Wednesday 18 July 2018

A Saturday Single Trip

As some of you will know I recently had a mishap involving a hairpin bend and a field, which resulted in a requirement for a replacement car, though thankfully no replacement limbs. I wanted a similar car, and found one that caught my eye near Skegness in Lincolnshire. That's some distance from me, and when I saw the train fare I gulped.

A single from Norwich to Boston, where I'd catch the bus from to the small village of Friskney, was £51. Yes £51! So I got my fare splitting head on (btw I recently co-wrote an article on fare splitting for the excellent Dawlish Beach website - to see the article click here), and by splitting the fare at Peterborough got it down to £29. Then I had one of those light bulb moments. If I had to get the bus either side of the train journey why couldn't I get the bus all the way? Turns out I could, so that is what I did.

I started in Halesworth catching the 0631 Konect service 87 to Norwich, which goes via everywhere. 90 mins Halesworth - Norwich isn't going to encourage anyone, as was proved with only 5 passengers, including myself on the entire trip. However, it was one of the last surviving ex Anglian drivers I know, which helped. The Scania Omnilink, now 7 years old was ok and did the job.

Konectbus 454 Scania Omnilink YT11 LVF at Halesworth
Arriving at Norwich on schedule it was time to switch to the XL, formerly X1, to Kings Lynn. My dislike for the E400's on the route is not a secret, and is the main reason I've rather neglected West Norfolk in recent years. Give me one of the old B9's any day. However, needs must, and soon 33813 pulled up on the stop, with a pleasant driver greeting everyone.

First Excel 33813 YX63 YKA at Norwich Bus Station
One of my earliest gripes - ok moans about the E400's were the ridiculous route vinyls blocking the lower part of the top deck windows. So it's very pleasing to report they have finally gone, and it makes the world of difference.

Clear windows make such a difference
But I still don't like them. The driver couldn't have driven it any better, but numerous rattles, and whoever on earth designed that air chill system to give nothing one side and a howling gale the other needs putting in the stocks and pelting with rotten tomatoes! It was a very long hour and fifty minutes to Kings Lynn!

But arrive at Kings Lynn we did, and I transferred onto one of only 2 surviving routes still operated by Stagecoach out of the Norfolk town - the 505 to Spalding. Another E400, but this one had, in my view, far more comfortable seats, didn't rattle, and gave a better ride. Why this is I don't know, but there has to be a reason.

Stagecoach 10010, E400 AE12 CKA at Kings Lynn Bus Station
Two things of note to report on the journey to Spalding. Firstly, it was good to see one of the original Norfolk Green 13 plate E400's operating the route, and secondly, in Long Sutton, arguably the sturdiest bus shelter seats I've ever seen. None of your flimsy narrow plastic balance beams here!

Now they are bus shelter seats!
Arriving at Spalding Bus Station, still on schedule, I had one of those swooning moments. Parked up, obviously in service was an Ollie. Not just an Ollie but a Leyland Ollie! Was that my next bus? Please, please!!!

Fowlers of Spalding Leyland Olympian L276 YEY
Alas the 43 runs to Wisbech, and that wasn't where I was going. I was waiting for the Brylaine Buses B13 to Boston, and I certainly wasn't expecting what rolled in. I can now say I've been on a BMC Falcon, and I have to say I was extremely impressed by the quality of the body - to find a 13yo single decker with next to no rattles is a rare find indeed, so top marks for that. However, that's where the praise ends. The seats are woefully hard and uncomfortable, and the engine was making some alarming noises, including a perpetually screaming belt, not to mention some interesting smells. But it was a bus, and it took me where I wanted to go, and these days that's really all that matters.

Brylaine Buses BMC Falcon BX55 NZU at Spalding Bus Station
Lunch in Boston, which is a strange place with little evidence of town planning, and it was time for my final bus, the Stagecoach East Midlands Interconnect service 57 to Friskney. I had no idea what to expect, but a 14yo East Lancs bodied Volvo B7 wasn't top of my guesses. I have to say I love the livery, comfortable seats but more rattles than a 1930's football crowd! That, however, was overshadowed by the scenery, which I caught on a good day. I'm not sure I'd like to ride that route in mid January with driving ran and a howling northeasterly! Clearly the driver thought the same, as he told me he only drives in the Summer!

Stagecoach 16914 East Lancs Volvo B7tl FX54 AOD at Boston Bus Station
 So precisely 8 hours after leaving Halesworth we pulled up at my stop in Friskney bang on time, and as I stepped off the bus I could see my new car 10 yards away. Every bus ran, on time, and the connections were seamless. I can't fault the journey in anyway. Yes, of course I'm being churlish in criticising some of the buses, but that's just me.

