Sunday 8 May 2016

The Steve Jinx Continues

When I moved to Wickham Market 8 years ago one of the main boxes ticked was public transport. 2 buses an hour to Ipswich, late evening and Sunday buses which I used, particularly the 2255 from Ipswich at least twice a week as I played for a couple of pool teams, so that late bus 7 nights a week was extremely useful. By time I moved out of Wickham close to 3 years ago 2 buses an hour had become 1. No Sunday and evening buses and the service to Framlingham had all but disappeared. Even the short lived Anglian 164, which was just really picking up was scrapped without a second thought by the new Operations manager. Now of course it's 1 bus every 2 hours in Wickham Market, a mere shadow of what it was,

When I moved here I was actually driving, and drove regularly to Halesworth to connect up with the bus network. I noted the daily local bus and indeed used it quite often, as if you don't use these things you lose them. Or in my case it seems if you use it you lose them anyway. When I could no longer drive I found out about Suffolk Links, and regular readers will know how much I value that service, which is designed to link people with no bus service to the transport network. However, 3 weeks ago our service bus was scrapped, and Suffolk Links is also being radically altered. When Suffolk County Council told me it was "good news" the alarm bells sounded at a deafening volume. When a political statement says "good news" you know it is anything but.

I knew the areas served by Suffolk Links were changing, so I asked to see maps of the new areas. None were forthcoming. Instead I was invited to a public launch day a week before the new services start. 19 miles away in Woodbridge. If everyone who uses Suffolk Links wants to go there it will be impossible to book a minibus as its tough enough to book anyway in that area.. So it would appear the Council were anxious for me not to know about what's going on.

Now I know why. The new areas are based on the district and borough areas of Suffolk, because quite obviously people only want to travel within their own  borough. On top of that some areas have got bigger meaning that 3 buses have been merged into 2. If you live at the extremities of these areas I have some bad news for you - you won't have a Saturday bus anymore and on some other days only a peak hour service. Let me give you an example of how this "good news" will take form.

Until last April if I wanted to go to Lowestoft I would get Suffolk Links Pathfnder into Halesworth, and get on the 62 to Lowestoft. Then the 62 was scrapped. So to get to Lowestoft I then had to get the minibus to Wangford, and get the 61 from there. It's also how I used to link up with the 146. Extremely useful. However I am no longer going to be servcd by the Pathfinder bus, which is being relocated to Bungay. So to get to Wangford I've now got to get the Loes bus to Halesworth. The Loes bus currently doesn't serve Halesworth and is the hardest of the buses I use to book. Quite often I need several alternatives and intimate knowledge of the service bus times is crucial. For example last week I needed to be in Yoxford to catch the 521 to catch the 1356  Leiston. The only time I could be picked up was 1100, and that was to Saxmundham! A round trip to Leiston - 9 miles away - was going to take 6 and a half hours. That was booking 5 days in advance. So you can see it's pretty popular. In fact I was told last week passenger numbers have increased 50% in the last year. That is the one of the 3 buses condensed into 2, and my new bus to Halesworth. If I'm fortunate enough to get a booking on that I'll need to change minibuses at Halesworth to get to Wangford, or get the 88A to Southwold and double back via a 45 min wait at Southwold.

It was even intimated that I might not be allowed to book minibuses to Halesworth as the new system means you get taken to your local "transport hub". It would appear one of these hubs is Darsham Station. So to get to Norwich for example I might get dropped in Darsham. If I'm lucky there might be a 521 to Halesworth, but that only runs every 3 hours, and then I'd have a 40 min wait at Halesworth for the 88. Or I'd have to get the train from Darsham to Halesworth, and the bus to Norwich from there. Oh yes another 40 min wait at Halesworth. And that's just getting there. To put it bluntly it's going to be pointless even trying to book, especially as up to 5 bookings a fortnight in advance are now going to be allowed. A lot of people who rely on these buses are going to be affected, and let's not forget these Links buses only exist because of the savage cuts to rural bus services in the first place.

These changes come into effect on June 13th. If from then on the only posts you see on here are railcam screenshots you'll know why. Oh - and before any smart Alec says I knew what is was like when I moved here I did - and it wasn't like this, just as it wasn't when I moved to Wickham Market. And people wonder why I'm so pro re-regulation. Good news? As Jim Royal would say "Good news my a***".

