Thursday 23 March 2017

A Truly Open Goal

Let me take you back to December 2009 - heck was it that long ago - when Southeastern introduced domestic services on HS1. You see they had a problem, and that was how to get bums on seats. Duty bound to charge a premium for the High Speed services they somehow had to get passengers off the existing services, and paying more to go to a station, St Pancras, that for a lot wasn't nearly as convenient.

For those passengers using Strood, Gravesend or Ebbsfleet the new service was a lot quicker. For everyone else it wasn't, so Southeastern came up with a cunning plan. To make their High Speed services seem, well, speedier, they slowed down their existing services, adding stops to make journey times longer thus making the High Speed trains seem more appetising. So those passengers from the Medway Towns saw trains stopping at Meopham and Longfield, which was quite surprising as they are in the Ebbsfleet catchment area, those from Ashford stopping at places like Headcorn and Staplehurst. The fast service from Cannon St to Ashford via Maidstone East was cancelled altogether, and the semi fast service from Victoria now stopped at all stations from Maidstone to Ashford.

Now Southeastern were able to do this because they were providing a faster, albeit more expensive alternative. Their opinion was if anyone was that worried about an extra 10 mins on their journey they would pay the extra, and so it turned out. Can't say I completely approved but they couldn't run the risk of domestic HS1 trains running around empty all day.

So we have ascertained that it's just about ok to increase journey times if you have a faster alternative. Let's scurry back to the present and the Bungay to Norwich corridor. Ths week First Eastern Counties have registered a new service on their Grey RAF Blue Charcoal Line which will run between Norwich and Bungay numbered 41/X41, starting May 14th. From what I understand the route will mirror Anglian's X88 between Bungay and Ditchingham, Shelter, then run fast along the maiin road, observing all stops to Poringland and Norwich, not serving Woodton or Brooke. Well at least that's what I thought until I saw the new timetable for the X88/88 which starts 18th April.

You see currently the X88 does almost what it says on the tin. It's faster than the 88. The 88 from Bungay serves Broome, Ditchingham Village, Woodton and Trowse. The X88 after the one stop in Ditchingham goes straight down the main road, just diverting nto Brooke, which is also served by the 88. It is a faster journey to Norwich from Bungay. Until April that is, when for some reason the journey times of the X88 and 88 have been evened out. The X88 is now going to serve Ditchingham Village and Broome, and the 88 will not. Trowse will no longer be served by the 88, having to rely on the increasingly unreliable 87. The X88 will take 47 minutes from Bungay Butter Cross to Norwich as opposed to the 37 minutes currently. On hard seated Scanias I might add. The 88, which currently takes 50 mins, despite no longer stopping at Broome, Ditchingham Village, Arminghall or Trowse will actually take a minute longer at 51 minutes. Yyyess ok. Answers on a postcard please.

So First have stepped in after months of speculation and are going to introduce the new faster, cheaper service, using more comfortable buses. I haven't seen a timetable yet, but First are quoting journey times of 45 mins - I assume that is from the Bungay terminus, not Butter Cross which should be back to the 35 minute mark. If that's the case then First will clean up, especially as a day ticket to include the entire Norwich Network will be only £4.80. A return on Anglian is currently £6.40 or a day ticket also available on Konect is £9.00. Watch those suddenly drop.

First have seen the open goal and timed this to perfection. Give the long suffering Anglian passengers 4 weeks to endure the new timings, if the bus doesn't break down of course as is happening with monotonous regularity right now, then come in like knights on Charcoal horses to rescue them from their misery. There can be only one result with just one proviso, and I urge First to take me seriously on this one. Anglian itself might have made itself a laughing stock over the last couple of disastrous years, but their drivers haven't. The drivers are still popular and friendly in the main and First will have to match that aspect too. Some Norwich drivers are particularly grumpy, and I would personally hand pick the drivers I wanted to operate the X41. Bungay isn't Norwich and people do like familiarity and friendliness. That is something Go Ahead failed to recognise, and if it wasn't for the drivers themselves Anglian would have been dead in the water long ago.

Today Anglian launched a fares promotion on the 61, which is soon to be cut back yet again. A Day Ticket will be £5, which compares favourably with First's £6.50 if it wasn't for a couple of tiny details. From April 18th there will only be one bus an hour between Pleasurewood Hills and Yarmouth, and because of the new routing via Gapton Tesco the journey time will increase by 7 mins. There is also a huge gap in the afternoon between 1544 and 1714, which is the last 61 back to Lowestoft and Kessingland. First's Lowestoft day ticket is £4.50 with 3 buses an hour  on the 99 from Kessingland. There are 4 buses an hour from Lowestoft to Yarmouth, and the £6.50 day ticket is also available to use on the X1/11 or X2/22 to Norwich if you so wish. All of First's services operate on Sundays which the 61 won't. The £5 day ticket is valid on the 61 and oh yes that's it!

When I analysed the demise of the 7 between Yarmouth and Norwich I said if you wanted to complete with an established service you had not only to match it but better it. First will be doing that with the X41 - even more so if they extend it to Halesworth (PLEASE!!!) Anglian do not have the timetable, vehicles, on board facilities or management vision from Head Office backing up local managers to do that. If they were on life support you'd be pleading with the doctors to switch it off.

1 comment:

  1. What's going on with First though? Their local managements seem to have taken something to give them a new lease of life. But rumours seem to abound that Head Office have ordered contingency plans for a PVR cut, of the order of 15% or so???? Have they been drinking too from the same well as Go-Ahead?