Tuesday 25 December 2018

Public Transport Utopia Fantasy

Now before I start, and before you all start frothing at the mouth this is a work of fiction. It's fantasy, make belief - it could never happen. So instead of getting worked up, and quoting all sorts of reasons why this could never happen, just sit back and imagine if it did.......

Once upon a time there was a Kingdom, a magical Kingdom, where trolls didn't exist, and all Thameslink trains not only ran, but ran on time without skipping stations (told you it was fiction). In this Kingdom public transport ruled ok, and the car was seen as an unnecessary commodity for town and city dwellers. Only those living in the countryside were permitted cars, and even then they had to be left on the outskirts of towns or the nearest public transport hub.

You see previously in thie Kingdom the car was God. No one could reasonably manage without one except in the really major cities, public transport was spasmodic, fractured, and poorly financed and distributed. Instead of being for the people it was for rich businessmen who had few feelings for those who relied on public transport to get around. The government of the day were weak and feeble, and couldn't even roll out a new train timetable properly, or ensure that the local people had enough money to provide essential bus services. It was a sorry state of affairs, with much sadness and discontent throughout the land. The future of public transport did indeed look bleak.

Then one day a man of vision had an idea. Wouldn't it be great, he said, if people were less reliant on cars. What if public transport was so good, reliable, affordable, safe and convenient that it was the first choice for the people. But that man of vision was scorned by those who ran public transport at the time. You're living in the past, they said. You just want re-regulation and to deny our shareholders their dividends. Anyway, remember how bad it was when everything was nationalised? Well, said the man of vision, everything started earlier, finished later, most bus routes had a Sunday service, relief buses were often needed, and they were used in far greater numbers than now. If the people in power really wanted to change attitudes and how the Kingdom moved its people around it could, indeed, be done, but over a long period of time. Rome wasn't built in a day, let alone an integrated transport system so appealing to the people they ditch their cars and habits of a lifetime.

Finally the powers were so sick of the man of vision pontificating that in an effort to shut him up they did say "ok, smartass - if you think you're so bloody clever let's hear this plan of yours". And so the man of vision spoke thus:

The Kingdom is reaching total gridlock. People are spending hour after hour in traffic jams. That is because buses are stuck in the same traffic, and trains are wholly unreliable. To get people out of cars there needs to be a complete change of attitude in how the entire transport system is structured, managed, operated, and used. It requires huge investment in infrastructure for new tram lines, busways, bus lanes, cycle paths, well lit and secure walkways, new rail lines, including re-opening those closed in the dark times. "You pillock", the powers said, "how are we expected to find that sort of money, and how would we get it back?" "Let me ask you this", the man of vision replied, "how many man hours are lost to traffic congestion, or late trains?" "How many overseas investors hesitate to invest in our Kingdom who would be persuaded thus if our Kingdom moved around smoothly and efficiently"? "How many other Kingdoms would seek our advice and skills to help their own transport systems?" "You may not see an immediate return on your investment, but over time, with vastly improved efficiency, the benefits will reap rewards".

The powers paused, and invited the man of vision to continue. He explained that you couldn't just order people out of their cars without decent alternatives in place, so the period of transition would be tricky and expensive, but the long term implications for future generations would justify the expense. The first thing was to simplify the existing public transport system. The multitude of different fares, having to pay multiple operators on one journey, and time restrictions were putting off the people from using the system. So you have to make public transport attractive financially, and the car seem an expensive burden. The man of vision proposed a national system based on the already successful Oyster card system in the Kingdom's capital. A national transport card that would be valid on all buses and trains in the Kingdom. On buses once you had paid the initial fare you would not be charged for any further journeys taken within an hour. There would be a maximum charge per day, week, month and year. The same would apply to trains, with discounts made for off peak travel, and journeys made avoiding the busiest areas. There would be no advance fares, although journeys on long distance trains could be paid for in advance to reserve a seat. All stations would have a connecting bus service serving the local community, which operated from first train till last.

Buses would be reorganised according to the local demographics. In towns bus lanes would be rigorously enforced, with unauthorised parked vehicles confiscated and sold, and large fines for those driving cars in them. Local town services would remain largely as they are now, with frequent  services from housing estates into town, connecting with longer interurban routes. These interurban routes would be faster, more direct, using high specification vehicles. They would be fed by local feeder buses serving rural communities, linking up with the trunk routes at dedicated hubs, which would have indoor facilities for passengers to wait in warmth and shelter. These hubs would also have substantial free carparks to encourage people to leave their cars outside of towns, thus helping to alleviate congestion. The buses would run from early morning to late evening, giving no reason for the people not to use them due to time constraints.

That sounds all well and good, said the powers, but say we do what you suggest, pour billions into this transport system and the people still won't use it? The man of vision smiled, and said they will use it, if it pays them to. Once the infrastructure is in place ban all cars from town and city centres. Place a tax on daytime deliveries to stores, making deliveries at quieter times more attractive. Allowing public transport to move is key. Once the people see it is the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to get around they will use it. Make the annual cap on fares the same as annual car insurance and road tax combined. The powers gasped. Are you having a laugh mate, they said! We'll lose billions! Actually, the man of vision said, you won't. Encouraging and allowing people to move around the Kingdom cheaply will mean they go out more and spend their money in different ways, supporting local industry rather than online retail giants, so your coffers will just be filled by different means.

