Saturday, 4 May 2019

Norwich In 90? Not Anymore

Hello all. I've been waiting for something good to report. Sadly nothing has warranted a post so it's back to the moaning. In this case a comparison between today and the glory days of, erm, earlier this year!

Let me explain the circumstances. A very dear friend of mine, all 90 years of her moved from Wickham Market to Halesworth last weekend to be closer to her family. That left another dear friend, a mere spring chicken of 85 pining for her best friend, so yours truly has taken it upon himself to ferry the two between each other so their friendship can endure. On Thursday I took said youngster over to Halesworth for 10am, intending to pick her up at 3pm. I had to go to Norwich so decided to do it by bus from Halesworth, instead of driving to Ditchingham as normal, to see how easy it would be now Konect have deserted Suffolk, to be replaced by a very limited First replacement. Remember I needed to be back for 3pm. Halesworth to Norwich is around 25 miles, not much in East Anglian terms.

There was a 1034 to Bungay, where I would now have to change for a bus to Norwich. In these days of "guaranteed connections" where the bus simply changes route number, to have to wait 20 minutes for a connection on what had been a through route for decades is a rude wake up call. Anyway the 99A turned up, ironically with a former Anglian driver at the wheel, and off to Bungay we trundled.

First 44533 at Halesworth
So, you would reasonably expect that to make up for a new change of buses at Bungay the 99A would connect with the fast X41 to Norwich. Actually no, as that departs 5 minutes before the 99A gets in. I kid you not. How can we fight for an integrated transport system when buses from the same company can't integrate with each other. So a 20 min wait it was for the slower 41, and instead of the leather seated, free WiFi B9's on the X41 up turned this!

First B7tl 32214 at Bungay
It still looks as though it's waiting for its top coat of paint. In all honesty I've been on worst Presidents, but hard seats and rattly ride made the journey seem longer than it really was. Which was still 50 minutes. We arrived in Norwich at 1205, 91 minutes after leaving Halesworth, a journey that used to take 54 minutes.

I only had to nip to the bank in Norwich. To get back to Halesworth for 3pm I would in Anglian days have caught the 1400 88, arriving in Halesworth at 1504. Not now. To go back the way I'd come and be back in Halesworth for 3pm I'd need to stay on the President, go straight back to Bungay, and arrive in Halesworth at 1323. The next connecting bus would leave Norwich at 1445, the connection arriving in Halesworth at 1603, having picked up the notorious angels at Bungay High on the way.

This meant having to find an alternative. After a rushed lunch I hot footed it to Norwich Bus Station and caught the 1315 X2 to Beccles. I maintain these nearly 11yo B9's are still the best buses around our area by some margin.

First B9 37576 on the X2 at Beccles
A walk to the Old Market was next, to catch the twice a day Border4bus service 522 to Halesworth. I had half hour to wait, which was annoying, but the next (slower) service from Norwich would only leave me 7 minutes to make the connection, and as you never know what the A146 is going to throw up the risk of missing the last bus of the day at 1415 is just not worth taking. So the gloriously scenic 522 it was, on a baby E200, Incidentally the Borderbus operated 146 from Norwich to Beccles departs at 1310, meaning an even longer wait at Beccles.

Borderbus BB07 BUS at Beccles Old Market.
We got back to Halesworth at 1450, a journey time of 95 minutes, perfect timing for me, although I had 65 minutes less time in Norwich than I would have done a year ago. It also proves more expensive for the fare payer, having to pay separately for the 522. I have to say had the weather been like it was today the journey would have put me off buses for life, so no one express surprise when First start moaning about low patronage. Give the people something reliable and conveniently timed to patronise and they just might!

This got me thinking. I ask Suffolk and Norfolk Councils this - is there any reason why services you fund shouldn't accept the tickets of any operator, so passengers can use alternative routes and operators in these days of ever more service cuts? Simply give all the services you fund a prefix number, eg 8, so for example the 522 would become 822, and evening 40's become 840. That would make identification easy, and would not only help and encourage bus use, but might just sting the operators to take integrated ticketing seriously, because it has to happen if the industry is to survive.

I have had some positive news this evening regarding Konect. It would appear changes in the management structure are reaping rewards. Vehicle reliability has improved beyond measure it seems, and a new cleaning manager has transformed the appearance of the interiors. Nothing will undo the monumental cock up that was made of Anglian, but if a phoenix can rise from the ashes that will be good for passengers. No one operator should have a monopoly in a privatised industry, as East Suffolk is finding out. Different if everything is regulated as that operator is held accountable, but when little things like 40 min gaps in the service from Poringland to Norwich start creeping in - between 0820 - 0900 to be precise, then it's only a matter of time before the rot sets in. The same old story, once the opposition has been seen off services start getting scaled back. So I genuinely hope Konect come back strongly, as we know First aren't eager to resurrect or develop anything, so it will takes others to give them a run for their money.

Thanks to those who have contacted me - it really is appreciated. Back when I have something to say!


  1. Had my own return from Norwich to Halesworth today. On the way down I nearly kissed the connection, partly due to the driver faffing about in Norwich instead of getting the bus ready. One other person made the connection with me. 6 people on the way down to Halesworth including myself. All but one was fare paying.

