Wednesday 14 May 2014

Ipswich Special Part Two - The Future

This is the second of today's posts after my visit to Ipswich which included a meeting with Depot Engineering Manager, Barry Spurling, and the first pics of newly refurbished 69005 in service. See below for Part One.

I simply don't know where to begin, as the plans and vision for First Ipswich knocked me for six. It will be impossible to go into too much detail, but these are the main points I was told this morning. I must emphasise that some of these are still in the formative stage, in the melting pot so to speak so are subject to change. However, I think it important to show the positivity and forward thinking taking place within First, especially as I have been a pretty strong critic over the last few months.

1. The refurbishment of the Ipswich fleet will take place at a rate of 4 vehicles a week at First Yorkshire's Rotherham depot. Two First Yorkshire Volvo B10's will be coming down on loan to cover. When the B7 deckers are refurbished First Yorkshire will send down 2 of their B7's to cover. The Ipswich B7tl's - rated by the engineers at Rotherham who were down yesterday as the best B7's in the country for their age - will be the only vehicles younger than an 05 reg to remain at Ipswich. Vehicles to be painted into a unique livery for Ipswich, which will also have its own branding and name, still to be finalised.

2. 69532 and 69533 will be transferred to Clacton. the reason being as they have only just been refurbished it would seem pointless to refurbish them again. All Scanias to be scrapped/transferred out of Ipswich, and there is talk of E200's from Clacton replacing them as they don't have the capacity Clacton requires. 69006/11 planned to transfer from Norwich and rejoin their sisters at Ipswich but if they do will transfer via Rotherhan and will arrive at Ipswich already refurbished and painted

3. Routes 53 and 66 to have route branding again - 3 vehicles for route 53. I suggest they may be E200's which are far better suited to town work than long distance rural routes. One vehicle to be painted into an Ipswich heritage livery - final decision still to be made but 4 liveries being discussed including Eastern Counties, NBC Red, and Superoute.

4. This really is still in the planning stage but First want to expand their routes again to link up with other First networks, as Ipswich is an island so to speak, not connecting to any other First Network.This could see services to Colchester, Diss/Noriwch and even dare I say it Lowestoft restored. There is also talk of restoring routes to areas abandoned in recent years.

5. £480,000 to be spent by owners of land occupied by Ipswich depot (not First) to increase capacity to 80 vehicles - currently the Ipswich fleet is 47 vehicles, and enable deckers of any height due to low roof in fuel bay being removed.

All this will mean that Ipswich will have in 4 months undoubtedly the best fleet within First group in the East of England. I have pleaded in recent months for innovation and forward thinking and today I heard it. I think a great deal of credit goes to Chris Speed. Chris, we have yet to meet but I think we should put that right. I think the ideas and plans for the future add up to not just improvements but a revolution and in these days of cutbacks and disappearing services it is truly a breath of fresh air.

Please remember that a lot of the above is subject to change and alteration and still to be finalised. Many thanks to Barry Spurling for being so forthcoming and welcoming. You will soon have a fleet to be proud of - how about 33423 as the cherry on top when depot mprovements have been completed - God I'd like a pic of her at Wickham Market! It has been a real pleasure to write a positve and exciting post about First. I have a feeling it will be the first of many of the coming months, and that makes me a very happy blogger.

Ex P&R Volvo B7rle 69433 AU58 FFW unusually on the 66 to Martlesham


  1. I've watched the decline of FEC in Suffolk over 30 years. There have been false starts before, in the 1980s and late 1990s. The vision is good. They have the reach, And First Essex, with whom they share a Commercial Director have clung on to much of their old Eastern National network whilst Eastern Counties abandoned theirs. What makes me sceptical? Their cost base: they don't seem to win tenders do they? And the passengers. Sadly my experience is that the locals outside the towns "don't do" buses - even the Green Travel initiatives like a blaze of publicity and free season tickets used as part of section 106 agreements don't attract. If they don't, what will? And that's what caused previous initiatives to flounder. Unlike you Steve I've seen little lack of enthusiasm to extend both the network and hours of buses to "see if" there is demand, and for extended periods, but it's always failed. But I think the rhetoric at national level on "poised for growth" which accompanied the regional split, is genuine. So it's up to us. On my hobby horse, I actually trust the commercial operators more than any amount of County Council or Transport Commissioner activity. They just seem to be a millstone around the neck of initiative.

