do wonder how many of their followers don't already use the bus, and so they are Tweeting very much to the converted, which isn't the point of "Catch The Bus Week".

It was also "Steve's Car Fails MOT Week". I was fully expecting that, I put it in for an early test to see what needed to be done. What I wasn't expecting (no, not the Spanish Inquisition) was a "Do Not Drive" notice to be slapped on it, for handbrake, of all things. All of a sudden I'm a prisoner in my own village again until repairs are complete later this week. Annoying, but after 3 years back on the road it has given me the opportunity to see what my options are if I was to be totally reliant on public transport again, and if things have improved from 3 years ago, when changes to the DRT areas meant the service became as good as useless.

Well, many of you will have gone to the ECW event at East Anglia Transport Museum over the weekend. I would have ventured up there, if only to congratulate my former blog sparring partner, Sam Larke, on passing his PCV test and becoming one of the Lynx team. Well done, Sam - I have a feeling you will be an asset to the industry, as well as a useful contact!! Expect the long awaited Lynx feature in the next few weeks!

But I couldn't get there. I couldn't get out of the village unless I was prepared to pay £30 in taxi fares just to get to a bus stop. Which I wasn't. The Demand Responsive Service doesn't operate on Sundays, and doesn't serve my village - which is on an A road btw so not exactly a tiny hamlet - on Saturdays. To get to church yesterday I was reliant on the kindness of others. So a quiet weekend in it was. Tomorrow (Tuesday) I need to get to Wickham Market for my weekly social duties. That means DRT to Saxmundham then the 64 to Wickham (remembering that the 1457 conveniently terminates at Wickham Market and doesn't go back to Sax). So I rung Connecting Communities and luckily, mainly because I asked for middle of the day times I got roughly what I wanted.

Something has changed, however, in the last 3 years, which I have touched on before. The DRT services no longer accepts Concessionary Passes. This is the service which is meant to substitute for a local bus service remember, to take people without transport to the shops, doctors, friends, and link up with the main public transport network. It's not called Connecting Communities for nothing. So why are they charging the elderly and disabled now, who can use their passes on normal buses? Because DRT can be booked, and therefore comes under the rules governing coach services. How many people catch Megabus to the doctors, or National Express to the nearest bus stop! That rule governing services that can be booked was to protect long distance coach services, not community minibuses. Not going to exactly encourage people out of their cars that one is it!

So the return fare to Saxmundham is £5.20 for a round trip of 12 miles. That works out at 43.3p a mile. Ah but hang on - I'm only going to Saxmundham to catch the bus to Wickham Market, so forgetting about passes I'll need to pay again. (Waits for @FirstIpswich to answer fare enquiry) (Still waiting as First Twitter HQ in Leeds doesn't have fares data to hand and has to contact Ipswich Depot to find out - no, haven't made this up) (No, information not available on the website) (45 mins later I get my reply!) This is an extra £5.00 for a 17 mile round trip working out at 29.4p a mile. A lot cheaper than the minibus, and a timetabled service I can plan around rather than hope the stars are in the right pattern and a slot is available on the minibus.

But, and it's a big but, I live around 10 miles from Wickham Market using the back roads. A round trip of 20 miles, so how much per mile does that cost me when the car isn't in quarantine? Well, petrol is roughly 10p a mile, then we need to work out everything else. Obviously the more you use a car the cheaper it is to run. I do around 12,000 miles a year, which conveniently is 1,000 a month. Road tax costs me a 1.4p a mile. Insurance works out at 3.1p a mile, and maintenance around 4p a mile. So my round trip of 20 miles would cost me £3.70 instead of £10.20. It would also take 20 mins each way not an hour. And that's just me! If I had a partner the bus fare doubles but the car cost stays the same. You are not going to get people to give up their cars at those exchange rates.

Now a couple of Sundays ago I spent the best part of 16 hours riding on buses. I was in London, of course, and I'll get round to a separate post on that soon. If I lived in London I wouldn't need a car, unless I wanted to go outside London of course! But with London fares and what I'd save not having a car I could afford limousines the other end if necessary! The infrastructure is there. Buses are packed on Sundays. Locals use them because they are cheap and convenient. To put it in perspective if London rates and rules were in operation here my journey to Wickham Market would cost me £1.50 each way - CHEAPER than the car!!! It's a massive difference.

So next time you hear politicians bang on about wanting people to ditch the car for public transport laugh at them. If you live or have need to travel outside a major town or city it's a no brainer. And more cuts are happening to make them look even sillier. To expect people to shift modes without providing cheap, reliable, convenient and frequent alternatives is sheer folly. Quite simply the authorities need to put their money where their mouths are, subsidise buses to the same extent they do railways, and provide a realistic alternative to attract new users that doesn't include charging pensioners to go to the doctors. Actions speak louder than words, and certainly in this region actions are in a state of suspended animation. I want my car back!!

PS While I was waiting for First Ipswich in Leeds to respond I tweeted Stagecoach Southeast with a random fare enquiry, using a location I knew they wouldn't know from memory. I got a response in 6 minutes, with the fare and travel advice. Top marks there. Shows it can be done.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Austerity Strikes Again

Our beloved Government tell us austerity is over, and we have repaired the damage a few careless bankers caused us. Well I have news for the Government - it bloody isn't over, not in anyway, shape or form. Yesterday Suffolk County Council announced subsidies for 23 bus routes was ending. The small print has to be finalised, but these are the routes affected.

Service 90   Ipswich - Hadleigh - Mon - Sat evening and Sunday journeys

Service 796  Hadleigh to Manningtree Station  Mon - Fri 2 journeys each way

Service 98  Ipswich - Shotley Gate  Mon - Sat  1 journey each way

Service 202  Ipswich - Shotley  No current timetable found

Services M33/M44  Bury Town Circulars  Mon - Sat 1st journey of day and all Sunday journeys

Service 108  Lowestoft - James Paget Hospital  Mon - Fri 3 journeys each way

Services 377/386 Rattlesden/Stowmarket - Bury Mon - Sat 4 journeys each way

Services 387/456 Stowupland/Eye - Stowmarket  Mon - Sat 7 journeys each way overall

Service 62  Blaxhall - Wickham Market  Weds only 1 journey each way

Service 71  Sudbourne - Woodbridge  Mon - Sat 1 journey each way

Service 112  Hadleigh - Sudbury Tu/Thur One journey each way

Service 532  Laxfield - Beccles  Weds only  2 journeys each way

Service 94A  Hadleigh - Ipswich  Mon - Sat  1 journey each way

Service 87  Stowmarket - Ipswich  Sunday service

Service 120 Whatfield - Ipswich  Thurs only  one journey each way

Service 375 Alpheton - Bury   Mon - Sat  1 - 3 journeys each way

Services 461/2 Whatfield - Stowmarket  One journey each way various days

Service 482  Diss - Framlingham   Mon - Fri 3 journeys each way


Now there's nothing huge, nothing major in all that, unless, and it's a big unless, you are one of the people affected. I've travelled on a few of those routes, and they are a social event. It can be the only time people in isolated communities see anyone else, and they arrange their lives around that one day a week the bus runs. When I, and indeed Roger French, one of the most respected chaps in the industry travelled on the 532 it was full. There is no alternative for those people, and yes they were nearly all elderly, using passes, but isn't that the point? To maintain vital links for those who have no alternative. If it hasn't happened already there will be deaths on the roads through people driving when they shouldn't be purely because they have no alternative.