However, it did highlight one of the reasons bus travel is declining. Had I not liked the car I couldn't have got home by bus. Nowhere near, in fact. I know my journey was an extreme example, but it is typical of the way it is outside big towns and cities. You can get there by bus, but not necessarily home unless you leave at silly early times. Take Southwold - the place has been packed in recent weeks, but if you fancy a day trip from Norwich the last Konect service to Norwich leaves at 1658, the last Borderbus service even earlier at 1645. Where is the incentive there if you have to start packing up halfway through the afternoon? This issue really has to be addressed by both operators and local authorities if the downward turn of bus travel is to be reversed. Bus travel is brilliant, it really is, as Saturday proved, but if you can't get back without cutting your day short it's simply shooting itself in the foot.


  1. Andrew Kleissner18 July 2018 at 16:08

    In which case you might like this announcement from CardiffBus, as "a direct result of customer feedback":

    "We’re going to run an extra evening bus (Mondays to Fridays) for residents and visitors to Barry Island – 19:23 from Cardiff, arriving at Barry Island at 20:16; 20:21 from the Island, arriving at Cardiff at 21:15.
    Barry Island has attracted visitors since the 1870’s and the appeal of its golden beaches, cafes and family amusements is stronger than ever. Enjoy a fun day out for all the family at Barry Island this summer, we’ll get you there and back, and from 22nd July even later into the evening!"

    There is a sting in the tail though: "Unfortunately the 18:18 journey from city centre to Barry Island is being withdrawn": there are services at 18.10 and 18.48 however,

  2. I criticise them a lot, but that is where Essex County Council scores. It often subsidises the extension of daytime county services into the late evening, until 11pm-ish. Daytime rural subsidised services often run until around 9pm too, which is enough time to get late commuters home.

    The trouble is that doesn't include compensating for the more recent withdrawal of commercial services on the London fringes . . . where there is even higher demand (example they have a £5pp subsidy limit, and where where the level of subsidy sought is in the range of £1.50) because they've run out of money. The same story for everyone else too. FEx too include the subsidised services in their printed timetables, even when operated by others.

    Now for the moot point, do the passengers do their share of the job by using them? Not enough, but reliability would help. Not good getting stuck when the last (late) bus doesn't run, for whatever reason.

    1. Just thinking about it, I suspect as so often we don't help ourselves. I believe Stagecoach haven't liked contracted services as they don't like being beholden, or put politely all the bureaucracy that goes with it. Similarly the problem for smaller operators is the cost of extending operating hours because of all the bureaucracy that goes with running buses.

      Whatever their (many) problems Essex is "blessed" with a First company that is able to exploit its size to take on these liabilities. Maybe Go-Ahead too. And in the west Arriva and newbie EOS (Swift) seem prepared too.

  3. How many people would be prepared to spend several hours on a bus for a journey that is less than 2 hours by car. A journey that could also leave you stranded if a bus is late or cancelled? As you point out as well you could only do it one way.

    1. Those who haven't got a car, perhaps? Those who don't like driving long distances? Those who like travelling by bus?

    2. Tremendous kudos to Steve though, for being a man that practises what he preaches; even if few of us follow his example.

      The problem is that as the car becomes ubiquitous, those who can't drive are excluded from things the rest of us enjoy. And that is people in all walks of life, but disproportionately the elderly, younger people - who are the future whatever any of us think, and the disabled. And not forgetting increasingly those with medical conditions or disqualified, an increasing risk as regulation inevitably becomes harsher. That could be any of us. No society can tolerate that, not even America the most car-driven country on earth. And on our crowded island, there is even more need. (Think rural East Anglia doesn't suffer congestion: just watch the next six weeks). So buses, like the police, are needed to keep the rest of us honest.

      I don't think there has been any shortage of initiatives to try and support bus use over the last decades. Even, amazingly, in rural Suffolk. The problem is that they have fizzled out. Of course the bureaucrats (as well as the rest of us) are (usually, again, Steve the exception, at least sometimes)incapable of joined-up thinking; or more properly of implementing it in a timely fashion, more often than not due to other bureaucrats. But there is something more too, my guess is that the initiatives have been dreamed up by some bureaucrat in front of a computer. Often well meaning, I'll grant. But user involvement? How close to zero can we get? If something doesn't work for the passenger, it doesn't work. Full stop. How do we know? Wait until it's finished and it's too late. A lesson we should have learned too often.

      Unfortunately, localism has been hijacked by the politicians for their favourite hobby horses too. Why so many parish services are duplicating commercial ones, WHAT?) BUGS and the like? More ex-bureaucrats. GreenLine got his finger on the pulse in the previous thread. We need people who actually know what they are doing, and know what works and what doesn't. Where to find them and how to get them on-board (literally)? I don't know. But we've lost them (and the passengers too - no coincidence, I'm sure) somewhere along the route. Locally we used to have a Users Group, supported by the local management. they did wonders for a local route. The Management have been moved on, and it's fizzled out. Usual story I know. Well not quite thanks to some vocal passengers, but they can't do it all on their own.

