Saturday 2 March 2019

Is The End Really Nigh?

I should have been out today. To all intents and purposes I was going to catch the 1815 from Norwich to Halesworth - the last time a through bus will have operated the route for the foreseeable future, perhaps ever. From tomorrow a change at Bungay and operator will be required, then from 1st April, how appropriate, just 5 buses a day will run between Southwold and Bungay via Halesworth. I wanted to be on that last through bus to mark the occasion.

And you know what? I couldn't do it. I couldn't be there to see the death of yet another bus route. I've done it too much over the last few years and I've had enough. I've had enough of reporting negativity surrounding the bus industry in this region. I've had enough of watching operators not give a damn about their passengers. I've had enough of watching vital community links vanish or shrink to a fraction of their normal size when Government departments are wasting our money like it's confetti, at the same time demanding our Councils remove wardens from sheltered housing, make parents buy textbooks for schools, and force residents to pay to have their garden waste taken away.

Can you remember the last positive thing I had to say about the bus industry in East Anglia? I'm pretty sure it was the success of the Beccles Town Service once the users agreed to leave their passes in their purses occasionally and pay the fare to keep the service going. And why was that a success? Because Borderbus engaged with the community and told them straight - we'll provide the bus but it won't pay for itself. The community responded. The market was engaged with and the results speak for themselves.

I've touched on this subject before, but I'm so pissed off right now I'm not just going to touch on it again, I'm going to stomp all over it in size 14 wellies then drive a Challenger tank over it too!

In all areas of commerce firms spend millions on market research. It seems obvious that if you want to build your business and increase growth that you do your homework and find out where the best places are to grow your business. The High Streets are littered with people wanting your opinion on everything. Except your local bus service, where you'd like it to go, when you'd like it to go, and how much you'd be prepared to pay for it. In other words what would it take to leave your car at home and get the bus. Has anyone ever been asked that? We're told the Government want people out of their cars and on to public transport. Yeah whatever! That's why fuel duty has been frozen for years while bus and train fares have risen above the rate of inflation year in year out. That's why scrappage schemes for old cars were created but where was the incentive not to get a new car but switch to public transport? Politicians live on a different planet if they really think we'll believe all that. Why are buses blamed for everything from traffic congestion to poor air quality to the rise in poverty? .

The answer is simple. Because the bus industry doesn't help itself. It is so aloof that it just assumes customers will come flocking to it, that the peasants will be on their knees in gratitude that they have been given a bus and tug their forelocks in respect if a manager is seen. Except that's not the case, as I've reached the conclusion this week that the bus industry does not see it's customers as people. There are exceptions of course, and we know who they are as they stand out like a sore thumb, but in general no bus company gives two hoots who has a bus service and who doesn't. They'd much rather go after the passengers of other operators than find new ones themselves, and that's going to happen again in East Anglia before the year's out believe me. It's easier, you see, less work needed. The punters are already there, just entice them off one bus onto another. We've seen it time and time again and who, in the long term benefits from it? Certainly not the passenger.

Take Kessingland, near Lowestoft as an example. Anglian Bus were doing just fine there, 3 buses an hour, 2 going to Southwold, 1 to Kessingland Beach, and 1 every 2 hours to Halesworth. In the other direction 3 buses an hour to Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and Norwich. First thought they'd have a piece of that so started the 99, cut fares that Anglian stupidly didn't match, finally saw Anglian off and now Kessingland has a 20 minute service again. Except there is only one an hour to Southwold, nothing to Kessingland Beach or Halesworth, and no through service to Great Yarmouth or Norwich. The 146 goes through Kessingland but not round it, as it really should do, so that's scarcely a substitute. Where there are bus wars, in the end the passenger is the one who suffers most.

Let's move further into Suffolk now, and to Ed Sheeran's Framlingham. It has basically doubled in size over the last couple of years with extensive housing developments. I don't know the exact amount but no one locally has contradicted me when I've suggested over a thousand new properties. I'm told by the architect whose office is below me that all new developments must take transport links into account when planning. Ok, now we've all stopped laughing I'll continue. Framlingham lies at a meeting of several winding country B roads. Improvements to local roads equals zero. The Framlingham railway line from Campsea Ashe (Wickham Market) closed in the 1950's, there are no local taxi firms I know of, and buses? Well, there's the Galloway 118/9 cross country service to Ipswich. It runs at uneven times, goes nowhere near a major supermarket, or a useful station. It's sponsored so under constant threat. There's also an off peak return service to Diss, and a little minibus to Woodbridge, again off peak, that runs to different times on different days. Again both those buses are sponsored.

