Those of you who have followed the blog from the outset will know that if I am to escape the idyllic setting of my village I am wholly reliant on Suffolk Links (SL), who provide Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) on behalf of Suffolk County Council. For those of you who don't know how it works it is a cross between a bus and a minicab. You ring in advance, book the bus to take you within a defined area, and it will turn up and take you there, for the same price as a bus fare, but also accepts Concessionary Passes. This is good, however there are a few down sides too. Firstly other people have the cheek to use the service, which means that the time you want cannot be guaranteed, and occasionally there won't be time to get you exactly where you want to go, so a plan B, C or even K is needed. Lastly you can only have two live bookings at any one time, which is frustrating if you need to get out more than twice a week. But I couldn't live without it and the positives far outweigh the negatives.
The service runs Mon - Sat 7am - 7pm so evenng and Sunday travel is a no-no, making bus rallies difficult unless you know someone called Tim! It is designed to link areas without a reguar bus service to the bus network, although it is increasingly used to take old ladies to the supermaket or the hairdressers. At this point I need to also mention Dial-a-Ride (DR), which is the other form of demand transport, which is the one for customers with more serious personal needs, who cannot walk to and from bus stops, and should be the one to take old ladies to the hairdressers. More on that later.
On Monday I had the pleasure of being chauffeured around by the Transport Manager of my local SL operator, who had been forced onto the road due to staff sickness. This gave me the perfect opportunity to quiz him about the operational side, snd plans for the future. It wasn't a very optimistic prognosis. Over the next 5 years funding for DRT is going to be cut by 50%. This is not good news. As yet it is unknown how this will impact on services, but it has been suggested that the service will have to operate strictly as per description, and will operate bus stop to bus stop, not door to door as it does now. That's actually fine by me as I mainly use it to connect to the bus network, what is left of it that is, and here is the problem as I see it. You cannot connect to a bus network if there is no bus network left to connect to. With increasing cuts to rural services demand for DRT is increasing itself and let me give you today's little adventure as an example.
I was asked at short notice to play the organ at a funeral near Wickham Market. 6 months ago I could have caught the 196 to Saxmndham, the 64 to Wickham, played for the funeral and made the journey in reverse without a problem. But. In the last 6 months we no longer have a 196 on a Wednesday, and now the 64 is 2 hourly and doesn't connect with anything the journey by service bus is now impossible. So a 15 min call to the amazing girls at Suffolk Links Monday morning ensued and this is how my journey had to be made. Due to over demand on a Wednesday (due to the 196 going a different route) I could only be taken to Framlingham, where I had to wait 35 mins for the PH Travel operated 62 to Wickham Market. Pleased to see 15 passengers on that one. I walked from Wickham to the village I was playing at. Returning the vicar gave me a lift back to Wickham where I caught one of the few remaining 64's to Saxmundham (66984 FYI) where I had another 45 min wait for SL to get me home. Luckily the sun was out so no probs, but if I hadn't known the bus network and times like the back of my hand I couldn't have made the journey. Sometimes being an anorak has its uses.
That is as the service is now, so Lord only knows how tough it's going to be when the cuts start biting. One idea the Transport Manager and I discussed was this. The reason SL take old ladies to the hairdressers and not DR is blatantly obvious. DR, despite being operated by the same people does NOT accept Concessionary Passes, and Suffolk Links does. Thus SL gets over booked and DR buses are twiddling their thumbs. No one seems to know why this is, although it could have something to do with the fact Suffolk Links drivers (saints) are paid whereas DR drivers are volunteers. But surely if DR accepted passes then more passengers could be catered for on SL. If SL is only going to go bus stop to bus stop in the future then this must be considered. Of course if the rural bus network suddenly experiences a revival over the next few years, which is my aim then it will ease the pressure on SL and it will be able to serve the people who need it most, rather than catering for people who used to have a regular bus service but don't now.
I have no idea how the system is in Norfolk and Essex, so if anyone could let me know so a comparison of systems can be made I'll be grateful.
