Sunday 27th September 2020
Following my Essex experience last week Vecatre boss Dominic Kalantary reassured me their fledgling Essex tendered operation on route 13 between Waltham Cross and Epping was “mobilised at incredibly short notice and watch this space for a touch more class and a significant improvement”, adding a photo teaser of a smart minibus in service on Vectare’s longer standing tendered operation in the East Midlands.
It’s always welcome to receive feeedback to my postings and intrigued by what was promised I popped up to Nottinghamshire yesterday to take a look at the two routes Vectare are operating in the rural area around Bingham and across to Grantham.
Route 833 was Vectare’s first foray into the tendered local bus market in May 2019. The opportunity came after Your Bus ceased operating in the East Midlands. The 833 is a circular route from Bingham (located 11 miles due east of Nottingham) serving a succession of small villages north and south of the A52 Nottingham-Bingham-Grantham road. It runs at a generous daytime hourly frequency in both directions
It’s part of Nottinghamshire County Council’s Nottsbus Connect network of “connecting local bus services, helping to improve public transport links across the county”.
“Nottsbus Connect provides feeder routes from local villages on to the main transport network” and details of all the timetables for the network (including route 833) can easily be found on the Nottsbus Connect website.
After Your Bus left the scene CT4N (the operating arm of Nottingham Community Transport) took on the operation of route 33 which links two of the larger villages served by the 833 (Cropwell Bishop and Cropwell Butler – to the west of the map above) with Nottingham, while Vectare picked up the Nottinghamshire County Council tender for the circular 833. A trip from Bingham around the circuit takes a comfortable 51 minutes making for a handy commitment of two buses for the bi-directional hourly journeys. There’s no evening or Sunday service.
It’s reported route 833 takes as little as £6,000-£7,000 revenue per annum and like many services of this kind passengers with concessionary passes dominate. Vectare have a cost reimbursement contact arrangement to run the service.
For the relatively small size of the villages served and low passenger use of the service it’s a very impressive timetable and service frequency. And even better, as Dominic reported, Vectare have indeed introduced brand new Mercedes Sprinter minibuses complete with leather type seats and usb sockets. Surely there can’t be many isolated villages served by such a frequent bus route and modern, comfortable buses? It’s quite something to behold.
I took a ride around the clockwise circuit yesterday morning on the 12:07 from Bingham. We only carried one passenger for the 31 minute journey to the village of Langar and then picked two passengers up in Cropwell Bishop for the 14 minute ride on and back into Bingham. We passed the anti-clockwise bound bus in nearby Cropwell Butler. The buses are timed to leave Bingham approximately half an hour apart so residents in some of the villages have a choice of a longer or shorter journey or a longer wait.
It’s a lovely ride round and some of the villages are a delight to travel through with some very attactive properties. Bus information seemed to be very much in evidence at bus stops, including route numbers on the bus stop flags. It was impressive to see.
My driver was a friendly chap. He’d previously worked as a coach driver and joined Vectare just over a year ago. His ticket machine wasn’t working, so passes weren’t being recorded, but it didn’t seem to faze him.
He wasn’t so keen on the other route Vectare have recently started running – the 93 which links Bingham with Grantham. Vectare began this in June as lockdown was beginning to ease. The Monday to Saturday service provides eight journeys a day (seven on Saturdays) between Grantham and nearby Barrowby Gate with four of the journeys continuing on to Bingham. The timetable takes one bus with a handy 45 minute gap at morning and afternoon school times so I guess a school contract conveniently fills these.
I took a ride on the 11:15 from Grantham yesterday morning which is one that continues on a Saturday to Bingham (the others being 08:45, 15:15 and 17:15). It’s a fairly tight schedule with the bus arriving from its previous journey into Bingham at 11:14 – the route takes a circular loop around the town centre, strangely not calling into the bus station on the way.
I was a bit perturbed yesterday when 11:15 came and went with no bus appearing but reassured by Vectare’s own timetable posted in the timetable case confirming it was 11:15.
Knowing the young dynamic team running the company are into technology I took a look at the ‘Next Bus’ app on my smartphone but this was (incorrectly) showing the next journey as 12:34 …
… while Google maps said the same. Not quite so reassuring.
I stuck with it and within a couple of minutes a smart Mercedes minibus pulled up and dropped a passenger off, I boarded, and we set off.
And then I realised why the bus was running slightly behind schedule. Grantham’s town centre ring road is not the best place to be on a Saturday morning.
No end of traffic lights, an unhelpful one way system and long queues of motorists together with a diversion caused by Barrowby Road being closed for roadworks under the railway bridge meant it took us a frustrating 15 minutes just to leave the town centre.
The 93 serves the residential area south of Barrowby Road but due to the road closure we had to go via Dysart Road and Barrowby Gate and double back through the residential area thereby adding vital minutes on to the journey and causing more delay.
However once we were clear of Grantham, my driver got his foot down along the A52 for the 15 mile uninterrupted journey to Bingham making almost all the delayed time up; helped by not having to stop due to no passengers being on the journey.