So you'd have thought an operator like, say, First would be thinking "hey, there's close on 2,000 people there without a decent bus service - let's go get them" This is where market research comes in. Liase with the local council and community groups to survey the residents to see when and where they want to go. If a community feels consulted and valued it will respond, as it has in Beccles. My guess is a decent link to Wickham Market station would be high on the list, and that's where you link up with Greater Anglia to encourage use - anything from a free coffee at the station to 50% of your bus fare off the rail fare, the possibilities are endless. Hell, Wickham Market hasn't got a bus to Wickham Market station, and it's a 3 mile walk down a busy road with no pavements! Connect with the 64 and bingo. But no, too much like hard work doing the research and unlike any other industry Heaven forbid they actually employ anyone to do the market research.

Another big development has recently sprung up at Melton near Woodbridge. To be fair a new bus stop has been sited near to the entrance to the development. Unfortunately that road is just off the A12, is ridiculously busy, and crossing it to get to the stop the other side is darn near impossible. Why haven't First kicked up a stink about that? I assume they want customers to be able to get to the bus stop. On second thoughts maybe not, as they recently rerouted the 800 so it missed out Melton Village, forcing customers, many of them elderly to cross that same road. I can guarantee no one at First will have the faintest notion how that has affected people. Well they have as I've told them, but no one has followed it up.

And that sums things up. No one gives a damn, no one wants to give a damn because if passenger numbers fall on rural services then it's the excuse to cut services, forcing cash strapped councils to step in, which means heavily reduced services which passengers will abandon, leaving the route to die. It's as though the operators just aren't interested in rural communities, even though if the service is right the loyalty will be steadfast. And that's the most infuriating point - they don't want to know and give the impression they couldn't care less.

Brian Souter, Chairman of Stagecoach said recently that the bus industry is lagging behind in Research and Development. There's an understatement. I read an interesting blog on that point today, and how bus operators are all too quick to blame outside influences like congestion, but never look at themselves. You can read that blog by clicking here.

Before the Bus UK AGM in London last month Giles Fearnley, MD of First Group said in an article that bus operators needed to interact more with their passengers. Actions speak louder than words, Mr Fearnley, and this week you have proved to me they were simply that - words. I can't go into more detail but his response to an email this week was the genesis of this post, and why I now firmly believe that nothing short of total re-regulation will save our rural bus services or in less than 5 years there will be nothing left. The horse and cart will make a comeback. At least it will be green.

One final thought. Let's say someone living in Halesworth gets the bus to Norwich, and two workmates board further down the route in Bungay. From next week it's likely that Halesworth resident will be forced to take the car, assuming they drive, but it could just easily be a college student whose parents now have to drive them. So they say to their colleagues if I have to drive in I may as well pick you two up on the way and we can share the costs. You've then lost 2 passengers from the surviving part of the route as well as the one dumped on. Then people will scratch their heads wondering why loadings are down.

So Smurfy, my friend, you keep asking about the future of First Essex. If I'm honest, if the current attitudes prevail I'd say it's got no future. As the good book should say: Happy are those who live in Ensign's area, for they shall have buses.

Oh - and the ultimate irony - there was a "Transport Day" in Croydon today, because they don't think their transport is affordable, accessible or clean enough. That's the Croydon that has 24hr bus services that have a flat fare of £1.50, Freedom passes giving free travel on bus, tube, tram and train, At least 10 trains an hour into Central London, when they run, and a fleet of buses the huge majority of which are Euro 5 or 6. Oh, and trams that are the greenest form of transport there is. It's a bloody public transport Utopia and they're not happy!! Tell that to the people of Kessingland, Halesworth and Framlingham! Or the increasing number of communities in East Anglia who have nothing. Makes you spit.

I must thank Grahame, Zak and Kieran for sending me pics of the old 588 I was going to use in a post commemorating the route that ended today. Sorry, but I won't be doing that post now, it's too depressing. That's why I wasn't on that final departure earlier. Something has died inside me too, and I fear it may never return.


  1. I can understand exactly where you're coming from on this. Trouble is,there have been so many issues with Galloway over the last 24 months,that those people with an alternative means, are using it. Out of the 4 operators who have ran on this route,they have been by far the worst and people have just given up. Compare it with Debenham who have a bus to Ipswich roughly every hour, (including 2 in the space of 15 mins!!).

    1. And for those wondering,yes there have been times where they both been there at the same time!I had been waiting for the 11.50 116( failed to turn up and as it was a Saturday,no one was monitoring Twitter at Galloway) so had to wait for the 1.07 114 which turned up at 1.20,right behind the 1.20 116!!! On another point,I was working in Old Felixstowe on Friday where the First 76 runs from. Carried about 7 or 8 passengers most times I observed and all looked to be on free passes,but that's another point for another day.

  2. I know, Steve.

    Tell me, where haven't we seen this before: when hapless bosses engender a climate of fear to rule, then management and workers won't risk stepping out of line for fear of losing their jobs. Forget the needs of the customers, any innovation or taking responsibility for, or admitting to, anything. Let alone doing anything about it. They're just a black mark against your name. Just sit back, do as little as possible, and tell the boss what he wants to hear.