The powers, not to be outwitted by the man of vision, pulled the ace from their sleeve and said "hang on, pal, the transport system is overcrowded enough anyway in parts of the Kingdom. If we make it cheaper we just won't cope with demand. The man of vision conceded that to begin with that may well be an issue. But he assured the powers that once the people saw bus lanes were kept clear, and congestion was eased they would transfer from rail to bus for shorter journeys, therefore reducing overcrowding on the trains while the new infrastructure was being built. He continued to say that if all new road projects were cancelled, and the money put into new railways, both new routes and dualling existing lines to increase capacity in 10 to 15 years we could have a world class system. Then we could start banning second car use at weekends, for example, and doubling fuel duty for those living in areas where a car is deemed unnecessary - smart technology would be able to detect car registrations and adjust the pump price accordingly. In short, make car use as unattractive as possible without penalising those for whom it was essential.

So who would operate these services, asked the powers. You would, said the man of vision. A national public transport system should be just that, only you would have regional operating centres who would use their local knowledge to tailor services for their individual area's needs. If any other operator wanted to start a service up in addition to the existing one they would be welcome to, on the understanding that the existing service was not compromised or reduced in any way, and the new operator accepted the national transport card.

So what you're saying, the powers clarified, is if we build this integrated, revolutionary transport system it would considerably reduce car use, improve traffic and passenger flow in our towns and cities, which in turn would improve air quality and people's health, saving our health service money too, would get people out and about more, in comfort, to spend their money, would entice foreign investment in the country, provide increased employment to those in the transport industry, whose wages would be attractive enough to make it a serious career choice, and we'd be making a better Kingdom for our children and future generations? It seems to good to be true!

Then the man of vision woke up, realised it was all a dream, that no one would ever take such a scheme seriously, that he was still 6 miles from the nearest bus service, and that the traffic to get into his nearest big town would be as bad as ever. He sighed, rolled over and went back to sleep to dream another impossible dream.


  1. Sorry this was so boring I can't read enough of it to criticize you!

    1. And a Happy Christmas to you, my friend. BTW turn your spell check to English, not American!!

  2. Brilliant Steve. Shame no one will take any notice.!,

  3. Great Story Steve! Merry (belated) Christmas!

  4. Trams are not the answer. They are incredibly expensive and add to congestion and are unable to adapt to changing travel patterns. Every tram line in the UK makes massive losses

    Modern trolleybuses are probably a better option. They cost little more than buses to operate and with modern batteries do not need over headlines over the full route If you take Ipswich it could be overhead lines in the busy central area and then on batteries for the rest of the route and a fast charge point at the far terminus. Ideally the return path for the power is via the road as this simplifies the overhead infrastructure and means you can use a pantograph on the trolleybus making engaging and disengaging with the overhead line simple. All modern trolleybuses are single deck they are also near silent and don't have the noise problem of trams. Trolleybuses can also go into residential areas unlike trams. Trolleybuses are well equipped to cater for varying passenger loads. It can run as a two car unit at peaks and single off peak maximising efficency

  5. Councils to bid for share of £675m fund to invigorate UK high streets

    I don't see councils spending much of it if any on buses and I don't see councils spending any of it sensibly

    The problem we have is we have far to many shops for modern needs so we need fewer High Streets and those remaining need to become less dependent on retail

    Local councils are being invited to bid for a share in a new £675m government fund set up to help reinvigorate the country’s beleaguered high streets.
    The so-called future high street fund was announced by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, in the budget, and is intended to allow high streets to combat the challenges of the growing influence of online shopping by turning town centres into “vibrant community hubs”.
    The fund, which opened on Boxing Day, will allow councils to plough money into transport and converting retail units into homes.

  6. I knew you'd come to your senses if we waited long enough, Steve! (No, it's not another one of my attempts at a bus joke, nor have I started on the Christmas sherry . . . yet).

    1. Told you it wasn't about my Friday nights out! Where would be be without dreams eh!!

    2. And that's what, too often, has gone out of the industry (and a lot else). The idealism.

      No, not the same as fanaticism. The passengers aren't the problem. It came home with one of those endless stupid local press articles about Xmas shopping. But, out of the mouth of babes . . . one interviewee confessed her way of coping with the mad parking and traffic was she'd used the bus, though "the poor driver had to put up with a lot of stick about being 20m late"; a miracle, was that all??

      The public will give buses a chance, and again and again. But how many in the industry believe it? Until the bosses stop thinking that "look after the bottom line and nothing else matters" and realise that until you look after everything else the bottom line might as well not matter either.

      Passengers (and the staff) are your most valuable asset. They need to be cherished. We forget it at our peril. It's always been the same, whether the bus companies were offshoots of the rail companies, nationalised by stealth or by design, or privatised. When will we ever learn? It not the first time I've asked that, and doubtless it won't be the last.

      We can do it. If we can't we will have nobody to blame but ourselves. There is a lot of goodwill out there. But it needs to be harvested. We need to banish CBA and LOBNH (look it up). A score of 0/10 not 9/10 as so often.

    3. I tend to think of it as the opposite - somebody there but completely in the dark.

  7. Hedingham are now getting 15 2009 reg Optare Olympus' to replace their presidents. The first 9 have already arrived.

    1. It's in discussion at the moment that Konect will also be getting 5 new E200s and 5 new E400s

    2. This is a major investment, as when Hedingham was bought out, their average fleet age was terrible. For Konect, once these buses are in, the oldest buses will be 2006. To have a fleet with the oldest bus being 13 years old in this day and age is very good.

