Tuesday 1 September 2020

New Route! New Operator! New Bus! New Hope?

 Honestly! Bus news is like buses - nothing for months then a day full of it! I haven't had the chance to write a post like this for yonks so here goes!

Today saw the launch among much pomp and ceremony, well, a few people, of Borderbus' new route 522, from Peasenhall/Saxmundham - Leiston/Aldeburgh. You will remember I posted about this new route a couple of months ago. Unfortunately the people at Suffolk County Council responsible for publicising this sort of thing failed miserably in this case, only publishing the timetable on Friday afternoon, so as the enthusiast population of Peasenhall isn't that great precious few people knew about it. That will change.

Another spanner in the works saw a road closure in Saxmundham put pay to the decker that will be operating the route being used, as the diversion was full of low trees. So a single decker was used, which didn't seem to take anything away from proceedings, despite the 146 branding. I asked the parish historian when the last time a bus with a proper destination blind/screen served Peasenhall - which is on an A road so hardly in the outback - and he couldn't remember! If anyone can please let me know! I hope the route is successful - the parish council are hoping more of the village can be served, but the road layout may preclude that as being possible for a decker. It'll be tight! Anyhow I wish the route well - I'll certainly be using it - although with the Winter approaching it maybe next year before we can see just how popular it will be.

Borderbus 107 arrives at Peasenhall

Attracting attention from the locals!

Next it was off to Saxtead to capture Ipswich Buses first day operating the 118/119 from Framlingham to Ipswich, replacing Galloway. A route that has done well to survive recent culls I hope IB taking over will give the route a new lease of life. Solo 241 operated the 1250 out of Fram, albeit a few mins late.

Ipswich Solo 241 on the 119 to Ipswich at Saxtead Green

Those two events I knew were happening today. What I hadn't expected was Borderbus supremo Andrew Pursey telling me of fleet news at the Beccles firm, including a new arrival, brand new in fact this afternoon. That meant a trip over there to see what was going on. First of all the decker that was meant to be on the 522 today - former Ipswich Buses 46 - is going to be joined by her sister 47 in a few weeks. To tide the gap Borderbus have borrowed former Metroline E400 TE929 LK58 KGN which I understand will only be used on school journeys. Apparently it was only withdrawn from London duties on Saturday.

TE929 at Borderbus' yard

So to the new arrival. Over the pit having its initial examination was a spotless, brand new, 367 miles on the clock Enviro 200 MMC. I'll be honest - I wasn't overwhelmed with excitement. I mean it's not as though it was the first electric vehicle North East of London, not even a hybrid. No mod cons like USB chargers or fancy floor lighting, just a bog standard E200 MMC and I know what they're like - and I don't like. So I accepted a seat on the test run with the usual resignation, especially when I sat on the seats and found the lumber support quite uncomfortable - backed up by a second opinion. However, I was in for a surprise.


From first movement I could feel something different about it, and then I realised what it was - this MMC comes with suspension. I mean real suspension, not the rock hard ADL suspension we're all used to, and it transforms the ride. As a result there is less body noise, as predicted some years ago it seems. But there is more. The brake tests were savage, and the acceleration is very impressive, not something normally associated with E200's, and as for the top speed, well suffice to say it surprised all of us but I've promised not to say so the drivers won't try to beat it! 

When we got back Dave Marshall, the Chief Wizard at Borderbus showed me the difference between the suspension on the MMC compared to the older models. To put it in terms I understand myself they've basically done away with the heavy, unyielding springs that gave such a rough ride, and doubled the number of airbags. It will be really interesting to see if that keeps body noise down for longer. It's at Borderbus for at least a couple of months so we'll get to find out. My thanks to Andrew, Dave, Colin and the rest of the Borderbus gang for the invite and ride which I'm fairly sure is my first on a brand new vehicle on Sept (or March) 1st!

For the first time in God knows how long today felt almost normal. It's a long time since I've been in a pit looking at the underside of a bus let alone seeing a new service launched, or something as simple as a new operator taking over a route. Obviously liking a bus from ADL was far from normal but it will be great if that particular tide has turned. It's good to see a local operator expanding their fleet and looking to the future when there is so much negativity floating about and it raises hope that the phoenix may be pruning its feathers, and bus use will start increasing again. It won't happen overnight, and operators may have to adapt to new working practices but today has produced a glimmer of hope, hope that has been lacking for most of the year. To paraphrase Basil Fawlty; "Ah normal - yes I remember that"!


  1. Interesting read as always Steve, glad to see a return to normality (of sorts)!

    Ipswich Buses have been on a tender winning spree of late, they have taken over Colchester locals 4 and 11 from Arriva and Clacton-Mistley route 2/2A from Panther Travel. The Colchester routes seeing an Optare MetroCity demo bus allocated frequently too. Shame to see the more local operators losing out but wishing IB luck with them all!

    1. Just boils down to whether the local operators wanted them. Fair to say one operator didn't!!! Fares have gone up, it might be a 16 year old Solo, but, we have a service, we have contactless and we will get updates. Hopefully, people will return to the buses, which in my opinion, are perfectly safe.

  2. I'm sure this wont get published, but here's a question for you Steve.

    You blame SCC for not publicising Border Bus' new route and this is why there was a small turn out. What about Konect? When the Attleborough - Thetford route got ditched, you said that was their own fault for not publicising it. Konect done more publicity for it on Twitter, Facebook and their website than Borderbus did. They also had a soft launch to make people aware (like the new 11B).

