Saturday 12 November 2016

Oh Yes We Are, Oh No You're Not!

Sorry for lack of posts recently - basically nothing has happened. However this could turn into a huge post which I hope will make up for it.

First of all I'm grateful to Phil Kelly for alerting me to a BBC article confirming what we all know, that subsidised bus services have been cut by more than 12% in the past year. The past year? I'm guessing here but I'd say here in East Anglia over the last 6 years they've probably been cut by more like 70%. Even the on demand services brought in to replace subsidised buses have been cut, so we all know it's not good.

So it was interesting to read what the response of the caring souls at the Department of Transport was;

"The Department for Transport said it was working with local transport companies to improve services and boost the use of buses."

Now I flatter myself in that I keep my ear pretty close to the ground and as yet haven't heard a thing about the DofT working with any transport companies. So I contacted one of the many managers I know to ask his opinion of the Department's statement. After a period of consideration and reflection he replied simply


No elaboration needed there. It seems the main problem is due to the wrong kind of passenger. You see holders of Concessionary Passes are having the nerve to use them. This means the operators need paying for conveying these leeches, and the Councils simply can't afford it as the Government won't give them enough money. So why won't the government cough up? My source continued;

"If the Conc scheme was fully funded by central government it would relieve the pressure on county budgets. The difficulty would be protecting/ring fencing that money to subsidise loss-making rural services."

In other words Councils would use the money to repair schools, keep OAP homes open, filling potholes etc. How very dare they. Of course it's totally justifiable and so any money for bus services would have to be ring-fenced, if it was legal to do so. If it was, however, I can already hear the stampede of other pressure groups heading for Westminster with their own begging bowls which undoubtedly have just as much credence as the bus subsidy bowl does.

But we can't carry on as we are. As my source continued;

"The money wouldn't be ring-fenced but the point is well made that the concessionary scheme is woefully underfunded leading to the bizarre situation where people have passes but no service to use them on!"

Tell me about it.

So several mulberry bushes later we reach the same conclusion. Scrap the Concessionary scheme is an option but no Government is going to risk the unpopularity that would ensue. The same would apply if passes were restricted to the County of issue, especially for those on a border. Charging per journey is one option, but I imagine the admin involved - who paid what on what and was it commercial/subsidised etc would be extreme. And so I'm left with what I have been promoting for years now. Charge an annual fee for passes, then holders can use them as and when they wanted - including before 0930 school holidays. That would generate money to subsidise more services, which COULD be ring-fenced, remembering that Councils wouldn't have to pay for journeys made on services they have already paid for, and any fares taken could be ploughed back into the system. More services would encourage more passengers on both subsidised and commercial services. The decline of the last 6 years has GOT to be reversed.

One stat that caught my eye in the article was this. There has been a lot of publicity recently about overcrowding on trains, and the need for more capacity. There are still three times more bus journeys made everyday than train journeys. That stat has since disappeared from the article, which can be read in full here.

There have been a few repaints. First Norwich ex Leeds Volvo B9tl 36193 is now in Red Line livery, completing the rainbow of colours at Norwich. I can feel a dedicated post coming on that subject.

Hedingham Buses tweeted this morning a picture of ex Konect Volvo B7tl Gemini 513, which only a few weeks ago was on loan to Anglian. It has been repainted in Hedingham colours and looks quite good. It is expected to be joined by two more of the batch, allocated to Sible depot.

Ex Konect 513 LB02 YXE
Another repaint to report is that of ex Norwich P&R Trident PN03 UMC. Unfortunately the bus has joined the Company Who Must Not Be Named so can't give more details than that, even if the company sent me a cracking pic of the bus, but on the condition it wasn't published. Thankfully I had already been sent pics by someone else, which shows the repainted President with no identifying company vinyls so here you are. Many thanks to Liv Rayment for permission to use her pics, and I'm hoping to tell you more about Liv in the near future.

Ex Norfolk Norse PN03 UMC        pic (c) Liv Rayment

Nearside view             pic (c) Liv Rayment

If you recall I was intending to catch up with the Orange Optare Metrodecker demonstrator which has recently been on loan to Beestons of Hadleigh. Unfortunately it was only used while I was away but Beestons have told me that it was well received and liked by passengers and drivers alike, and they are hoping to get the Blue demonstrator soon.

Yesterday, if only for 4 stops while in Lowestoft I travelled on one of First Lowestoft's refurbished Volvo B9 Geminis - 37563 - and have to say the extra legroom upstairs was very noticeable. A great idea to remove one set of seats each side and the two tone leather looks much better. Will have to get a longer ride soon.

As you will all know it's Remembrance weekend, and once again Southeastern trains laid on a special train to commemorate the event. A Class 395 Javelin was vinyled up - 395016 this year, and sent to places not normally served by Javelins. This included Brighton, and I'm grateful to Moleman978 on Twitter for allowing me to use his quite extraordinary picture, which shows the Southeastern Javelin next to a Thameslink Class 700 and Southern Class 377 Electrostar. Not a combination you're likely to see again anytime soon.