    3. Yet Steve keeps going in about how they are going to keep cutting routes and not be around for long �� I don't know many companies which invest so much in new buses where they see no future....

    4. I look forward to the official announcement Will these be new new, or 10yo cast offs like Hedingham are getting. If so will they be hybrids, electrics, gas, or bog standard. What routes are they for?

    5. It's not a catwalk. I'm not sure that 9yo buses are so unreasonable, or below par for the routes that Hedingham operate in Essex? Most of us don't shop at Harrods for our gardening clothes.

      I live on one of First's trunk routes in Essex. We have 05/6 plates, which replaced 11 plates (ex P&Rs) taken off to more sparsely populated north Essex. And Arriva still operate their trunk cross country Green Line, which serves every main town, with 08 plate Citaros.

      I drive a 11 plate car, which still drives like new! (Not down to me, I'm sure).

    6. God, seriously Steve? Could you actually be more negative? Compare Hedingham's fleet to what it was back in 2012 (mostly step buses) and you'll see they've come a long way. No point in giving you information, as like you care anyway. Do and do another border bus post and say how lovely their 10 year old buses are...

    7. Anon. As a humble reader, please keep on providing us with news. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

      Without facts to ground us, we'd all fly off into fantasy land.

      I think the smaller frequent midi/mini-buses were tried, as Steve reported by Stagecoach in Ashford (but never reported back, as promised) and Arriva in Hemel Hempstead. In both cases they seem to have flopped and services deteriorated, so services had to revert to the former pattern?

      Based on personal observation I see more people using the bus. First Essex say it was up 4% last fy. Helpfully I see the Essex Councils are petitioning against poorer people being "dumped" out of London, the ones presumably who'd use services like buses. Perhaps they prefer streets congested with their large 4x4s, as it doesn't affect their expensive homes in posh villages, presumably!

    8. Steve has a massive grudge against GEA after the cuts at Anglian. What seems to be missed, is that anglian bus made a loss in the year prior to Go Ahead taking over, and since then, many subsidies have been reduced and cut. If Go Ahead didn't take over, do you believe all of the services would have remained?

    9. No business can afford to stand still. Not even buses.

      One thing I will say is that in a sense I think we are "lucky" in our region. We still have buses which I suspect elsewhere would be deemed "uncommercial" and Councils which get away with blue murder on their pathetic levels of funding.

      I suspect the consequence is that many services are balancing on a knife edge. Thanks and well done to everyone involved.

      It will be interesting to see what the Cambridgeshire Mayor, who I gather takes responsibility for local transport from this coming April, ends up with. Money does not always equate to good sense, unfortunately.

    10. I agree Smurf.

      If Steve really wants to know, they are looking at 5 E400s for routes 3/6. 2-3 of the ex 3/6 buses will then be used on Costessey p&r between the UEA and Hospital, with the others used on other routes. The E200s are then going to replace all remaining tempos and scanias (some more citaro's may also come down at some point too) and the E200s will be placed to work 5a/b/c.

      Of course details such as this are not confirmed. The only information available to the general public is the sustainability report for GAE, which was written by GAE MD in October which states "We also hope to invest
      in new buses for the first time since 2015, to
      complement the current mid-life vehicles
      cascaded from London and Oxford". Since then, and seeing the viability of routes, has allowed them to look at this major investment.

      Yes Steve, the buses for Hedingham are 10 years old. But what about when you buy a car? Can you afford to buy a new one? Or would your money be better placed elsewhere, and would still be happy with a second hand car? No, hedingham cannot afford to spend £200,000 on a new bus. That doesn't mean that replacing 19 year old buses with 10 year old buses should be sneezed at. This investment for Hedingham will bring the fleets average age down by 2 years. With a fleet of 77 buses, this is pretty good. IF and, yes Steve, IF koject get these 10 buses, their average fleet age will go down from 9.11 years to 7.2 years (assuming we are in 2019 now). Can you tell me of another Norfolk operator with an average fleet age of 7.2 years or less? Yes Go Ahead gives us cast offs, but looking at the average fleet age (which gives you the full picture of investment) shows that they aren't doing too badly.

    11. I love it when you all start frothing. It means you take this blog seriously, which is quite an accolade.

      Firstly, anon You haven't said what sort of E200/400 are hopefully being ordered. I assume you are aware that East Anglia is so behind the rest of the country there isn't a single hybrid bus in Norfolk or Suffolk, let alone electric, biofuel or gas. Of course Anglian invested in 13 pioneering gas buses the year before Go Ahead took over, which would have been reflected in the balance sheet you constantly refer to. Where are they now? Oh yes, Go Ahead made such a mess of them they were moved to Plymouth. IF Konect invest in new buses I will applaud it, but don't expect me to go overboard if they are bog standard models. Oh - I think you'll find First's Kings Lynn depot has the lowest average age fleet.

      New doesn't mean better all the time. I know I'm not the only one who would happily go back to Olympians. As for cars? Mine is 20 years old. I don't expect any car magazine or blogger to go nuts over it. If my neighbour gets a 10yo car I don't expect him to have topless models posing on it. Those Olympuses may be great vehicles - I'll go down there and ride a few once they're out, but Smurf mentioned Harrods. I bet more fuss would be made if Harrods opened a branch in Colchester, than a refurbished Poundland would.