I understand Community Transport schemes are not going to be allowed to bid for these routes, and pending new Laws affecting volunteer drivers are also going to muddy the waters. As I have previously reported, SCC have already penalised those without a timetabled bus service by withdrawing by stealth the use of bus passes on Connecting Community buses, because they can be pre-booked. That rule exists to protect coach services, not to squeeze a fiver out of 85yo's going to the doctor. It is utterly reprehensible what SCC have done to the most vulnerable and isolated in our communities. Those so called consultations they held to hear public views and ideas on the future of rural transport were a total charade. No definitive report on them, and no new initiatives announced, despite ideas flowing from the floor.

So next time you hear a politician say austerity is over, invite him/her to visit the communities about to be unceremoniously cut off, so the Council can save a few quid. It leaves a nasty tasdte in the mouth, or at least should do.

So it was even more mind boggling when this tweet appeared from the Go Ahead Group yesterday.

I'm sorry - run that past me again! "The only links for people who would otherwise be isolated". Really? It isn't April 1st again is ir? Just to remind everyone, this is a list of routes abandoned by Go Ahead in Suffolk and Norfolk over the last 6 years, and I bet I've forgotten a few. With pending cuts to the 84, leaving the folks of Denton and Alburgh without a bus service, its still ongoing. But those folks will be reassured that Go Ahead appreciate what a vital link they supply.

1, 2, 2A, 5, 7, 7A, 22, 37B, 52A, 53, 53A, 53B, 57, 60, 60A, 60B, 60C, 60H, 60S, 61, 61A, 62, 63, 68, 69, 71A, 72A, 80, 81, 82, 82A, 83, 85, 86, 87, 88, 88A, 88B, 89, 90, 92 95, 164, 165

I will, of course, report on any of the routes that manage to be saved, as I suspect some will by various means. I hope for the sake of those affected I have plenty to report.



Friday, 7 June 2019

Ipswich Buses Scanias Go To Yorkshire

It's not often I get an exclusive these days - well I do, I'm just told not to publish them, and invariably someone else publishes before I do. For example I've known for months what the next X1 fleet is, but I'm not allowed to say - and I can guarantee someone will spill the beans before I'm given clearance.

So I'm delighted that this time I've got something first that I can publish! I noticed the other day that all six of Ipswich Buses Scania Omnicitys had been withdrawn and taken to Ensign's for disposal. I have a soft spot for those Scanias - they arrived in the area around the same time I did, and were the first examples I had been on, Lovely seats too. So I contacted Ross Newman at Ensign to see if any of them had found new homes yet.

I can exclusively (sorry) reveal that four of the Scanias have been bought by Connexions Bus of Harrogate. As yet I don't know which four, as soon as I do I'll let you know, but wouldn't surprise me if the four haven't been chosen yet. Ross kindly sent me a pic of former IB 71 YN56 NYC in Ensign's yard.

Former IB71 in Ensign's yard
My thanks to Ross for taking the time to get the bus out for the photo, and to Connexions Bus for allowing the news to be made public. As soon as I know the fate of the remaining two Scanias I shall report back! Might have to return to Harrogate too....

Thursday, 6 June 2019

It's A Funny Old Game

I'm still undecided about social media, if it's a good or bad thing. It can showcase things that otherwise would go unnoticed, bring far flung friends together, illustrate selfless acts to rescue animals, or raise awareness of good causes. It can also have its unsavoury side, much like real life.

Today I've been called "sour", cynical", "childish", "unchristian",  "close minded", "bitter", invited to start saying thank you to waiting staff and my postman, and this has been made and supported by so called industry professionals, including some in high positions. And my crime? What did I do to provoke this catalogue of criticism and name calling?

Well, I was going through Twitter this morning, and I spotted a Tweet for the 4th day running from Network Rail, proclaiming the success of the recent closure of the Southend line. Overhead lines and gantries have been replaced, and the line was shut for 9 days to allow the works. It had been well publicised for months, and an informative video was posted, showing what had been done and what still needed to be done. All very good. However, and this is what caught my eye, it was the wording of the tweet...


Hang on a sec - what was that - you're pleased to confirm you finished the job on time 4 days ago? Firstly I think everyone will have noticed trains are running again, and most importantly it's Network Rail's job to get the work done on time. That is why they are paid billions of taxpayers money every year. It struck me that I can't think of another profession (except sport) where people expect public praise for doing their job. Can you imagine Yorkshire miners in their heyday coming out of t'pit, and wanting a fanfare because they'd mined sufficient coal to justify their wages? Do Ambulance Trusts tweet everyday how many lives they save and how many were reached in the target time in order to get praise? My postman doesn't tweet every day that he successfully completed his round without putting any mail through the wrong letterbox. Of course not. It's their job, and they do it brilliantly, without seeking attention.

Now, don't get me wrong - it's vitally important that the travelling public, of which I'm one, is kept fully informed of engineering projects and their progress. We need to see where improvements are made and where the money goes, although that doesn't help when your train is delayed or diverted due to the ubiquitous signal and points failures that plague the system. So it's good PR, and shows what is done when lines are closed. But do you really have to proclaim that you've finished a job on time? Doesn't that just point out how often it doesn't?

So I tweeted the following.


I did play the hymns perfectly too - and got praise for it, as I did the Beatles number I played after the service which linked in to the theme of the day. What I didn't get was praise for turning up on time or wearing appropriate attire, or not falling asleep in the sermon. Some things should be accepted as the norm, and finishing a job on time should be one of them, in my view. Imagine had Network Rail's tweet been worded thus:

"We are pleased to announce that the engineering works to replace overhead lines and structures has gone smoothly, and as a result passengers can now expect fewer disruption in adverse weather conditions - thank you for your patience while the works were carried out".

Then they might not have got the reaction they did - here is the link to the tweet so you can view the responses, click here.

Anyhow, you'd have thought I'd said Network Rail were the Devil Incarnate from the response I got. Which proves a theory I've had for sometime, that the rail industry, from the Department of Transport, to Network Rail, to train operating companies, to the rail media are so out of touch with the travelling public it beggars belief. Why the hell should passengers on the Southend line be overjoyed engineering works finished on time 2 days previously when at the precise moment that tweet was posted on Tuesday there were no trains running on the line due to a points failure at Shenfield! They pay thousands a year for a service. They have a right to expect works to finish on time and every right to complain when they don't. Until such time as the industry grasps that simple fact, and puts the customer first, as some - but still too few - bus operators have realised (Harrogate Bus including the top banana were handing out free breakfasts on the 36 this morning) then passengers will not see many benefits.

The entire attitude of the railways needs to change - the "blame someone else" culture is at pandemic proportions, and self-congratulatory posts will do nothing to appease the customer. There are exceptions to that, but very few among the people with influence, and that affects the staff on the ground who do an exceptional job. I'm reminded of a quote from Blackadder Goes Forth when General Melchett tells the troops "Don't forget, Captain DArling and I are right behind you", to which Blackadder replies "About 35 miles behind you"! The rail staff on the ground must feel like that sometimes.

