Saturday 7th November 2020
Welcome back to another series of weekly updates of bus and train developments during lockdown. Now, where were we before that “Stay at home” regime was so rudely interrupted back in early July with our being encouraged to go out and about again.
Ah yes; my first journey was to enjoy Flixbus’s oddly timed arrival into the UK domestic express coach market with a trip on 9th July on their newly launched London to Portsmouth service. As I commented then, it was a bizarre decision to enter the market at that time, and no surprise the Portsmouth service lasted around ten days as this week comes news to my email in-box that Flixbus are halting their fledgling British domestic services.
Lucky I’m on their mailing list to find out about the discontinuation as the FlixBus Twitter feed still shows news of the 2nd May launch with its pinned tweet.
You have to try booking a journey within the UK to be advised no services are available – eg a Bimingham to London trip on Monday …..
And rather oddly by clicking on the link for more information brings up the rather depressing travel restricted situation across much of Europe, but no information about the UK – I know we’ve left but, come on FlixBus, don’t rub it in by ignoring us.
Meanwhile back in the UK both Megabus and National Express have reduced their networks from this weekend to an unidentifiable level as neither operator publishes timetables on their website; that would be far too helpful.
Instead you have to play a game of ‘battleships’ by putting in your origin and destination and seeing what comes up, if anything.
Trying that journey from Birmingham to London on Monday brings up just three direct journeys on National Express and a rather bizarre “1 Change” option…
I’m not sure why anyone would pay four times as much for the pleasure of leaving fifteen minutes later than a direct journey, change coaches in Heathrow Airport with a two hour wait, and spend 7 hours 20 minutes travelling, but that’s unintelligent software journey planners for you.
Megabus offer a rather inconveniently timed choice of two journeys ….
Other Lockdown 2 casualties so far include both open access Train Companies, Grand Central and Hull Trains who, without any Government financial support, have returned into hibernation for November.
Well, Grand Central has with their optimistic (and let’s hope not misplaced) “See you on December 3” sign off, whereas there’s no such indication of when Hull Trains might be back on track.
Thames Clippers have also dropped anchor for lockdown – so that’s worked out well for Uber’s sponsorship then.
On the positive news front, I see Hulleys of Baslow are still committed to their new route X57 across Snake Pass despite lockdown although an updated timetable is now in operation as tweeted last Sunday for improved timekeeping, including eliminating that loop around Norfolk Square in Glossop which I suggested in my recent review.
i just hope the Hulley’s team know what they’re doing as it really would be a great shame if the route was not able to survive the winter’s dearth of passengers so it can be there to enjoy next spring and summer. By the way, Hulleys, if you’re reading this, the X57 timetable needs updating on your website.
Oxford Tube are not only continuing through lockdown this time but are looking forward to putting into service their 34 brand new ‘Plaxton Panorama’ coaches now arriving from ADL. The £13 million investment was cancelled during lockdown 1, then resintated, and now being delivered in lockdown 2. Neat.
They look rather impressive. As is that £13 million, in the current circumstances.
This lockdown in England is obviously different from the first one with schools and universities open meaning travel continues for education and that “Avoid public transport” message has been replaced with a list of reasons why you can travel with “Avoid busy times and routes on public transport” – whatever that means – being the new mantra.
It’ll be interesting to see how passenger journeys compare during this first week especially as schools are in session – up to the end of October numbers travelling by bus were about 60% of pre-Covid. I suspect this week will see it fall back below 50%.
Another change is the certainty of Government funding support which is already in place and enables timetables to be maintained at current levels rather than reductions to weekend levels with frenetic action by schedulers to get revised drivers’ duties and rosters compiled as happened last time.
DfT’s Director of Local Transport, Stephen Fidler, wrote to all bus and light rail operators on Thursday indiciating service levels should remain unchanged. He wrote: “As you will be aware, the public is advised they must stay at home, unless they are travelling for work, education or for other legally permitted reasons. This is a broader set of circumstances than we saw earlier in the year and local bus, home to school transport, and light rail service levels will need to be maintained at operating levels which allow for this full range of essential travel and recognise the need for social distancing. I do not currently anticipate that the Government will be encouraging people to use or avoid any particular transport modes at a national level, although local transport authorities may need or wish to continue to develop local messaging as part of their travel demand management plans”.
In London that funding certainty only came at the eleventh hour and fourty-fifth minute (literally) on Saturday night just as the previous funding deal was expiring at midnight (the deal was signed off at 23:45 on 31st October). But the new ‘certainty’ only lasts until the end of March 2021, so expect to be back in the same political jaust in the lead up to the Mayoral elections next May. Great timing.
