Saturday 6th June 2020
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was rolled out again for the Downing Street briefing on Thursday – I note this service is being trimmed back to only a weekday operation with immediate effect allegedly due to low numbers of passengers (viewers) at weekends. It’ll give ministers a few weekends off on the rota I suppose, so another ‘back to normal’.
He was accompanied by Sir Peter Hendy CBE in his role as Chairman Network Rail and previous TfL Transport Commissioner and 2012 Olympics transport supremo. Everyone in transport loves Sir Peter; he really is a top bloke and should really be Secretary of State (just imagine that); so it was good to see him on the telly.
It wasn’t long after the latest statistics and slides had been rattled through including the usual condolences, “hearts go out to loved ones; thoughts and prayers” etc re the latest daily death toll, (this really does need sorting; it comes over so insincerely that it has the opposite effect – it’s even scripted for heaven’s sake, presumably in case they forget to say it) that we got to the “today I can announce” bit being the long awaited news face coverings will be compulsory on all public transport from Monday 15th June.
So much for ‘following the science’ and ‘taking the right steps at the right time’. Once again the Government is playing catch up with public opinion and actions; except here interestingly whereas Transport Focus found people “who think face coverings should be a requirement on public transport” increased from 51% to 63% in the first three weeks of their surveys, in week 5, published on Thursday, this slipped back again to 58%.
Regular readers will know I’ve been lobbying for this for a few weeks so I’m pleased to see it announced at last. But it does seem odd the Government, which assures us is working closely with the devolved administrations, couldn’t act collegiately with the Sottish and Welsh Governments and make a coordinated announcement about face coverings for public transport use across the whole of Britain. As one of the journalists asked at the briefing, are passengers expected to take face masks on and off as trains and buses cross the borders? And surely National Rail has one set of Conditions of Travel, not three, which this requirement is being added to for enforcement purposes? Presumably the condition will apply on the whole GWR journey through the Severn Tunnel or on a train on the entire WCML/ECML route from London into Scotland. And what about the Holyhead to Cardiff trains which meander into and out of England during the journey? I’m pretty sure there’s also just one set of Public Service Vehicle Regulations for buses, rather than three. Bus companies often get criticised for a lack of ‘joined up’ ticketing or timetable coordination between each other; yet here we have the DfT not working with neighbouring administrations to bring in a key policy impacting passengers across the entire country.
I’m also confused by the logic of leaving it for another week before the mandatory arrangements kick in. I appreciate it gives time for everyone to get a supply of face coverings for those not a dab hand at home sewing, but I don’t buy the argument because buses and trains will get busier once non essential shops open and more people return to work after next weekend it’s a reason to leave face coverings becoming mandatory until then. Someone infected with Covid-19 walking down a gangway coughing over even just one other passenger who might be on the bus or train this weekend is enough to raise the R rate back to 1.0, never mind if there’s two passengers on board.
Anyway, at least it’s now just another week away, but there still seems no let up in the ‘public transport is bad to use’ and ‘car use is much better’ damaging messaging coming out of Government.
Shapps even went on in his speech insisting we go off and buy a car or a motorbike rather than use buses and trains. He continued “now that vehicle showrooms are open again, there’s a growing range of electric cars, mopeds, motorbikes on sale. And as our economy gets moving, their popularity will continue to increase. Later this month we’ll be introducing the Fix Your Bike Voucher – worth 50 quid. We’ll have hundreds-of-thousands more bikes roadworthy as a result of this programme”. As one wag enthused on social media, he looked forward to seeing Grant hop on his bike for the daily commute from his constituency in Welwyn to Westminster.
National Express were already ahead of Grant Shapps on face coverings as they announced safety measures at the start of the week for when scheduled coach services restart on 1st July.
“Drivers and coach station staff will be provided with PPE that includes gloves, masks and visors and a supply of hand sanitiser. Sanitiser will also be placed on vehicles and in coach stations. Screens will be fitted at ticket desks and on coaches between the driver and the passenger cabin.”
Notably, customers will be “required to provide and wear their own face coverings”, which National Express says will preferably be a mask. “The covering must be in place when in coach stations and on vehicles. If passengers do not comply, they may be refused travel (subject to exceptions)”.