      PS I could do a similar journey to Steve's tomorrow. But the temptation to sling the dog and a bucket of water in the car is too much . . . I'm frankly not sure how me, the dog and the bucket of water (in reverse importance, naturally) would fare on the bus (in either sense). Though if they close the M11 again, which seems to be a daily occurrence, it might even be quicker!

    3. In heated agreement with all that, which boils down to what has been said before, ie bus people should run bus companies, managers should get away from their computers and actually ride the buses they manage occasionally, and communities should be involved a whole lot more. Right that's the bus industry sorted - next please!!!

  4. Sorry Steve, but I'm going to be in heated disagreement! The "been there done that" mentality IS the problem, not the solution.

    Let's practice what we preach.

    First Essex do everything we've talked about. Still their services are inefficient (= commercially unprofitable at the last published count and well below par compared to their peers), and ineffective (not just disgruntled passengers but they've been up before the Traffic Commissioner in a PI too). Pretty much as bad as you can get; and appear to suffer a serious deficiency of resources across the board: vehicles, drivers, engineering, and management. Nothing that could not be addressed by an efficient modern network that they have proved themselves incapable of delivering for decades and still, as far as I can see, show no sign of addressing. The most obvious consequence is that their passengers just can't rely on them.

    If management isn't about using resources efficiently and effectively then what the heck is it for?

    Nothing wrong with the passengers who are paying their fair whack (£50m at the last count), that's much more than Eastern Counties got and not far short of Stagecoach East, making allowances for the tourist and commercial honeypot that is Cambridge, which Essex lacks.

    I can't see even any commercial sense for them to continue, apart from that the alternative is too costly, but vacated depot freeholds could surely put a serious dent in that "loss" in the P&L. Maybe that is the plan, after starting with Clacton. If so, good; get on with it. But if not then it's surely about time someone put them (and us) out of their misery.

    We then have an historic opportunity. With everyone else working together, to develop a bus network fit for the Essex of the 21st century, not forever fire fighting whilst we try to resuscitate a corpse from the 1950s. Everyone is in waiting. Patience is running thin.

    1. As I said - bus people should run bus companies, not have one hand tied behind their back by accountants in a remote location - in First Essex' case that being Aberdeen. but where are the initiatives to get people to travel, especially evenings? Where are the deals with local businesses/chambers of commerce? Show your bus ticket get a free starter, first drink free, half price admission etc etc.

      Give people a decent reason to use the bus and they will. There is still way, way too much apathy around assuming people will turn up then wringing of hands when they don't without making an effort.

    2. Come off it Steve, in the evenings First have a guaranteed income from the County Council. They need it. Surely if franchising has a guaranteed benefit, that is it?

    3. If they attracted enough passengers to make it commercially viable that tender money could go towards sponsoring a different route - and don't call me Shirley!

  5. More bad bus news. Independent EOS, who had looked one of the brighter spots in locally underserved areas, are withdrawing their commercial services. They say it's just too hostile an environment competing with the London operators for staff; which in fairness is probably one of First Essex' biggest problems too, even more so when they change established driving rotas, along with the other cited issues of the maintenance costs of an older fleet and the congestion.

    Arriva seem to be taking over, returning where they withdrew commercial services a few years ago, which seems consistent with their recent growth spurt in the area, having modernised their network (hint, perhaps) and refreshed their fleet. Of course they also stayed in London from which First withdrew, which perhaps also helps in these uncertain times, providing a continuing flow of assets to draw on?

    The good news is it probably helps secure the future of Arriva's Harlow depot. Are they ready for expansion in the rest of Essex?

  6. A proposed M25-style high-speed railway could cut journey times between Gatwick and Heathrow airports to just 15 minutes.
    The £10billion HS4Air line would run partly alongside the M25, looping around London and providing the first direct route between the UK’s two busiest airports.

    The line would run for a total of 87 miles between Ashford in Kent and Denham, northwest of London.
    It would provide a link between HS1, which runs between the Channel Tunnel and London, and the planned HS2 rail line, which will run from the capital to major cities in the north.

    1. A naive question, but who wants to travel between Heathrow and Gatwick? I wonder just how many rush hour journeys on GWR are for onward travel to Gatwick?

      Isn't at least part of the present suburban chaos due to providing these "new travel opportunities", Cambridge to Brighton for instance. At one local users meeting only one person had ever met anyone apparently taking advantage of the "new travel opportunity". Rather less than the number of those affected on their existing daily boring commute. But that doesn't generate a "good" headline (even less so now!)

