Wednesday 19 June 2019

Austerity Strikes Again

Our beloved Government tell us austerity is over, and we have repaired the damage a few careless bankers caused us. Well I have news for the Government - it bloody isn't over, not in anyway, shape or form. Yesterday Suffolk County Council announced subsidies for 23 bus routes was ending. The small print has to be finalised, but these are the routes affected.

Service 90   Ipswich - Hadleigh - Mon - Sat evening and Sunday journeys

Service 796  Hadleigh to Manningtree Station  Mon - Fri 2 journeys each way

Service 98  Ipswich - Shotley Gate  Mon - Sat  1 journey each way

Service 202  Ipswich - Shotley  No current timetable found

Services M33/M44  Bury Town Circulars  Mon - Sat 1st journey of day and all Sunday journeys

Service 108  Lowestoft - James Paget Hospital  Mon - Fri 3 journeys each way

Services 377/386 Rattlesden/Stowmarket - Bury Mon - Sat 4 journeys each way

Services 387/456 Stowupland/Eye - Stowmarket  Mon - Sat 7 journeys each way overall

Service 62  Blaxhall - Wickham Market  Weds only 1 journey each way

Service 71  Sudbourne - Woodbridge  Mon - Sat 1 journey each way

Service 112  Hadleigh - Sudbury Tu/Thur One journey each way

Service 532  Laxfield - Beccles  Weds only  2 journeys each way

Service 94A  Hadleigh - Ipswich  Mon - Sat  1 journey each way

Service 87  Stowmarket - Ipswich  Sunday service

Service 120 Whatfield - Ipswich  Thurs only  one journey each way

Service 375 Alpheton - Bury   Mon - Sat  1 - 3 journeys each way

Services 461/2 Whatfield - Stowmarket  One journey each way various days

Service 482  Diss - Framlingham   Mon - Fri 3 journeys each way

Now there's nothing huge, nothing major in all that, unless, and it's a big unless, you are one of the people affected. I've travelled on a few of those routes, and they are a social event. It can be the only time people in isolated communities see anyone else, and they arrange their lives around that one day a week the bus runs. When I, and indeed Roger French, one of the most respected chaps in the industry travelled on the 532 it was full. There is no alternative for those people, and yes they were nearly all elderly, using passes, but isn't that the point? To maintain vital links for those who have no alternative. If it hasn't happened already there will be deaths on the roads through people driving when they shouldn't be purely because they have no alternative.

I understand Community Transport schemes are not going to be allowed to bid for these routes, and pending new Laws affecting volunteer drivers are also going to muddy the waters. As I have previously reported, SCC have already penalised those without a timetabled bus service by withdrawing by stealth the use of bus passes on Connecting Community buses, because they can be pre-booked. That rule exists to protect coach services, not to squeeze a fiver out of 85yo's going to the doctor. It is utterly reprehensible what SCC have done to the most vulnerable and isolated in our communities. Those so called consultations they held to hear public views and ideas on the future of rural transport were a total charade. No definitive report on them, and no new initiatives announced, despite ideas flowing from the floor.

So next time you hear a politician say austerity is over, invite him/her to visit the communities about to be unceremoniously cut off, so the Council can save a few quid. It leaves a nasty tasdte in the mouth, or at least should do.

So it was even more mind boggling when this tweet appeared from the Go Ahead Group yesterday.

I'm sorry - run that past me again! "The only links for people who would otherwise be isolated". Really? It isn't April 1st again is ir? Just to remind everyone, this is a list of routes abandoned by Go Ahead in Suffolk and Norfolk over the last 6 years, and I bet I've forgotten a few. With pending cuts to the 84, leaving the folks of Denton and Alburgh without a bus service, its still ongoing. But those folks will be reassured that Go Ahead appreciate what a vital link they supply.

1, 2, 2A, 5, 7, 7A, 22, 37B, 52A, 53, 53A, 53B, 57, 60, 60A, 60B, 60C, 60H, 60S, 61, 61A, 62, 63, 68, 69, 71A, 72A, 80, 81, 82, 82A, 83, 85, 86, 87, 88, 88A, 88B, 89, 90, 92 95, 164, 165

I will, of course, report on any of the routes that manage to be saved, as I suspect some will by various means. I hope for the sake of those affected I have plenty to report.

Friday 7 June 2019

Ipswich Buses Scanias Go To Yorkshire

It's not often I get an exclusive these days - well I do, I'm just told not to publish them, and invariably someone else publishes before I do. For example I've known for months what the next X1 fleet is, but I'm not allowed to say - and I can guarantee someone will spill the beans before I'm given clearance.

So I'm delighted that this time I've got something first that I can publish! I noticed the other day that all six of Ipswich Buses Scania Omnicitys had been withdrawn and taken to Ensign's for disposal. I have a soft spot for those Scanias - they arrived in the area around the same time I did, and were the first examples I had been on, Lovely seats too. So I contacted Ross Newman at Ensign to see if any of them had found new homes yet.