Speaking of screenshots check out my new Flickr page devoted to the in some cases spectacular railcam screenshots I capture. Well worth a look and a follow as there can be several addition a day. The link is in the side bar


  1. Suffolk's legendary incompetence strikes again. They#re obviously as bad at managing DRT as they are with Park and Ride or the roads (think Travel Ipswich). I'd be tempted to suggest a regional Mayor couldn't do any worse, but it'd just be the same idiots, costing (and cutting) more. (I have sympathy with Cambridge who don't want to be ruined by being thrown in with that lot). At least down in Essex we do have the semblance of an attempt at an integrated transport strategy and not just blind incompetence! "We have something that works, so we've got to wreck it!". Dare one suggest if they didn't waste so much money in the first place? They could sack the PR department for a start. But alas public transport doesn't massage any politicians ego, at least not in the Shires. I have to agree wholeheartedly with the commentator on another forum who said that politics and public services don't mix.

  2. I appreciate your difficulties, and this is one of the problems with DRT services that require pre-booking . . . . if you can book far enough in advance, then all well and good . . . . if you can't, then you may well not travel at all, which means that passenger numbers fall, which means that the offerings are scaled back, and so on until it is possible to say "no-one travels, so we don't need it".
    I'm intrigued by your comment in re re-regulation . . . . that would mean that the incompetent politicians will be able to ruin ALL bus services, not just those that they pay for.
    It would be better (as smurfuk says) for Counties to properly scale back their services to essentials that affect Joe Public . . . . in my County we now have a Senior Digital Marketing Executive; nice chap, but that title implies that there are others junior to him. FFS . . . . why?

    I'll just make a final point . . . . many Counties actually have had proper Public Transport officials in the past, but they've now retired or been offered early retirement (and who wouldn't take it nowadays?!). Now we have "young Turks" straight out of college with a degree in Anglo-Saxon farming methods (any degree will do) with no experience, who don't use buses and (more importantly) are unable to stand up to the politicos who determine policy at a local level, and who have probably NEVER used a bus since they went to school.

    Sometimes I'm glad that I now work in the industry in London . . . love or hate the Mayors, they do at least understand the importance of a good transport network for all.

    1. Now there's irony for you - dead against re-regulation for the Counties but glad to be working in London which is erm regulated! It's the precise London model I would like to see elsewhere, where profit making routes subsidise loss making and rural routes, run by a body such as TfL, who aren't politicians.

    2. Irony? Well, maybe yes . . . . but the big difference is that, in London, buses are well used at super-value fares; and also a huge £700m+ subsidy each year.

      You also talk of cross-subsidisation . . . all well and good, but that rather implies that there must be lots of super-profitable bus routes to pay for the loss-makers. I'm not convinced that there are.

      Finally . . . . believe you me, TfL may not be "elected", but they behave just like most local authorities in all other respects. The "it's only a good idea if we think of it" mentality prevails in London as well.
      With hindsight, the Transport Act 1985 wasn't such a bad model to follow, but it required LTA's to subsidise the poorly used routes, and now they've got no money available these routes are going to the wall.
      Regrettably, there is no "one size fits all" answer . . . I wish there were.

    3. I think the regulation question is almost a red herring: it's about the money. TfL has had money poured into it, anyone think we could replicate that across the country? If we did the Shires would be at the end of the queue.

      All governments throughout the world use cost benefit analysis for expenditure. So what wealth do our journeys generate for the economy? Unlike London's tourists and workers.

      It'll be interesting to see how much the new Mayor can deliver on his promises, the Treasury willing, of course.

      So my apologies but the usual question Steve, where's the money coming from? Do we take if from the NHS, or stop elderly social care or make school part-time? We can jiggle the pennies as discussed above but that's just tinkering. For the record I think we should. But the hard question is what any of us would be prepared to give up. I appreciate you're going to suffer: but more so than a disabled or mentally ill person who can't get any help, someone in chronic pain waiting for an operation, or needing a lifesaving drug? I'd like to see any of us tell them that face to face. And yes, i think that is the state we're in. Nothing to do with the EU, the foreigners, Americans or any other scapegoat. Just our own national parsimony and greed.

    4. I was ready for that question, Smurf, as I fully expected it!! No, my friend, we don't take money from any of those things as Lord knows they are stripped to the bare bones themselves already. What we do is what I've been banging on about for ages - charge £30 a year for Concessionary Passes and ring fence that money BY LAW for subsidising loss making and rural services. I have not spoken to a single pass holder who doesn't agree with me - after all what's the point in having a pass if there's no damn bus to use it on!

      It won't bring back all the routes axed over the last 15 years but it would certainly bring back a few of them, and keep that extra minibus on the road! It would also protect jobs within the industry. Might even be able to gve the operators a bit more to stop them whinging - they still have to grasp the fact that if passes were scrapped those people wouldn't make the same number of journeys they do so their revenue wouldn't increase anyway. A pound a journey for a bum on a seat is better than an empty seat.