The Regency Javelin next to Thameslink 700 and Southern 377.       pic (c) Moleman978
Southeastern themselves also Tweeted a couple of pics of the day. The first again at Brighton.

Not sure where this is but could be Ramsgate before departure.

Well done to Southeastern. I know a lot of  money was raised last year. Since the Javelins are able to operate on both AC and DC lines is there any reason they can't be used on more tours? Apart from being Standard Class only of course!

While on the subject or remembering I'm sure our thoughts and prayers go to friends and relatives of the victims of the Croydon Tram tragedy. It was obvious pretty quickly what had caused the tram to tip over, but could take time to ascertain why it was going that fast. The first tram deaths in over half a century. It is impossible to imagine what those involved are going through and I hope they can all find the strength they need to cope.

That's it for this post. It's all very quiet out there right now so more posts as and when. The gas bus specials are scheduled for the Christmas period btw, when it will be even quieter!. Take care all.


  1. Really only a minor point but the tendered Sunday/BH service btw Stowmarket and Ipswich (operated by Galloway) is losing one round trip so will be down to 4 journeys each way. Probably won't affect many people even with christmas coming up.

    1. I don't believe this is tendered. It is operated commercially by Gallowey

    2. You could well be right.its not indicated on timetable I agree but I would be taken aback if it is commercially operated on Sundays/ bank holidays. Apologies if I'm incorrect tho.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. The revised timetable for the 87 (Sundays) shows it as being sponsored by SCC. This starts on Nov 20th as shown on Suffolkonboard.

  2. The shoebeams for the third-rail pick-up can cause loading gauge issues off the DC - most units towed to off-route works (currently Derby and Wolverton) tend to have these removed before leaving the Southern network.

  3. May I please ask why you can't name the company? Seems a bit silly.

    1. I agree. But every time i have mentioned this company I've been asked to take posts down or remove pics etc. I have no idea why they don't want any publicity, you would have thought any publicity for an independent operator would be good but hey ho.

    2. I have named them on my blog - I can't see what the issue is!

    3. Can only assume your excellent blog hasn't caught their eye yet, which is even more mysterious and baffling!

    4. Are you sure it is them? I have just emailed them about this and they say they know nothing about telling you not to post. Could just be someone impersonating them.

    5. Yes I'm sure. Who are you anyway? I like to know who is talking about me to others.

  4. Well just perhaps the "new" regime at Westminster might (on the sort of argument that pigs might fly) be more receptive. They've got one less excuse. Seriously has anywhere (in the world) sorted out the problem of rural buses being a bottomless money pit? We don't look to me to be much worse (or better, for that matter) than anywhere else?

    But a question for the friendly bus managers: what about reliability? In my view it's the bigger issue than just money. How do you expect passengers to use services when, often, on urban routes (which is where most customers, and profits to subsidise anything else, are; whether we like it or not) walking is quicker than waiting for the bus? And when they are left standin at the side of the road for longer than they are actually on the bus when, and if, it arrives? No wonder buses seem to be the modern British Leyland and going the same way. Perhaps they deserve to, if that's the way they're run. It makes no sense.

    I know congestion is the magic excuse for everything. The point is to manage to cope with and work around the congestion. Long, cross town bus routes maximise the impact of congestion, with staff and buses "in the wrong" place more often than not. And more buses, increase costs (and congestion) often for no more income. When you have to wait half or up to an hour it's no consolation whether the timetable says every quarter hour or every ten minutes. The impact on the passenger is the same. In my experience people will (even want) use the buses, if only the buses didn't seemingly do everything in their power to put them off. Some places elsewhere in the country seem to manage it, why aren't bus managers ever allowed to learn outside their own local "circle"? Are they kept in a company prison or something, where they're not allowed out, or to talk to anyone? And whilst we always focus on the deprived elderly, there are many young people who with ridiculously spiralling insurance costs can't afford to drive. Don't they matter? They are the workers generating the income to pay our pensions, we shouldn't forget.

    I made a joke last year. Perhaps Google should give up on Google cars, and work on Google self-driving buses. Like the Japs did with BL. They couldn't be any worse. Perhaps it wasn't a joke after all. And they'd know how to use the technology to let us know what is going on. Half the problem is communication, as ever when the humans have anything to do with it.

    Too many excuses. It is the same story everywhere. It's too easy to hold out the begging bowl. God, as my dad used to say, helps those who help themselves. Maybe the same goes for the taxpayer.

    1. You may have self driving buses.How do they help disabled or blind passengers.

  5. Don't know much about the Croydon Tram incident but I certainly echo your sentiments. Perhaps interesting that a couple of incidents (fortunately only minor injuries if any) on the localish Cambs Busway where buses have (mostly) tried to enter the guided section too quickly. I read one investigation report; apparently the driver couldn't explain it either, although according to investigators there was no fault with the bus. I suppose all us drivers should learn, and never forget, that it's too easy to become distracted. Whatever the rules say, which was the Stagecoach defence.