    The story of every corporate failure in history. When will we ever learn, as the old song goes? Never.

    A fish rots from the head, Messrs. Fearnley and Wickers. Including the Government, who have never had a transport strategy, so it's hardly surprising buses have no place in one.

    German Railways, the owners of Arriva, have reputedly given up in despair at transport policy, so-called, in this country, and are trying to dispose of their interests. Who can blame them?

    First have decided not to try and defeat the cowboys, rather join them, and just milk the pot where they can, for whatever they can lay their hands on.

  3. Operators, Local Authorities and Passengers need to work together to fix this industry!

    1. Sadly it looks to be going in the opposite direction.

      Over the last decade there have been three areas in Essex: Dengie, Brentwood and Epping Forest - where activist passengers have formed Bus Users Groups - with no shortage of passenger attendees. In the first two cases that had some success, even getting First depot management to attend, and on one infamous occasion even Giles Fearnley (to announce a doubling of their bus provision!) - even though reading the minutes the rest of their contribution looks (like the reply to your e-mail) to be taken straight from the approved script. I would have suggested it's what Halesworth and North Suffolk needs!

      Sadly those days are long gone and these days no one attends from First (as they haven't from the County Council so called Passenger Transport Authority - ever). Twitter has become the substitute for actually having any sort of conversation with passengers. It isn't. It's a dialogue of the deaf.

      In the third case they had to resort to taking the County Council to court. Result: it looks that everyone else will lose their evening bus provision too, to ensure equality of misery. But legally, it's not unfair. So that's alright then - NOT!

      Stagecoach have apparently put their turnaround team into the East. Input from passengers so far . . . zilch. Let's wait and see . . .

      Arriva for their part seem to be following First into oblivion, centralising everything and removing whatever discretion local management ever had. And, presumably, let's not mention Konnect/Go-Ahead whose policy on engagement with the public is . . . what exactly? Even perhaps Stephensons as they've grown seem to find it all getting too much. Though to be fair Suffolk CC seem to have taken not just a leaf, but the whole branch out of the Essex CC playbook.

    2. Sorry, I overlooked the latest arrival to the local transport beanfest: the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Regional Mayor, who doesn't need the passengers. He has an expensive set of London transport consultants to tell him what we need, as if he doesn't know already, being some sort of superior being to the rest of us ordinary mortals, apparently!

  4. I think the recent Felixstowe changes are aimed at driving the 76 into the ground, from memory theres only 5 journeys a day in one direction?

    1. Watching it yesterday,they seem to be succeeding. Loadngs yesterday were anaemic where I was in Old Felixstowe but I can't obviously can't speak for the rest of the route. First bus towards Ipswich -10 o'clock probably says it all.

  5. Talking of loadings I observed four buses on the Bungay to Norwich corridor ( is there a new buzz word for the service like " Coastal Clipper"? ) the loadings on a Saturday morning were less than double figures . So I would think Konect are very happy to have off loaded it.

  6. I do agree with your comments every operator wants a slice of the cake now and sadly the passenger comes last. I do like Borderbus but they do tend to be a bit of a "cherry pick" bus company taking the best bits off other operators routes instead of competing head on, i know they are a relatively new company.

  7. Although I understand your opinion of bus provision, the world has changed and fewer and fewer people will consider using buses on a regular basis, particularly in rural areas. The CPT sponsored a report into bus usage decline. The principle finding is that car ownership is expensive, but the marginal cost of car usage is very cheap. Thus car owners will not normally travel by any public transport. In rural areas the number of elderly who never drove is declining fast and the new elderly drive as long as possible, as it is preferable compared to the walking, carrying and waiting involved with the bus. You also don’t choose to live in rural areas unless you drive. The consequence is reduced service which itself becomes another deterrent. As Dorset found rural people wanted money putting into ‘care in the home’ and not rural buses.

    Rural buses simply cannot go when and where any significant group wants to go. The car has changed the geography of life. Our rural hamlet recently was associated with 8 schools through pupils and teachers. In practice 1 child had a school taxi and the rest went by car in different directions at different times. One campaigner was demanding a regular weekday service to a particular town across country. When asked how often he would use it, it turned out to be once every 6 months to visit the dentist – he was dead serious. Also online shopping and changing lifestyles means that people go to the shops less often, particularly in rural areas. The bus companies can only retrench to provide what the community is prepared to use and afford.

    The bright side is in the bigger metropolitan areas. There longer years in education, traffic congestion and traffic management is creating new opportunities. However it needs a partnership between the councils and the bus operators to create a worthwhile network. There is little a single bus operator can do. Even London is finding the subsidy cost is unsustainable.