      We are about to start the 19th year of the 21st Century - the 20th for those who include 2000 - and my dearest wish is for East Anglia to recognise we're not in the 20th century anymore. Yet the likes of you, anon, who seem to think everything is just fine and hunkydory and those who make negative comments are just moaning, are the people holding the region back. Look outside your beloved Norfolk and see what's going on elsewhere Then ask yourself why it isn't happening here, and how it could be achieved. Then we might have a hope.

      Oh - Borderbus's 9yo Scanias? They look amazing, but if they hadn't put extra padding in the seats I'd be slating them. I still have a go at Andrew Pursey everytime I see him for the Anglian ones, with seats harder than bricks.

    12. So . . . Go-Ahead's Great Sin was to take away the Gas Buses. Unforgiveable. Like when my aunt sent me back home with my mother's Xmas presents. I was glad to have one less miserable chore; but they never spoke again, for decades).

      We are all human. Gestures matter ... a lot. East Norfolk has suffered hugely from the demise of its traditional industries and poor accessibility. It showed that authority still cared. I live near a town which recently became a City and no-one lets me forget it. I grew up in one, and went to College in another; and neither I nor anyone else ever bothered what we called them. But people need to think they are cared about, what else is Brexit about . . . National Sovereignity?

    13. No Smurf - Go Ahead's Great Sin was to maintain the gas buses so poorly they were shipped to Plymouth. Take 104 - hot up the rear by a coach at Acle. Anglian left it to rot at Beccles. It was back on the road within 3 months of arriving at Plymouth.

  8. Back to normal service . . . I'd rejoiced at the start of this thread to see Steve lift his eyes from the floor to the (admittedly dark, it is winter after all) horizon. Sadly perhaps it didn't last even into the New Year!

    Go-Ahead are, I suspect from experience elsewhere, playing a long game. Despite their well-publicised woes, and like Stagecoach who have announced they are going to concentrate on their UK bus operations, having disposed of ill-fated American operations. First, as far as I know, are still lumbered with the Greyhound bugbear, whatever the "improvement" at UK Bus. UK Rail, best not mention.

    Where do any of us expect our local buses to be in the next ten years? Same old . . . ? Whoever comes up with the answer has an advantage.

    In some parts of the country (perhaps the Cambridge "region" locally) the Councils are maneuvering to become major players. There is still a huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality. In Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Beds and Bucks? I don't see it, yet. They are still bewailing their lack of resources. Is Brexit going to suddenly reinvigorate the British economy? Maybe I'm blind but I haven't seen any evidence of it yet. And what is going to replace the pensioner income as the old die off and pension ages rise, as they have to - we can't afford anything else?

    So "the buses" need to attract investment. No bus company can afford it on its own. They need partners, and just about the only ones in this area seem to be the housing developers. Sorry. So the Operators need to make themselves an attractive proposition. And it is in that context I see Go-Ahead's "investment".

    They can be very patient, we have seen that elsewhere. They can afford to be. Anglian and Norfolk Green were unfortunate episodes, but hardly disastrous in a national (or international) context, or even a local one for that matter, unfortunately for some commentators. What can their competitors afford? My guess is we will find later on this week that FirstBus have steadied the ship for the time being, but it doesn't answer the all-important question: Where next? So far, Go-Ahead's bus operations elsewhere seem to have made a success out of picking up the pieces. We know it doesn't always work, but as I've said before success can be about as much what you don't do as what you do.

    It's a waiting game. But for what . . . ?

    Happy New Year, everyone.

  9. For the bus companies to attract investment they need to attract customers and invest in marketing and customer service which at present they do not. Over the Christmas period bus companies cancelled quite a few buses and could not even be bothered to give a reason. When they do that it tends to indicate that the buses were cancelled due to reason totally under their control which is not good

    Currently Bus companies have taken bus down a to the level of there being used as last resort and not because people choose to use them just they had no other choice. That market though is ever shrinking. AS you point out fewer pensioners will use bus due to the increasing pension age and more pensioners continuing to run a car because the services are so bad that even free travel is not enough to attract them

    Bus companies need to dramatically raise their game and reimage buses which at present are seen as a very unattractive and down market option. Councils have not helped by doing away with bus stations nor has there move to very basic so called demand responsive services nor has the constant changes to services at the drop of hat helped,. You may have a service one month and the next month it is gone. That is not going to attract people nor do the constant random cancellations

    The future I think outside of the very large urban areas is smaller and more frequent buses which are more suited to the less urban areas. Many places have lost there service because of the obsession with bus companies of focusing on huge double deck buses that cannot reach many of the smaller town because the roads are unsuitable

    There needs to be a big investment in new technology very little has been done on that from and what little there is has been very poorly implemented and almost every bus company comes up with its own system

    It is just crazy that even now we have little real time bus information and what there is rarely works properly. WE should be able on a mobile phone to tell when you bus is going to turn up in real time but that pretty much does not exist. It is not difficult well as long as councils are not involved in it

    At the moment things look to get worse Councils have got fed up with the very high cost bus companies want to charge for schools services so they are now looking at making alternative arrangements and that likely to start happening next year

    Things I think will have to get worse before they get better. Many of the existing players I suspect will go out of business as they will not be able to make the changes needed so we will get new players move in with new business models and technical innovation. Uber has shaken up the taxi and private high market and we will see a company or companies come along and shake up the complacent bus market

    1. It won't happen on its own Those new players are out there Reading Nottingham, Ensign, even Lothian. But they need authority support, from the local PCC to the top of government. It needs commitment and 8nvestment from all sides, and as you said, that ain't gonna happen yet.