      Back in Essex, the local equivalent: offering (or not more often) 10m frequency, and increasingly convoluted, cross town travel opportunities caught up in every bit of congestion going both ways as they cross the City, as we are now supposed to call it. All the traveling public want (for the most part) is to get home to and from the town centre/station in the middle, reliably. And all the drivers want is a job they have a chance of actually doing; not one that they can't, however hard they try. The passengers would second that. Who knows, they could even reduce the PVR and frequency with a service that could be relied upon; if the bean counters would allow it rather than running empty and delayed buses.

      As the railways are learning the hard way, more does not automatically mean better.

      If we want vouchers then I suppose Govia and Greater Anglia have a good deal going!

    2. Must admit that one takes the biscuit though: coming up with a CrossRail by-pass route before CrossRail has even opened!

  7. Long journeys by bus are ok if you have the time and do not have to pay .

    1. Exactly.

      Tell me Steve

      1) how much quicker would it have been on the train

      2) how much would it have cost by bus if you had to pay?

    2. 1. It would have been no quicker by train. I would have still caught the same bus from Halesworth to Norwich. The 0857 from Norwich to Boston, changing at Grantham would have got me there at 1217. Since the rail station isn't close to the bus station I would still have had lunch in Boston and caught the 1340 57 to Friskney.

      2. Quite simply a lot - I'm guessing around £35, but then you know my arguments for integrated tickets. Having to catch buses at both ends, though, getting the train would have been more expensive than busing it all the way. In all honesty, bearing in mind the lack of an integrated rover ticket, and combination of train and bus fares it would have been cheaper to give someone the petrol money to take me up there, and even you, who goes out of your way to pick arguments with me must concede that is not a good advert for public transport.

  8. Nearly £29 I would expect .

  9. As you'd expect, Steve, I have to disagree with many points raised.

    1) "I started in Halesworth catching the 0631 Konect service 87 to Norwich, which goes via everywhere. 90 mins Halesworth - Norwich isn't going to encourage anyone"

    Goes via everywhere? Surely if Konect only wanted to pick people up in Halesworth and drop them in Norwich, they would make it an express route, cut everywhere else off, and be done in less than an hour? I always thought that you wanted to see small villages served? Your comment then seems pretty hypocritical. Or are you saying they should have a route Halesworth-Norwich direct and then one just connecting the villages? Do you imagine that would be financially viable? I thought you'd have been the first to praise them for how many villages they serve, getting people into Norwich before 8am.

    2) "However, it was one of the last surviving ex Anglian drivers I know, which helped."

    Oh well, obviously all the other driver's are morons then, and would have been rude and ran late.

    3) "My dislike for the E400's on the route is not a secret, and is the main reason I've rather neglected West Norfolk in recent years."

    If you gave this bus to 9/10 people whom use other services, I believe they would prefer this one. If it isn't the cut of routes; the lack of buses; or the time it takes; then it's the type of bus...okay. Nobody said you need to use it, but it's there for you.

    4) "But it was a bus, and it took me where I wanted to go, and these days that's really all that matters."

    That isn't what you said in your quote above. You neglected West Norfolk because of the bus, but now if it takes you where you want to go, that's what matters...

    5) "'I'm not sure I'd like to ride that route in mid January with driving ran and a howling northeasterly! Clearly the driver thought the same, as he told me he only drives in the Summer!"

    Many driver's (usually semi retired) only driver in the summer to cover for the higher level of holiday requests. I doubt he stops driving in October for the fear on wind/ rain! If so, he's in the wrong job!

    (Part 2 in next comment)

  10. PART 2

    6) "However, it did highlight one of the reasons bus travel is declining. Had I not liked the car I couldn't have got home by bus."

    7) It look you 8 hours to get there. 1 hour to decide the car is not for you. 8 hours to get back. Firstly, I doubt very much that anybody would want to travel on service buses for 16 hours in 1 day. Secondly, do you expect service buses to run until 11/ midnight to Halesworth?!

    8) "I know my journey was an extreme example, but it is typical of the way it is outside big towns and cities."

    And why is that? Big cities have later buses, yes. Why? Because there is a higher population and higher demand. I doubt Konect would run a 2am service to Halesworth, so Doreen can get home from playing dominoes down the pub on a Saturday with her free bus pass!

    9) "Take Southwold - the place has been packed in recent weeks, but if you fancy a day trip from Norwich the last Konect service to Norwich leaves at 1658, the last Borderbus service even earlier at 1645. Where is the incentive there if you have to start packing up halfway through the afternoon?"