    1. Fair enough. BUT there are successful rural services. We know bus companies need to earn a living. We all do. But there is no excuse for the companies to drive their customers away.

      IMO the bigger threat to bus services is the bus companies themselves. When management and drivers come over with a "couldn't care less/ain't bovvered" attitude, which happens far too often. Like any people business - even high street shopping - the business needs to earn the trust of its customers. And it seems that too many of us just don't have a clue how to go about it. We don't touch our forelocks in deference to our masters any more, if we ever did except in fiction.

      Too often it's not just the passengers abandoning the buses out of sheer frustration, but the good drivers too. Management need to take a good hard look at themselves. We don't like what we see, and it's their problem. Right to the top.

    2. Wow, Smurf!! What's it like to be singing from the same hymnsheet as me!!

      As for the comment you replied to I'd be surprised if Anon lived near me. People carry on driving as long as they can Because there is no viable alternative, so it becomes a vicious circle. Instead of studying rural communities how about talking to them. They don't bite, and might even come up with some recent ideas Your old boy going to the dentist once every 6 months is a tad extreme.

      But on your theory it's quite simple, if you can drive live in the country. If you can't then don't. Seems fair enough until you take 8nto account life And that shit happens 0n a fairly regular basis. One day you can drive, the next you have a heart attack and can't. It's not that simple and never will be, yet bus operators, especially the big ones apparently think it is. Strange how it's local firms like Ensign and Reading who are bucking the trend and why? Because they know the communities they serve rather than merely looking at stats hundreds of miles away. It's not coincidence.

    3. Oh boy . . . . . ! I really can't let that lot pass without some comment.

      Anon @ 1348: Rock On, Man!! It really isn't fair to blame the decline of the bus in rural areas for the entire woes of the world. Life is changing; Mrs Scroggins (widow of Mr Scroggins, who drove the car) is either dead or house-bound. Improving her village's bus service won't help. In deep-rural areas (such as Dorset), there simply is no significant demand for bus services; so they are withdrawn. That's called responding to the market.

      Smurfuk: yes, there are successful rural services; they're called interurban routes between two substantial towns that pass through villages en-route. If there's a village with sizeable population just off the main road, then they'll divert accordingly. Simply leaving a town and running round some villages just doesn't work any more; some through passengers are needed to add to the overall income.
      I'm afraid that the chap who uses the bus every 6 months to visit the dentist is absolutely typical of those who want a service there when they can't drive, but if they can drive then they will . . . I've had many conversations with "possible" passengers who want to use the bus because their car doesn't work in snow, and who get quite irate when I explain we want passengers 5 days a week and not 5 times a year!!

      A history lesson . . . . rural bus services have been in decline since the 1950's {read John Hibbs - The Country Bus and other books}.
      In the early 2000's, Government came up with Rural Bus Grant, which was intended to preserve and expand rural bus services. Some counties, Suffolk being one, grabbed the money and started many new routes (or revived old ones) using RBG money. After the money ran out, Suffolk persevered and only a few, really worthless, routes were withdrawn.
      It's now 2010, and Government (under Norman Baker) came up with the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, which was designed to "kick-start" local bus routes and support them whilst they grew (hopefully to commercial maturity). LSTF money was generally for 1-2 years, and many bus services were started or improved with evening and Sunday times.

      However, and I write from bitter experience here, in many cases the demand simply wasn't there; evening trips were used by 1-2 passengers (apart from Thursday evenings with late-light shopping!). Inevitably, the money ran out and the bus was cancelled. What else would you have the bus company do? Run empty, lose money and close?

      Good Gawd . . . the list of companies who've taken over tendered routes from councils with no money and folded within a year is getting larger and larger.
      Yes, Ensign and Reading are bucking the trend, but watch this space . . . how long will the ratepayers of Reading subsidise the buses in Newbury? There's fall out coming there . . . .
      Ensign do very well in Thurrock, but ask the Newman's to move into Basildon, and they're really not interested.

      Steve: I envy you your outlook, and your desire to improve transport locally . . . I really do. But unfortunately life does happen, and the car has won. The only way to fight back (in my humble opinion) is to do two things:
      1. Improve bus services in urban areas; increase town centre car park charges so that the choice between car and bus becomes really difficult to make.
      2. Admit the car has won the war, and improve Park and Ride services so that driving the last few miles into town becomes simply wrong environmentally.

      In both cases both Central and Local Government will need to take the lead, both financially and politically, for anything to happen. You simply can't blame only the bus companies for the state of the industry. They often don't help themselves, but . . . . if you've banged your head against a brick wall for (as I have) 42 years . . . . after a while you stop, because it hurts!!

    4. Park and Ride is not the way forward. It costs a great deal of money and needs huge car parks and it does not even work for shopping as how do you get your shopping home?