  6. OK, just returned from walking the dog (or being off with the fairies, if you prefer). Fresh air is exercise for the brain. I'm going to defend the Department of Transport. Perhaps.

    Just for a moment, let your imagination fly. Look to the future, rather than the past. Technology is the growth area in traffic and road management. Internationally. Britain can't ignore it, and with Brexit can't afford to. We have to earn our way, somehow. We're not going to reinvent industrial Britain. As Churchill recognised even before I was born, apposite for this day, the future world is the world of ideas. A technology self-driven driverless bus, with access to and controlled by all the real time data, with flexible routes, timetables and frequencies to meet customer requirements and linked directly to your mobile phone, or whatever comes along in the future. Perhaps with on-board hosts rather than drivers to help the comfort and convenience of the passengers. Imagine someone to help you on and off the bus when you need it. And none of the idiosyncrasies of the humans, which mean you can never be sure. And perhaps offering other on-board services and the opportunity to earn more money. The bus, re-imagined by Apple.

    Direct information, not the piece of string that is Twitter. A talks to B talks to C, until we get to Z who has fallen asleep and is dreaming of garden gnomes.

    Does it beat the car, especially for the regular journeys we all make? Possibly. Cooped up in a stuffy box, not knowing when you're going to make it, and not knowing what is round the next corner. And milked for your money at every turn, more like a daily obstacle course.

    Perhaps there is just an inkling, Essex have replaced their Park and Ride bus extension with a social services minibus with trained drivers to assist less mobile passengers. For once, meeting passenger needs rather than the needs of the operators.

    Everyone from management, Unions, staff and passengers (as well as the enthusiast lobby) will be against it. Haven't they every bit of progress throughout human history? The law needs changing. About time. What about the vast majority of people for whom our bus networks don't meet their needs. Don't they matter? Lower costs, more passengers mean more buses? What's not to like? For the purists, I know, everything. It goes against all our traditions and what we're used to. Well, just perhaps we have to get used to it.

    Perhaps it'll happen. It's just when. Liek the Japs took over the British car industry, or Uber is doing with the taxi industry. Both fossils.

    So is the choice between embracing the future and making it work for us, or subsidising a museum piece? We've tried the latter, and failed every time. The number of corporate failures, usually with public money thrown in somewhere along the line, is evidence of that. There is money for investment. But not for subsidies. It's like throwing money down the drain. Our politicians might like it, but we won't pay the taxes, and the international institutional investors who are too sensible won't pay for it either. We can tinker with the subsidy regime. It won't make an iota of difference. It hasn't in the past. Buses have been in decline for decades. I don't think post-Brexit Britain has any alternative, and I think the Government thinks the same way.

    The future of the industry is in its own hands. To serve the customer rather than itself. Or rather in the hands of the likes of Google and Apple, perhaps Microsoft if they get their act together. The Google Bus. Bring it on. Maybe it has even better prospects than the Google car. At least, more bang for your buck. Ease congestion rather than make it worse, as so many of our present bus networks do.

    Over to you lot then. Anyone who has read this far has earned my respect, at least, for patience if nothing else!

    1. Returning to the real world just a couple of points. Firstly I don't have a decent mobile signal, like most of East Anglia ergo so called Smart Ticketing is utterly useless if there's no signal to get the blessed thing showing on your phone when the bus turns up. So yet another idea based solely on the more densely populated city folk.

      Will Google Bus serve Halesworth? Cromer? Sudbury? Of course not. Some villages near those towns are still waiting for broadband. So while Londoners and Mancunians are whizsing around in their Google iBuses poor Mrs Coggins still can't get into town for her doctor's appointment.

      I'm rather hoping the billions of pounds Brexit will save us will help restore services, or create new forms, but right now no chance. I'd say devolution is the best option but if that is to work it needs to be properly funded from the off. In the current climate I very much doubt that would happen so the status quo will remain.

      You also speak as though everyone has the option to drive. They don't. Some are forced to rely on public transport. Should those people also be forced to live in big cities in order to receive a service that should be available to all? Orwell was right about equality.

      If the Government is intent on restricting public transport to urban areas only then for Pete's sake come out and say it. Don't lie through your teeth saying you're doing things that you're clearly not. It's an insult to everyone. Be honest and then everyone can plan for the future without having hope gradually eroded like the White Cliffs of Dover.

  7. This won't happen now, next year or even probably in ten years. But if you know what rural East Anglia will be like then I agree you're a better man than l. And my basic point is rural service need increasing subsidy. Where is that subsidy coming from? We don't have money trees. We have to earn money to pay taxes (and pay pensions). Earn money in the urban areas and you can spend it in the rurals, on a traditional service. Or, of course, you can beg from the politicians. After a lifetime experience I know which I'd prefer. But we are all entitled to our preference. Even if you ring fence a paid-for pass will people pay the increasing subsidy and guarantee it'll last for ever with the demands on the public purse? Time will tell. I'm not about destroying rural subsidies but increasing them. We haven't managed it for the last 50 years and I just don't think same old is going to do it. But don't worry. There are too many vested interests for it to ever happen.