Wednesday, 30 September 2015

It's Worse Than That, It's Carnage, Jim!

Lord knows how long they've been up, but instead of announcing the forthcoming cuts to services in their "News" section as Konect did, Anglian have sneeked them very quietly onto the timetable section, with the option to download the new timetables. I did just that and it's worse than I first thought. I'll go through them in numerical order.

7: Norwich - Yarmouth - Lowestoft

This service will run half hourly between Norwich and Lowestoft. There will be a reduction from 30 departures from Norwich on a weekday to 22. Middleton Rd (for Gorleston 6th form college) will no longer be served, instead the 7 will run via First's 1/1A via Avondale Rd to James Paget, where it will then run via Mariner's Compass (on First's 8 route) before resuming the normal route to Hopton. This has added 5 mins to the journey time from Yarmouth to Lowestoft. Onward passengers to Kessingland and Southwold will now have to change at Lowestoft where there is a convenient 17 min wait for the Southwold connection. THERE IS NO LONGER A SUNDAY SERVICE BETWEEN NORWICH AND LOWESTOFT.

60: James Paget Hospital  - Beccles/Bungay 

This service has been withdrawn in its entirety. New service 60J to operate 3 journeys a day between Lowestoft and JPH via Lound and Blundeston.

60H/S: Beccles - Halesworth/Southwold

Although the timetable has been changed the general frequency and number of services has been unchanged.

61: Lowestoft - Kessingland/Southwold

The basic 20 min frequency between Lowestoft and Kessingland remains. However the frequency to Southwold reverts to one an hour, with all journeys operating via Wangford. Kessingland Beach barely gets a service, with only 4 services each way a day. The evening services remain, but Sunday services are slashed, with an hourly service between Lowestoft and Kessingland, but only two hourly to Southwold, wth the last bus from Southwold leaving at 1503, and the last bus from Lowestoft leaving at 1704.

80/81: Diss - Bungay - Beccles - Yarmouth

This one took me by surprise. There is an overall cut in services on this route of around 40%. All services will revert to the former route between Beccles and Bungay via Gillingham and Ditchingham. There will be only 3 fast journeys between Beccles and Yarmouth with the other 3 (yes only 6 in total) operating via the current 81A route via Aldeby and Toft Monks. With the withdrawal of the 60 this means that instead of 22 services a day between Beccles and Bungay there wll now only be 7 - and one of those is at 6am.

82: Beccles Town Service 

A revised route and frequency but 6 services a day

87/88/88A/X88: Southwold - Halesworth - Bungay - Poringland - Norwich

General daytime frequencies unchanged, with a basic half hourly service on the 87, and half hourly service between Norwich and Bungay. There are some peak time changes, however, and students in particular need to beware of those. Most journeys between Norwich and Halesworth are renumbered X88 but I can't for the life of me work out why as they are not any faster, and serve everywhere the current fast 88's do. The popular current X88's which run fast between Bungay and Poringland have been withdrawn and the two 1530 departures from Norwich have been merged into one slow service taking 20 mins longer to get to Halesworth. In fact the X88 will take precisely 1 min longer between Halesworth and Norwich than the current 88. Makes perfect sense and an opportunity missed there I feel.

That is it. All very sad, and not a single note of positivity to report. I think Go-Ahead should change their name because if these cuts, and those at Konect are anything to go by they could well be breaking the Trades Description Act. Huge steps backwards, and my word we need somene to step in and stop the rot.


  1. I understand that the Anglian business model (and that of Konect and Chambers) was predicated on assuming that certain reimbursement levels for OAP passholders would be met, and that funding for tendered services (including de-minimus top-ups) would be available.

    It now seems that, in common with almost all rural counties (and some not so rural counties), transport funding in Norfolk and Suffolk has been slashed (as part of Whitehall's continual cuts in local authority grants). This means that ALL bus companies, and especially those with mainly rural route networks, are suffering hard times, and will inevitably need to cut poorly used journeys.

    Believe you me, no bus company manager likes cutting routes and staff . . . . . we all prefer to actually run buses; that's what our jobs are, and if we don't have any buses. then we don't have a job!!!

    We've seen several rural bus companies close in recent times (the high profile casuality was Western Greyhound, but there have been three in Derbyshire), and the big groups are slowly pulling back from non-City operations (First EC being a very local example).

    I'll say it again . . . . . . from 1985 a bus company has had to be a business like any other, and that means NOT operating at a loss (indeed, if a company cannot service its debts, it is technically insolvent and should cease trading). If the products that a company sells aren't being purchased in sufficient numbers, then the product is wrong and the company needs to try something else.

