It has been a week that has cruelly put life into perspective. Suddenly it didn't matter what loan registrations were, when the latest repaint was being completed, or what loco was on what train. It just didn't matter and I couldn't have cared less. I postponed plans for hoped meetings and remembered what I do is a hobby and no more. Sometimes it's all too easy to forget that, and treat it like life and death. It's not. My heart goes out to those affected by the Manchester murders this week. To call it terrorism gives credence to the imagined justification for it. It wasn't terrorism it was murder. May the victims rest in peace, and their families find peace and strength in the love and support the entire nation has, and will continue to express.
Another rural route is about to be axed. The little known Paul Frost Travel 62 from Woodbridge to Framlingham is going from the end of June. There are rumours it may still operate a couple of days a week but there is no confirmation as yet. It's not for bad service - Nigel the regular driver couldn't be a nicer bloke, and to have a bus service playing ClassicFM is a welcome change from personal iPods blaring Lord knows what out. You can literally time your watch by the service. It has a loyal band of passengers which has clearly not proved enough. So what has been the route's downfall? Quite simply the route itself.
It was not designed for major use so no surprise it hasn't been majorly used. Where exactly was it linking Framlingham to and why? 3 hours in Woodbridge isn't easy to fill. It won't ever attract custom from Wickham Market with only 3 journeys a day. So it has served its extremely limited market to the best of its ability.
I have advocated for years now a bus service linking Wickham Market and Framingham to Campsea Ashe Station. If you live in Framlingham, which is expanding at quite a rate there is not a bus to any station anywhere except the Wednesday 62 to Saxmundham, which only gives you a couple of hours anyway so pointless for the station. And is being axed. Why not? If you live in Wickham Market there is no bus to your nearest station, you have to go to Melton ( a walk from bus) or Woodbridge then double back if you're heading towards Lowestoft unless you go to Saxmundham but of course the buses don't connect with the trains and the timetable I discussed with First to alter that was never implemented. It's hardly going to encourage passenger growth is it.
It's not even confined to the sticks either - there are no buses to Great Yarmouth station either can you believe. Want to catch a train if you live in Gorleston? Well you can go to Yarmouth Police Station and walk, or go to Lowestoft, and walk again unless your house is on Anglian's 61 that week! Surely that's not right. I thought the entire concept of "public transport" was the conveyance of passengers easily and conveniently from A - B in return for a fare. That concept seems to have gone out of the window when you see company Tweets like this one I saw today from an operator whose identity I shall keep secret.
"Great to catch up with X & Y to discuss further alignment of local transport to economic development"
What??????? How is that going to help Mrs Smith do the shopping or get to the station, or the kids to get back from the cinema without relying on their parents. The basics of public transport have been entirely forgotten, and if the future for bus services outside major towns and cities has any future then basics have to be resurrected with some tinkering, and that got me thinking.
Now I imagine when most of the great ideas of the world were first proposed they were met with incredulity and ridicule - let's put a man on the moon, let's build a passenger plane that goes twice the speed of sound, let's put dill pickle in a burger, let's put giant windmills 20 miles out to sea to generate electricity - so I'm not expecting universal cheering and acceptance of this idea, but it just might save rural bus services, increase public transport usage, and just for once show someone was serious about generating it. The idea is this;
As part of future rail franchises make compulsory bus links to stations from a 10 mile radius a condition, to connect with first and last trains. Give people a reason to use public transport, rather than reasons not to. Obviously those buses would be tendered out by the Train Operating Company, but let's face it - who are the major TOC's in the country? Oh yes First, Stagecoach, Arriva and Go Ahead. So instead of Councils tenderng the bus services it woud be the TOC as part of their franchise. Then my elderly friend in Wickham Market can keep her alarm in her sheltered flat, which is being taken away as the Council are no longer funding it. (Yes Smurf I know!) There has been a precedent to this - London Transport.
I asked a very knowledgeable contact of mine who has worked in the transport industry in London all his life if he could think of a single station served by either tube or train that didn't also have a bus serving the station. He couldn't. Not one. He said there must be but he couldn't think of any. That's because London Transport were an interested party in both modes, and realised that both had to link together if they were to be really attractive. Combined tickets were available and the rest is history.
Now obviously I'm not suggesting that Framlingham gets a London Transport type service to Campsea Ashe station. But what's the point in getting the train into town for a night out if you have to drive to and from the station. Defeats the object of the exercise. I bet anything that if TOC's were responsible for local bus services they would make darn sure everything linked up together - timetables, ticketing, frequencies etc to get those bums on seats. Places like Beccles, Thorpe-le-Soken, and Sheringham would have buses connecting with last trains, and authorities with real teeth, unlike the Traffic Commissioners who only seem to hit the small guys, and the Rail Regulator - who as far as I've seen has done diddly squat over the various industrial disputes, could fine and withdraw franchises if necessary.
That is the basic idea. It couldn't be achieved overnight, but then nor was putting Neil Armstrong on the moon. It would take time to take off and get the public enthusiastic so initial losses must be expected. It would require investment, but that would pay for itself with the extra revenue generated. Never mind "further alignment of local transport to economic development", put buses where new houses are built, remember who public transport is for, who uses public transport, and the basic reason public transport was created in the first place.