The wisdom seems to be the £1.7 billion deal is a good (as in ‘least worst’) outcome for Mayor Khan with the somewhat politically (and no doubt Treasury) inspired proposed expansion of the congestion charge to the North/South Circular Roads ditched (always a non-starter bearing in mind Johnson, when Mayor, scrapped the Western extension, and Tory MPs were totally against it) as well as fares increases equivalent to RPI+1% from January 2021 – something the Mayor would have had to face up to anyway, so he can now blame that on the DfT and the Government. Nice one.
Crossrail 2 gets kicked into the long grass (I don’t think we’re going to need it any year soon with travel demand projections being continually revised downwards with WFH [work from home] etc) and also welcome is the need for a a council tax precept to directly fund London style generous travel concessions – eg free travel for kids and those aged 60+ to pensionable age. About time too, say us provincial based tax payers.
TfL also have to make £160 million savings this financial year – that might be tough going bearing in mind the financial year ends in just five months – but I reckon a review of generous stand time in bus schedules might tot up a significant number of peak vehicles that could be saved (there always seem to be three at a terminus), as well as reviewing recent service expansions which have not been publicised and are carrying few passengers.
That might contibute a few millions for starters.
But why is it there’s always something crazy thrown into the pot? Shapps has ordered TfL to institute a ferry service across the Thames to make up for Hammersmith Bridge’s continuing closure. That’s going to cost a ‘bob or two’. Let’s just hope Chris Grayling isn’t put in charge of issuing the contract for it.
Staying in London, the latest news of how public transport has been found to be COVID free in tests was hyped up in the media this week. Continued tests by Imperial College show no Covid-19 found on surfaces and in the air on the Capital’s Underground and buses. This adds to research done by the RSSB who reckoned the chances of catching the virus on a train as 1 in 11,000.
I have to admit I’m not convinced by all this. I’ve had some unpleasant and uncomfortable experiences while travelling on trains including non-mask wearing young adults shouting, coughing and spluttering near me on trains and very little pro-active involvement of staff or British Transport Police. In fact only once on all the train journeys I’ve made over the last four months have I seen a BTP officer on a train and that was on a Cross Country journey between York and Durham on Wednesday morning. It felt quite a novelty.
Passengers have also commented how odd it is that LNER’s software allocates seat reservations – on one journey I made – first class from Edinburgh to Kings Cross last month, 8 of us were allocated seats relatively close together in half of coach K (the one shared with standard class) while coaches L and M were empty.
However, it was good news Shapps announced on his Twitter account (!) refunds will be given on Advance Tickets – and just in the nick of time too with lockdown restrictions meaning many travel plans have now had to change.
The trouble is with these announcements, they don’t seem to be followed through to advice and help ‘on the ground’. Here’s East Midlands Railway’s website current advice wrongly referring to the now abolished £10 admin fee….
They’re not the only ones – here’s GWR…
… and I’m sure the others are the same.
More welcome train news this week was the track being reopened at Carmont, south of Aberdeen, after August’s tragic and awful fatal train crash into a landslip. It must have been very poignant for rail staff taking trains over this stretch of track for the first time after the crash. Looking at photographs of the recovery and rebuild, Network Rail staff and their contrators have done a fantastic job getting things back open again bearing in mind the site’s inaccessible location.
This week’s round up can’t possibly conclude without reference to that controversial and high profile vote that’s been dominating the news and media for the last few days.
No, not that one. I mean the annual Twitter poll ‘World Cup of Tube Lines’ organised by YouTuber Geoff Marshall, which after knock-out rounds seeing all the real Tube lines cast aside earlier in the week has left a nail biting final between Thameslink and the DLR.
Neither of which are Tube lines of course, but they are displayed on the tube map – see the pedantic title of the wall chart above – or, in the case of Thameslink, will be displayed (from next month) in a radical but long overdue change in policy by TfL.
It’s just as well there wasn’t one of the all-too-frequent “track circuit failures” disabling the Thameslink Core yesterday as passengers were encouraged to get involved….
The DLR were at it too.
Voting is agonisingly close so if you want to influence things, go vote.
Personally I can pass by a Twitter World Cup poll with a timeline flick of the finger but this is a good example of the power of brands. GoVia Thameslink Railway -v- Keolis/Amey doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as Thameslink -v-DLR. And whichever line is declared the winner this weekend, one thing’s for certain, the winner will be the French company Keolis – as they’re a partner in both contracts/concessions and are in turn owned 70% by SNCF. So well done SNCF.
And finally for this week it’s a sad farewell to Arriva’s iconic bus garage in Stamford Hill, north London. It closed its doors for the last time last night. Except never say never, as they say, as it’s offically being ‘mothballed’ as it has been once before in 1995 only to reopen again in 2006. So who knows.