I was impressed to see a Nottsbus Connect timetable leaflet produced by the County Council available from a dispenser on both buses. This shows the timetable for the 833 as well as four other rural routes in the area. There wasn’t anything promoting the 93 but there was hand sanitiser available too.
Residents of Bingham (population 9,000) and surrounding villages are very lucky. It’s a lovely market town well served by public transport.
As well as the rural Nottsbus Connect network and Nottingham Coaches’ two-day-a-week roure S2 ‘shoplink’ to Morrisons (well promoted on the bus stop outside the Co-op as seen above), there’s trentbarton’s 10 minute frequency ‘mainline’ branded route into Nottingham via Radcliffe and West Bridgford with smart colourful liveried buses …
… and East Midland Railways’ hourly service between Nottingham, Grantham and Skegness serving Bingham station, a short walk from the Market Square.
Although I’m still not sure about their new livery and typeface.
All in all it was a very impressive ride round and well done to Vectare for raising the bar on rural route operation. If Dominic and Peter and their team can replicate this approach in Essex, residents of Waltham Cross, Waltham Abbey, Upshire and Epping (along with Brentwood, Pilgrims Hatch and Blackmore – where they also now run route 61) have got a pleasant surprise heading their way.
A big plaudit also to Nottinghamshire County Council. It’s so refreshing to see excellent publicity and information available out on the ground along with a decent website.
It was just a shame to see so few passengers.
It’s good to see Vectare responding to feedback and interesting to see you sampling their Nottinghamshire services. A couple of points did rather concern me.
1) The ticket machine not working on one bus, surely this should be replaced within a few hours? Yes, they’re a small operator with limited resources but I recall your previous trip in Waltham Cross where the driver didn’t have a ticket machine. They’ve also had time to establish themselves in the E. Midlands.
2) The lack of bus tracking/real time information, something surely essential for service control and passenger information?
I don’t want to sound harsh however, a ‘posh’ new vehicle is all very nice but I’d prefer to have the reassurance of a bus tracker to know the service is running. (Again, something required of operators in just over three months time.)
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Sean, Peter Nathanail here, Commercial and Operations Director at Vectare. Thank you for taking the time to provide some feedback. The ETM on the bus in question has a known, persistent fault with the power supply, so swapping it for a fresh machine would not solve the problem. That does, of course, assume that a spare machine is readily available – at £2.5k per machine plus a further £1k in annual licencing fees (again, per machine), spare ETMs are an expensive addition to an operation. Our solution instead has been to invest £10k in brand new contactless payment equipped ETMs which are currently sat on the floor of my office awaiting installation which is due to take place over the next fortnight.
The buses are all tracked in real time and our Operations Centre in Loughborough monitors vehicles across the network. It is much more challenging to supply this information to the various passenger information systems in real time. Instead, if you telephone our office at any time between 06:00 and 22:00 7 days a week, one of our team will answer and tell you exactly where your bus is. We’ve found this to be a much better solution for the small size of our operation, because it means that in the (rare!) event of a cancellation, rather than just looking at a blank bus tracker you can actually speak to somebody that can help – where we do have a cancellation, if a passenger rings in we’ll arrange a taxi for them free of charge, rather than see them stranded. To the best of my knowledge our customer services opening hours and taxi provision are both industry leading, and whilst real time tracking is definitely going to be delivered, at present our network isn’t large enough for it to be an urgent priority.
We will be BODS (Bus Open Data Service) compliant by the deadline, but this service requires us to supply AVL data (Automatic Vehicle Location) – i.e. the coordinates of where a given bus is at a given time – rather than next stop predictions, so the live departure board Roger consulted will unfortunately not show live times even after the January 2021 deadline. In due course we will enable this feature, but given that the local authorities for whom we work provide no quality evaluation whatsoever in their tenders, and instead award to the cheapest contractor, the cost of us doing so will be paid for entirely out of my discretionary “let’s make buses better” budget, rather than because there is a sound commercial case for doing so. Therefore, whilst it will happen, we have to prioritise client-facing, revenue generating projects for our developers, and this unfortunately takes a back seat.
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Traveline Closes Down
More bad news most of the Traveline web sites have closed down with no replacement. They just suggest refering to the operators web sites but that means you have to find them and a lot have no real web site
The traveline Web sites were a bit dated but did not really need a lot spent on them to bring them up to date
Although it is certainly true that the Traveline South East website has closed down, the Traveline Midlands site at http://www.travelinemidlands.co.uk continues, at least for the time being. It is to all intents and purposes identical to tse and covers the same areas of the country, i.e. journey planning throughout Great Britain and timetables for England south of Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire. The Traveline South West website, which has a more up-to-date look and feel, covers exactly the same ground.
The national traveline site at traveline.info does provide timetables for the whole of Great Britain, but in my view is inferior to the Midlands and South West options because
a) it doesn’t combine related routes on the same table (1,1A,1B, etc) and
b) suffers from the unforgivable ‘Arriva’ issue of displaying route numbers in pseudo-alphabetical order, e.g. 1,100,101,2, etc.
HCC Interlink Web Site
HCC has updated their travel web site and in my view they have done a very good job of it. It certainly puts the Arriva web site tyo shame