That links me nicely (groan) onto a couple of pleas I received yesterday asking for more coverage of Essex. Guys, nothing would please me more than to cover more of Essex, but it is a HUGE county with an equally HUGE bus network, and it's hard enough keeping up wth Norfolk and Suffolk. A few months ago I appealed for an Essex correspondent to keep me abreast of the Essex scene. I got no replies so I repeat my plea. If anyone from Essex would like to help me publicise the Essex scene and campaign for better rural services there then please get in touch and let me know - I'll be delighted to hear from you!
Now the bonus pics. Firstly today saw the first sightings of First Lowestoft heritage bus 30888 back in service sporting the really eye catching Lowestoft Transport .livery. My thanks go to Bus Badger and Tim Miller for sending in the pics.
|30888 at Norwich Bus Station pic (c) Bus Badger|
|Gleaming in the sun at Beccles pic (c) Tim Miller|
|Anglian 353 fresh out the paintshop today. pic (c) Tie Miller|
Looking forward to a flood of Essex emails!
In the Wymondham area in Norfolk, Flexibus operate a Ring & Ride. They operate to 28 villages around Wymondham and Concessionary passes can be used. It operates Monday to Friday from 09:15 to 14:30 during school term time, and 08:00 to 17:00 during school holidays.ReplyDelete
Who funds this service - very short hours - is it easy to book?Delete
I believe Semmence operate the service. You must call 7 days before you want to travel. Looking into it more I have found it also operates in and around towns like Swaffham, Harling and North Walsham. I've never had to use the service myself.Delete
Sorry me being an idiot, it's funded by Norfolk County Council.Delete
At BACT we operate the 532 on a Wednesday taking in Laxfield Halesworth and the Saints It gets rather full and does take passes. It is said that councils are hoping more rural transport is taken up by community operators to get people moving again in the villages.ReplyDelete
Who funds the service, Tim?Delete
It's a Suffolk contract for a year I believeReplyDelete
A reason you left blogging was because of all of the "nastiness" between blogs - am I correct?ReplyDelete
Why then, perhaps hypocritical, that you point out flaws with other blogs about vinyls and repaints?
I believe it is a type of bullying. It's happened to you, so you are trying to bake other blogs look bad. Please enlighten us as to why you have done this.
I never objected to being corrected if I published false information -- I just got annoyed at those who had told me the wrong information. It wasn't that side of it that made me quit but the constant failure to give credit for information or claiming original information when it had been already published elsewhere. I fail to see how giving out accurate information can be seen as bullying - it happens in all areas of media all the time. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify though!ReplyDelete
Tell me George, as an avid reader, what are your views on DRT, or do you just read to find fault?
I think they are a good idea for the elderly and disabled; however, when there isn't a bus, isn't that what a taxi's for? Obviously they are more expensive, but when I need to get somewhere which isn't on a bus route, this is the only option in norwich unless I want a journey 10 times longer.Delete
In Norwich? George a taxi to the nearest village costs £12 from here, and it's not far (3 miles). The taxi companies know there is precious little competition which is why DRT is such a lifeline to rural communities. How much is a taxi to Norwich from Pulham Market for example! Is there anywhere in Norwich that isn't within 10 mins walk to a bus route?Delete
A 3 mile journey in Norwich costs the same in a taxi.Delete
And I didn't mean get a taxi the whole way (17 miles) I mean get a taxi to the nearest bus stop.Delete
The nearest bus stop me heading for Norwich is a £15 cab fare away - each way I might add. Ipswich is £10 and Lowestoft £20. Without DRT I would be - and many others like me - buggered I think the technical term is!Delete
To be fair, this is what happens when you decide to live in a rural area.Delete
You cannot rely on public service in rural areas (even if you could in the past), and if public service is so essential for you, picking a house somewhere with good links is surely paramount?