    2. Lots of generalisations in this long comment. More detail might help to present a coherent viewpoint.
      1. Which bus companies cancelled journeys without reason? Locally it frustrates me when a cancellation doesn't appear on Twitter, but I equally understand that the control staff may be trying to sort the problem out, and that doesn't always involve sitting at a desk and using a computer.
      2. Yes, I agree in many places bus travel is the choice of last resort. Dispersed retail and employment activities and free parking have contributed significantly to this. Note of Steve's four examples, three make it fairly expensive to park a car in the city centre, and two of those have had planning policies that largely avoid significant out-of-town retail.
      3. Ah, the old smaller, more frequent buses argument. That's been put forward numerous times, and unfortunately, the economics don't stack up. The most expensive cost is the driver. The difference in earning potential between a 17 seat mini and an 85 seat double decker is enormous, but the capital cost less so. The latter will cost you around £250,000 - and that will only buy two-and-a-half minibuses. And that is why it is more economical to use the largest size bus you need all day long.
      If Stagecoach cannot make a large scale minibus trial work economically, I doubt anyone can. (I think the figures for Ashford were a 35% increase in passenger numbers for a 300% increase in service).
      4. Whole towns have lost their services - where? What's happened over the last few years is that operators have stretched things as far as they can, and the proportion of commercial operation has gone up from around 80% to 87% of all mileage.
      5. Continued in next message....

    3. (Part two)
      5. Exactly what technology is it that is needed? Most ticket machines used these days can generate real time information, but there are a lot of steps on the way that are needed to translate that into publicly accessible information (and if a driver miskeys something into the ticket machine, it'll probably fail at the first stage). Since it all relies on phone signals, less-than-perfect coverage in many places means that it is very easy for a bus to drop out of signal. At that point, most systems rightly won't treat them as being 'live'. There are ways round that, and much as I like Arriva's live map which shows where buses are, be aware that it has been designed to lie from time to time: for example, it won't show a bus on a diversion during a road closure - it merely animates the bus along the original route.
      6. The evidence in the trade press is that the price of school transport has been driven down, as some operators charge prices that are not sufficient to cover all the costs involved, in a misguided belief that this is a good thing to do. These operators then go out of business, sometimes having taken enough trade away from the well-run ones that they too go bust.
      Perhaps you could elaborate on what "alternative arrangements" are being considered.
      7. Yes, some operators will go out of business. But do bear in mind that Uber does not make a profit, and relies on very deep-pocketed investors who think it will one day (informed opinion doubts they will ever get their money back, rather like the investors in the Flixbus coach brand now storming across Europe and the US). Uber barely exists outside the major metropolitan areas, and there are plenty of taxi and private hire operators who continue to offer traditional levels of customer service.
      8. The 'complacent bus industry'? The one that's managed to adapt and survive every time something has been thrown at it? 1950s - loss of evening passengers as TV established itself. 1960s - larger, driver-only operated buses to try to reduce costs as fuel and staff costs rose disproportionately. 1980s - deregulation (the event that slowed down the rate of decline of passenger loss). 1990s - low floor buses. Shall I go on?
      One last set of numbers to consider. TfL's new business plan still expects the net cost of the London bus network to be £600m per annum for the next few years. The rest of England spends about £200m on subsidising services (down from around £400m some years ago). Notice any difference? (And for a Welsh perspective, compare spending on the rail network with that for bus services).

    4. Shieldsman: Wow and again Wow!! I can't disagree with any of that!! Are you a "real" busman, 'cos you certainly sound like one!!

      SmurfUK: yes, SW Herts. My company ran buses on Boxing Day and New Years' Day outside London, but we don't expect to make any money at it . . . . . a "loss-leader" if ever I saw one. In Herts, the only "commercial" bus routes were (I think) 84; 321; 509 510 (which really aren't Herts routes per se).

      Steve: good luck with your Utopian fantasy!! I do envy you the ability to "blue-sky" think about the future; I'm afraid that I have too much reality in my veins to manage that.

      My wishes for 2019? I'd rather like Government (both local and central) to butt out and let us get on with it. The news this morning (02 01) lead with railway fares rises and a 17-year low in punctuality . . . . let's see now . . . . who is responsible? Failing Grayling - - probably the worst Secretary for Transport for the last 20 years (and we've had a few . . . remember Greening? Or Hammond for that matter . . . . at least they knew they knew nothing . . . .).

      Oh well . . . . nearly retirement now . . . .

      A very

  10. Your post and the other post demonstrate very clearly s to why the industry is in decline. No focus on the customer. No focus on customer care, No focus on service. The sole focus is on the bottom line

    I doubt though you will agree though but without customers you have no business and at present you have a small and declining number of passengers and even those are not happy with the service they are getting and most of them are travelling for free. Best of luck with that business model


      Have a glance through these publications. Overall satisfaction with a bus journey is at around 85% (with variations). Value for money approval is rather lower, but most people would answer less than satisfied with value for money for most things!

      Transport Focus is generally independent of the industry, and having surveyed 48,000 passengers, these results should be reasonably accurate. Yes, I know that statistics can prove anything if suitably massaged, but these surveys have been around for several years now, and are well regarded.

      As Shieldsman comments . . . . we are all too aware of who pays our wages, and we do try quite hard to meet all passengers' expectations, but we are also realistic enough to know that we'll never get it absolutely right. The vast majority of PLC companies have taken over the requirements of (1) publicity (2) trying to operate as many marginal trips without subsidy (3) carrying (in some areas) over 50% of passengers with a defective concessionary fares reimbursement (around 50% of the single fare is repaid to us). Try asking ASDA to sell bread at 50% below price and see the answer you'll get!!