  2. I agree with you, but I just get the impression that the management within First are really up for this, No one is more cynical than me, which I'm sure has come across on occasions, and still remains on other projects/aspects, but I think Chris Speed needs to be given a chance here. If it goes belly up well then maybe different conclusions will be reached, but I would love to see this succeed. The key will be in the marketing, and taking the product to the people, and not expecting to people to come to the product. Anglian did that with the 164, and we know how that turned out.

  3. I certainly wish it well. East Anglia is going to grow, big time. And I think the national picture is going to be dominant operators in each county area, It's common sense. There isn't one in Suffolk. First have as good a chance as any, and better than the rest, possibly. And if they don't go for it, then what the heck are they doing in the bus business? Which is a question I've often asked. I'll be a happy bunny if I don't have to do so again. I think it could be key getting local businesses ( a lot of which rely on visitors) on board, as it were. Locally why don't they do more with Snape Maltings/Aldeburgh, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Suffolk?

  4. One of my ideas for the expansion of bus services as well as the re-introduction of evening and Sunday services is for bus companies to get businesses on board to sponsor services. If the government gave those businesses a tax break it could really catch on. Then places like Snape Maltings and Aldeburgh could sponsor extra journeys on the 64/65/521 and offer incentives for visitors to use the buses. Everyone's a winner and why no one does it is anyone's guess.

  5. I suspect business costs and taxes are just too high - an easy target for avaricious Government. It happens in America, which the politicians always want us to copy (but we always seem to copy the bad bits, rather than the good!) Aldeburgh Festival have a new Director coming in the autumn from the BBC, so an opportunity perhaps? I read too that Suffolk is becoming a popular cycling destination for city types: even in Cambs they're trying out a Sunday "cycle bus" with a cycle carrying attachment, sponsored by amongst others the National Trust. That's the sort of cross-function innovation I'd like to consider. Your posts show the bus industry used to be relevant to the "way we lived". They have to latch on to things we care about in today's world. The CTC and "fitness" are a powerful lobby to which even Government sits up and takes notice. So how do you make buses relevant and "add value" to those with the fanatacism,which attracts the money and the attention? That's what I mean by they seem to be "living in the past" and attached to welfare hand-outs, the British disease. How you do it with service buses is more of a challenge, but isn't that what management is for? So who wants the business that buses can bring?

  6. I do hope the link with other Eastern counties depots takes place, I remember the route 89 which ran from Ipswich to Norwich. I travelled on it once, long journey but perhaps an express route might work. Can vaguely recall the link between Lowestoft and Ipswich, but can't recall travelling on it. John

  7. "What makes me sceptical? Their cost base: they don't seem to win tenders do they? And the passengers."

    The first anon has pretty much taken the words out of my mouth with the part I've quoted (except for one part I'll get to). First don't have a lot of money to splash around, that much is plain, so with that in mind I'm fearful of how all this is going to go.

    I don't want to feel that way, I'm old enough to remember the 89 Ipswich to Norwich and the 99 Ipswich to Lowestoft (happy memories of riding/sliding around on a Leyland National with the driver going foot to the floor practically all the way after Kessingland on the latter), the 31 (I think, I have a timetable lying around somewhere) Norwich to Bury St Edmunds and so on. However, I'm also old enough to remember the gay abandon that Norwich to Cromer was abandoned with, as was Norwich to North Walsham, Norwich to Bungay, Norwich to Fakenham, Norwich to Great Yarmouth via Wroxham etc. Obviously, some of the abandonings were understandable - others though... Exhibit A; Norwich to Cromer/Sheringham - when First did it themselves, it was hourly with an extra bus at peak times. Just look at it now. I'm not even going to mention Spalding.