      As for the economy - well apart from workers and school kids who gets a bus then doesn't spend money the other end, even if it's just a drink to take on the train? If people can't get anywhere to spend money than they won't spend it.

    5. Just whilst on the subject of money. We had a discussion not long ago about First East making peanuts and much of Go Ahead in the East a loss. So just where are these profits? Perhaps we should arrange a trip with Suffolk Links before they get cut, to take take us to the end of the rainbow to collect the pot of gold from the pixies?

    6. I knew the concessionary fare charge would come up! But as I said above politics and public services don't mix. The PM has ruled out any reduction in pensioner benefits so yes he'll keep the free pass and leave us with no buses to travel on. That's politics. He's not lying but not telling the whole truth either. And we fall for it, every time. I can actually see his point of view: yes we say we'd pay, but bring it in and watch take up drop like a stone; and everyone in his own party and the rest claim "it's the thin end of the wedge" and "we told you so". We really are our own worst enemies.

    7. If bus services were run as a proper network with in an area quite a lot of improvement could be achieved at almost no cost. Other problems with commercial bus services is the use of excessively large buses which tends to make the routers non viable. Most routes only need midi type buses but most end up using large double deckers

      Probably better use could be mad of school buses frequently these do one return journey a day and for the rest of the day are parked up in the garage

      They could also look at Uber technology to run a network of partially flexible bus services which would run along semi fixed routes. They could be booked in almost real time For those without a suitable mobile phone they could be booked by telephone but this would need to be done at least a few hours in advance.

    8. The 196 that ran through here until a few weeks ago was a 14 seater transit minibus, so not oversized. It came over in the morning from Stowmarket, did a school run, the 196 during the day, then the pm school run before going back. It's been scrapped.

    9. Steve - if free passes were scrapped concessionary passengers wouldn't need to make anything like as many journeys as they currently do for the operators to be better off. When free passes came in I was working in an area that didn't change the reimbursement from when the passes were half-fare (and many authorities have over the years cut their reimbursement to levels close to what this was - essentially in the 25-40% of adult fare). The operators saw passenger growth of 10-15% but revenue per passenger fall by something like 60% so it is clear to see that operators lost out in this in a big way (at those rates you can run a Solo or Dart with every seat taken by a concessionary passenger and still lose money on the journey). Concessionary passengers will still travel, not as much as when it was free but probably still more than enough to bring in more revenue (the risk is because they have had free passes for so long the drop off when having to pay is more than the gain when they came in but operators have been pushed to the point they are willing to take that risk). Reimbursement rates in many parts of the country are half what they should be for operators to be 'no better or no worse off' (30-35% actual vs 60-70% ideal) based on economic theory backed up by practice actually matching theory in terms of concessionary passenger growth.

      To put costs in context for a reasonably low-cost operator you would need to be bringing in something like £250-£450 per bus per day to break even (depending on vehicle type, geographical location & length of day) either from passengers directly through the farebox or from the council.

    10. Once you get outside the Mets how do you define a "proper bus network"? It seems to me it's "what I want, wherever I happen to be". And I'm far from convinced that competition law, as interpreted in this country and for public transport (and a lot else), is in the interests of consumers. It has given us multiple operators and for the most part, few buses. Or lots of (sometimes poorly run) buses and little if any choice of operator, if you're lucky. But rules is rules and that is it, is our British way. So the best of luck in putting an efficient low cost network together. A high cost, poor quality network on the other hand - I could point you to a few of those! We could dream of turning East Anglia into London, but we'd need a lot more development first. Is that what we want? It would be music to the Treasury's ears!!

    11. Wouldn't hold your breath for any movement on concessionary passes which needs Government support. I suspect our PM (Party Manager) worries rather less about what the general public think than his active party members, and how many of them do we talk to? After all as Ceasar learnt a long time ago if you're going to get stabbed in the back it's by those closest to you. Nothing much changes!

      Though remind me, how much of our money do Suffolk County Council waste? Just this year will do.

    12. If you think regulation will work think again.They will only care about the big towns and nothing else .London is the capital that why.Let me give you 2 examples.When i lived in Ware i used to use my Arriva all zone ticket to Enfield work.TFL changed it no Arriva colours in London i had to buy an Oyster from Waltham to Enfield.Look at Watford London red buses and Arriva national colours you cant use oyster on local buses.The govt wants to pass blame on councils and blame them when it does not work.In some town where the bus firms are council owned other operators step in.Stagecoach in Wales into Newport Thames travel in Reading .For the big town it will be ok but outside it will be worse .