So to everyone who sank a lot lower than was really called for today, including some very surprising names I make this pledge. I will continue to side with the passenger as I am a passenger who just happens to know a bit more about how things operate than most. I will praise where its deserved, and I did that today too to Greater Anglia about their friendly staff, and for rescuing a family of swans off the line at Somerleyton. But I will also continue to comment about things that I think make the railway look stupid, and saying yippee we finished something on time is one of them. Not when the very people you are saying yippee to are stuck with no trains! If you don't like it stop following me - social media gives you that choice so use it. Then I can't upset you.




Monday, 27 May 2019

Here Are The News!

In recent weeks I've been travelling on or observing new things. So I thought it about time I put them altogether in a single post. I'll do it in chronological order. which just so happens means I start with the worst and finish with something I liked!

We start with the hideousness that are Great Northern's new Class 717 Siemens trains which are being introduced on the Moorgate to Hertford, Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth routes. They replace the long serving Class 313's who really have reached the end of their days. But, and this is a big but, are the 717's an improvement? After 40 years of the 313's what will make the journeys for Hertfordshire commuters that much better? Well there are no loos, no 1st Class which means no possible escape from those dreadful seats, the same as on the Thameslink 700's. There are information signs and more standing room for even more sardines, air conditioning. hard to find power points but no usb sockets, and a door opening siren that sounds like a 3yo impersonating a fire engine. They are also very grey.

The new Great Northern 717 at Alexandra Palace

Those seats, an utter insult

The Class 313 being replaced

If I was a Great Northern commuter, these new trains would make me seek alternative ways or routes to travel. Hertfordshire is spoiled for choice with not just Great Northern lines but the West Coast mainline and even the Metropolitan Line, also going through Moorgate with considerably more comfortable trains. To pay thousands a year in fares to be treated to that sort of comfort level is an insult. Oh - to those screaming for nationalisation - it was the Department of Transport who specified the trains, not Great Northern. I will not be rushing back to them.

On the same day I also tried out Great Western Railway's smart looking Class 387 Electrostars, the last batch of Electrostars to be built. A much nicer interior and atmosphere, and the Electrostars accelerate impressively fast on the overhead lines, much faster than their 3rd rail counterparts. Again the seats were hard, but not as woeful as the 717's. But it's worth noting that after the original 357's on C2C, of which more later, the 375/6/7/8's for Southeastern, and the early 377's for Southern, the seats on Electrostars have been getting increasingly worse too. Why is this? I have yet to get a satisfactory answer. Anyhow, impressive trains that would be brilliant with better seating.

The GWR Electrostar at Paddington

Interior of the 387

Moving to the road now, and a couple of weeks ago en route to Kent to collect Mother for her annual State Visit, I popped into the oasis of buses that is Ensignbus in Purfleet. This had been planned for sometime, and I was lucky enough to get a long chat with Paul Dickson, whose official title I don't know (except "Teapot"), but he does about everything there is to do with timetabling, planning, operating the Twitter feed, traffic busting, and organising the Running Day. A lovely bloke, great conversationalist, and vital component in Ensign's engine room.

I then went to see Ross Newman, Operations Director, who I knew had a new toy, two new toys to be precise. By pure coincidence Ensign had taken delivery of two brand new BCI Enterprises from China the day before. They were originally bound for Reading Buses who developed cold feet and cancelled them. Ensign said they'd have them, and Ross was eager to take me for a spin in one of them. You will know I am a fan of the Enterprise, but this one blew me away. To get such power from a Euro 6 engine is astonishing. Quiet, smooth, no rattles, and then the seats. Oh my word the seats. If you are sitting anywhere for a long period of time comfort is important. You don't want to get off with muscles aching, a numb backside, and feeling every second you've spent on board. Without a shred of doubt the seats on that BCI are the most comfortable bus seats I've ever sat on. My back had been playing up and when I sat down it positively purred. The lumber support is magnificent. So much so I forgot to note the lack of hand rails, the usb chargers, the phone holders and the tables! The Enterprises are going to be used, as far as I know, on a new London - Southend Airport shuttle starting soon. The night time services will connect with the first and last flights in and out of Southend Airport that do not have rail connections. Since the service will call at Lakeside I have a feeling Bluewater and Upminster have just lost out when I need somewhere to park for my London trips!


The new Enterprise, still to receive number plates and fleet number
They don't look much but those seats are incredible!

I was enthusing about those seats to Ross when he started on a rant about train seats. Ross travels to work on C2C, and asked if I had been on one of the new 379's that C2C recently introduced. I haven't, but get the impression they are similar to Southeastern's 375/9's, which are ghastly to sit on. Like me, Ross cannot understand that as bus seats get better train seats are getting worse. Good for the bus industry though. He said he always tries to get one of the infinitely more comfortable 20yo 357's, which again doesn't say much for progress on our railways.

Which brings me to Saturday, when I had a day out t'Yorkshire. Another bonus I hadn't planned for was London Overground introducing the first of the new Class 710 units on the Barking to Gospel Oak line. Just the 18 months overdue Bombardier have finally sorted the software problems out and the first of the trains entered service on Thursday. So I started the day earlier than planned to try one out.

First impressions are they look good, far better in the flesh than they do in photos. As is the norm with LO all the seats are side facing, which is a shame though understandable. The seats are hard, though not as uncomfortable as a 717, and the interior is, well, sparse to say the least. There are usb sockets but only at the front and rear of each coach, and the ones between coaches you would have to be standing to use them. But as it's only a 35 min journey end to end that's not vitally important. The WiFi worked, the aircon was reasonable, and the ride utterly superb. Savage acceleration when needed, which the very friendly and chatty driver told me he used sparingly in case "there were any old ladies standing up", although I think he did show off a bit on the way back to Blackhorse Rd, where I transferred to the Victoria Line. He also said the driving cabs were brilliant, and indeed they look more like a TGV cab than a 35 min inner city line. I liked the trains, they suit the line well, and I look forward to returning.

The 710 arrives at Barking


The interior

I thought it was to charge phones but whatever!

The charging points between coaches

So onto Kings Cross. I had carefully chosen to book on the 1103 to Leeds, as
I knew it would be one of LNER's much publicised Hitachi Azuma trains. I had booked to return on a classic HST and wanted the comparison. I arrived at Kings Cross early, and took advantage of the time to grab some photo opportunities I may never get again.

Two old ladies together, what service they have given

91119 in Intercity Swallow livery, looks really good

The Azuma rightly deferring to its elder

The Azumas do look the part from the outside

Now a history lesson. On 3rd July 1938 Mallard set the world steam record on the East Coast Main Line near Grantham at 126mph. On 25th May 2019, almost 81 years later, I travelled up the ECML on a brand new train, the most advanced to ever grace the line, at 125mph. Ok. some poetic licence there as Mallard didn't do 126mph in service, but you get my point. Where have we advanced in 81 years in comparison to countries such as Japan, China and France. I can guarantee in 1938 the seats will have been better too. There is no way on this Earth that I will ever travel from London to Inverness or Aberdeen on one of these things. Ever. I would recommend splitting the journey, which may well work out cheaper anyway. Suffer the Azuma to York, only two hours, then get Cross Country to Edinburgh, either a voyager or HST to Edinburgh, then one of Scotrails refurbished HST's to the North of Scotland. Better still get a WCML Pendolino to Glasgow and HST from there.