    85% of bus travel which involves Norwich City Centre, after 4pm, out outbound and not inbound. I'd suggest you look at a beach at mid day, and then again at 5pm. I think you'd find that most people had packed away by then, and would not class that as half way through the afternoon. 5pm is technically the start of evening. Even so, what about when, for 95% of the year, people aren't in Southwold because of the poor weather? Okay, lets get Konect to run a 7pm bus for the 10 days of the year it will be profitable. I suppose the could put a note on the timetable to say "Only runs if temperature is over 25 degrees".

    10) "Bus travel is brilliant, it really is, as Saturday proved, but if you can't get back without cutting your day short it's simply shooting itself in the foot."

    Same point as before. You can't expect to do 16 hours of bus travel in 1 day. Service buses are just that. They are not designed for long distance travel.

    Please tell me Steve what you would have done if the car was really crap/ didn't work?

    1. Firstly would you like to tell us who you are? You have clearly taken time to compile that extensive critique, so please - have the balls to put your name to it!

      To answer your (many) points in order.

      1. If you knew the history of the 88, you woud know that until last September it DID run fast from Halesworth - Norwich via Bungay, only diverting to serve Brooke. The Bungay "short" service served all the villages, which no, I'm not knocking. My point was that 90 minutes to Norwich from Halesworth isn't going to be an incentive for those living there.

      2) You're just being pathetic - it's always nice to see someone you know.

      3)You're right, no one says I have to use them so i don't, if possible. Just like I don't use the Central Line in London, if possible. Or avoid cutting my fingers off while carving the Sunday Roast, but I can if I want to. I just don't want to. My choice, my prerogative, my opinion. What anyone else thinks s up to them, they can write their own blog if they so desire.

      4. I was being wholly consistent. I'd get on anything with wheels and windows if it took me where I wanted to go, but I wouldn't necessarily get on it if I didn't have to be going that way, ie for fun.

      5. Actually I spoke to the driver, who said he was glad he didn't have to drive the route in Winter. Perhaps, as you seem familiar with the route, you can give us all the benefit of your wisdom and explain why this old boy is in the wrong job.

      6.Nothing to answer

      7. Firstly I knew I'd be taking the car, but had I not I'd have got home somehow - getting the train to Ipswich then the last one up the East Suffolk Line would have got me within shouting distance.

      And yes. Believe me if there were late buses to Halesworth at that time I'd be a regular. When I was a kid i WOULD spend up to 16 hours a day riding on buses, as I demonstrated in a post not too long ago when I tried, unsuccessfully, to re-create one of my routes from a boy today.

      8. Young people use buses more than old people, so it would be them using the late buses more than Doreen, and the parents not having to be a taxi service would be delighted!

      9. You've heard of Summer services?

      All answered, so now tell me who you are. By the way, in case you need it pointing out, as you obviously do this is not a newspaper. I don't merely report things in a banal way. I give opinions, I try and create discussion. You are entitled to your opinion, but just because you don't agree with me doesn't make you any more right than I am. At least I'm brave enough to put my name to my opinions, and give people the opportunity to question them, rather than hiding behind anonymity. If you dno't want anyone else to know at least have the decency to email me.

  11. Oh dear. I think we've turned Steve's lightweight jest into a heavyweight debate (again)! I suspect a lift, or a shortish taxi ride and the East Suffolk line would have sorted the "problem" of Steve's return journey out?

    Life has a way of crushing our dreams.In the real world buses have to be viable as well as trying to be reliable. If they aren't they fail, however well-intentioned - see EoS above. Stagecoach have it sorted; they don't do evening services in this region, Cambridge excepted, and even then not the interurbans, with one exception the X5 (see the relation, the X1 too). First and Arriva do a few evening interurbans (kudos). And for evening commercial services that's it. Look elsewhere in rural areas and late buses are very much the exception, not the rule, even in the best tourist hotspots (try Cornwall), the traffic demand is in the daytime. Taxis have cornered the market for local evening transport, and why not; don't they give jobs to more people than buses as well as being more convenient, and increasingly competitive on price? Though I must say when walking the dog later in this hot weather, the roads look pretty much empty around my large village after 7.30pm, and pretty well everyone is at home. So it doesn't look like there is too much going out for the still-running buses to capture. We have more varied home-entertainment as well as longer job-hours.

    If we look amongst the big operators for one that tries Steve's recipe then, strangely, we have one in First Essex. Perhaps hardly surprising then that they struggle with both reliability and viability. You have to sort both out before you can go anywhere. Though I would have to agree that both Stagecoach East and First Essex seem to score equally highly in the passenger and driver hate-stakes. Though one is the (comparatively) rich man and the other the pauper.

    It's still amazing what travel you can do on the buses (if you want to). Disappointingly nothing to report from me on yesterday''s journey. Both buses and roads were behaving as they should. I wasn't.