  3. Yep, local "government" has been properly screwed up over the last 30 years. The best people have escaped. The reason, I suspect, why rural buses were at first expanded, then scrapped, in Suffolk was to take advantage of the bribe of Government cash. Same with a lot of the greenery, never mind the quality, and all the digital this-and-that. It's no way to run a country but it suits the Treasury's more-for-less mentality, and creates a good headline. We all love a competition: X-Factor Government. Here today, gone tomorrow.

    Essex was one of those that scrapped its public transport unit. Merged with highways, but just perchance they then decided that their transport strategy should include buses, looking at mobility rather than just traffic. It might even have been an improvement. Perhaps even taking a cue from London. Half-cocked, nonetheless, as they seem to have contracted out a lot of the planning to the Operators so the results sometimes seem to be more in the interests of the operators than the passengers. But at least we've got passable services. Well for as long as they're prepared to pay for them, and resist at least some of the other fanciful temptations.

  4. Perhaps a sensible way forward for Concessionary passes would be to make them a taxable benefit so if you paid no tax you would still get the pass for free. If a 20% tax payer you would be taxed at 20% as an example lets assumer the annual value of the pass is £200

    0% tax band £0
    20% tax band £40
    40% tax band £80
    45% tax band £90

    The money raised to be used for providing bus service only and not to set up transport quangos or to pay for bus shelters etc

    1. But aren't the huge majority of pass holders pensioners who pay no tax anyway! That leaves the disabled, and I can't help feeling that singling them out for a fee on their bus passes if they work may not be the best political strategy in history. Having said that this Government would love the idea....

    2. Andrew Kleissner10 May 2016 at 20:43

      Steve, many pensioners do pay tax ... after all they are subject to the same tax rates as everyone else. Clearly it all depends on your savings (which at the moment offer very little interest) and your occupational pension. My wife has the basic "old age" pension (not quite at the full rate as she didn't pay enough years of National Insurance) together with her Teacher's Pension ... added together those do give her a taxable liability although it's not enormous. She would be happy to pay something towards her bus fare, especially as our local service was withdrawn due to it mostly being used by pass-holders and thus unviable for the bus company!

    3. OK, I'm going to be provocative. Sorry. There's something I just don't understand. I agree a modest charge for free passes would be appropriate, and I'm willing to accept there's a modestly strong feeling, even amongst users, in favour as long as the money goes towards supporting their bus services.

      We've been here before. There are some people, not many I'll grant, who find a way to pass on their heating allowance to those that need it, when they don't. And (fewer, probably) who pay for a TV Licence rather than accept a free one as their way of supporting the BBC.

      So what actually prevents free pass bus users from paying a bus fare occasionally for services they support rather than using their bus pass, to the aggregate of the payment they think is appropriate? I've even done it in terms of paying for something I didn't have to to show appreciation. It wasn't painful (well, not much). And it's not criminal, either.

      Or have we somehow managed to grow old without growing up, such that mummy and daddy (in the form of the Government) still have to tell us what to do? Make a charge for a buss pass, and the money is in the hands of the Treasury (or maybe the local councils). Perhaps I'm the only one, but I trust myself more than the politicians.

    4. Because even if they did it wouldn't make any difference. Pay a few fares and any profit goes to the operator's share holders. Give it directly to the government/council in advance where the money is ring fenced for bus subsidies, and you have a much better result.

    5. True, but how do you propose to get the Government to legislate accordingly? A touching faith, I'll admit.

      But don't operators (and Councils) use fare and income tests on each route when deciding what services to run? So if we want to preserve or protect a route which may be under threat is it beyond the wit of man (well, the individual passenger) to decide we'll try to help a bit? A drop in the ocean but doesn't every bit help?

    6. There is a repeated view amongst some, especially in the mainstream media when trying to whip up a storm, that profit is somehow a dirty word that shouldn't be allowed and that all profit goes to the shareholders. Both these statements are not true.

      Profit is the reward for taking a risk, for putting your money into a idea/business rather than just sticking it in the bank, profit is the encouragement to try something different. It doesn't always work, if you take a short term view it can better more profitable to take a safe option than take a risk (though long term you are likely to get a better return by taking the risk if it comes off) but what you are doing is still more uncertain on its return than interest from a bank.