The Azuma did have a couple of good points - sliding doors are a great improvement, and the reservation indicators were superb and very easy to understand. However...

The WiFi didn't work, one of the toilets was blocked and wouldn't flush, the announcements were far too quiet, the ride itself I found on the rough side, very few seats actually marry up with windows, the power points are impossible to find unless you know they are there, it was hot and stuffy despite the aircon and I heard people questioning if it was actually a new train. That's not a positive start.

The Azuma 800113 at Kings Cross

The interior of Standard class

Those seats are not good - and does there have to be such a big gap between windows?

Arrival at Leeds

We did arrive at Leeds on time though, and I caught a local bus down to the Bus Station, to catch Transdev's flagship 36 to Harrogate. It was a 15 plate Streetdeck, with gorgeous interior, luxury seating and all mod cons. It also rattled considerably less than it did on my last journey on the 36 so well done Transdev for tackling that issue. It was noticed!

We arrived at a busy Harrogate and I set about achieving the main aim of the day - to try out Harrogate bus's new Electric Volvo's. It was worth the travelling.

I've been on BYD electric buses in London and have yet to be wowed. Harrogate's electric buses, however, are in a different league. The interiors are superb, comfy seats, usb and even wireless charging, next stop announcements, and huge windows. The ride is smooth, acceleration impressive and they are insanely quiet compared to the BYD's. At traffic lights the lack of idling vibration compared to the diesel version is very pleasing. The driver said he loved them, and they were a joy to drive. All we need now is someone to be brave and put electric buses on longer routes, rather than 30 min round trip local estate routes. That will be interesting. But again my congratulations to Harrogate Bus and Transdev for giving me the all to rare sensation of liking a new bus that isn't Optare or BCI.


The Harrogate Bus electric Volvo 9700
Part of the interior, including wireless charging

The weather was closing in, the traffic had been awful, so I decided to get the train back to Leeds. Northern Rail have recently replaced the infamous Pacers on the Harrogate line with ex Scotrail 3 car 170's, and I was lucky enough to get one of the refurbished units. I would have cheerfully remained on it back to London. The seats were the best train seats I'd sat on all day, it had been recarpeted and power points added. The conductor told me passengers loved them, and so did I. Northern have come in for some stick recently, but credit where it's due, these 170's feel like new trains should, even if they're not new!

The refurbished 170 in Northern livery

One of the 170's still in Scotrail colours

The interior of the refurbished 170

Back at a very wet Leeds it was time to return to London. I had noted earlier that the HST booked to operate the journey had broken down in North Scotland so waited anxiously to see what had replaced it. Luck was in, as in rolled the on loan HST tractor units from East Midlands Trains. It was time to compare the HST to the Azuma. Well, the seats on the Mark III coaches were infinitely more comfortable, I could hear the announcements, I wasn't hot, seats lined up with windows in the main, the power points were easier to find. The WiFi still didn't work but hey ho. It was also a much more pleasant ride, despite some of my fellow passengers not being so enjoyable until they thankfully left us at Doncaster. Given the choice between the new and the old I'll take the old anytime, and it will be interesting to see what the reaction is to the Azumas when they start going long distance. Leeds was just about bearable. Any further and I'll be looking for alternatives.


The EMT HST at Leeds
The much nicer seats on the HST

So what conclusions are there? Well, proof once again that out with the old and in with the new isn't necessarily a good thing. The 717's aren't as nice as the 313's. The Azumas aren't a patch on the HST's. The 710's are decent trains with much more room yet less comfortable than the 172's they replace. But the refurbished 170's are lovely, and I assume the same rules applies to refurbishment as it does new. If the Government is serious about modal shift and getting people out of cars and onto rail they are going completely the wrong way about it. Unless you live by a station on the whole journeys by train take longer than cars and are more expensive than cars. It certainly wouldn't have cost me the best part of £100 in petrol to travel from here to Harrogate. Make trains far less comfy than cars too, and you will not achieve your goal.

Buses, however, outside East Anglia at least, are making an effort. Ironic that they get far less funding than rail does. Electric buse are the future, and we need the Government to invest nationwide in infrastructure to encourage people to use buses instead of cars whenever possible. Plug the green factor to death! (Sorry, pun really wasn't intended but too tired to change it now) Bus operators are finally realising that you need to put the customer first. This has yet to reach the minds of many rail operators, or indeed the Department of Transport.

You will notice from the header picture that the Greater Anglian Flirt went testing to Lowestoft for the first time this week, and I snapped it crossing Reedham Bridge for the first time. I sincerely hope my review of them when they are introduced is more favourable than other new trains around.



Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Commons Transport Committee Report On Buses Outside London

Today the Transport Select Committee, chaired by Lilian Greenwood MP, one of the few MP's I still have time for, published its report on bus services in England outside London. It makes very interesting, and for me personally, satisfying reading as it says mostly what I have been saying for years. You can tell it's not going to be full of glowing praise for the bus industry from the opening of the Summary:


"The deregulation of bus services outside London in the 1980s was meant to address the steady decline in bus use since the 1950s and bring in a new era of bus travel. In the 1984 Buses White Paper the then Government asserted that:

Without the dead hand of restrictive regulation fares could be reduced now on many bus routes and the operator would still make a profit. New and better services would be provided. More people would travel.

[…] bus operators will look keenly to see where and when people want to travel. If one operator fails to provide a service that is wanted, another will.

Successive governments have stuck with deregulation, but the promised benefits have never materialised. Deregulation has, at best, done little more than slow the decline in bus use."


The idea of operators reducing fares on many routes yet still making a (reduced) profit seems laughable and goes against the laws of supply and demand. However, the then Transport Secretary, Nicholas Ridley, seemed to think operators would be happy to reduce their profits for the benefits of passengers. That's like MP's reducing their salaries for the benefit of the taxpayer - never going to happen, and understandably so.

The Committee looked at all aspects of bus travel, from provision of services, funding, accessibility, information and ticketing to preserving rural links, encouraging modal shift and making buses more attractive for young people.

One recommendation you won't be surprised caught my eye was that operators and local authorities work closer together to achieve the best possible service, especially regarding rural communities and new builds. It also recommends that red tape allowing partnerships between Councils and operators be cut. Well I never!

The report points out how funding has been cut and that the reimbursement on Concessionary passes is not doing its stated intention of leaving operators "no better or no worse off". Indeed, reimbursement rates are still calculated on 2005/6 fare levels. No wonder the operators are continually protesting. This is the recommendation:

"At present reimbursement of concessionary fares for bus operators does not meet the principle of “no better and no worse off”. This principal is objectively impossible to test. The reimbursement calculator given to local authorities by the Department for Transport is based on fares in 2005/06. Local authorities, with already stretched resources, often feel compelled to cover the shortfall. This potentially puts bus services at risk. If services are withdrawn it could have a disproportionate effect on vulnerable people, and they may become more isolated. This runs counter to the stated aim of the concessionary fares policy: improving the lives of older and disabled people.