    Overall though, I do wish it well - hopefully it'll be an improvement over years of watching FEC dying on the vine. I say that even though it appears that Yarmouth/Lowestoft aren't being tackled until the 2016 budget it would appear (Ipswich 2014, Norwich 2015, GY/Low 2016? That's how I've interpreted all this, although I could be wrong. If I'm not, then at least it’s a schedule). I just hope they're in this for the long haul as it won't be quick, especially if my dad is anything to go by… additionally, with Peter (Yarmouth) being robbed to pay Paul (Ipswich), Mary (Lowestoft) and Martha (King’s Lynn – 33423 is over there again) I just hope for First’s sake that people in Yarmouth depot’s patch aren't driven into cars before all this has come to completion.

    Anyway, for the one part of the initial sentence I don’t entirely agree with – the passenger part. On the one hand, yes, sometimes you couldn't pay passengers to get on board (Anglian’s 164 has been mentioned, then there’s Anglian’s 146 as well). On the other hand, Norfolk Green don’t seem to have any problems; just look at the Coasthopper, and their Lynn to Spalding service – the latter grown organically from about hourly to every 20 minutes. Konect also seem to be doing well with their 2. Point being, it’s a bit easy to blame the passenger – as Steve says, the key will be in the marketing (and, dare I say it, new/er and/or refurbished vehicles – giving a Renown a coat of paint and calling that an investment wouldn't be the best idea. First in Ipswich are 1:2 in this respect so far). Expecting people to use the bus simply because it’s a bus is not going to work.

  8. By the way, apologies for the essay above - I didn't realise that post had gotten so long. Hope I haven't sent everyone to sleep.

  9. First Anon here, not boring at all. My comment on "the passengers" was tongue in cheek. I've lived in two (possibly three including South Suffolk) areas which post-privatisation developed successful, modern (well, not FEC) and frequent very well-used services. So I'm not convinced ownership is the problem. All declined into near oblivion. It's difficult to see why? I think passengers need to be nurtured, perhaps a whiff that they're not cared about (or being taken advantage of), and they'll desert in droves. So yep beware of fobbing them off with transferring their best vehicles, chopping and changing. Loyalty counts for a lot, and in those stakes First have form. And it isn't good.

  10. I agree with just about everything you say, Tinker, and I like people writing essays on by blog :) One comment I will make is the 164 would have been a screaming success if it had been marketed and timetabled proplerly. It was just really picking oup when Anglian scrapped it. It needed publicising, starting from OCM where people could see it,not hide away at the station only turning up when First's 64 was already loaded, and a terminus other than Saxmundham - Halesworth would have been great to link up with the 88.

    As I will say till I'm blue in the face people need a reason to get the bus these days - far fewer people have to catch a bus as a necessity so companies HAVE to make the bus attractive. I've been on the 505 to Spalding and loved it - Norfolk Green obviously know the secret, though surely it's about time the Coasthoppers were bigger buses - they always seem overcrowded when I see them. I want First to succeed with this venture, I really hope they do,and i still live in hope that as the big companies swallow up the smaller ones we might even see the integrated ticket covering all companies like there is in the South East. THEN you might get more people travelling. A change of operator means prohibitive expense right now, and I wonder who will take the plunge and be the first to partner up and accept each other's day ticket.

  11. I worked for SCC in the late 70s/early1980s when I think they were one of the first transport authorities to abandon the bus network concept, in favour of a patchwork quilt of "demand" services. In advance of the Transport Act 1980. Herts tried to hold on to the network concept, still do in a heavily fragmented industry, and of course they have a marketed network ticket (Interlink). The trouble, as everyone says, is that demand has to be generated/nurtured. It happened with Coastliner (with Council support) and with the X1 (commercially), and some other services. But do First (or did the old EC) really see things from the customer point of view at all? Too many cooks, perhaps. Sometimes I'll grant they get it right, but it looks very formulaic. "Connecting with other depots" sound awfully like a bright idea for the company to impress its bosses. But for the passengers? What does it do for them? Unbelievably, I'm trying to be helpful rather than critical: the devil as always is in the detail.

