Wednesday 22 June 2016

Jim Long & General Round Up

There is only one place to start today, the sudden passing yesterday of Ipswich enthusiast James Long, known as Jim. I didn't know Jim that well, but we met a couple of times at Ipswich depot and got on like a house on fire. Jim was always happy to share information and pictures, and was a slave to detail. Ipswich will be empty without him, not only for his knowledge and enormous picture archive, but from all accounts for the man he was. Our thoughts are with Jim's wife, Eve and his family right now, and I urge you all to read long time friend Grahame Bessey's tribute to Jim on East Norfolk Bus Blog by clicking here. 

I have good news for people living between Bungay and Great Yarmouth. I think. Maybe - it's all a bit confusing right now so here goes. Having won the new tender to operate the 80/81 between Diss and Yarmouth it appears Anglian found something amiss and handed the tender back. So Simonds were awarded the tender, which was to be operated in conjunction with Borderbus. Ok so far? Now since then there have been further developments. Anglian have let it be known they are going to be operating the 81 between Bungay and Yarmouth on a commercial basis - I have even seen the proposed timetable - however have yet to register it on VOSA. This has not impressed Borderbus who yesterday registered the 580 between Bungay and Yarmouth, again on a commercial basis, to commence on August the 15th. In the meantime Norfolk CC have once again issued a tender for the route as the smaller villages still have to be served. I'm told all will be resolved in the next couple of weeks but it's certainly not dull right now!

Now for the latest on Ipswich Park & Ride. Ipswich Buses seem determined to mix the residents of Chantry and P&R passengers from Copdock together on the 13, running 9 buses an hour that won't bunch at all of course. Madness is all I have to say. As for Martlesham I am led to understand the current idea is that the 66 won't touch the P&R site as first thought. Instead the 63/4/5 will serve the site every haf hour, with a "short" service running in between to give a basic 15 min service in the same way Konect are changing Postwick P&R in Norwich to accommodate the 7. Of course by time next January comes all this will have changed again but it's always interesting to see how things develop.

I had a pleasant surprise yesterday en route to Woodbridge. For the first time I saw VA479 on an Ipswich route that wasn't the 66. Wickham market was the place and by luck I had to catch it to Woodbridge so got a couple of decent photo opportunities.

VA479 pulls into Wickham Market Square
VA479 loads up in the sun at Woodbridge
It then became rather a who's who of the Ipswich fleet, as both the excel fronted B7rle's, 69426/8 appeared in quick succession. These fronts still look the business, and whoever came up with the idea should be congratulated, shouldn't we Sam!

69428 at Woodbridge
Followed by 69426
And then to cap it all a very smart Van Hool tri-axle coach unloaded a lot of tourists to amle the delights Woodbridge has to offer. CT63 CCT was new to Chandlers Coaches of Westbury, Wiltshire in 2013.

Chandlers Van Hool CT63 CCT at Woodbridge
 As I expected getting bookings on Suffolk County Council's much vaunted Connecting Communities is a bit of a joke. No one seems to know where their buses go and when. One operator has even stopped accepting Concessionary Passes using a vehicle size loophole, and SCC have apparently approved this. The Government giveth and the Council taketh away. This is typical of how it hss been so far. On Friday I have to get to Lowestoft on what is certainly not a pleasure visit. So not being able to get to Wangford anymore to pick up a bus to Lowestoft I rang up and tried to book to Halesworth. Sorry that's in the restricted zone - we can't take you there. Area 51 I presume. You'll have to go to Darsham and get a train. Ookay so be it, but I was confused as the drivers had told me they were going to Halesworth. So I rang again yesterday to double check. Yes, Halesworth is in the restricted zone. I am aware of that but is it all day Fridays? Oh no you're right we can take you there. Finally! So then I thought I'd really push my luck and book the new Pathfinder bus, operated by Beccles and Bungay Community Transport. "Hi, can you get me from Halesworth to Wrentham please?". "Sorry we only go there on Mondays........" In the name of all that's holy can we have the 62 back please!

And speaking of the 62, part of the route was replaced by the 60H, and Anglian have released the latest well thought out timetable for that route starting in late July. Did I say well thought out, sorry I didn't mean that. I meant another timetable designed to drive people off the route so it can be scrapped once and for all - do they think we are stupid?