Every row of seats will be in use, but only window seats, and passengers will fill up coaches from the rear and empty out from the front. Last on, first off. First on, last off. In a turn around of normal behaviour I can just see everyone hanging back waiting for others to board so they can be last and bag the front seat!
Meanwhile, a range of measures are being introduced up and down the country by enlightened companies to reinforce the message public transport does have a key role to play while others, not so enlightened, sadly give out a completely opposite impression. Before I run through this week’s ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, here are a couple of examples of ‘The Excellent’.
Take a look at this straight-to-the-point welcoming on-brand message from Ensignbus…..
… for me, that’s just the kind of positivity we need right now, which we also get from the latest excellent video from the team at Transdev Blazefield launched last Sunday. Here’s a link to the Tweet where you can view the video, and savour the reassuring messages it provides of what to expect when travelling by bus, leaving you with this great thought at the end….
Following those two excellent examples of how it can be done. Here’s….
In London, it’s good to see each carriageway of Park Lane has been transformed into an offside single lane for general traffic, a dedicated middle “bus only” lane and the nearside lane for cyclists. This looks a very good idea to me. It demonstrates that cycling is good but buses are also good. Which they are. I appreciate not many city centre roads have the luxury of three lanes, but the principle of not shoving buses into a lane of queueing cars to create space for cyclists has got to be a good thing; especially if there’s a McDonalds or IKEA in the vicinity. How crazy was it that bus routes ended up on diversion in many towns this week because roads were clogged with customers desperate for a burger or chest of drawers? I find I can happily live without either.
This was going to also be a ‘Good’ with the ￼Aberdeen Evening Express carrying a promising article on Tuesday last week confirming “Aberdeen City Council’s funding bid to dramatically change Union Street has been approved.” All the more so as “it plans to introduce temporary measures along Union Street so it is only open to public transport, cyclists and pedestrians along its entire length from the Castlegate to Holburn Street”.
Union Street is the most important road for buses in Aberdeen; it’s the equivalent of London’s Oxford Street or Brighton’s Western Road. The aorta of the city’s bus flow – its “entire length” is about three-quarters of a mile. So good news the £1.76 million grant from the Scottish Government’s Spaces for People fund “would turn the city’s main thoroughfare into a car-free zone” as the Evening Express reported.
Except that was Tuesday, reporting on the initial consultative document which had been published the previous day, Monday. Bus operators were impressed. Peter Knight, managing director of Stagecoach Bluebird described the plans “showed public transport access being preserved – on the doorstep of being truly transformational”.
Except the next afternoon, Wednesday, bus operators were invited to a conference call to be told of a “u-turn” (literally) as buses wouldn’t be allowed access between 06:00 and 18:00 after all.
Even more scandalous, the new arrangements would be implemented with just two days notice, on Saturday.
Both Stagecoach and First Bus asked for a weeks ‘consultation’ to try and thrash out a solution for all parties but were told by City Council officers given the dire need to give space for ‘social distancing’, it needed to be done on Saturday. Take a look at the width of the pavements in Peter Knight’s photo above (thanks Peter)- they hardly look narrow. Despite last ditch appeals with the Council and Transport Scotland, the closure was implemented on Saturday.
The city’s busiest bus stops have now been lost with replacement stops completely unsuitable – and they don’t allow any room for ‘social distancing’.
This ridiculous policy seems to be driven by political dogma and relegated bus services and passengers to the ‘back streets’ of Aberdeen; which when lockdown is eased, will cause gridlock, customer inconvenience and hurt the long term recovery of both the bus operators and the vitality of the city centre.
First Bus managing Director Andrew Jarvis slammed the City Council saying “the decision to close a key section of Union Street has been done despite the feedback given by bus operators that this diversion would miss out the seven busiest bus stops in the city centre and cause extended journey times and further potential for delay”. An astonished Peter Knight was equally scathing “this decision is a real blow for all bus users in Aberdeen. This will create huge issues for key workers and people who rely on bus services for essential trips as well as young people and socially excluded travellers who are already being badly impacted by COVID-19”.
Norfolk County Council’s attempt to promote public transport …..
This is almost as bad as the warning signs you find on cigarette packets that ‘smoking kills’. What do they mean ‘infections like coronavirus’? How many other nasty diseases are they implying you can catch on a bus? It reminds me of those cove panel notices containing dire health warnings bus companies used to relish displaying – chlamydia anyone?