    On the way back the bus arrived about 15 minutes late, though it meant the wait in Bungay wasn't as ping. Only myself and one other fare paying passenger here. We both got on at the same stop too.

    I don't see what first are expecting to happen with these routes, if I had missed a connection on my way down it's a two hour wait. If these are a regular occurrence it will just deter more passengers.

    On another note I'm not sure why First take a longer route on the 41 around Woodton, rather than go down The Street like Konect/Anglian used to.

    1. Exactly, First have effectively killed the route. Can't get this image of you kissing a 99A out of my head.....

    2. All to often late buses are blamed on traffic and that to an extent is true but quite often it is down to drivers departing late

  2. First Ipswich are apparently getting 4 further E300's from Colchester, Which means 4 Eclipses are leaving the fleet.

  3. It's good to hear of Konnect perhaps getting their act together. Go- Ahead certainly seem to have the resources and the commitment to do so, as with Stagecoach. Both have their disasters (local examples), but they are committed to the UK bus industry and overall the consequence is that they have to do better more often than they do worse.

    I'm not so sure about First. In what looks like an emerging battle between the BoD and private equity I'm not sure which is worse for UK Bus; and that really is saying something. Locally, I'm not sure whatever gave us confidence that First could succeed where Anglian under Go Ahead's stewardship failed (although I hope for the best)? It really reflects the position elsewhere; the bus industry in the Shires is usually trying to find a way to make the best of a difficult job. In Essex and Herts I hope that someone can find a a way to combine First's and Arriva's operations if they are both up for grabs as I expect. I can see a future for Arriva's local ops; but as for First's Essex decrepit shambles it really is beyond me why anyone might want it! Nobody has so far, it seems; and I'm sorry to you all it was dumped on Eastern Counties. I just hope it's not infectious.

    If there are three things I've learned they are don't make things harder for yourself (principally by biting off more than you can chew); little things matter (a lot); live within your means and and make the most of what you have (and do well). The hardest bit is the forethought. Same as in the rest of life, I suppose. Sadly things don't just work out because we think they should.


    1. I don't have the knowledge to confirm, but I wonder if part of the problem is that in the East we have to rely on recycled vehicles, which I get - we just don't have the population density to make the high profits necessary to justify new investment.

      The problem I suspect is that in the areas that do, they often need deckers to cope with peak demand; and the available recycled modern vehicles therefore aren't suitable for many routes (e.g. virtually all of those in Chelmsford and south Essex) because of low bridges. With no new investment locally there just aren't nearly enough recycled newer single decks to go around (and even less so the smaller ones for rural routes). So we're stuffed. It even more so leaves Eastern Counties a problem obtaining suitable smaller vehicles too. Hence this sort of difficulty.

      Perhaps First's business model just isn't working, which of course is at the heart of the dispute with their newest biggest shareholder. The devil, as always, comes in the detail which Head Offices aren't good at!

      In theory they could buy secondhand as everyone else does, but I suspect that this is a market problem, not peculiar to First, so prices aren't cheap. So they struggle on as the least worst commercial option (for them, though not necessarily for the passengers, as we are finding!)

  5. OK this is going to make me unpopular, and I'm not excusing anything but as you asked Steve, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

    Integrated ticketing, great. First Essex just added £800K to last years losses replacing ticket machines they'd just bought. Fine. For a small operator, dependent on rock-bottom price contract work, it's a killer. Even if the ticket machines can handle it, the drivers can't; I've had a First driver swearing to high heaven that a First Day is the multi-operator ticket in Essex (it isn't), and had a full-scale lecture from an Ipswich/Carters driver on how the Essex Saver multi-operator ticket doesn't exist and is a figment of the Council's imagination, and that we should never ever believe anything from their website, it is ALL a pack of lies. I can really understand how, even where there is established well-supported long-established multi-operator ticketing like Hert's Explorer, the smaller operators are deserting it in droves. Yes, I do know, Essex County's pack of lies gives a full explanation of their statutory scheme, including all the legals under Competition Commission guidance, under which operators are required to participate. Obviously under our local variant of the old saying there are lies, damned lies and laws (and bus tables, presumably) . . .

    But seriously is it better to keep your ticket machines up to date rather than provide that extra bus in the morning and evening peak to get passengers to and from work? We can mutter all we want about it shouldn't come down to hard choices, but in the real world it always does. An I can think of at least one operator that struggled it seems to get the newer ticket machines, and the consequence was that when there was a shortage or breakages a default standard £1 ticket had to be issued (or passengers were just let on free), so a popular contract service became lossmaking and it was subsequently withdrawn. Everything has its price, and sometimes it's just unacceptable.

    The same problem with tracking: even ignoring the vagaries of GPS and mobile signals which aren't consistent; two disparate systems: the national timetabling, and company tracking systems have to talk to each other to give passengers an "estimated" delay. They weren't designed to talk to each other. Hardly surprising the customised interfacing is flaky (how many of us have tried our own computer programming?) How many programmers have actually ever used a bus to understand the needs of passengers? You joke about Company Directors, but they are far from the worst!

    The road to hell is always paved with good intentions, sadly. Keep it simple is often the best guidance, albeit always honoured more in the breach.