    Actually, nothing new. But that, of course, is not the point. It's entertainment.

    1. I've realised too that venues (for customers)and employers (for staff) do provide transport (bus/minibus/taxi). I think that counts too. Providing any form of transport is to meet a need, not an end in itself.

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  12. The bus companies too provide late (or early) services where there is any demand: look at the south coast resorts with Stagecoach/First, and the big airports served by First/Arriva. Even though there is often a very small passenger base. So it's not any unwillingness. But where, anywhere in the country, is there an example of small towns with a 24 (or even 12/14+) hour service that isn't airport related or in a met or conurbation? If no-one else can manage it what magic in our local make-up makes us think that our local operators can? Theorise about demand all we can, but there is no evidence. And any of us need that before we spend hard cash. (Even Steve presumably wanted to see the car before he bought it?) Gambling is fine for a hobby but not as a business (unless of course you're running a betting shop or a drug ring to just screw the addicts). But whether you are running a gambling den, a drug ring, or for that matter a bus service or a taxi firm, you need an element of CONSISTENT demand to keep your service running. Even a low demand might suffice, as long as it is consistent. That's what the airports (even Amazon with their dedicated services) provide.

  13. Andrew Kleissner22 July 2018 at 15:58

    Talking of everyone being at home by 7.30 pm, I remember a BBC reporter standing in Ipswich's Butter Market at 6.30 pm on a cold December evening at the time of the terrible murders in 2006. The place was deserted and the reported intoned gravely, "Ipswich is in lockdown, people are staying indoors". "No!" I wanted to shout, "It's always like this except on Thursdays!" Presumably London based, he simply didn't understand the difference between a metropolis and even a largish town.

  14. But surely, in the field of public transport, you have to create consistent supply in order to generate consistent demand? Otherwise how do you know that you are not meeting all the demand that might exist? People aren't exactly in the habit of going on protest marches or organising petitions until new bus journeys are provided, and yet, if all existing commercial services are sufficient for all the demand that actually exists, there would never be any opportunities for new services to be started up.

    I'm sure that the rural trains that run during the evening in Norfolk and Suffolk are not empty on every journey they make. And I'm also sure that just because Ipswich Buttermarket might be deserted on most evenings, it doesn't mean that people aren't busy going to supermarkets, leisure centres and cinemas in other parts of Ipswich during those same evenings.

  15. Andrew Kleissner22 July 2018 at 17:50

    In which case it means being creative, by introducing evening bus services to/from the residential areas (or even from the station, for returning commuters) to those supermarkets rather than only running in and out of town.

  16. Well, Eastern Counties have provided the Excel/X1, extensions to the 99, 40 and I think new Beccles services; FEx the X30/10, 70 and 100 (as well as more recently the new 97/8/9, though we'll have to see how they go) and (as well as Stephensons) adapted town services to accommodate commuter needs and new residential developments; Arriva are extending their network and improving frequencies; and Uno the 653/635/610, as well as Stagecoach recently extending the busway A and improving services to BSE; all just in this area. So I'm not sure the will to innovate is lacking? It's as good a record as I can think of in my lifetime? Even though in many cases it's modified services; but that was always the case; wholly new services have always been rare, simply because the world doesn't change that quickly. There are new or modified services that have failed too. We can't force people on to a bus, however desperate we are. And they won't respond just because we think it's socially necessary. For those cases, it's what Council support is for.

    1. I don't defend bus companies on principle (as should be apparent!) but in my experience when new and evening services have been introduced, and I can think of more than a few examples, they have been given periods of between six months and two years to become viable, before being deemed to fail. Just how long do we think it takes then? And short (presumably) of rounding up the passengers like cowboys with a lasso herding cattle, exactly what promotion do we expect? Deals are fine in theory but who is expected to pay for them? Most venues, even retailers, are struggling. And It's fine when everything is in the town centre, but when venues move out, not least because of costs, where exactly are the limited number of buses supposed to go?

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    4. Just in case anyone thinks I'm wholly negative, there is one thing we can do, and that is to use the land use regulatory regime (town and country planning) more actively, with local political support through Local Plans - a lot of which seem to be in process at the moment; to support local bus services in the name of the sustainability god, which the National Planning Framework at least, plays lip service to.

      Locally, for housing at least, we do; requiring developers to fund new or improved bus services (including evenings and Sundays)and Travel Packs for each new household including free season tickets, timetables etc. All well and good, but it can't last for ever. The great British public have to respond and do something to take responsibility themselves, as ever. Other venues too, should not be immune, perhaps. But two things, one the ever-increasing funding shopping list which new development has to fund: everything from schools, health facilities, roads even busways/railways, and the range of community facilities for which the buyers - even the poorer ones in "social housing" - have to pay the bill; and viability. The Planning system, at the end of the day, has to enable development, not just stop it.