      I'll re-iterate Shieldsman's challenge - specifics, please. If you supply those, then we can answer them. If you don't . . . .

    2. Transport Focus do a great job. However there is one giant flaw in what they do. That is, they only survey current passengers who have chosen, or are forced to use public transport. As I have suggested before, where are the surveys asking former passengers why they stopped, or asking what would encourage people to use it for the first time One thing is certain, and that is the industry can't and won't survive with the current customer base. If that doesn't increase then the industry is in trouble.

      That's what SWB means about putting customers first. Very few operators seem that bothered in attracting new customers, and that is one thing that must change.

      I'm having lunch on Friday with someone high up in the industry where I will be making that very point, and trying to convince him or her that operators need to worry about the future before it happens, as it will be too late to worry when it happens.

    3. I have a different experience. As far as I can see both Operators and indeed the Councils are doing what they can to attract new customers, introducing new and adapted routes and improved timetables. But as much fun as it is, should chasing butterflies be at the expense of the existing passengers, or did the old saying get it wrong and is a bird in the bush worth two in the hand?

      So I will be interested to see what your higher-up contact has to say about it. What new and varied routes and timetable changes will you be suggesting to him (or her)? You could always apply for his (or her) job, I suppose? If its First HQ, they could do with a miracle.

      I suppose I have a vested interest in that the more resources allocated to the Norfolk bit the less, and worse, to (the more populous and, so far profitable) sister operation in Essex!!

  11. Sorry, South Wales blogger, but I and many bus industry colleagues (yes, Greenline 727, you're right!) are painfully aware that income comes from carrying passengers. The thing is, lots of people don't want to pay the price needed to cover all of the 'features' of an ideal bus service. Especially councils, councillors and other public sector bigwigs that mainly get money handed to them on a plate, rather than having to earn it by meeting a customer need.
    So much of the industry has cut its cloth to what it can afford. The ones that don't get that balance right go out of business.
    Now, any chance of answering the specifics?

    1. Your reply show the level of disconnect between the bus companies an their customers

      Currently bus companies offer the equivalent of the worst low cost airline level of service but expect them to pay a first class fare and that simply does not work

      People will pay a good fare for a good quality of service but they will not do so for the current sub standard service. Most of your customers have choices and they choose not to use your services as they are do bad

    2. "Stagecoach Gold is a guarantee of quality. On board you'll find touches of luxury that really makes a difference - from stylish, comfortable leather seats to free WiFi, and USB charging so you can stay connected on the move."

      That's a quote from the leaflet from Stagecoach 48 from Leicester to Nuneaton and Coventry. Estimated PVR of around 22 single deck buses. Assume 3 spares, so 25 buses at around £250K each. That's an investment of over £6 million.

      Dayrider tickets throughout route priced at £7.10 adult. Weekly Megarider is £22.80 adult. I believe that Stagecoach are now ETM contactless throughout the empire (or are pretty close to it).

      That's just one example, although I'll make the point that Stagecoach don't do owt for nowt. Sir Brian may not be in everyday charge at present, but his ethos still pervades. Other brands with similar ideals are available.

      Do we still believe that "Currently bus companies offer the equivalent of the worst low cost airline level of service but expect them to pay a first class fare and that simply does not work.

      "People will pay a good fare for a good quality of service but they will not do so for the current sub standard service. Most of your customers have choices and they choose not to use your services as they are so bad."
      Answers on the back of a bus ticket, please . . . . .

    3. You can always find the odd token good service but they are the exception . If you take the East of England most service run hourly or even 2 hourly. Most start to late and finish to early to be of any commuters. Most bus companies ignore retail parks and industrial parks and business parks so that's another potential market they miss out on and for this very basic services they offer they charge over 50% of a taxi fare which will take you door to door and when you want

      The world does not owe bus companies a living. Yes it is tough and only the best will survive and I done see that in general being the big companies in fact they are already retrenching back to the very large cities and towns

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. When all is said and done they still need some sort of demand. In Essex the commercial services seem to run with half-hourly and better, frequencies; and last departures around 7-8 ish pm (with a few commercial exceptions). That seems late enough to cope with commercial demand on the town and interurban services, especially as the County Council then takes over to continue the services until after 10/11pm, although whether they can afford to continue doing the later services is moot. Their weekday subsidised services run until 7-8pm too. In other bits of East Anglia the commercial routes might finish a little earlier, but some commercial services also operate much later (without subsidy). Swings and roundabouts.

      In the edge of town village where I live, most car drivers too are home from work by 8pm. They seem to chose to leave earlier in the mornings, as indeed the buses do too.

      And buses serve new development and the vast majority of retail parks, with services up to half or quarter hourly.

      I suspect the biggest problem is that using any public transport, however good, involves a degree of inconvenience, and too few of us seem prepared these days to put up with any inconvenience. Just look at the standard of driving on many of our roads, and the frequent accidents. That affects the bus reliability, too. On top of the unco-ordinated and poor roadworks that seem to disregard the convenience of all travellers!

  12. A 35% increase in passenger numbers? That's the sort of thing that would surely have most operators cheering from the rafters. But Shieldsman is right of course: it's no-where near enough to justify the levels of investment required. And that's the conundrum.