      What is needed is good frequent town services and they are not that expensive to provide in addition the towns need to provide a home delivery service. You can then do your shopping and not have to carry it around but can have it delivered to your home as a single delivery the next day. The deliveries could be another income stream for the bus companies or Royal Mail. The deliveries can be in the evenings and Weekends when bus companies and Royal Mail have the spare capacity to do it

      It needs smaller buses and some cash to kick start it could be small levy on parking places say £12 a year per parking place. It could be most pensioners and disabled paying a small fare. It could be some government funding. Pensioners & Disabled that are genuinely poor could still get free travel. Poor I would fare as being below the income tax threshold. A small far could be say 20% of the full fare

      It is no use pensioners and disabled having free fares if there are no services

      If you take town services a taxi fare for two people is about the same price is less than two full fares which is just crazy but does show that with good management and proper services the demand is there

      Services may also need to be different at different times of the day. At peaks they need to cater for commuters and at eek ends leisure

    5. Ah greenline. We go round in circles, like the buses.

      But I'd like to hear your justifications for:
      - not-full daytime buses in service that by-pass up to a dozen waiting passengers signalling at the bus stop;
      - drivers that huff and puff (or even curse) disabled passengers who require assistance with getting on to the bus;
      - chucking off schoolkids who've missed their scheduled bus so they don't have the full fare to pay;
      - regularly missing commuter services first thing in the morning;
      - losing up to 40% of your driving team in a short period, and not admitting any adverse impact on services to passengers who are left in the dark.

      All of these are regular occurrences. I know your view and that of much of the industry is that these things are inevitable; "that's life", passengers have to just learn to live with it. It used to happen in the 1960s too. They also lose passengers; if the company can't be bothered, why should they, after all? That's what I mean by complacency, and companies which are their own worst enemies. Shock, horror, we don't owe you a living.

      Passengers have feelings too.

      I actually don't see a shortage of passengers round here. They are extraordinarily patient and tolerant, even when they face disiplinaries for always being late for work, or having waited 45m to an hour and a half for a bus scheduled to be quarter hourly or every ten minutes - and not because the roads are blocked either. What I do see is a regular shortage of the buses that the Company chooses to timetable.

      And what I hear about the treatment of drivers doesn't inspire confidence in the management either. Just maybe drivers treated themselves with respect might be inclined to treat passengers with respect, perhaps? The amazing thing is that so often they do such a good job, despite everything. I'm not so sure about all the management, though? Though when it comes to formulating excuses they seem to be world-beaters, I'll grant.

      Oh, and by the way Ensign are moving into Basildon and Brentwood, so we'll be able to find out if this sort of service is as inevitable as you suggest after all!

    6. Just whilst I'm on my lost cause to try and get bus managers to see anything from the passengers' point of view: some unfortunate stone-throwing put staff and passengers in danger so an emergency diversion was implemented. Quite right. Right, we've done our job. Notices on bus stops: someone else's job, up to the Council. Notices on the buses or asking drivers to inform passengers of the change: we didn't think of that one. It was on twitter after all, though if anyone could make sense of it was a different matter! Lone female passengers left with an unexpected two mile walk in the dark home. Well, they're passengers, not people, after all. Think? What would Ensign have made of it? It's not that hard. Except for bus managers, apparently.

      Just in case the message hasn't yet got home: it's the thoughtlessness. Try actually to be helpful, rather than just "it's more than me jobsworth". In fairness we do now actually (for the first time ever) get told of diversions on the net; though not when things get back to normal, yet. Obviously that would involve too much of this thinking lark!

      When we had the last fare increase all depots apparently had on-bus notices supplied. Some depots did, others didn't. Why, is anyone's guess.

      Is bus management really the shambles that it appears?

  8. The problem is both the very poor management of bus companies and the even worse so called public transport units of the councils

    If bus companies provide appalling services and have constant cuts and cancellation and don't even care about it these companies will emerge customers and that's exactly what is happening

    To say there is no demand is totally wrong. The demand I there but the bus companies are not meting the needs of that demand

    Your post seems to express the attitude of bus companies exactly ie WE put on a service and it was not used. What any market research carried out No. Was it published No. Did it use suitable vehicles No

    You can see confirmation of demand as when buses are cut we see big increases in the use of taxis. They has been tremendous growth there and that has come about from the extensive bus cuts

    Meet the d needs of your customers and the demand will be there carry on as you do and you are on the road to going out of business

    Where are buses with new technology. Where are buses with accepting cashless payments etc . They are having to be dragged kicking and screaming to change and progress is painfully slow and the technology they use is poor and unreliable

    The bus Industry is a fine example of very poor management and how not to do things

    WE know there will be further cuts during this year and serves are outside of a main town are little more than an occasional bus which is of no use to anyone

    The message is Change or go out of Business and at present bus companies are clearly voting to go out of business

    If you take Suffolk outside of Ipswich there is not much left now and it is similar in Norfolk and Essex is not far behind

  9. Oh and just one other question for Mr. greeline: when drivers are faced with driving unroadworthy vehicles (which they can't), how is that the fault of the passengers? Isn't it a basic management task to match vehicles and drivers? If not, then please help me: what is their job, exactly?