  12. I'll tell you how it will help the passenger, particularly the fare paying passenger. You'll be able to get from Aldeburgh to Lakeside on one company and one ticket, and in all likelihood a fast, frequent Ipswich - Colchester service which is badly needed. Until a ticket comes around that all companies accept First are the only ones with a chance of making it succeed. You'll be able equally to get from Lakeside to Peterborough on one company. Having to change operators and pay multiple fares puts off customers. Linking First Networks is long overdue, I commend the thinking behind it, and if it happens it will force the other companies to sit up and re-evaluate things.

  13. I can't imagine there are many passengers who use the First Essex network to travel to Lakeside from the major fringes of the network (Harwich, Clacton, Colchester, Maldon, Braintree, Halstead), so who in their right mind would want to travel there by bus from Suffolk/Norfolk/Cambridgeshire, even if the opportunity were there?!

    As for creating inter-depot links which don't currently exist: if the links were going to be successful, they'd exist already in a commercial capacity, even if it were an operator other than First (and with a lower cost base). The fact that these links don't exist doesn't necessarily reflect a lack of demand, but certainly reinforces that there's a lack of commercial or subsidised viability. Take the Colchester-Ipswich link. FEC pulled the plug, First Essex stepped in and then retrenched, Network Colchester tried on a semi-commercial basis and couldn't make it work. The only stability to the Col-Ips corridor has come with Carters' SCC-supported 93/94/96/97 package. In an area where commercial links are few and far between, the only way I can see for FEC to grow it's network (other than to poach pax from other routes) is to have short hop urban routes which appeal to the concessionary population. Interurban routes can only pay if there is a reasonable number of full fare pax.

  14. I'm not saying anyone would actualy want to travel from Lakeside to Peterboroufgh I was merely using it as an example. But yes - you might get some want to go from Colchester to Felixstowe, or Ipwsich to Chelmsford. There is a pretty good urban network as far as i can see which is where firms try to take bites out of each other. If a company is going to try and open up the country again then I'm all for it, and if it is marketed and timetabled correctly so will others. Instead of targeting bus passengers from other companies how about targeting short to medium distance train travellers and offering them a cheaper more local alternative.

  15. Original Anon, again. The only possibility I see, is to try and combine part of a short hop urban route with an inter-urban extension, say a 153 as an extension to some 53 buses to link Ipswich and Colchester. That way you open up new links for existing passengers, and might attract some shoppers and commuters who currently use the car. I still think you'd struggle and people are set in their ways. First Essex do something similar with the 42/542 in Chelmsford, and in a more populous area Uno have done it to alleviate cost pressures on separate routes. But the County boundary seems to be a psychological barrier in so many places. But why anyone would want to link Claydon and Long Stratton for instance, or Lowestoft and Leiston as a commercial route? It's madness. (That's why I thought of the cycle bus in an earlier post as an attempt to tap into a potential demand - but no-one commented, because it was a barmy idea!). The rural rail network already has viability issues, and why disregard the existence of National Express and the coach operators as a convenient, lower cost and viable alternative, anyway? Pre-booking with the internet is not such a hassle.

  16. I can see why the idea of a network is attractive. But First's management is probably more sensible and realises that buses simply cannot compete with the train. I too remember the old 89 and 99 Eastern Counties routes and why anyone in their right mind would want to spend several hours on a relatively uncomfortable bus between Ipswich and Lowestoft, or Ipswich and Norwich, is beyond me. The East Suffolk Line has an hourly frequency these days, and it makes much more sense for First (and others) to be connecting directly with the trains at places like Halesworth, Saxmundham and Wickham Market - making the best use of their resources at key points. Similarly, although the bus might take people slightly further into the centre of Norwich, I'd rather take the train which takes 45 minutes or less.

    Interurban routes don't work unless there is a strong market, and in East Anglia that doesn't exist. The main centres of population are too far away from each other, and don't have enough of the right demographics (students, for example) that want to travel between the major cities (other than to and from London, Cambridge and Norwich). I'd argue that the X1 service in Norfolk only does so well because the rail links up there are so bad.

    Buses should stick to what they're best at - unless a new product can be developed and marketed properly!