When the 62 was scrapped last April and the 60H introduced passengers living in the Dukes drive area were upset as they would no longer have a bus to Beccles, despite many of them using the 62. They had to catch an 88 to Halesworth town centre then get on the 60H. That wasn't too bad as it connected fairly well - the 88 dropped them off at 1045 for the 1050 to Beccles, and returning there was about a 12 min wait to get back to the estate. No more. There is a bus from Halesworth to Beccles at 0933, so before any connection from Dukes Drive, and not another one till 1208, which gets in from Beccles just AFTER the bus back to Dukes Drive. Yet another giant middle finger to loyal passengers who must wonder what they've done to deserve it. Don't be silly - of course the 88 doesn't connect at Bungay for the 80 to Beccles! Oh well there's always Connecting Communities.....


  1. where have Anglian said they will be running the 80/81?

    1. Nothing public yet, Zak, but NCC are aware.

    2. good. I've just been given a right slating by a certain someone for publishing false information and not showing respect to the staff at Anglian...

    3. despite there being no public information that Anglian will continue with the route. As far as I can see, BorderBus have registered the same service. How was I meant to know it's competition rather than a replacement? Especially when the 80/81 hasn't even been mentioned in this latest round of changes! When Anglian make it public, then of course I'll correct myself publically but I shouldn't be publically "told off" by someone thanks to lack of knowledge.

    4. funny how that person hasn't contacted me when I broke the news, yet he's happy to have a go at someone much younger than himself - isn't that bullying?

      It was obvious the 580 was commercial as NCC tender was for 80/81 not 580. Not rocket science. Secondly I had been given authorisation to publish that the tender had been awarded to Simonds after Anglian decided they didn't want it anymore. I know why it was returned but I will not publish the reasons.

      I formally challenge the person who is bullying you to publicly refute anything I have published. I will be delighted to post any statement. My email address is clearly displayed for that reason. I will also apologise and correct anything I have said which turns out to be based on false information. But since Borderbus were going to be operating the tender with Simonds why would they go commercial if it were not for competition?

      As for not showing respect for the staff at Anglian???? Someone needs to take a look in the mirror. I have got so much amunition I could use against Go-Ahead and Anglian up my sleeve the UN would be interested. The only reason I haven't used it is out of respect to the drivers, some of whom have worked their socks off trying to keep Anglian going. That really is a bit rich.

  2. Sad to hear about Jim, although I only knew the name (and his reputation!) We all have to to make sure the knowledge and his kindness doesn't die with him. It's the best respect we can give him.

    There are a load of egos (hurt and otherwise)in the business. We all get it wrong, sometimes. Correct it, and move on. No harm done. But it seems the hardest thing in the world for the companies to accept. "Not for turning", well you'll get nowhere and cause a lot of damage in the process. If the kiddie management want to throw their toys out of the pram, then it's time there was an adult in the room. There we are: passenger feedback for them. We don't want prats.

    Sorry to be glum, but I've concluded there is a lot of incompetence in this business. (Actually it's quite funny if you're not involved - as we all are). Suffolk Connections doesn't [connect with anything useful]. First Essex had a big idea (or one person did): London style services, without either the resources or the support. Rssult: chaos. Whoever would have thought it? Not those responsible, obviously. Anglian: hunting for the metropolis in the East Anglian countryside. Admit you're wrong: never. When in a hole, keep digging. Really, you couldn't make it up. Replicated around the country. Though I have to say, when it comes to screwing it up, East Anglia must take some beating.

  3. Smurf you are dead right I think they sell more JCB's in EA than anywhere. The information that was posted was as correct as can be at that point and what has happened since was not in the script. Strange in all this NCC have not said much and the rumour mill is grinding (I get lots of texts). We also have the debacle of Anglian cutting the 82 which people can't understand is a commercial decision but just bang on about how bad it is. I feel the actual people that can run the industry are few and far between now we know and respect those we know but when it's all bottom line on a sheet theres no heart in my mind. I never met Jim but had a few conversations with him and always wanted to get to Ipswich and have a cuppa with him because you learn so much from other enthusiasts like him.RIP Sir James save us a seat on the bus we'll bring the sandwiches

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  5. Just back to P&R. Will First I wonder run any "short" service "fast" stopping perhaps just at the hospital to give the option that Ipswich buses don't coming from London Road? (I assume it wouldn't be an option on the other routes because of the existing passengers). Mind you, along Woodbridge Road, "fast" is a relative term anyway.