    I'm sorry to hear the job leaves you with a headache; but you know what: the bus service often leaves passengers with a headache, too.

  10. Andrew Kleissner5 March 2019 at 16:16

    Greenline: you wrote,"I'm afraid that the chap who uses the bus every 6 months to visit the dentist is absolutely typical of those who want a service there when they can't drive, but if they can drive then they will ..." - of course people have said exactly the same thing when rail services are cut: it's nice to know they're there "just in case" I might need it.

    I'm a church minister, and there are folk who behave in just the same way with churches: they want them to be there for daughter Mary's wedding or uncle Arthur's funeral, and are aghast and up in arms if anyone suggests that they might have to be closed - but they never darken the door nor thinking of donating a penny to the churches' coffers!

    1. I may be making wrong assumptions about the church, but didn't Jesus say he came into the world to save sinners . . .

    2. Andrew Kleissner6 March 2019 at 20:31

      Yes, that does ring a bell!

  11. Non Local News

    There seems to be no joined up thinking in Manchester. There are going to fie buses a £100 a day for pollution. About 90% of buses will not meet Manchester's requirement which is any bus built before 2013

    It is in my view crazy it will drive up bus costs and cause cuts to services and drive more people to travel by car thus increasing polution

  12. It will just be a case of shuffling older buses out and sending newer ones to Manchester .

    1. That's what the Mayor thinks . . .

      The trouble is that there are other places too; and they are requiring/demanding/needing newer vehicles too. That's what joined-up thinking is about: consequences and context. Not just me, me, me ...

      back I suppose to that religion. But the message was always a lost cause to the Pharisees, even 2000 years ago, never mind 60 or 70!

  13. Beeston's 236

    It looks as if Chambers will be stepping in to provide some kind of replacement service as they have registered changes to the 756 and 757 services and 236 although they don't currently operate the 236

    The 756 & 757 are basically schools services but are registered as bus services

    The changes are from the 6th of April the Beestons 236 finishes on Friday the 5th. It douse not operate on Saturdays or Sundays

  14. WOW!! Didn’t I rattle everyone’s cages!!

    In re Park and Ride . . . . actually, it IS the way forward in many towns and cities; even moderately-sized places like High Wycombe have P&R routes; it just needs the political will to do it. They may not cover all costs, but if the result is a better town centre environment, then it’s win-win.

    I don’t get the small buses in off-peak and evenings . . . . we’ve done that to death over the last 30 years; having two fleets of buses outweighs any fuel savings; you’ll still need the same number of drivers and still pay them much the same in wages.

    Buses to deliver parcels in the evenings? Go on then . . . . work up a business case for that one!!

    Free fares for pensioners and no buses? Yep . . . we’ve been banging on about that for years now, but if the tendered bus doesn’t run, then the OAP doesn’t use their pass. Funding is based on travel, so the Council saves the cost of the bus contract AND the payment for use of the pass. A double saving for the Council!!

    Buses passing stops? Disabled passengers not welcome? Not running trips? Sudden staff shortage? All these are symptomatic of poor management, and I condone none of them . . . . and I resent the implication that I ever have!! These should be dealt with by local management, with the caveat that senior management should allow local managers the time and resources to do so. If this isn’t happening, then (in the short-term) parachute in more managers.

    Treat drivers with respect? Absolutely . . . whilst I was an Inspector and a Manager I always spoke to them as I would wish to be spoken to . . . . I had enough of being spoken down to when I was a driver! Strangely enough . . . I’m still regarded well by drivers!!

    More to follow . . . . .

  15. Part the Second . . . . .

    I will comment that Stagecoach don’t seem to have any of these problems . . . staff at those companies know that they won’t be allowed to get away with a poor attitude, but they are also supported by their managers when they need it. A generalisation, yes . . . . . anyone prepared to directly contradict that?

    I will also note that FirstGroup companies seem to attract more stick that most . . . . maybe that’s because of poor management again (although James Freeman in Bristol does seem to be making a difference there). Maybe too many forms to be submitted to Head Office, leaving no time for actually managing?

    Regarding lack of research . . . . . my point is that the rural bus services were planned and paid for by local councils, NOT the bus companies! Look at any commercial network of routes in almost any town, and the network is always being subtly adjusted to meet changing travel patterns . . . . it’s the tendered networks that never change, and that’s always been the case because councils abhor change unless it’s forced on them.
    Sunday routes (subsidised) that bear no resemblance to the weekday network because the contract can’t be changed prior to expiry (and yes, I’ve heard that one recently!!).