    5. . . . which is why it's all so frustrating when the bus companies don't deliver their side of the bargain: reliable services. Perhaps we should fine them for extreme lateness/cancellations, with the fines not being paid by the passengers but by deductions from the managers' wages??? That should get a response, at least!

    6. Just a couple of points . . . . .

      1. Outside big urban areas, evening bus services seldom carry significant numbers of passengers . . . . that's why bus companies don't run them, and councils are no longer able to finance buses roaming the streets with penny numbers travelling.

      2. Back in the days of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, my then company received funding for (amongst others) extra evening journeys. We had a regular driver on them, and I drove the shift once to see for myself. On a Thursday evening (late night shopping) we'd carry maybe 20 passengers across 6 trips. On other evenings, it was more like 10 passengers across the 6 trips. The LSTF fund was intended to kick-start service improvements, and hope that they became commercially viable. My eagle eye determined that these trips couldn't ever become commercial, but the funding was in place for two years, so for two years they ran. As soon as we could, we withdrew them . . . . we had one complaint and one comment that "she didn't know how we managed to run them for so long!".

      Ultimately it's the old "use it or lose it" that wins!!

      3. Reliability is probably our biggest challenge at present, and we're well aware of it!! There are two ways to manage it:
      (a) pad the timetable with the maximum running time needed, and hope the drivers wait time if the traffic isn't there.
      (b) keep the running time reasonable, and pad out the terminal time so that any delays don't knock onto the next trip.

      (c) (b) could be combined with a "last mile" allowance, so the bus may run late along the route, but will still arrive on time (or maybe a little early) at the terminal.

      Neither are really ideal . . . . I tend to compile timetables based on (b) with a dash of (c) as well, and hope that there are no bus monitors around, 'cos they prefer (a) which upsets passengers when the bus hangs around every mile waiting for time!!

      And yes, congratulations on the apostrophe . . . . it's only us old'uns that know how to use them!!

    7. I have a theory that I'd like to try out on you.

      Padding out the timetable is the obvious, but do you require decent length routes to do it? I've always thought that part of the problem in compact home counties towns, hemmed in by Green Belt (b*** planning again) is that you don't have the distance. Fine, perhaps in Norwich, Cambridge, even perhaps Colchester, where you can get say 20 miles end to end, not so fine in Ipswich or Chelmsford where you might be struggling to get up to 10 miles, much of it congested.

      So is an option shorter routes, even combined with circular ones to serve the maximum punters, and perhaps running in each direction around the loop? And perhaps peripheral routes which can speed around the edges and then take the quickest route in and out of the centre, rather than just running everything across town? Or it seems some companies have success when they can by combining urban and interurban routes. After all few people now live at one end and work at the other end of town, as used to be the case when we had development zones? (Any old stagers remember those?)

      Of course it all comes down to resources, but I've always thought that get the buses more reliable and less caught up in congestion, and you can reduce frequencies and save PVR, which is where the savings are, and even perhaps avoid the ridiculously inconvenient constant disruptive shift changes? Experienced staff resigning because they can't take it, surely doesn't help? A 10 minute frequency is fine, but when passengers are waiting 40m-1 hour or longer, and see buses running empty or passing them by whilst they're being rescheduled to get back on timetable, what use is it? More chaos to try and sort out!

      Or am I just as usual, talking a load of old b******s?

    8. No, not a boad of old lollocks at all!!

      I'm not a lover of cross-town routes; they may be efficient in schedule terms, but a hold-up on one side of town crashes the service across town as well.

      If a cross-town network is desirable for passenger reasons, then build in some waiting time in the town centre or at the bus station to try to mitigate delays, but that'll push up the PVR, and we're back in the cycle of traffic delays costing extra buses or the commercially desirable frequency becoming impossible to resource commercially.

      By all means have circular services, however difficult they are to timetable on the w.w.w. (fbb passim!); or even a frying-pan route, which avoids the clock/anti-clock conundrum.

      If money is no object (hollow laugh), then have several neighbourhood routes that serve most houses within 1/4 mile of a bus stop, then fast into town; with dedicated buses and drivers that get to know the passengers. That's probably the best pattern, then any problem routes can be identified and dealt with, or any routes with overloading (another hollow laugh) can have extra resources or re-timings applied.

      In the past, with a route that was overloading at school times, I've simply crimped up the timetable to (effectively) run an extra trip at the crucial time, and resourced it by widening the headway either side; a school peak at c0830 is often followed by a lull in demand before the Wombles turn up at 0930, so a 12-12-10-10-15-15-12-12 sequence resolves the overloading at no cost.

