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!