  6. Anyone know why the local Go Ahead Bus Companies are all late with their accounts? I wonder how long Go Ahead will stick with them as only one has ever made a profit

    1. Could I suppose be just a technical filing issue.

      But on the bigger picture I suspect that a contraction in economic activity, and the inevitable rise in fuel prices (despite hedging) is going to have a disproportionate effect on all the bus operators. Watch out, perhaps, Ipswich buses, pretty well on their own; Go-Ahead (who, I believe are more exposed to the European market with less of an international spread than Stagecoach, and First who have their own problems). First have already told us they expect the whole of their necessary margins improvement to come from efficiencies (read reductions in depots and services).

      Locally I'd have thought Anglian must be even more at risk; First's on-a-limb Clacton coastal strip ops have been talked about for years (and H&D must hope so) though they've just increased them (again) for the summer, that's optimism for you. But who knows perhaps we will develop a new post-Brexit fashion for a pilgrimage to Clacton; First must hope so. And as everyone knows I can never work out how Chelmsford makes ends meet even with Council support, but they seem strangely addicted to the place!

      Anything to be done with rationalising depots in Norwich as with rates and utility charges they must be mightily expensive? Otherwise the rest of FEC and FEx look to me generally in much better shape (and hopefully secure) than they did a decade ago?

      As for network growth anywhere though, I suspect we've just put that firmly off the agenda, and perhaps made cuts across the board even more likely (even in Council support such as it already is). But we knew that didn't we! Where's the next consolidation (or collapse)? Watch this space. East Anglia has suffered so much that we may be less of a problem than elsewhere (hopefully). But they can't afford to upset the punters (especially the precious few paying ones).

    2. Here's a provocative question. I know the competition Commission are addicted to it, but outside the Metropolitan Areas, can we afford two or more competing operators within local areas in the Shires? Or does it just make buses less viable (with the effect of reducing the spread of routes) for everyone? Sometimes to me we seem to pursue policies that cut our nose to spite our face.

  7. If the new Regional council for Suffolk & Norfolk comes about and it elects a mayor then they can take over the operation of the bus network. That will make some savings by having a more efficient network but more money is really needed and council do not have it, Fares are already high for fare paying passengers so increasing fares is not an option. Two sources of increased revenues that I can see are to make a small annual Charge for the concessionary passes. I would link the charge to their tax band, If we say the notional value of the pass is £200 a year a non tax payer would still get the pass for free, A 20% tax payer would pay £40 a year a 40% taxpayer £80 a year.

    Another source of additional revenue could be to change the current Free travel system for school children. There is not much logic to the current system which can be unfair and is very expensive for councils. I would suggest a small change so that primary school children living more than 2 miles from a school & secondary school living more than 3 miles from a school no longer get totally free travel They would have to pay the fare for the first two or three miles with the councils only covering any actual excess cost over that distance

    1. If we have to do something about passes (and I'm coming round to the view that we do) then howz about keep passes free, but make them a permit for a child fare (capped for the kids) which I think they used to be. That way the money goes straight to the operators. If they make too much profit, then someone else can come along and compete for the business at a lower price. That's the way it's supposed to work isn't it? And convert the existing Treasury subsidy into LA grant for supported services which can't be run commercially on this basis. Simpler and we get more and a wider geographic spread of buses out of it, I hope. OK some people might be upset, but who else can they vote for? We're going to get upset, I suspect, anyway.

      All this moving money around the park is more work, and more of our cash, for the bureaucrats; like franchising. Do they really need to take yet more of it for their ballooning God-forsaken "administration"? Haven't we learned anything from the Connecting Communities fiasco?

    2. Sorry Smurf but I couldn't agree less with you. Concessionary passes were introduced to encourage elderly and disabled people to get out more, to reward them for what they have contributed to society throughout their life, and to get bums on bus seats normally empty during the day.

      I have always been in a favour of an annual charge for the passes as long as the money was ring fenced to subsidise rural and loss making routes, which in turn would create jobs and benefit the operators. Are you saying letting operators charge would go towards maintaining services or go towards lining the pockets of directors and shareholders?

      Charging child fares would be counterproductive. Firstly different operators charge different rates - First 50% Go-Ahead 60% and so on. Secondly people would travel less often so in the long run operators could make even less than they do now, which would again put services at risk.

      Having said all that until we have a system that doesn't have operators only wanting to make money and Councils only wanting to save money then the word "service" is rather erroneous.