We recommend that the Government review how it finances concessionary bus passes, and the guidance to local authorities on reimbursement of bus operators, with a view to meeting the principle of both local authorities and bus operators being “no better and no worse off”. As a priority, the Government should re-baseline the reimbursement rates on ticket prices for 2017/18 prices; and should continue to re-baseline fares every four years so that the principle of “no better and no worse off” is maintained and the reimbursement rate remains broadly in line with current fares."


Real time information, a national ticketing policy which negates the change/no change, contactless/no contactless anomalies and even integrated ticketing are discussed, as are fares for young people.

But it is the failure of the Department of Transport to deliver adequate leadership and funding that comes in for the most criticism. Neith local authorities or operators are aware of funding amounts from one year to the next, unlike road and rail, and this provides uncertainty in the industry, and for passengers. Local authorities should be able to tackle congestion by parking and moving traffic law enforcement, with the revenue gained used to further tackle congestion. Bidding for grants and additional funding should be made easier and fairer, and an interesting recommendation is that all local authorities should have the power to set up their own municipal bus company.

Another priority is to tackle the concerns of those who DON'T use the bus - again, can't remember where I've heard that before! 

The report doesn't recommend re-regulation, but it makes it abundantly clear that the current system is failing passengers, and there need to be radical changes to encourage more to leave their cars at home and switch to the bus.

Most Government reports are mind numbingly boring but this one isn't. It makes very good reading, and will have a lot of you nodding sagely in agreement. It remains to be seen how the D of T responds, but I commend Lilian and her team on a comprehensive report, taking the passengers' side, and not pulling any punches. 

You can read the report, and I really recommend you do, by clicking here.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Has The Phoenix Grown Its Feathers?

I said in my last post that things appeared to be looking up at Konect. That was good news as a monopoly is never good in a privatised industry. Today Konect revealed their proposals for the next round of timetable changes, and from what I can see there's not a single cut with many enhancements and route extensions. I'll reproduce their summary below, then put meat on the bones.

Please see below *proposed* timetable changes to parts of the Konectbus network for Sunday 7th July 2019. We're pleased to announce significant improvements to our network. Straight8 between Toftwood, Dereham and Norwich will operate up to every 20 minutes in the daytime Mondays to Saturdays, and there will be a later journey back from Norwich to Dereham & Toftwood at 2220. Route X6 will be extended beyond Attleborough to Thetford giving fast bus journey times between Thetford and Norwich via the A11. The 5 series will be enhanced will doubling of daytime frequencies to every 30 minutesbetween Eaton and Norwich, and Rackheath and Norwich. There will be up to 8 buses an hour along Yarmouth Road into Norwich. Park & Ride improvements include; a later bus back to Thickthorn P&R, later buses back to Sprowston P&R and an enhanced evening frequency to Airport P&R. There are other changes which are to reflect requests, improve reliability and better match supply with demand. The routes affected by these changes are listed above with details listed below.

Better still I'll let Konect say it all - I'm sure they won't mind positive publicity for a change!

Route 3 & 6
Thetford - Watton
Ashill - Watton
Watton - Hingham - N&NU Hospital (3) / Wymondham (6) - Norwich
The 6 journeys which start and finish in Ashill will be extended back/to Necton via Holme Hale.
The 1400 and 1500 6 from Watton to Norwich will operate via Hethersett Academy, New Cringleford and Cringleford replacing route 9A.
The 1515 and 1615 6 from Norwich to Watton will operate 10 minutes later at 1525 and 1625.
There will be a new route 3 0835 journey from Watton to Thetford via the villages on Saturdays. This bus will become the 0920 X6 Thetford to Norwich fast journey. There will be a return route 3 1515 journey from Thetford to Watton; the bus will have previously operated the 1420 X6 journey from Norwich to Thetford.


Route 5
Postwick P&R - Norwich

Minor timetable changes at peak to allow for traffic congestion. Saturday afternoon buses from Postwick P&R to operate via the A47 and Bracondale due to continuing traffic problems at the end of NCFC home football matches.



Route 5A/5C
Blofield Heath - Norwich - Eaton (5A)
Little Plumstead - Norwich (5C)

Eaton to Norwich will be served by route 5B (Stalham - Wroxham - Norwich) with an improved frequency of every 30 minutes through most of the day.

There will be a new Mondays to Saturdays evening journey from Norwich to the Plumsteads at 1930.

Blofield Heath and Plumsteads to Norwich routes will stay the same with revised times. Most journeys will continue to Mulbarton replacing route 37A which will offer through journey facilities (including to retail outlets on Hall Road such as Asda, and Mulbarton to the Rail Station) and improved reliability.

The East Harling to Norwich route 37A journeys will be included in the revised route 5B timetable.



Route 5B
Stalham - Wroxham - Norwich

Additional journeys will operate between Rackheath Industrial Estate and Norwich via Green Lane West and the normal 5B route. These additional journeys will operate between 0900 and 1700 giving Rackheath to Norwich a bus every 30 minutes.

There will be minor timetable adjustments to the Wroxham and Stalham end of the route to improve punctuality.

The 2030 from Norwich to Salhouse will be extended to Wroxham.

All buses will continue to Eaton village & Greenways replacing route 5A and doubling the frequency to every 30 minutes for most of the day.



Route X6
Attleborough - Norwich

Most journeys wil be extended beyond Attleborough from/to Thetford offering fast journeys between Thetford and Norwich!

There will be an additional route X6 journey from Great Ellingham (0710), Attleborough (0715) to Norwich via Thickthorn P&R (0740).

The section of route between Sprowston, Harvey Lane and Norwich will be replaced by new route 33.



Straight8
Toftwood - Dereham - Norwich

The Mondays to Saturdays timetable will be increased to every 20 minutes for most of the day! Plus there will be a later journey on Mondays to Saturdays from Norwich to Dereham and Toftwood departing the Rail Station at 2210 and the Bus Station at 2220.

Additional city centre bus stops will be added on Prince of Wales Road (outside Budgens) and Red Lion Street (opposite Debenhams). Tha latter is hoped will appease those visiting the Theatre Royal.

The section off route between Riverside and Thorpe Road will be withdrawn due to lack of use. Buses will terminate/commence at the Rail Station bus stops on Thorpe Road.

All buses departing Norwich from 1850 onwards will call at Thickthorn Park & Ride replacing the late evening route 501 journeys.



Route X11
Sutton - Stalham - Wroxham - Norwich

Route X11 is a new fast journey to/from Norwich replacing similar route 502 journey. These express commuter journeys will no longer call at Sprowston P&R, but will stop on Sprowston Road at Blue Boar and at the Brickmakers. Mondays to Fridays only.



Route 33
Norwich - Harvey Lane - Plumstead Road - Norwich

Replaces route X6 between Sprowston and Norwich via Harvey Lane. This will provide new links between Thorpe Road and Plumstead Road surgery, and Plumstead Road area with Anglia Square and Magdalen Street area. Mondays to Fridays only.