    The only light I can see is that perhaps as more and more people are priced out of the Mets, and move into the Shires they may bring more of a Met attitude to public transport with them. It's a mixed blessing, of course. They're not likely to be impressed by full up minibuses (or buses) on their commute (even if the next one is "due" in 10 minutes - or they "miss" their train or appointment). Locally they complain at the moment, with a ten minute frequency in the peaks. Would a minibus do better? I doubt it, in our congestion. See Arriva's experience in Hemel Hempstead, too.

    And in the nearest thing we have to a Met-style operation, the Cambridge Busway, it has fallen far short of its projected use, too.

    That's why I tried to look a decade ahead. Too optimistic, though, both in that the incremental effects of both investment and attitudes may take decades, and to try and look that far ahead in the bus industry is just impossible. Another conundrum.

    So, the rephrase my original question, are we just left with the sort of short-term palliatives we have at the moment?

    1. A 35% increase show the market is there but they need to get the business model right. I am not except in the very rural areas suggesting mini buses. What is needed is midi buses

    2. I suspect that is precisely the point: they have the right business model for the constraints they have to work under. None of us can get a quart from a pint pot. We have to try and beg and borrow, instead; and that is a fair bit of luck.

  13. Overall I agree with Shieldsman and GreenLine. I accept that the bus companies are trying to make the best job of it they can, with inadequate resources (as indeed are the rest of us). But they have the same problem as every other, especially large, business: the bosses and managers may have the best of intentions but, sometimes, get on the ground with some of the day to day supervisory staff, and it may be a different story on the details. It might not even be "their fault". To quote the old saying "many a slip 'twixt cup and lip", for all sorts of reasons.

    Us humans are complex creatures, and all of us are sometimes too ready to jump to conclusions, especially when it comes to what other people "really mean". That's why morale is so important, and trust (the reverse side of the coin). The bigger the business, the harder it is. And as you say, where a politician is involved, probably impossible; their eyes are the next election and who can say when that will be?

  14. I suspect the problem with the issues in South Wales Blog posts isn't so much whether they are right or wrong (not right, I suspect, depending on where you look) but whether most of the non (but potential) passengers believe that. And I suspect that many do (in the Shires, at least); and more than I would be comfortable with. (I suspect there are also a significant number who would not use a bus, whatever, too).

    It's the problem for all businesses. How do you deal with it? Have the banks recovered from the 2008 crash, even with their effective monopoly? Consumers often seem to prefer "loyalty" (the devil they know) over evidence (hard to get, it seems, though perhaps no shortage of "so-called" evidence). Though much business seems to depend on it too!

    As has been said though the bus companies aren't masters in their own house (except TfL). It just makes the job much harder. Even the attempted substitute of developer support has so far been a mixed blessing, as much I suspect a hindrance as a help; which may help to explain why it has not yet been universally adopted (as well as that everything seems to take an extraodinarily long time to mature in this country).. Which is a reason why I think the bus network is part of a much bigger problem in the UK; our dislike of planning. We prefer to argue (mostly over money).

    As I've said before I suspect a former MD of First Essex (ex-London) had the "brilliant" idea to provide London-style services in central Essex. It didn't work. It wasn't surprising. If only he'd had control of the road network (as TfL does), and their matching levels of investment, and resources . . . "Mend and make do", is a different country. We are still dealing with the consequences . . . and it is usually much easier to dig yourself a hole than get out of one.

  15. Perceptions are important. GreenLine provided an example in an earlier post: Arriva's recent attempts to improve customer service (I'm sure) had been met from people he had heard from that they were now reluctant for fear of "please explain" and, ultimately, dismissal. I've quoted the Cambridge busway enough; but drivers and passengers tell us the reality in no way matches up to the rhetoric. They can be almost contemptuous, even of Stagecoach (who are one of, if not the best of the "nationals" by reputation, and investment; although I gather their bosses used to at least get out and about, which might help a bit).

    Competition has many benefits, but is a downside when combined with an investment famine (normal, not unusual) that it's an easier (and more predictable) job to take passengers from a competitor (and conversly, necessary to protect your existing passengers) than attract new custom? Is the gap between the good and bad (in perception, at least) in otherwise similar areas, inevitably therefore doomed to widen?

    I doubt lack of competition would help either, leaving it in the hands of politicians. That never worked.

    We all have the problem. Too often the road to hell is paved with our good intentions. How do we tell?

  16. Steve - you ask why Norwich doesn't have gas/ electric buses. They cost much more than standard buses.

    Why don't bus operators in Norwich invest (let's take First as an example), but they do in other areas. Well, in Norwich, out of peak times, do you see a full decker? Usually when I see deckers go past, they have 10 passengers. In other cities there is standing room only. Just by this you should be able to see why other areas get investment. I'm sure if Norwich had packed buses all day, we would get investment too.

    Anglian bought 13 Gas buses. Would they without a £624,000 grant? I very much doubt it.

    First Kings Lynn have the youngest fleet? I don't think you can really say that Steve. So, when (if) they get their new buses for the X1, you will say theh have the youngest fleet in tge world at 1 day? If so, Konect Norwich depot has the youngest fleet, as it only has the 2015 park and ride buses.

    Look at Manchester. Have first invested there? No. The only electric buses they have are for the metroshuttle which were also funded with help from government funding. In fact, First Manchester have a much older fleet than they do in Norfolk (mainly down to the Mayor wanting to franchise the bus operations).

    1. The grant helped, no doubt. Divide 624k between 13 and you get 48k per bus. That's still a big investment by an independent company.