    Be careful what you wish for . . . . . if local authorities get their hands on bus services, we'll be straight back to the 1970's, with buses serving every house between A and B, journey times elongated to ridiculous levels and buses running empty until taxpayers cry "enough". Both Norfolk and Suffolk have applied for devolved powers to run buses . . . . . at least Suffolk produce timetables; Norfolk produce nothing! Do you really want the County Council to have responsibility for ALL buses in the County?

    Go-Ahead may not be the best, but at least they are trying to maintain a basic network of routes. If insufficient numbers of passengers are travelling, what else should they do other than trim the network to fit?

  2. Andrew Kleissner1 October 2015 at 08:11

    Sure, but don't you all-too-easily enter the vicious spiral of reduced services being even more unattractive for passengers, so driving them away and leading to emptier buses, which are then cut more and more ...

    Most companies would try an entrepreneurial approach to attractive people to buy their products. This may not work with rural buses as you basically have a captive market: students travelling to and from their studies, a few folk commuting to work, OAPs who don't pay and may not be particularly time-constrained, and the poor who can't afford to run a car. In the summer you will have holidaymakers too, in some areas, who may make the deliberate choice of catching a bus. But, by and large, you are not likely to attract people out of their cars unless your service is absolutely fantastic (every five minutes on the most obscure route) or unless Councils impose draconian restrictions or exorbitant parking charges - which is why P&R works. The only way to have good rural bus services is to regard them as just that - "services", paid for from the common purse rather than solely from takings. But, as the comment above says, that doesn't seem to fit in with today's political ethos which believes that the "market" is sovereign.

    1. P&R does not really work. It relies on massive subsidised which are apparently available for P&R services but not normal bus services

  3. Andrew Kleissner1 October 2015 at 08:13

    P.S. My second paragraph should have read, "Most companies would try an entrepreneurial approach to ATTRACT people ..." - whoops1

  4. Quite agree with Andrew, and in an ideal world a bus company would do exactly that (and in many cases has done, and often succeeded . . . . Norfolk Green being an example).

    Government actually recognised that some pump-priming was necessary, and we had, from 2010 to 2012, something called the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, whereby money was made available to kick-start bus service improvements in the expectation that passenger numbers would grow, thereby making the services self-sustaining.
    There were many successes, and my (then) bus company won a grant to extend a service to a nearby town on Saturdays, and to run a service in the evenings and on Sundays. The daytime service is still there, as is the Sunday shopping service (just), but the evening service never took off. In spite of howls of protest from the two regular and two occasional users, running 4 trips with an average of 2 passengers each trip just isn't sustainable.

    My point is that, after the end of the LSTF grant, many companies undertook to persevere with the services, even though passenger numbers weren't really there, in the interests of maintaining a network and (whisper it soft) cross-subsidising such trips from the well-patronised trips. Some discreet top-up funding from Counties helped, as did OAP reimbursement levels being maintained.

    What's happening now is that such top-up funding has gone, OAP pass funding from Whitehall is not ring-fenced, but being used for supporting tendered routes (and being cut back each and every year), and BSOG is a shadow of what it should be, and unlikely to survive beyond April 2016. Frankly, bus services now survive on what comes in through the farebox (and from OAP funding, such as it is), with other income being regarded as the "jam" on the toast.

    Dorset CC undertook an exercise in 2012, whereby they would only subsidise a bus journey if it carried at least 10 passengers per hour . . . . anything less wasn't in the public interest. I believed that, on a commercial bus service, we needed to carry (on the average) 20 passengers per hour across a day; any less and the service needed some form of surgery . . . . . . maybe just cutting out a very underused trip at the end of the day would actually save an extra driver being employed (if the working day was just too long).

    I do not want rural bus services to die, and I too believe that they should be supported from local taxes. However, most people don't agree, and there's no prospect of any changes until 2020. We are where we are, and it's not a nice place to be!

    My prediction? In five years, bus services (outside the conurbations) will have settled to:
    (a) large towns having a substantial network that is broadly commercial in scope, because councils will have recognised that car access MUST be restricted. This will include Park and Ride, which will kill off what remaining substantial rural services there are.
    (b) interurban services (commercially operated) running fast between towns, without diverting off main roads to serve all the lamp-posts in the hope of picking up Mrs Scroggins to go shopping avery Wednesday.
    (c) market day bus services; where the market town is still a sufficiently big draw to enable a school bus operator to risk running once a week (minimal extra cost, so minimal extra income required).
    (d) school bus services, operated at the behest of the school with a large catchment area and with the school bearing the financial risk in the interests of maintaining student numbers.
    And that's about it! Thank Gawd I'll be retired in 2020 . . . . . . !!