    3. Sorry, Steve, but I couldn't agree less with you! Bus operators were happy to accept concessionary FREE passes as long as there was some recompense.
      Whilst such recompense was "broadly" around 50% of the average adult fare, then most operators were "broadly" in a "no better or no worse off" situation (which was the original intention of the original legislation back in 2008).
      Unfortunately, the recompense hasn't kept pace with fares inflation (which is driven, don't forget, by operational cost inflation). In most counties nowadays, operators are lucky to get 25% of the average adult fare as recompense. Indeed, in "holiday" counties (Devon etc), operators inflate services in the summer because of the extra OAP's, so more costs and less income!

      For most operators, we'd be happier to return to the halcyon days where the passenger paid at the point of sale (the actual concession can be open to discussion). This would, at the very least, give us control of our revenue stream, instead of waiting until December each year when we're told how little the council can afford and how we should be lucky to get 5/8ths of damn all!!

      And finally, Esther, a bus operator is in business to make a profit . . . that's the definition of a business. Remember that a profit this year drives investment next year. With a double decker now costing well north of £200K to purchase (Euro 6 and all that), that's around £10K pa over a 14 year life . . . if you can't be sure of earning enough to pay for it, then don't buy one . . . simply close the business down.

      Believe it or not, most bus operators actually like what they do, and try hard to deliver the best service they can whilst still making an honest crust!!

    4. Yep, sorry Steve but back to the real world. Interesting, though, to hear from someone on the Operators side of the business. But too, where do we think the money comes from to fund these treats to the "deserving" older people? (Isn't anyone else "deserving", by the way?) Presumably from that accumulated pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, jealously guarded by the evil pixies. As for wicked shareholders, that presumably includes the pension funds that pay our pensions?

    5. Sorry guys I wrote that while watching the footy and didn't put my point across that well. Good to see you didn't get on the defensive though, Greenline!!

      What I meant to say was for the passenger the combination of companies HAVING to make a profit and councils HAVING to make cuts is a fatal combination. I am not for a second criticising companies for making profits, after all that is why anyone is in business. The Councils have had no choice but to make cuts, before you bring out the usual old folks home argument, Smurf, but I think the way cuts to bus services have been implemented has been nothing short of nursery school standard in a lot of cases.

      I have always stated I will fight the corner of the passenger - because I am one - and that's not going to change. Something different needs to happen, something that has never been tried before. I have the idea, several managers within the industry have said it's a great idea - I just need to find the right people to help me make it happen. I'm hoping the second half of this year will see the foundations laid. Watch this space as it could revolutionise the way subsidised transport is funded.

      Note to self: Don't write comments when England are self destructing!

    6. Steve - no need to apologise . . . . good healthy debate occasionally makes one think "what about . . . ?" and this blog is good for that.

      Your general point is well made, though . . . the Transport Act 1985 was always predicated towards councils buying in "socially important" bus journeys as a top-up to commercial operations. It's only recently that the formula has been tested to destruction because of the council budget cuts. Remember too that most NBC companies went through the Market Analysis Project in the early 1980's, so were pretty clued up as to where their passengers travelled and in what numbers.

      A bus operator now, with the advent of ticket machines that store details of every journey, can adjust their network to ensure that lightly-used routes or journeys are trimmed out, and that's good business practice.
      I agree that some passengers will suffer, but regrettably that's what we have to do to survive, and you'd be surprised how many journeys on some routes actually carry very few passengers, but are deemed important in maintaining a network, and therefore continue to run.

      ((It's important to remember that Tesco won't stock "Beans with Anchovies" if no-one buys them. Bus routes are, in many ways, subject to the same strictures . . . no bums on seats . . no demand)).

      Bus companies will frequently trial routes to see if there is sufficient demand there, but must be allowed to withdraw them if there isn't "sufficient" demand. Generally, after 3 months of operation, a canny operator will see that the route is either doomed or not, but most will carry on for another 3 months to see if anything does develop. In the olden days (!) it would then be up to the council to decide if it was worth supporting financially . . . . but that's not an option now.

      Good luck with your idea . . . . as I said earlier, sometimes debate brings forth new concepts and a "light bulb" moment. Developments awaited!

  8. It is fare simpler to have a charge for the Concessionary passes that goes straight to the operators to use to proved bus service and not some council talking shop quango. Charging a child fare would slow buses down. Possibly making the passes available before 9:30 am at a reduced fare say 60% of normal fare may increase revenues a bit as well

    1. And which operators would you give the money to? Would you let them decide which routes to spend it on, or would you decide which routes need funding and then choose the operator that gave most value for money. A bit like what's already happening in fact.