    It's like you have a vendetta against GAE and whatever Borderbus does is great in your eyes.

    You also say "I'll certainly be using it - although with the Winter approaching it maybe next year before we can see just how popular it will be."

    In that case, the route will last 3-6 months.

    1. Happy to publish as it wasn't insulting. Let me answer your question. I assume you mean Go East Anglia (GEA) and yes I dislike them. Why is that? Because they have done virtually nothing to improve bus services in East Anglia - they operate nothing in Suffolk now. From the day they took over Anglian all they did was look to cut services and made a right dogs dinner of the routes that were making money - the 88 and 61 to name but two. They treated their managers like dirt, who in turn didn't have the power to turn things round. Even Go ahead themselves said, according to a top GA MD "they ballsed up East Anglia".

      As for publicity Norfolk doesn't have the equivalent of Suffolk On Board. But, as Suffolk does, if it's there to do a job it should do it properly, and they just don't. It wasn't SCC who gave me a load of timetables to give to the businesses here to publicise the route - tat was the operator. I made offers of the same at Anglian but was never taken up on it. In Norfolk if operators don't publicise their services no one will know about them. That was the case with the Thetford service.

      As for Borderbus the fact speak for themselves - routes thriving, winning contracts, expanding fleet and introducing new routes. Andrew Pursey has described me as "a very difficult man to please". He's right. I don't do false praise - it's meaningless, but I AM quick to praise when something does what it's meant to do - buses are NOT meant to rattle fresh out the factory, and I am scathing of those that do, but I was ecstatic to praise that E200MMC that doesn't rattle, as I did again today.

      Borderbus do things right - they involve the community they serve, which is something GAE patently don't. Neither do First. The Beccles Town service is only running because Andrew Pursey got the community involved. The 522 is only serving Yoxford and Peasenhall because Borderbus have worked with the parish councils, and devised a way it could incorporate school services, which are basically paying for the non school services, so the route is assured. Times have been carefully tuned to give shoppers just the right time to get things done without being rushed or getting bored. I have droned on for years that operators need to involve communities more. So do Councils but that's a non starter.

      The other operators I know who work with their communities are Ensignbus and Reading Buses. Both are in the top operators in the country. Martijn Gilbert took that philosophy with him from Reading to Go Not East, and the turn around up there has been amazing. Slowly other operators are realising, but mainly up North, and EA is always the last o catch onto things like that.

      Borderbus, from day one never assumed that passengers would come to them - they had to reach out and entice them. No other operator in EA does that. Go Ahead in particular seem to think passengers owe them their patronage, then seem surprised when they don't. The second that attitude changes I'l be just as ecstatic to praise it just as quickly and enthusiastically.

      I doubt you'll agree with any of that, but those are my views. Happy to consider any evidence to the contrary you care to show me!Btw travelled on First's 41 which is still not back to pre Covid levels. The 146 is. You can't expect people to ditch the car and come back if you supply a reduced service, especially when you're being propped up with public money.

      *Go Ahead East has just dawned on me but too late and tired to change it now!

  3. Hi Steve,
    Right had a look through my collection of timetables (nice Sunday morning activity) and have come up with the following routes for you:

    651 - Ipswich to Walberswick - 1RJ Sunday - Eastern National – 1993, 1994
    254 - Peasenhall to Saxmundham (& Aldeburgh) – (SUMMER: 4RJ M-F, 3RJ Sat & Sun WINTER: 3RJ M-S, 2RJ Sun) - Eastern Counties - 1954
    287 - Peasenhall to Saxmundham - 2RJ Wednesday - Eastern Counties – 1973, 1977
    196 - Leiston to Saxmundham - 1RJ M-S - Far East Travel – 2006
    196 - Leiston to Saxmundham - 1RJ M-S – Wayland Minibus - 2009
    563 - Aldringham to Norwich - 1RJ Thurs - Belle Coaches - 2006
    564 - Wickham Market to Norwich - 1RJ Mon - Belle Coaches - 2006
    536 - Peasenhall to Beccles - 1RJ Fri - Eastern Counties - 1994
    563 - Aldringham to Norwich - 1RJ Weds - Belle Coaches – 1994, 2001, 2002, 2004
    195 - Saxmundham to Leiston (The Villager) - 1RJ M,W,F – Anglian – 2001, 2002, 2004
    197 - Peasenhall to Saxmundham - 1RJ Weds - Belle Coaches - 1987-8
    563 - Aldeburgh to Norwich - 1RJ Weds - Belle Coaches - 1987-8

    The 563/4 was withdrawn only in the 2011 cuts but was a coach so I suppose doesn’t really count. Can’t remember when the minibus overtook the 196 contract however in FET & Wayland days it was a proper bus (almost definitely Plaxton Beaver) with destination blind. As with other Wayland contracts I think Nightingales took it on when the former folded around 2010 but I may be wrong. If I can remember correctly the Whippet coach from Cambridge, which ran on Summer Wednesdays until 2014 I think, did go through Peasenhall on the way to the coast but can’t remember if it stopped in the village. The High Suffolk Community Transport bus route 9 (207) does still stop at Peasenhall on the way to Lowestoft (if it manages to start running again after COVID) but, in true rural fashion, runs only three journeys a year! Anyway hope this is all of interest. If you want I can scan the timetables over to you when I get some spare time.