    New technology is a wonderful bat to beat companies with, but new buses have Wi-Fi and usb charging points as standard; I believe all the Big Five operators now have ticket machines capable of contactless payment now (and by the way, the delay in rolling this out was because “reliable” ticketing kit wasn’t available . . . . no point offering it if it then breaks!!).
    Most modern buses are EuroV1 or Hybrid capable (and before you carp on . . . . until very recently, hybrid buses needed to be on stop-start routes; on longer-distance higher-speed routes they tended to break down, because the electric motors weren’t up to it . . . . . why aren’t coaches hybrid or electric? Same reason!!).

    I would never condone drivers being forced to take out an unsafe bus, and never have . . . . that’s unworthy of you, SmurfUK. I don’t travel by bus in Essex, but by all accounts First have lost the plot there. Unfortunately, they can’t just walk away, much as they might like to . . . . that would leave no service at all.
    My comment about EnsignBus was made following a direct question to them a few months ago . . . . . I actually believe that they COULD make a go of it in Basildon, but it’s their business after all!!

    And finally . . . . it’s not the job that gives me a headache; it’s the realisation that, 42 years ago, I wanted to make a difference (yes, at 18 I was that corny!) . . . . and that, actually, 42 years on, I’ve personally made sod all difference.

    1. I take the criticism! I was of course winding you (and everyone else) up!!

      There was a serious point though: I'm less entranced by the generalised criticisms, but more think, as always, the devil is in the detail. It's an accumulation of little things, not the absence of some magic wand. Buses have become less attractive because of the car, of course; and SOME passengers have unrealistic expectations, of course. They're easy points to make, on both sides of the argument. But serving those passengers we do have to the best of our ability - why not? We do; but we can still strive to do better. We aren't perfect, yet.

      But I do perceive a bit of a sea change in suburbia at least; modern passengers who have often moved from urban areas, are more happy to use the bus when they can and on its merits, and are less so much the anti-bus car fanatics that my generation were. It may take time to reach rural East Anglia and the like.

      As for Stagecoach, ever heard of Stagecoach East? Andy Campbell, who I personally had a lot of respect for, aroused a lot of passion on behalf of both (ex) staff and passengers. The word on the street is that it has become a bit of a basket case, á la First Essex, perhaps; and Stagecoach have parachuted in their turnaround team (at least they have one!) I no longer commute in Cambridge so I have no recent direct experience. But even our best laid plans do sometimes go awry . . .

      I'm an optimist, hard as that is to believe, so hopefully I see signs that First Essex may be starting to move in the right direction. Even though there will probably be some one step forwards, two steps back along the way. And if First Group have the patience, which is always an issue. But perhaps they, in common with Stagecoach East perhaps, suffer from the (predictable) problems of having in the past bitten off more than they can chew. We can all get indigestion, sometimes, and it can be very uncomfortable and not easy to get rid of! That I think is where Ensign and the like get it right. And perhaps James Freeman too, though even Bristol have had big problems. The big difference is in how they deal with them! Not least, James, like some Eastern Counties management, actually got out there and drove the buses! Nothing like a good example, perhaps. And yes, as you've found too!

  16. Do you know if there is any truth in this?

    1. Anything that comes out of that account is absolute bull. The fact there's no name attached should tell you everything. I showed that tweet to Andrew Pursey and he laughed and said 'yeah right - that's why we've just bought another Scania decker for the route...'

  17. Warming to my history theme perhaps; it repeats itself, of course. I find it slightly amusing that the National Bus Company (and its predecessors) floundered not least because of a "one size fits all" approach; and decades later we've returned to it. I know why, of course, we're addicted to our rules; and whether we call it commercial necessity or tradition, it's the way of the world. Dinosaurs and invertebrates are different creatures.

    We just get upset if we're not making the rules for everybody else, and ignoring them for ourselves; after all we built an entire empire upon it. (Certainly not upon military ability, except in the eyes of Victorian romantics; for that you have to look at the Romans, or even the Normans). We'll just have to get used to it, eventually.

    Perhaps AmazonBus (the modern equivalent of the Post Office, if anyone remembers) might combine parcels and passengers in a few isolated cases, though I wouldn't bet on it; and join Uber and a few others. They won't replace the bus, but maybe supplement it. I certainly wouldn't bet against it either. It certainly doesn't mean everyone else can or should try it. (Rather like me and Olympic sports, I wasn't built that way).

    And it always amuses me that Councils think you can just expand daytime commercial services by subsidising them into the evening and Sundays; as long as it's with other people's money. Perhaps we need a different approach, maybe not just with the form of service but the provider too?

    But the rules . . .