Route 50 & 50A
Eaton Park/Cringleford - Norwich - Mousehold Heath

In the mornings buses heading to Mousehold Heath will omit Anglia Square, and in the afternoons buses from Mousehold Heath will omit Anglia Square. This change, and other timing changes, will improve reliability on this route



Route 501 (Park & Ride)
Airport P&R - Norwich - Thickthorn P&R

The evening Mondays to Saturdays timetable towards Airport P&R will increase to every 20 minutes until 2030. Departure times from Norwich Bus Station to the Airport P&R after 1830 will be at 1850, 1910, 1930, 1950, 2010 and 2030. The 2010 and 2030 departures from Norwich will extend beyond the Airport P&R to Sprowston P&R

For full details of other minor adjustments and links to timetables see here.

Konect are asking for comments on the proposals which should be submitted by May 21st.
I only have one - the 1520 X6 from Thetford to Norwich should also run on Saturdays to give customers from  Norwich the opportunity to visit Thetford. 1320 seems too early for a last bus back.

Apart from that I am heartened and impressed with the proposals. They are bringing new links, later journeys on key routes and congestion avoiding measures. It would seem real thought has gone into it, and I haven't been able to say that much over recent years. I hope fervently the changes are a success, but what I am now interested in is how the fleet is going to change. Konect have taken the fleet list down from their website for reasons unknown, but if Go Ahead are serious about resurrecting Konect from the utter disaster that was the management of Anglian, as well as giving up on routes like the 2 and 7 then they need to prove it by investing in quality new buses, not the constant stream of London and Southampton cast offs we have become used to. That will send signals to passengers, staff, and indeed other operators that they really are intent on coming back from the doldrums. I hope they do, and if I see any of these signs I will support them all the way. These proposals are a very positive start.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Norwich In 90? Not Anymore

Hello all. I've been waiting for something good to report. Sadly nothing has warranted a post so it's back to the moaning. In this case a comparison between today and the glory days of, erm, earlier this year!

Let me explain the circumstances. A very dear friend of mine, all 90 years of her moved from Wickham Market to Halesworth last weekend to be closer to her family. That left another dear friend, a mere spring chicken of 85 pining for her best friend, so yours truly has taken it upon himself to ferry the two between each other so their friendship can endure. On Thursday I took said youngster over to Halesworth for 10am, intending to pick her up at 3pm. I had to go to Norwich so decided to do it by bus from Halesworth, instead of driving to Ditchingham as normal, to see how easy it would be now Konect have deserted Suffolk, to be replaced by a very limited First replacement. Remember I needed to be back for 3pm. Halesworth to Norwich is around 25 miles, not much in East Anglian terms.

There was a 1034 to Bungay, where I would now have to change for a bus to Norwich. In these days of "guaranteed connections" where the bus simply changes route number, to have to wait 20 minutes for a connection on what had been a through route for decades is a rude wake up call. Anyway the 99A turned up, ironically with a former Anglian driver at the wheel, and off to Bungay we trundled.

First 44533 at Halesworth
So, you would reasonably expect that to make up for a new change of buses at Bungay the 99A would connect with the fast X41 to Norwich. Actually no, as that departs 5 minutes before the 99A gets in. I kid you not. How can we fight for an integrated transport system when buses from the same company can't integrate with each other. So a 20 min wait it was for the slower 41, and instead of the leather seated, free WiFi B9's on the X41 up turned this!

First B7tl 32214 at Bungay
It still looks as though it's waiting for its top coat of paint. In all honesty I've been on worst Presidents, but hard seats and rattly ride made the journey seem longer than it really was. Which was still 50 minutes. We arrived in Norwich at 1205, 91 minutes after leaving Halesworth, a journey that used to take 54 minutes.

I only had to nip to the bank in Norwich. To get back to Halesworth for 3pm I would in Anglian days have caught the 1400 88, arriving in Halesworth at 1504. Not now. To go back the way I'd come and be back in Halesworth for 3pm I'd need to stay on the President, go straight back to Bungay, and arrive in Halesworth at 1323. The next connecting bus would leave Norwich at 1445, the connection arriving in Halesworth at 1603, having picked up the notorious angels at Bungay High on the way.

This meant having to find an alternative. After a rushed lunch I hot footed it to Norwich Bus Station and caught the 1315 X2 to Beccles. I maintain these nearly 11yo B9's are still the best buses around our area by some margin.

First B9 37576 on the X2 at Beccles
A walk to the Old Market was next, to catch the twice a day Border4bus service 522 to Halesworth. I had half hour to wait, which was annoying, but the next (slower) service from Norwich would only leave me 7 minutes to make the connection, and as you never know what the A146 is going to throw up the risk of missing the last bus of the day at 1415 is just not worth taking. So the gloriously scenic 522 it was, on a baby E200, Incidentally the Borderbus operated 146 from Norwich to Beccles departs at 1310, meaning an even longer wait at Beccles.

Borderbus BB07 BUS at Beccles Old Market.
We got back to Halesworth at 1450, a journey time of 95 minutes, perfect timing for me, although I had 65 minutes less time in Norwich than I would have done a year ago. It also proves more expensive for the fare payer, having to pay separately for the 522. I have to say had the weather been like it was today the journey would have put me off buses for life, so no one express surprise when First start moaning about low patronage. Give the people something reliable and conveniently timed to patronise and they just might!

This got me thinking. I ask Suffolk and Norfolk Councils this - is there any reason why services you fund shouldn't accept the tickets of any operator, so passengers can use alternative routes and operators in these days of ever more service cuts? Simply give all the services you fund a prefix number, eg 8, so for example the 522 would become 822, and evening 40's become 840. That would make identification easy, and would not only help and encourage bus use, but might just sting the operators to take integrated ticketing seriously, because it has to happen if the industry is to survive.

I have had some positive news this evening regarding Konect. It would appear changes in the management structure are reaping rewards. Vehicle reliability has improved beyond measure it seems, and a new cleaning manager has transformed the appearance of the interiors. Nothing will undo the monumental cock up that was made of Anglian, but if a phoenix can rise from the ashes that will be good for passengers. No one operator should have a monopoly in a privatised industry, as East Suffolk is finding out. Different if everything is regulated as that operator is held accountable, but when little things like 40 min gaps in the service from Poringland to Norwich start creeping in - between 0820 - 0900 to be precise, then it's only a matter of time before the rot sets in. The same old story, once the opposition has been seen off services start getting scaled back. So I genuinely hope Konect come back strongly, as we know First aren't eager to resurrect or develop anything, so it will takes others to give them a run for their money.

Thanks to those who have contacted me - it really is appreciated. Back when I have something to say!



Friday, 22 March 2019

The Future Of Rural PublicTransport Is......

Autonomous pods, apparently.  Yes, I was surprised too, but that's what we were told at a consultation meeting today in Beccles, where representatives from Suffolk County Council's Public Transport team came to meet with the peasants of the land to discuss the future of Rural Public Transport.

Delegates present included yours truly, the Mayor of Bungay, and a lady who confessed to not having used public transport for over 50 years. I don't think she was a Go Ahead director.... There were also people from Snape and Mutford, who like my village have no bus service at all, were looking for answers and a glimmer of hope. Joining the Council team were managers from BACT and CATS, who provide the Connecting Communities minibuses and Dial-a Ride services in the area.