I thought we’d moved on from all that. It’s going to take quite some effort to row back from this doom laden messaging in Norfolk – the little cartoons hardly make up for the impact of the stark message in red along the top.
Bonkers ideas department
After the bonkers idea of free travel in Cornwall was abandoned, here’s the next barmy idea which was doing the rounds in Wales on Thursday …
Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, made the suggestion that “passengers might have to pre-book bus and train tickets in future” as space on services is “vastly reduced” for passenger safety. That’s just not going to work. Imagine the Cardiff Valley lines; it’s all the train conductor can do to get around the train collecting fares, let alone control people boarding at each door, at each station. It’s also a non starter for buses, although I think he may have got carried away with the Newport DRT trial “fflecsi” I highlighted recently. But that’s just a one-off speciality.
Talking of DRT schemes, I see it was announced last weekend the TfL funded scheme in Ealing operated under the Slide branding by RATP won’t be returning after its Covid-19 withdrawal at the end of March.
I’m sure the same is true of GoSutton which together with the imminent demise of Go-Ahead’s PickMeUp operated by Oxford Bus means there’s a large fleet of spare Mercedes Sprinters in the Group ready for another venture, which is handy, as it was announced last week that Go-Ahead’s East Yorkshire company has been successful in winning a new five year contract (with an option to extend for up to a further five) to operate a DRT service for North Lincolnshire Council. And this won’t be any old DRT scheme; oh no, the news release confirms it’ll be a “transformational” demand response transport service taking DRT provision to a “new level” which seems to mean it will encourage use “from groups who have previously not used or considered using public transport”. Good luck with that one then.
The Confederation of Passenger Transport finally managed to get it’s letter off to the Chancellor asking for financial help for the industry’s struggling coach companies this week. Over 550 signatures joined the “back Britain’s coaches” call for …. (a) £65 million a month until the end of 2020, (b) a flexible job retention scheme allowing staff to remain furloughed beyond the current October end date and (c) confirmation that coach tour operators are to be treated as leisure businesses for the purposes ope Covid-19 support. It’ll be interesting to see what response comes back.
On Friday the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) launched an alert system for passengers to check out how busy trains and stations are before they leave home. The idea is “it will take operational messages about busy trains and stations sent by frontline rail staff to control rooms and, within five minutes, display these in passenger-friendly language on journey planning websites and apps. People will see a red or yellow warning triangle when they search their journey and by clicking on it, will be able to find out more information and advice.”
You can test it out on the National Rail journey planning website now…
… where you can see at the moment, only one train in the morning peak into Victoria on Monday next week ”gets busy”. It’ll be interesting to see how this changes over the next couple of weeks. I’m not sure how impactful the ‘within five minutes’ updates will be on a journey planner if I’m already on the way to the station. For now, it seems to be generalised vague predictions.
RDG’S news release also explains “a new information service will update passengers on how disruption and overcrowding will affect their journey.” It will also provide alternative travel options – you sign up to alerts from National Rail on WhatsApp and SMS – being made available over the coming weeks. At the moment you can only sign up through Facebook, which is a shame.
Apparently this “personalised information service” is what Grant Shapps was referring to at that infamous ‘Cummings/A66 dualling Briefing’ on Saturday 23rd May. It’s the one developed by tech start-up Zipabout I mentioned last week. RDG explains it “uses a range of anonymised data, including journey planning data, to predict how busy a train is likely to be by analysing recent information and comparing it with historic trends. This in turn allows National Rail Enquiries not only to warn passengers of busy services, allowing them to plan and stagger their journeys, but also to suggest quieter options or alternative routes they can take”. I look forward to giving this a try out in the coming weeks but can’t help thinking “historic trends” and “recent information” aren’t much good at the moment to predict the future.
RDG go on to list the “current busiest times at some of the Country’s most popular stations”. This totally flummoxed me, to see the busiest time at Waterloo is between 06:30 and 07:00 for example.
Meanwhile, just a quick update on my efforts to become a volunteer Journey Maker I mentioned in last week’s round up. No exciting news to report although I did receive an email from Simon Lewis at the British Red Cross on Monday (“the start of National Volunteers’ Week”) wanting to “say a huge thank you for being a British Red Cross community reserve volunteer”. Which was nice. I’m hoping to hear news soon about when I get called up to start the Journey Maker training programme. I’ll make a few phone calls next week to chase up.