  5. This very much highlights the problems of running a bus company these days - the gradual reduction of reimbursement for OAP passes certainly doesn't help! Cannot see this pass being withdrawn for OAPs as it would be a vote loser but the government needs to be seen to support it properly instead of hiding behind the operator's cuts
    It's so easy to bash Go Ahead on the revision of its bus services but it is a business after all and have to operate as such - I am dreading what might come out of the Bus Bill

  6. I agree with much of the above. Just one other mention (from experience elsewhere), I think local communities and their Parish Councils have got to step up to the plate. In the modern world you can't just leave everything to the government and the County Councils on the basis that "statute makes it their responsibility". The money tap is never going to be overflowing again, whoever promises whatever. Parishes/local towns, if there is support in their communities (which is after all what we all care about most) have a precepting power. There's little they can do on their own so they need to get together along a route, supported by passenger groups, and bring together the financial support and the publicity. People might be inclined to use something more if they can see they are paying for it. It's happened elsewhere. It's a little, but as a supermarket used to say before it fell from grace, "Every Little Helps". The operators and the bigger public bodies might then help too. It's even happened at one place I know in this area. What comes out is what we're willing to put in.

  7. I do start to worry Steve that your own rhetoric is taking you dangerously close to the argument that was so prevalent in the 1970s that nothing should ever be changed, lest someone might be affected by it (which is inevitable). And using percentages when it suits (and they sound more dramatic) - an old advocates trick. Something isn't essential just because it is a current state of affairs. Surely the argument should be whether or not the network retained meets the reasonable travelling needs of the people served? Is the network usable and reasonably convenient for their purposes? It's fair to ask if the operator has shown they've considered this, too, but it may be they've allowed things to get too bad already. They have a social responsibility, but it's not overriding and has to be consistent with their financial needs. We don't live in a world where no-one can ever suffer the slightest inconvenience. The Essex Bus Review has attempted to address this question of what we should reasonably expect, and are presently consulting on it. Everyone will ignore that part of the question, I suspect. It's not easy. Much easier to moan afterwards.

    I'm lucky the other way, living in a village served by two buses an hour (actually 2, and a half by another operator, or every other hour) during the day and a two-hourly evening and Sunday service. The day frequency is to be doubled, and I can see why as the buses are filling up. Is it necessary, especially if it means as I suspect that other routes are to be eliminated and cut back? I doubt it. Is the two hourly frequency inadequate? Clearly no, in my view. An hourly Sunday frequency is for a very well used route outside an urban estates service in my experience, or summer in a holiday area. Could we reasonably manage with less than the 30 minute frequency? I think we could. This sort of debate is inevitable, and always has been. We're not children in a sweetshop, gorging ourselves on as much as we can get. The devil is always in the detail.

  8. What a lot of great comments - thank you all so much for contributing.

    Smurf I will NEVER apologise for objecting to change when people, regardless of how few, are affected. I know that's the British way of doing things, but not mine, and maybe if a few more people had stood up and said "hey we're not going to let you do that" rather than shrug and say "oh ok, that's life" in the 1980's after privatisation then a better precedent would have been set.

    The fact is, as I have already stated, that the way rural services are operated and financed HAS to change. The Bus Bill and de-regulation will achieve nothing if Peter is being robbed to pay Paul, and so many safeguards will need to be put in place to make sure the money made from profit making routes subsidses loss making routes and buys new vehicles rather than gets syphoned off for other Council needs.

    Andrew I agree totally with your vicious circle theory - it's one I've been shouting for sometime now and it's true - half the service and you don't automatically double the loadings. you just drive not only current passengers but future passengers away from the industry forever.

    I have to reluctantly accept cuts if, and only if I feel all possible efforts have been made to save the service, and that includes financial efforts. It's all very well having promotions on season or multi trip tickets but it's turn up and pay passengers, especially during off peak hours that need enticing. I have seen no effort by Anglian to tempt more of those passengers on board, and indeed the latest service changes have effectively been a fares increase for those travelling between Kessingland/Pakefield and Yarmouth as they will now have to pay twice instead of getting a through fare. Anglian feel free to correct me if through fares between 7/61 are remaining. If the public don't respond then fair enough, but at least give them a chance to respond. As I said in a previous post - do cuts HAVE to be the first resort?

    I am not simply going to whinge and moan, though. I do have an idea how rural services could be financed and I'm going to put heart and soul into researching and developing the idea. I will also be publishing soon how I would have made the latest cuts from Anglian more bearable given the chance. No one has the right to bleat unless they stand up and are prepared to contribute ideas too. I feel I can do more han just criticise so continue to watch this space, and keep the debate going - it's great!!!