We were first asked, rather optimistically I thought, to say what we thought was working well in respects to rural transport. The unanimous consensus was currently nothing is working well so we quickly moved on to what improvements could be made. Various suggestions were made, but it all boiled down to one thing - reliability and accessibility, and by that I don't mean can you get a wheelchair on, which is law now anyway, but you must be able to get a bus to go where you want at regular times you can work round. Like normal buses in fact. Having to book in advance rules out spontaneous travel, and not being guaranteed your preferred time slot means it is completely unreliable, so unless you have the flexibility of a gymnast it is beyond useless.

That triggered the expected "we haven't got any money" excuses, which I'd fully anticipated. Of course if the service was better more people would use it, revenue would increase, and so the service could improve even further. But it was here the chicken and the egg problem surfaced, not for the first time. That being no one will use a poor service until it improves, and no one will improve a service that no one is using. Catch 22. So how do you break the cycle? Well, if you have read the last couple of posts you'll understand why I wanted a brick wall to reshape my head against. How about Councils, communities and operators working together to create demand and supplying the demand which has been researched so communities get the bus they want and operators get the passengers they want. No! Seriously? Why hasn't anyone thought of that before!!! Trouble is the operators won't finance that research - I discovered that rather painfully a couple of weeks ago. The Council certainly won't, and the communities, quite understandably, won't believe they can achieve anything if the Council and operators appear disinterested.

So having ascertained what needed to be done, but unspoken acknowledgement that no one wants to do it, we then got a fascinating presentation on the future of transport, or rather a lot of things that are happening elsewhere but are decades away from happening here. Electric buses - we haven't got so much as a hybrid in East Anglia - electric cars, and yes autonomous pods like they have in Milton Keynes and Heathrow Terminal 5. On top of E and M Tickets, contactless and bus tracking. At this point one of the gentlemen from Snape pointed out most of the area was yet to get a decent mobile phone signal, let alone think of autonomy. I know several people who have had problems getting a strong enough signal at bus strops to get M-Tickets to bring them up to show drivers, therefore having to pay again. I asked the guys from Snape to let me know when their pods arrived so I could do a write up on them. Might not be next week.

Can we please get the basics right first. There is no gimmick in existence that can make up for not having a bus in the first place. The Snape team said they were working within their community to get a regular band of passengers together to block book the Connecting Communities minibus. That's a great idea, and the sort of enthusiasm needed. Unfortunately if they did book the bus that means those who already regularly use it wouldn't be able to, and the manager of CATS conceded that point. So if one person travels it is at the expense of another. As business models go it's not going to win any awards. But use a bus that's resting between school runs to operate that journey for Snape, and suddenly everyone's a winner. I'm grateful to Anonymous who posted after my last post to tell us about what Dorset Councils have done - take a look. I read that post out, which shows if there is a will there is a way, and yes, communities WILL take responsibility for their own bus service if the support is there.

But if I'm brutally honest I can't see it happening here. It could, it really could, but no one is prepared to say, yes, we'll give that a go. I heard more than once the Council Reps responding to suggestions "how can that be financially viable?". When they said there would be a £700k shortfall in the transport budget over the next four years I suggested a £5 levy added to Council Tax, which would more than cover that shortfall. The argument that non bus users shouldn't have to pay for bus subsidies came up. My Council Tax pays for leisure centres that I don't use, and a whole ream of other services I could use but choose not to. Why shouldn't buses be added to that list? Then they would be there for people who did choose to use them. If you're paying £1200 a year in Council Tax another fiver isn't going to make much difference.

Concessionary passes were mentioned, with the vast majority agreeing that there should be some contribution from pass holders, either in paying a flat fare or an annual fee for the pass. Unfortunately that would require a change in legislation, which won't happen as it will be deemed a vote loser. Unless you're Suffolk County Council, that is, who have decided the best way to increase patronage of community buses is to cease accepting concessionary passes full stop. When asked why I was told that because some areas couldn't accept passes (no idea why) to make it fair for everyone no one would be able to use passes. I'm not sure if anyone suggested that passes be accepted everywhere, obviously that would be problematic. Of course it's perfectly fair that those without a regular bus service should have to pay when those who do, don't. Yes, that's fair.

I asked about the legality of that, since Connecting Communities is registered as a local bus service. However, and I was told this with a straight face, because they are bookable (they HAVE to be booked) that makes them the same as National Express so they don't have to accept passes. That's right, Mrs Miggins going from her tiny hamlet to get her hair done in Saxmundham is the same as Auntie Gladys getting the coach from London to Plymouth. Except Gladys knows when her coach will leave, when it will arrive, she will definitely be able to go when she wants and it will take 5 hours not 15 minutes. It seems lost on SCC that Connecting Communities is a substitute for a regular bus service, so these people have a double whammy - no regular bus, and now they have to pay for the privilege. That'll fire the enthusiasm up!

And that was it. A nice idea that gave no room for optimism. I'm not sure what SCC expected to gain from this, except to be seen consulting with the public, but when I got home I looked at the lovely bus stop across the road, and try as I might I couldn't envisage it being back in use anytime soon.

So, moving on, and a couple of weeks ago I went, with Roy from East Norfolk Bus Blog, to see Borderbus's latest Scania, and very smart it is too. Yesterday, Borderbus's Diplomatic Correspondent, Bernice Carver sent me a couple of pictures with the Scania sporting its new registration of BB61 BUS. That means the 6 Scania deckers carry the registrations BB53/6/7/8/9/61 BUS. BB58 being the only double door example. Many thanks, Bernie.



I was asked a serious question by an operator this afternoon - that question being is Contactless vitally important on rural services? I know what I think, but I'd be really interested in what everyone else thinks. Is it worth spending many thousands upgrading ticketing equipment to enable contactless payments? Let me know what you think.

Finally Go Ahead's figures for the last year have been published., including the final year of Anglian I will publish them below but make no comment, as they speak for themselves.

Anglian

Turnover                        2017                 2018
                                    £2.226m            £1.044m

Loss before tax               2017                 2018
                                     £1.64m             £1.081m


Konectbus

Turnover                        2017                   2018
                                     £7,9m                   £8,2m

Loss before tax              2017                   2018
                                      £77k                    £701k

Hedingham

Turnover                        2017                   2018
                                    £4.026m              £4.856m

Loss before tax             2017                   2018
                                    £708k                  £884k

Chambers

Turnover                       2017                    2018
                                   £1.721m               £1.759

Loss before tax             2017                     2018
                                    £302k                    £787k


Finally finally it's always interesting when someone outside the area comes for a look at things. Roger French OBE, for 25 years MD at Go Ahead owned Brighton & Hove did just that last week, covering Colchester, Ipswich, Southwold and Norwich, with many places in between. He spends his, I presume, blissfully happy retirement touring the country, sampling bus and train services, and writing reviews. His speaking sand writing services are in high demand, and when Roger says something the industry normally jumps. You can read his interesting and forthright review by clicking here, and again I'll make no comment, except to say a lot of it is rather familar.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The Way Forward

First of all my apologies to Steve Lee, who sent me copies of the First Ipswich 2005 timetables. I was going to do a comparison with today but it was just too depressing. Thanks Steve - we'll meet up for a natter.