      Which would work perfectly well if the tendering authority had enough money to subsidise the services needed, hence the charge for concessionary passes.

      I do agree that a pass available before 0930 should be available for an extra charge. That used to be the case in Kent, albeit a pass only entitled you to half fare, but it would certainly raise extra revenue and benefit those with longer journeys to make into towns or cities.

    2. Um . . . . there's a bit of a danger there . . . as we've discussed in the past, are councils the best people to plan bus routes? In my County, some surviving routes only run because the local Councillor can point to having a supported bus route; when in fact the passengers have either died off or moved away.

      In many councils now, where the 0930 rule is enforced, bus operators will permit earlier travel for a nominal charge (£1 or similar). That's good sense, and is allowed under the current rules.

      I don't know what the answer is, but it ain't what we've got now!

  9. Looking forward to any ideas!

    Sadly I think we've always had the notion in this country that people always have to be told what to do. And there's too many fingers in the pie (or, perhaps better put, hands in the pot). One size doesn't fit all. Perhaps local solutions, driven by those that know the business, not those (the politicians) that don't. The problems are within our borders.

    So very glad you've got involved Steve. Not before time!!

  10. Without radical change the bus services will dwindle away. If you take East Anglia most are already little more than a skeleton service and they are constantly nibbled away at. Councils are cutting back on fundingPassenger number are falling, fares increasing service levels falling and the local bus companies pretty much not making a profit. I think the local bus services could be facing imminante collapse within a few years. What we have at present is simply not viable. Most of the Local Go Ahead companies are loss making or close to loss making. Ipswich buses is close to loss making

    1. I couldn't agree more, which is why I'm looking way outside the box to see how services could be funded in the future.

  11. I don't think it helps much around here, but for the first time (that I'm aware) Cambs Uni (in its capacity as landowner/developer)is agreeing to long-term funding of the Uni 4 to Addenbrookes/the new biomedical campus and a new west Cambridge bus service to serve new development AND existing villages. So far as I'm aware commercial subsidy has so far been limited to seedbed funding, tightly limited and controlled more in the interests of the lawyers and accountants than the public. (Broomfield Hospital has a funding arrangement, for instance, ditto Beaulieu Park). The problem being that Developers rely on quick in/quick out. The advantage is that they're the ones with deep pockets. They screw us enough!

    I still don't understand how Snape Maltings (for example), an international business, manages to get away with ignoring sustainable transport, when much of its clientele travel up from London, easily done by train. It's supposed to be drawing up a new business plan over the next 12 months. It could help its local communities too e.g. a supported bus to bring concert-goers out from/back to Ipswich could "return" via the villages. The key is the on-going long term FINANCIAL SUPPORT and that the business actively encourages its patrons too, not just bungs a few bob and sits back. It needs continuing effort in promotion and support, like ticket discounts for audiences. I'd eat my hat though if it shows any community responsibility, and all my hats if it extends to public transport. There are quite a few of them (that's my hats, not responsible businesses/developers with any long-term commitment!)

    And what are BIDs for, apart from talking shops? They could take over funding of urban park and ride and evening subsidies (not in Suffolk mind, there aren't any) freeing up Council resources for rural transport.

    The politicians always bang on that they want us to be more like entrepreneurial America rather than morose government-controlled Europe. (More like a description of the UK actually, but let's not go there). Here's their opportunity. If they could ever drag themselves out of the 1950s (never mind 1985). Will the Buses Bill do anything to support this? Nah, it's just more gimmicks. Sorry, but I just feel that financial attitudes are frozen in 1950 (or 1850). Those with the money find excuses to NOT spend it (except on themselves), or to give up ASAP if anyone does manage to pries a bit of it out of their grubby mits.

    If there is public support as Steve has found, then the rest of them need to cough up (hard) too. Short termism is our death-knell.

    1. Congratulations Smurfy - you've managed to get pretty close to my idea while quite cleverly remaining miles away at the same time!

      Trouble with somewhere like Snape Maltings is they are not going to fund a bus service in January when not much s happening. A research park operates 52.7 so they are more likely to want decent transport links. A successful bus service cannot exercise exclusivity. It has to benefit all, then all might want to fund and support it.