    I have to admit it's a strange criticism for someone who built an entire career around them. But I realised early on that my countrymen never worried too much about what we did, it was all about how we did it. And if you wanted to stump anyone, it was the ball that could hit their stumps every time.

    It amuses, and annoys, us in equal measure that the big boys can pretty well (backed up of course by my learned friends) ignore the rules with impunity (except of course when it suits them) for things which would lose their smaller brethren their licence. See TownLink, though I have no sympathy for them, locally. Nothing new there, I grant. They are, as my father taught me early on, made to be broken, after all. Out of necessity, sometimes. I've always wondered though whether it's because these foreigners are so good at this innovation lark that we fear them so much?

    I've probably though given up believing that the politicians (and the rules) will catch up, eventually. Self-interest rules OK.

  18. I still worry though. Why have First in Essex been allowed to lose the plot? Is it just too much of a temptation to use the Essex income to prop up Eastern Counties (to see off the competition, if nothing else)? And is the inevitable consequence, while our minds are on other things, to send the Essex operation, ultimately, to the wall? It's all happened elsewhere, and before.

    There seems, to me, to be nothing in an ineffective and disinterested Board, without any effective shareholder oversight, to prevent it happening.

    And whilst Corporate bosses play games, the passengers (or customers) suffer; as always.

    1. Norfolk & Suffolk does not n't need Essex money to prop them up as they are making profits themselves, unlike Essex, so maybe it's the other way round

    2. That's what I thought too Steve . . .

      but I have to admit I don't get this accounting lark. FEx have a multitude of "exceptionals" costs. Are they really all related to Clacton??? Was nobody paying any fares, or something; or did the safe get washed out to sea? And how the heck do you get operating costs increasing by 10% in a single year? Even Smurf's household budget can't manage that one (thank goodness)!!!

  19. Non Local News

    Not sure if it has been covered but Reading Buses are taking over Courtney Buses

    Go Ahead are acquiring 8 Sprinter mini buses for a demand responsive service in the Sutton area of London

  20. Just to conclude at the heart of the issue is that I don't believe First have a viable business model for Essex. No investment in the face of London-style congestion and growing demand. We keep talking about buses without passengers; but we in Essex have the opposite problem, passengers without buses. First simply don't have the available resources; not in terms of fleet, management with the right skills, or drivers/engineers; which is why they can't put them in as greenline recommended, or they would already have done so. They are frankly happier and more suited as a rural/urban operator in Norfolk and Cornwall. (That they had or have to withdraw in London and Manchester perhaps says it all; if you can't make a go of it in England's two biggest cities . . . We keep talking about Bristol and Leeds, and could mention Glasgow too, but all of them have their major problems).

    I suspect they are trying to withdraw from Manchester having received the very clear message from the Mayor to "shape up or ship out". Even the dumbest accountant in First realised that meant "ship out". Frankly Essex CC (who sadly don't have the same powers) and the Traffic Commissioners need to give the same message to First in Essex, loud and clear. (Perhaps a 10% of their £53m turnover fine - on top of their £3m operating losses - for their continual poor performance, might get the message through? I don't know).

    I strongly suspect they can't afford a sale (otherwise they would surely already have done so before things got to their present sorry pass) because it would leave them landed with the horrendous parent Pension Guarantee to meet the local government-equivalent final salary pensions for a vastly higher staff count that First Bus maintained for far too long (and in the case of Eastern Counties too); but frankly that is First's problem, and the consequences should not be visited on the passengers. At the moment the result is that the passengers are landed with what is effectively a zombie company, struggling merely to pay the essential day-to-day bills and going no-where. Essex is growing, not least to meet the immediate demands of London that the Country can't afford not to meet in its present economic plight; and it needs a bus company that is able to grow to match that demand. I don't know who that is for certain; but it sure isn't First Bus.

    They've put back the fleet age from 15-17 years, which bought them a couple of years, but they're now up against it again, so where to next - 20 years or 25 years?: reliability will keep going down and costs keep going up, again, and we're back on the same cycle of losses. They can't keep on with this merely kicking the can down the road. Sorry. Their only option seems to me to be to sell as a distressed seller for a song to, probably, sole buyers who can name their price. I can't see any alternative.

    As Arriva and Stagecoach with their own problems look to be out of the running, we are left it seems with Ensign in south Essex, Stephensons in mid-Essex and Go-Ahead in Colchester, subject to the Competition Commission. The trouble is how to make the offer attractive enough . . . How big will the write-offs have to be? But hopefully, if done quickly and cleanly enough it can avoid sinking Eastern Counties too.

  21. Non Local News

    With the takeover of Courtney Buses by Reading bus it must leave First Berkshire and Thames Valley vulnerable. There last accounts show they made a profit but Reading Buses will now become the dominant operator in most of the area