At the end of my last post I said something had died in me. That spark, which got me out, sometimes at silly times to follow my hobby and report back has been extinguished. There's a test train tonight, maybe going to Sizewell, and you know what? I just can't be bothered. I think it's only fair to tell you why, as you have supported me for so long.

One of the reasons I started this blog back in 2013 was not only to share my passion, but to hopefully lay the foundations of a career back in the industry I love. At first I thought that might be in the written media, but no. I'm too forthright. If I don't like something I say so, and I'm not afraid to speak the truth. Much of the public transport media doesn't do that. It likes its cosy relationship with operators/manufacturers too much, and won't point out the obvious like new buses that rattle or rail operators treating customers worse than cattle. Maybe I'm not diplomatic enough for that.

Then I started looking locally. I had seen the bus network in this region literally crumble in front of my eyes and I felt powerless to do anything about it. When I relayed my frustration on these pages I was quite often told rather bluntly to do something about it. I wanted to. I still want to. I believe my observations over the last 6 years have shown me what works and what doesn't, most of all that East Anglia is a unique area, and unique strategies are needed. Go Ahead tried to run their operations here like everywhere else and look what's happened. First, despite the great efforts of Chris Speed, wouldn't be in nearly the position they are if Go Ahead had taken the trouble to listen to anyone. I cannot think of a route operated by First that has more services now than it did 6 years ago, new routes excepted. I'm happy to be corrected. Many independents have gone to the wall in that time, and the biggest victim of all has been the passenger.

But amongst the carnage there have been one or two phoenixes. It is no surprise whatsoever that the men behind the phoenixes know the area and the people like the back of their hand. Julian Patterson left Konect to form Lynx, who have basically taken over in Kings Lynn. Yes, they were helped by Stagecoach making as big a mess of the former Norfolk Green as Go Ahead did with Anglian - someone else who didn't recognise the unique strategies required, but Lynx were doing well anyway.

The other phoenix is Borderbus. Smaller than Lynx, but just as successful. A lot of 146 jouneys now require deckers, as opposed to mini Darts when the route first started. But their shining light, and inspiration for me is the Beccles Town Service. The success of that route proved to me that if you actually take the time to involve the local community with their bus service they will support it to the hilt.

So if it works in Beccles why not other parts of the county. There are larger parts of Leiston not served by buses for example. It's a half hour walk from the nearest bus stop to the job centre, and there must be people crying out for a bus service to take them to Tesco and Waitrose in Saxmundham. Yet no one asks them. I wanted to. That is just one example. There are many more, including those I mentioned in my last post. While I'm on that topic I mentioned a new development in Melton that had a bus stop one side but no means of crossing the busy road to get to the other. I'm pleased to reveal that a new pelican crossing has appeared, which although it must cause utter chaos with the traffic leaving the A12, does mean bus passengers can cross the road.

If communities want bus services, particularly rural communities then those communities have to support the service. In this region the way to do that is to make them feel part of it. That has been proved with the 62, a little minibus that operates between Woodbrudge/Framlingham/Saxmundham. The Saxmundham journey only operates on Wednesdays, and Nigel, the driver for PF Travel has re-written the timetable many times after listening to feedback from his regulars. When I saw him loading up for the return journey from Saxmundham a couple of weeks ago I thought he was going to have to leave some behind. I have no idea how he squeezed so many AND their shopping trolleys on board. In the grand scale of things insignificant, but to those 15 souls on board an invaluable lifeline, which only survives because the operator worked with the community and listened. It has retained its subsidy where many others have lost.

So I wrote to Giles Fearnley, MD of the UK bus division of First Group, and put the idea to him, that someone who worked with communities and village/town councils to encourage bus use, as well as investigating grievances such as bus stop removal or service withdrawals could be worth a go, bearing in mind First in Norfolk & Suffolk are now making healthy profits, and working with communities would only enhance their reputation as well as building business. Chris Speed had encouraged me to write, as he was enthusiastic about the idea when I discussed it with him, but said he didn't have the power to create the post.

I got an email back from Giles Fearnley basically saying sod off. At no point did he mention communities or liasing with them, or give any reason whatsoever for rejecting the idea. That's what winded me, not that I hadn't secured a job, but that he gave the impression he couldn't care less. He didn't want to try to build the business, interact with customers, ride into areas without a bus service on his lilac horse. That hurt. Not just personally, as the last 6 years have been building up to that, but I hurt for the area I love too. Those people and communities who could have benefited. The youngsters who will still have to rely on parental lifts everywhere, and their grandparents, who will have to carry on driving, if they can, far longer than they should because there is no alternative. My guess is in 5 years there will be nothing left. Not unless there is a huge change of attitude and ambition from those who are in the position, and have the power to make a change. Don't hold your breath. I think this time it's terminal.

So, I have to look in different directions now. The goal I've been working towards for the last 6 years has been dismantled. I was hoping my hobby would become my career again. It hasn't and I doubt it will now, so it must return to being just that - a hobby. However, I'm not just going to walk away from 6 years work, and more importantly the people who have inspired me to carry on over the years. So I'm going to carry on, only with a difference. I'm only going to report positive news. Granted that won't mean much from here but I'm sick of only having negative news to report. That is going to start right now.

Starting on 23rd April Borderbus are going to take over the 90 from Konect operating from Beccles to Halesworth and Southwold. Except it won't be called the 90 anymore. Borderbus have reverted back to the original Anglian numbers of 522 and 524, which makes sense as they also operate the Halesworth - Aldeburgh 521. Some good news for Halesworth is that the Dukes Drive estate is getting a Beccles service back, after the brains at Go Ahead decided all passengers in Halesworth lived by a car park and stopped the bus going round there.  The only journey to go is the late afternoon service from Beccles to Halesworth, but I'm not exactly surprised at that.

And finally, and this is the sort of thing you'll be seeing more of, someone is tackling the age old problem of feet on the seats. It was a battle that was never going to be won, so Martijn Gilbert, supremo at Go North East, which is as different to Go East as curry is to ice cream, has come up with a solution - the feet seat. On those rear facing seats that are prone to having feet placed on them he has designed a tip up mechanism for the seat, leaving a space for feet to be placed. If someone needs those sears they can be put down and used with no shoe residue on them. Simple but brilliant. Now to tackle the little scrotes who sit length ways on a double seat, with their knees up and feet on the outside seat. Martijn has kindly sent me some pictures of his new brainchild. Except I'd post them if I could save them, which 3 devices won't let me do, so here is the official publicity! Click here, and I'll ask Martijn to resend the extra pics he sent me.

I did start to worry about losing contact with those friends I've made over the years, but then it dawned on me that the likes of Chris Speed, Andrew, Dave and my mates at Borderbus, Martijn, John Bickerton at Reading Buses, Ross and the incredible team at Ensign, not to mention my old(er) school percussion partner down at Stagecoach Southeast (remember Tom Sawyer) are going to be just the people who'll be giving me the positive material to report, so no worries there!

Next post when I have something nice to report unless someone relights my spark!