Which is precisely why I want to change that situation. Should people keep moving to keep up with the ever increasing cuts to services? Places that had perfectly good links 5 years ago haven't now and that is the main issue here.Delete
Dunno, I think the size and diversity of Essex is a problem for us locals too. I can't say I haven't got the time, but I think we're caught between the web info and local rags which are good with news (well that they want us to hear) and a longstanding universal reticence on behalf of the Essex corporate world to engage in any public dialogue whatsoever. So I certainly feel at a personal level I couldn't add any value to what's easily publicly available anyway. On the other matter I get harangued too. I ignore it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And sometimes they can keep it!! Never underestimate the intelligence of the readers. We can work it out. Don't get sidetracked (except when you want to, of course!).ReplyDelete
Does that mean I can harangue you Smurfy!! I don't underestimate the intelligence of my readers - which is why I won't insult that intelligence by letting them believe false information :DDelete
I know full well trying to get info out of Councils is akin to getting enthusiastic service in a shoe shop so my expectations are realistic.
Of course (don't you already) join in the fun! I wasn't thinking of the, at least, Essex Councils (who are getting really good at telling you what they want you to hear. But in their defence, is there anything else?) I was thinking more of the operators (and everyone else)!Delete
I thought the two chaps who done photos for you were doing the Essex stuff... Was it Darren and Brian? Best of luck finding somebody if notReplyDelete
It was David and Bryan and no that didn't work out. It's not really pics I'm after now but info and personal experience on services, particularly rural. I am far from expert on Essex services so will need a hand if I'm going to adequately cover it. Just wish there were a few more Tollesbury depots dotted around!Delete
I can't comment too much on Essex stuff (don't know enough to be helpful...), but Essex CC have just published their review of supported services in the county (http://www.essexhighways.org/Transport-and-Roads/Getting-Around/Bus/Bus-review.aspx). Some cuts (particularly to once-a-week type routes in the DRT areas), a number of improvements (e.g. Leisure World Colchester is going from being effectively unserved to having buses half-hourly during the day Mon-Sat, together with services in the evening and on Sundays; Little Horkesley gains a bus service - not sure how long since it last had last one, but it may well be decades; extending a service from Mount Bures to Bures to allow connections to/from Chambers' services towards Sudbury - an idea I've often wondered about...; Dedham-Manningtree commuter link). Much of the focus, as far as I can see, seems to be on finding ways to deploy resources more effectively. On the DRT note, passes will be accepted in the same way as on buses for the DRT areas drawn up in the schedule.ReplyDelete
http://www.norfolk.gov.uk/view/NCC088583 Talking of a Flexibus service this is the Ourhire one for Acle and surrounding villagesReplyDelete
Mind you NCC are up to date as usual lol Anglian A47 ??Delete
Brilliant post as always Steve, the Our Hire one in Acle I think is quite well used and connects with the X1 for a few people. Have seen a few people get off when I miss the earlier bus and a few get on in the evening. John D (too lazy to sign in).ReplyDelete
You're going to get bored stiff with this, but you asked for it so . . . an Essex perspective. It might be instructive to compare the fate of the 64/65 with the Essex equivalent (sort of) 31xxx that runs out from Chelmsford via Maldon (downmarket Greater Woodbridge) and almost nowhere to Burnham-on-Crouch (posh Sax-on-Sea) via Southminster (a sort of lesser Wickham Market, I suppose). About a year ago it's frequency was increased from hourly to half hourly daytimes and a new late evening run. It seems to have stuck. By First. How come?ReplyDelete
Well, it has the involvement of Giles Fearnley the MD of UK Bus, who announced it himself. Whether he has any influence with the H.O. bean counters, I have no idea. There was nagging by an active local BUGS group. I suspect though that they key factor was that passenger numbers were somehow starting to increase, possibly only marginally, but the key is that magic word, trends. They need something to latch on to. Not just whinging, which we all turn a deaf ear to. And that is the 64/65 problem. Of course trends are like the weather, a pattern gets set in and it gets stuck and becomes self-fulfilling. How you get out of it, I have no idea. But my message is different, it can be done. Decline of rural services is not inevitable. A message of hope? I have no idea.