      Profit isn't all given to the shareholders, they may take a proportion as a dividend at the end but Profit provides a buffer against future shocks in the business (money is retained in the business's bank accounts for future unexpected costs), funds investment (like new buses) & gives you the money to try new things (you can't introduce a new route if you don't make enough money elsewhere to pay for the costs until the passengers start travelling, it takes months to establish new work and longer to turn to proper profit). Of course in much of the matter we are discussing we aren't talking about profit but reducing losses (it may increase overall profit as 'profit' elsewhere, either operator or council funding, is no longer needed to support something - from a council perspective it can then be used to support something else) but that is the important point from a passengers view, if a route is losing money it is vulnerable to being withdrawn but if it is profitable it is pretty much safe and in between the smaller the amount of support required the easier it is for everyone to justify keeping a service running.

  5. My goodness, haven't we stirred a can of worms here!! All good healthy debate, mind you . . . unlike some blogs which degenerate into slanging matches (and we must avoid that at all costs).

    A couple of points . . . . very often, a double deck bus is used in the off-peak because that same bus will cover a trip at school times that fills up to capacity, and having a smaller bus just for the off-peak trips costs an extra bus in the fleet.
    The same comment has been aired for many decades now, and the sums work out just the same . . . . roundly 50% of the cost of a bus trip is the driver; around 10% is fuel; another 15% or so is maintenance and the balance is everything else. The driver gets paid the same whatever bus they drive, and the fuel saving is around 3 MPG between saloon and decker, so 10% of 3 MPG isn't very much!

    I quite agree . . . . most pensioners will happily pay a nominal charge for their OAP pass (£25 / £40 / whatever), and I'm sure that, if they present proof of being on income support that charge could be waived. Since the local councils issue the pass, such income won't pass anywhere Whitehall, and could be ring-fenced for bus service subsidy locally).

    As far as use of school buses go . . . . they're usually decker or coach, and are often used on service already. There is a problem, however, in that a "private" school contract doesn't need to use accessible buses, so in those cases such buses cannot be used on local services anyway.

    Believe it or not, the industry does try these things out, and generally adopts the best possible solution. And before you comment . . . . any profit earned does two things (1) provides investment for new buses and (2) provides a return on capital invested. We are all running a business, very often with investors, and those investors need a return (even if the owner is also the investor, and is looking for his return on the investment to give him a pension!). Excessive profit is ugly, but a normal profit (say 10% or under) isn't . . . in London our margin is around 4% now!!

  6. The cost of an an unneeded double deck bus though will be costed in to the commercial route and can end up making it non viable

    The cost of leaving school buses sitting idle foe most of the day will be added into the cost of the school contract. The garage costs for a school bus are the same, the cleaning cost the same, maintenance costs pretty much the same , bus depreciation pretty much the same and garage and corporate overheads pretty much the same

    1. The extra cost of running a bigger bus will normally be less than the extra cost of owning a second vehicle and swapping them over, as unless the services start from the depot you need to swap the vehicles over in some way with extra mileage & pay, and where that is the case it will be done. As fuel prices rose and fuel consumption on deckers worsened the calculation got closer but there are many variables and the income coming in for the bigger buses will have an affect (other related work may help such as works & normal peak journeys plus regular special operations, hires or rail replacement for that type of bus helping to cover its ownership costs). You need to be in an area with very low contract prices for double-deckers for the extra income for the contract can't more than compensate for the extra running costs of running that decker for the rest of the day, there are places like that but not many and they tend to be in areas with lots of operators and you will spot it as most of the decker school work is run by 20-30 year old vehicles & part time drivers..

  7. Should the current system for free school transport be changed? Why should someone get free home to school transport just based on an arbitrary distance?

    A simple change would make the system fairer and lower cost with the money saved being invested in improving local bus services

    The revised system in my view should be everyone pays the fare for the first 2 miles(Primary Schools) & first 3 miles for secondary schools) The councils then cover only any extra cost incurred for those that travel over those distances

  8. I think the whole lot of subsidies needs to be looked at. They've grown like topsy. Any attempt to whittle them down and there's a huge hue and cry. I was amazed to discover that another County which lopped £1.2m off its bus subsidies was paying something like £11m on taxi fares and the such like for children the disabled and infirm, and other (probably including themselves!) entitled to "free" transport!! I know it's all a need, but is it the best use of resources?

    Has anyone experience the rumpus that any change to school transport causes? Politicians want to get elected. They don't like a rumpus, so they often do what they can get away with, not what they should.

    Mentioning Essex again, they've been bitten too often and do a huge round of consultations before changing anything. Even the latest on a fare increase. It delays everything and probably changes nothing. But it's a sign of how complex we've made modern life. We've become such a just-manage society that the smallest inconvenience upsets us a lot. Not least it's always the slippery slope . . .

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