On the theme of controlling people boarding, in the great London ‘Do I need to pay my fare?’ bus bingo game, another 136 London bus routes are reverting to front door boarding from today, Saturday, leaving atound 150 routes still with middle door boarding and free travel left to convert back to normal. Check out to see whether these latest route numbers come up on your bingo card and look out for the sign on the front door (photo courtesy Tom Bowell)
And just to be topical, route 270 between Putney Bridge and Mitcham passed from Go-Ahead to Abellio last weekend.
Routes where passengers should touch in at the front door newly added from 6th June: Routes 1, 4, 6, 7, 17, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 40, 41, 43, 46, 50, 52, 58, 63, 69, 72, 78, 81, 83, 88, 90, 92, 95, 98, 102, 106, 107, 110, 112, 113, 114, 117, 120, 123, 125, 133, 134, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 150, 158, 160, 173, 175, 182, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 190, 204, 206, 210, 216, 217, 221, 222, 223, 224, 226, 229, 230, 231, 234, 235, 236, 237, 240, 245, 251, 258, 259, 260, 262, 263, 265, 268, 271, 272, 274, 282, 283, 288, 292, 293, 295, 297, 298, 299, 302, 303, 307, 308, 316, 317, 319, 324, 326, 327, 329, 331, 333, 339, 340, 343, 368, 371, 382, 384, 389, 391, 393, 395, 398, 399, 411, 418, 419, 425, 440, 460, 465, 467, 470, 473, 483, 487, 488, 491, 492, 533, 603, 605, 607, 626, 633, 640, 665, 673, 699, A10, C11, D8, E2, E3, E6, E8, H9, H10, H11, H13, H17, H18, H19, H22, K2, K3, U1, U2, U3, U4, U10, W3, W7, W8, W9, W14, W15, X26, X140, N1, N7, N29, N63, N83, N98, N113, N133, N140, N279 & N343
And just to catch you out, routes where passengers should board and touch in at the middle door:
Routes 16, 91, 168, 189, 332, 390 and N16
Along with effective high profile messaging on cleaning regimes (see the latest reassuring video promoting what’s being done at Go North East just released from Martijn Gilbert and his team through this link here) (which like similar messages from other companies highlights the benefit of all bus windows being open – which I’m not so sure about as a passenger on a bus travelling at speed on a fast road especially when there’s inclement weather) ….
…. bus companies are working at amazing speed with tech partners to deliver capacity information. I featured Transdev Blazefield’s App last week but this week saw First Bus launch their version showing how many seats are free….
…while Ticketer have launched their ‘how many people are on the bus’ screen for drivers to monitor capacity (photo below courtesy @alextransdev)….
….which are all very weclome developments, as is the return of Stagecoach’s South West Flacon which began operating again this week after an eight week absence.
Except there were some mechanical problems with one of the first journeys! And confusingly the online timetable doesn’t show either an 05:00 from Plymouth or a 09:15 from Bristol. Still, I’m sure it’ll soon settle down and passengers will work it out.
I spotted an interesting snippet in the Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics’ (CILT) update this week indicating London’s bus companies are struggling for drivers: “Metroline is keen to engage with CILT members who have PCV drivers available to cover their shielding employees, and help Transport for London (TfL) routes return to normal service levels. In these challenging times, this mutually-beneficial arrangement would see the operator invoicing Metroline on a weekly basis.”
As I mentioned last week, there must be hundreds of PCV drivers who normally drive coaches (and sightseeing buses) available, and although they’re not in the habit of stopping so often at bus stops, there’s no cash handling in London and it’s a job back driving on the road for them.
CILT also published an interesting ‘White Paper’ earlier in the week on the subject ‘Rebuilding the bus market to meet the decarbonising challenge in a post-Covid-19 world’. The much experienced Ben Colson has been intimately involved in this fascinating analysis as well as input from CILT’s Bus Policy Group. I can’t do justice to the 17 page document in just a short snippet here, but will tempt you to take a read of it online (link in the title above) with the last paragraph from the conclusion:
“Bus and coach services must be reinvigorated, as they are central to reaching not only Net Zero but also all these wider social policy objectives. They need to align more closely with the aspirations and expectations of the population of today and in the future. The opportunity should not be missed, even though the short-term financial conundrum is daunting. Government has a pivotal role to play by amending legislation and regulations and provide leadership, to bring about change quickly enough to avoid the industry shrinking to all but the major city regions. This requires policy changes at local level and amongst bus operators, too.”