I can exclusively (sorry) reveal that four of the Scanias have been bought by Connexions Bus of Harrogate. As yet I don't know which four, as soon as I do I'll let you know, but wouldn't surprise me if the four haven't been chosen yet. Ross kindly sent me a pic of former IB 71 YN56 NYC in Ensign's yard.

Former IB71 in Ensign's yard
My thanks to Ross for taking the time to get the bus out for the photo, and to Connexions Bus for allowing the news to be made public. As soon as I know the fate of the remaining two Scanias I shall report back! Might have to return to Harrogate too....

Thursday 6 June 2019

It's A Funny Old Game

I'm still undecided about social media, if it's a good or bad thing. It can showcase things that otherwise would go unnoticed, bring far flung friends together, illustrate selfless acts to rescue animals, or raise awareness of good causes. It can also have its unsavoury side, much like real life.

Today I've been called "sour", cynical", "childish", "unchristian",  "close minded", "bitter", invited to start saying thank you to waiting staff and my postman, and this has been made and supported by so called industry professionals, including some in high positions. And my crime? What did I do to provoke this catalogue of criticism and name calling?

Well, I was going through Twitter this morning, and I spotted a Tweet for the 4th day running from Network Rail, proclaiming the success of the recent closure of the Southend line. Overhead lines and gantries have been replaced, and the line was shut for 9 days to allow the works. It had been well publicised for months, and an informative video was posted, showing what had been done and what still needed to be done. All very good. However, and this is what caught my eye, it was the wording of the tweet...

Hang on a sec - what was that - you're pleased to confirm you finished the job on time 4 days ago? Firstly I think everyone will have noticed trains are running again, and most importantly it's Network Rail's job to get the work done on time. That is why they are paid billions of taxpayers money every year. It struck me that I can't think of another profession (except sport) where people expect public praise for doing their job. Can you imagine Yorkshire miners in their heyday coming out of t'pit, and wanting a fanfare because they'd mined sufficient coal to justify their wages? Do Ambulance Trusts tweet everyday how many lives they save and how many were reached in the target time in order to get praise? My postman doesn't tweet every day that he successfully completed his round without putting any mail through the wrong letterbox. Of course not. It's their job, and they do it brilliantly, without seeking attention.

Now, don't get me wrong - it's vitally important that the travelling public, of which I'm one, is kept fully informed of engineering projects and their progress. We need to see where improvements are made and where the money goes, although that doesn't help when your train is delayed or diverted due to the ubiquitous signal and points failures that plague the system. So it's good PR, and shows what is done when lines are closed. But do you really have to proclaim that you've finished a job on time? Doesn't that just point out how often it doesn't?

So I tweeted the following.

I did play the hymns perfectly too - and got praise for it, as I did the Beatles number I played after the service which linked in to the theme of the day. What I didn't get was praise for turning up on time or wearing appropriate attire, or not falling asleep in the sermon. Some things should be accepted as the norm, and finishing a job on time should be one of them, in my view. Imagine had Network Rail's tweet been worded thus:

"We are pleased to announce that the engineering works to replace overhead lines and structures has gone smoothly, and as a result passengers can now expect fewer disruption in adverse weather conditions - thank you for your patience while the works were carried out".

Then they might not have got the reaction they did - here is the link to the tweet so you can view the responses, click here.

Anyhow, you'd have thought I'd said Network Rail were the Devil Incarnate from the response I got. Which proves a theory I've had for sometime, that the rail industry, from the Department of Transport, to Network Rail, to train operating companies, to the rail media are so out of touch with the travelling public it beggars belief. Why the hell should passengers on the Southend line be overjoyed engineering works finished on time 2 days previously when at the precise moment that tweet was posted on Tuesday there were no trains running on the line due to a points failure at Shenfield! They pay thousands a year for a service. They have a right to expect works to finish on time and every right to complain when they don't. Until such time as the industry grasps that simple fact, and puts the customer first, as some - but still too few - bus operators have realised (Harrogate Bus including the top banana were handing out free breakfasts on the 36 this morning) then passengers will not see many benefits.

The entire attitude of the railways needs to change - the "blame someone else" culture is at pandemic proportions, and self-congratulatory posts will do nothing to appease the customer. There are exceptions to that, but very few among the people with influence, and that affects the staff on the ground who do an exceptional job. I'm reminded of a quote from Blackadder Goes Forth when General Melchett tells the troops "Don't forget, Captain DArling and I are right behind you", to which Blackadder replies "About 35 miles behind you"! The rail staff on the ground must feel like that sometimes.

So to everyone who sank a lot lower than was really called for today, including some very surprising names I make this pledge. I will continue to side with the passenger as I am a passenger who just happens to know a bit more about how things operate than most. I will praise where its deserved, and I did that today too to Greater Anglia about their friendly staff, and for rescuing a family of swans off the line at Somerleyton. But I will also continue to comment about things that I think make the railway look stupid, and saying yippee we finished something on time is one of them. Not when the very people you are saying yippee to are stuck with no trains! If you don't like it stop following me - social media gives you that choice so use it. Then I can't upset you.