  17. I agree Anon. Steve says "and those who make negative comments are just moaning, are the people holding the region back..." We aren't "moaning" Steve, we just go with the facts. There aren't any operators in Norwich which are making huge profits. Do you then think they should go and get 20 electric buses which would then make them a loss for the year? Apart from big cities, I don't know many places with a high percent of non-diesel buses. Why should Norwich be next? I'd love to see sustainable energy buses in Norfolk, but at £100k more per bus, I can see why operators aren't buying them. FEC made a loss of £17,000 in the last reporting period (the next year accounts will be out in 5 days). If they can't make a profit from standard buses, how will they do it with electric buses? Yes, when they are cheaper, they will come in.

    Brighton and Hove got a £12M+ profit in the last accounting period. They bought 34 new buses. Why? Because they can afford them.

    If your income was £10k per annum whilst a competitors was £100k, surely you can see why they may have better assets than yourself. Live within your means. I wouldn't expect a millionaire to live in a bedsit. If you are on minimum wage then you can't afford any more and have to make do.

    We aren't "moaning", we just have our eyes open. It's sad that you can't seem to see other opinions other then yours, and people whom agree with you.

    1. OK then, prove you're not just moan8ng. Write a post for me on how you see the future of buses in the East of England, how passenger numbers can be grown, and what needs to happen to get folks out of cars and onto buses. You spend a lot of time criticising me, so here's your chance to have your say. Put up or shut up. BTW you won't get paid as I don't.

    2. It really is hard. But when we see that apparently First's West of England have passenger growth of 11%, compared to around 3% in East England it really is a wake-up call.

      Why? The obvious difference is what Bristol invests in bus infrastructure, and why the bus companies invest too (though they have little choice).

      But compare any of our towns with Bristol jams and there is simply no comparison. That surely operates both on the minds of authorities and the Councils. Others will know more than I do.

      I've long thought that the problems with the Eastern Counties (as indeed with much of the south-east) is that it has become largely London-dependent, and the towns even deep into East Anglia, are either commuter or retirement belt. The tendency has merely grown over the last 50 years, and industry has moved out. All the government transport investment goes into the road network (where there is a huge backlog - look at the A140/A11/A47, even the A12 north of Ipswich), necessary to move stuff to the ports and agriculural produce out; or into rail (and that is fitful enough). That's what matters, and we have acquiesced in it.

      I have some sympathy with the Councils. They have virtually zero ability to raise funds without government approval, caps on this and that. The age profile will lead to inevitably growing demands on social services, until (as it has) it virtually takes over the lot. This isn't being negative. It's the context. The past is coming back to haunt us. Thirty years ago retirement homes were seen as an easy ride, despite the warnings.

      That is why I keep banging on about the housing industry pulling its weight. It's virtually the only growth, and it has the cash (yes, ultimately the landowners). But so far the efforts of our local Councils in this regard has been conspicuous by their absence, or at best pathetic. It's not helped by the split responsibilities: transport with the County Councils, and housing and planning matters with the Districts. They often virtually don't talk to each other, and not in any meaningful way. The advantage of the elected Mayors, as in Leeds and Bristol is that they can cut across this divide, even Cornwall I think is unitary, or at least has a formal umbrella arrangement). And the Cambridgeshire Mayor is at least talking about banging heads, though we have to say how far he gets. It has much in common with Norfolk, except the importance and attraction of Cambridge itself.

      What needs to happen? The Councils need to grow up and stop squabbling. What's stopping them: there are just too many vested interests with their hands in the pot. The politicians have a lot to worry about, but East Anglia (and Essex) isn't one of them. As always politicians buy votes, here they don't need to. How do we think we fell so far behind in the first place?

      How many of our Councils have adopted up to date local plans, with Sustainable Transport at their heart? I suspect the answer is zero in each case. Does anyone care? I doubt it. There's your answer. (Does anyone know what I'm on about? Do you Steve? (Especially IF you really want to improve local bus provision!) Or is it just something to say? I often wonder . . .

  18. You just have to laugh. I think Steve thinks Norwich is this massive City which should be investing. In a way, the centre is not much bigger than some major towns.

    1. I do believe I said Norfolk and Suffolk, not just Norwich. And believe me, if the Council suddenly insisted on Euro 6 emissions like Leeds did we would soon see investment. It also doesn't matter how big the City centre is - the potential customer base is huge.

  19. Anonymous at 2103 on December 30th says that the average fleet age of Hedingham was terrible when purchased by Go-Ahead. This is a half truth. The fleet used for ordinary services was modern, mostly low floor and generally bought new.

    School services/ contracts were worked by mostly second hand or cascaded vehicles and condition/ reliability was considered more important than the actual age of the bus.

    While the policy may have made the average age look poor, a high percentage of the total mileage was worked by modern buses.

    Hedingham was a very tightly run concern with minimal administration staff. For many decades, the "early spare" at Sible Hedingham was the gentleman who had his name on the legal lettering. Unfortunately Go-Ahead had hitherto been an urban operator and when they took over they were slow to appreciate the differences in a rural business.

  20. Let's make a new year "resolution" for Steve: only positive posts allowed for January (at least 5).

    1. As long as that applies to comments too...and when I have something positive to post I post it. Today my nearest route to Norwich lost more journeys. Tell me how the hell I'm meant to be positive about that!

  21. How many times have you used the "nearest route" to the brighty lights of Norwich recently to help it survive ?

    1. Tomorrow as it happens. Can't remember the last time I drove to Norwich.