Another shout-out to Go North East for producing a splendid printed timetable book this week with up to date details of what’s being provided. Most bus companies have been relying on online information, but not all passengers have access to this …
Transport Focus continued their excellent work this week by producing an audit checklist so that as services get ‘ramped back up’ “passengers will want greater clarity from bus companies and transport authorities” about what’s being provided. They produced a helpful list of fourteen questions:
1. Is it clear who may and may not travel?
2. Is it clear what timetable is being operated (for example, a Saturday service)
3. Is it clear whether timetable changes are or are not imminent?
4. a. Is it clear what assistance is provided for disabled passengers? and b. If so, is it clear that it may be provided in a different way than before COVID-19?
5. Is it clear what steps you will take to maximise social distancing, at stops and on board?
6. Is it clear what passengers should do to socially distance, at stops and on board?
7. Is the advice clear on the wearing of face coverings?
8. Is it clear what additional cleaning is being carried out?
9. Is it clear whether hand sanitiser is or isn’t provided for passengers?
10. In the context of maximising social distancing, is it clear when is best to travel and when is best to avoid?
11. a. Is it clear what happens if the bus or tram you want is full? and b. If so, is it clear what happens if the last service of the day is full?
12. Is it clear whether cash is or is not accepted by drivers?
13. Is it clear which enquiry offices are open (with opening hours stated) and which are closed?
14. Is it clear when the information was last updated/reviewed
Let’s hope each operator and local authority can give 14 ‘yes’ ticks.
In other news this week a sense of normality is returning with bus companies celebrating varaious milestones including Transdev Blazefield launching a new, and very smart, Pendle WIZZ brand for the northern section of what was route X43 WitchWay between Skipton and Burnley (including a handy non-stop section between Colne and Burnley) – must add this new hourly brand to the ‘to visit’ list when travel-for-pleasure-on-trains-and-buses is allowed again.
The X43 WitchWay continues to run every twenty minutes between Manchester and Burnley but any traffic delays on the route no longer knock on beyond Burnley towards Skipton.
Meanwhile in Manchester, Go North West celebrated the milestone of its first anniversary with some razzmatazz, but obviously no balloons and cupcakes for the public in these socially distant times.
Nice touches included celebrating the input from the company’s staff and a swish publication available online pointing out all the achievements over the last twelve months. Well done to Nigel Featham and the GNW team.
It’s good to see various train companies using the lockdown period to continue their programmes of traning drivers and testing out their new fleets of trains. Before Covid-19 large numbers of delayed orders were destined to finally hit the tracks. One example being the refurbished former London Underground D Stock now getting ready for running on the Transport for Wales line between Bidston and Wrexham Central. I’m grateful to @LBM_Photo for the photograph of 230006 being put through its paces between Evesham and Honeybourne earlier in the week. The enhanced acceleration of these trains will make the tight timetable on the Bidston line much more robust. Hopfully there’ll be ready to enter service in the not too distant future. Another one for the ‘to visit in the future’ list.
I also hear similar trains have been spotted back out on the Martson Line under test following problems with level crossings as well as signal resources which led to trains being replaced by buses some weeks ago.
Also ‘on the tracks’ this week, Network Rail launched its updated and second consultation into plans for revamping, and indeed, rebuilding East Croydon station on the Brighton Main Line as well as sorting out the restrictive Windmill Bridge and Selhurst Triangle junctions just north of the station.
It’s certainly going to involve disruption on a massive scale during the project, but will be worth it in the long run. I’ll comment more extensively on this in a separate post in due course. The consultation runs until 20th September, so quite a bit of time to study the plans.
More immediate is the opportunity to name the fleet of Hitachi built Class 810 trains for East Midlands Railway. The £400 million “state of the art pioneering new fleet of inter-city trains” (lets hope they’ll include pioneering seat confort) will be their version of Azuma; so thinking caps on and hit this link if you want to take part. The closing date is Friday 26th June.
Trainy McTrainface anyone?
I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.