      In re padding . . . . I'd opine that timetable padding is probably better to achieve a good result if the route is relatively short with only one traffic pinch-point to deal with . . . . padding on an inter-urban route is more difficult because there may be more than one hot-spot, and the advertised "every 20 minute" frequency becomes very difficult to achieve.

      Ultimately, though, there is no one answer; what works in the Home Counties may not work in t'industrial North or down Suffolk way. That's what makes the planner/schedulers' job so fascinating!!

    9. Interesting, thanks . . . I always thought we might be a bit barmy with sort of cross-town neighbourhood routes presumably to try and serve everyone within 1/4 mile! I once described it as "trying to be like London without London's money/resources". And I haven't yet found anyone else following the example, at any rate!

  17. Andrew Kleissner23 July 2018 at 13:56

    Ha, that's an idea (and congratulations on your correctly placed apostrophe).

    There is a big estate being built here; some houses are occupied but most are still a-building. What's interesting is that the main road out is already marked up with a bus lane ... it will be interesting to see if/when the services start running.

    1. Thanks. Where to place that apostrophe gave me a lot of trouble. My first idea was to specify the MD, given that the big problem for local depots is the resources they have at their disposal: and who controls that? Yes I know it's the nebulous Head Office, but at least they'd have an incentive to make waves! Nobody else has much chance.

  18. Andrew Kleissner25 July 2018 at 14:46

    Thinking of timetables and running times. Here in Cardiff NAT's X1 largely parallels CardiffBus's 57/58 in the east of the city. However the 57/58 do a city centre loop and a layover, while the X1 continues cross-city.

    The 57/58 are very punctilious about keeping to their sectional times which, at quiet times, means prolonged stops at certain places, or slow driving with the doors being opened at each stop whether or not there are any passengers to pick up or set down. In particular it can wait time for several minutes just before reaching the city centre, which is annoying. The X1, meanwhile, is less reliable at the end of its long route but, having left the terminus, just keeps going and often overtakes the stationary 57/58.

    Which is better? I don't know; and for me with a free pass it doesn't matter. But it does matter for paying passengers with season tickets or returns. As it happens, the 57/58 have just had their timetables tweaked to reflect faster journey times during the summer holidays, and presumably to slightly reduce the PSVR.

    1. Good points. Frankly I suspect either is acceptable. What isn't acceptable with either is when, regularly, you are unable to run buses approximating to the advertised frequencies.

      For instance in my village with a (very good) advertised 15 minute frequency, when out with the dog I see passengers who have been waiting for 45 minutes or longer on a "normal" day, when there has not been a major collision or something like that. That's trying it on a bit. (I am surprised at the passengers' tolerance, they just grin and bear it, but admit "if it's not here soon I'll just go home and get the car". I wonder what they'll do next time, though? And in town others report, and I've had, the experience of waiting over 45 minutes for a bus running on a ten minute frequency. It happens first thing trying to get to work, too; let alone coming home from a long commute! I soon learned that for a journey which you can walk in 45 minutes or less, it is better to do so! Every time I see a nearly empty in-service bus in town I wonder how much potential business the bus service is losing?

      The reason of course is buses caught up in congestion; and in our cross town routes, two lots, either side of the town centre. There is a shortage of vehicles and drivers to put things right, which just makes things worse. Padding running times just makes the shortage worse. And so it goes on . . .

      To deal with Steve's points, I suspect that to keep buses running in town, services are withdrawn from the rural areas. More complaints!!

  19. Andrew Kleissner25 July 2018 at 18:16

    It sounds too as if the scheduled turnround times in your area are too short, so that buses are starting their journeys late (and of course late buses have longer dwell times at stops and get even later). But longer idle times mean more buses required to run the service, which costs; or else the service frequency has to be reduced. No easy answers.

    1. The sad thing is that they could solve the problems if they wanted to; which is actually no different from any other operators in the region, who are doing so successfully. But First have no interest in buses in Essex, and it shows; their interest is in the property assets. But of course, property disposals can take a long time, unless you are a distressed seller, which First might soon become the rate that staff are deserting,and with a fleet that's already 12-15yo with no prospect of replenishment. It's clear that the cascades are all going to Eastern Counties; not that they are begrudged, for they are deserved. Essex did get hold of two ex-Green Lines, but only once conditions had become unsafe.

      So it looks like we are faced with the prospect that things may get even (much) worse before they get better.

      Like waiting for a terminal case to pop off, the question is not whether, but when? But unlike a relative, they certainly won't be missed. The pity is that we are not short of other "good" operators if only Wirst would let them in. They have been obstructive even when pulling out of (most of) Clacton. We are all left speculating on the next domino to fall, or will it be all of it? Hopefully it won't be too long before we find out.

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