Annual Review, Awards and Quiz of the Year 2021

Saturday 18th December 2021

Welcome everyone to my annual round up of the bus and train year, a few well deserved awards and time to test your knowledge of the public transport highs, lows and quirks of 2021 in the BusAndTrainUser annual Quiz of the Year.

2021 in seven paragraphs

2021’s been another year of Covid turmoil dominated by lockdown; recovery from lockdown; bail out support funding; not enough bail out support funding; passengers returning; passengers return stalling; passengers no longer returning; a year of strategy launches and plans aplenty; heightened awareness and talk of climate change amid conferences and summits; two new National Rail stations; two new Underground Stations; two new bus stations; an extended busway; many more new zero emission buses than we’ve been used to; fewer new trains than we’ve been used to; and more big business deals than recent years.

Seismic deal of the year was the National Express merger-come-takeover of Stagecoach finally confirmed this week after months of discussions but yet to get through regulatory hurdles which might take most of 2022 as the Competition and Markets Authority crawl over whether offloading Megabus, South West Falcon and Stagecoach’s share of Citylink to ComfortDelGro will be enough. First Group were big deal makers too with a retrenchment back to the UK following the long awaited sale of its USA First Student and First Transit business to Swedish private equity group EQT Infrastructure, for £3.3billion in April and Greyhound to FlixMobility for £130 million in October and of a smaller scale taking full control of Somerset Passenger Solutions exclusively operating a fleet of 156 buses for the construction of Hinkley Point C. Other deals saw Xplore Dundee sold by National Express to McGills while Transdev Blazefield bought Yorkshire Tiger from Arriva immediately rebranding it Team Pennine and D&G Bus bought Arriva’s Cannock depot and services rebranding them Chaserider. Arriva in the UK as a whole remained up for sale throughout the year, owner DB seemingly unable to find anyone to buy it while Go-Ahead hit trouble on the tracks with its GoVia run Southeastern business taken into Government ownership following “accounting irregularities”. In London Sealink Travel Group, owners of Tower Transit, confirmed a “Strategic Joint Venture” between its Westbourne Park bus garage and RATP’s London United and London Sovereign called “RATP DEV London Transit Ltd”.

The long awaited National Bus Strategy ‘Bus Back Better’ and Williams Shapp Plan for Rail both appeared with muted welcomes not because both strategies lack a utopian vision for public transport nirvana, quite the reverse, they both espouse a bus and train wonderland of quality services we’ve all dreamt of for decades. There was just one problem. Money. The lack of it. And for rail, scepticism about the elongated timescales that bedevil the industry’s decision making meaning no-one is expecting Great British Railways to arrive at a station any time soon. Scepticism aplenty was reaffirmed last month when the much trailed Integrated Rail Plan was finally announced causing much consternation by effectively ditching the eastern leg of HS2 and neutering the whole point of having Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Meanwhile the inter-city market saw further expansion from Flixbus which easily found ways to spend its vast reserves of equity funds offering rock bottom fares on an expanding network of coach routes challenging both National Express and Megabus.

TfL’s financial woes continued with the wheels well and truly coming off “London style” buses and trains with serious cuts to bus frequencies implemented on a weekly basis in the Autumn and Mayor Khan current proposing previously unthinkable changes including raising the qualifying age 60 for concessions, introducing a premium fare for travel to Heathrow and doing away with Travelcards. It was announced yesterday the already delayed December deadline for funding has now been extended to February so the DfT can consider the Mayor’s proposals. All this continuing financial turmoil in the Capital seemed to pass elected Mayors by in the north with Manchester’s Burnham still resolutely determined to bring in franchising and confirmed intentions in West Yorkshire and Merseyside not far behind.

Reassuring “whatever it takes” funding to support bus and train services throughout the Covid period became less certain as 2021 progressed. Bus operators seeing passenger numbers return during the summer and autumn welcomed in principle the new Bus Recovery Grant payable from September, but lack of detail of exactly how much would be paid and knowing its cessation by next April caused growing alarm not least with the Omicron variant rampaging through communities as I write, once again deterring passengers from travelling with working from home advised and entertainment events becoming cancelled bringing about a quasi lockdown. There’s less than four weeks left before the deadline for decisions needed on the shape and size of networks applicable from April on current rules for service registrations. With passengers 20-30% below ‘normal’ levels and funding support due to end, it doesn’t take much imagination to work out what lies ahead from next Spring – a mother of all cutbacks.

This, coupled with the news funding bids for the ambitious Bus Service Improvement Plans submitted at the end of October in good faith after much activity during the summer by Local Authorities far exceeds the sums available paints a rather bleak picture for bus networks post April 2022. And it doesn’t look as if it will be any brighter on the tracks if reports of Treasury officials through their DfT colleagues requiring all train companies to make 10% cuts in their costs next year are true. But let’s not get too downhearted. Rishi Sunak is on his way back from California as I write this and hopefully will open up his piggy bank again. But that’s looking ahead, whereas this blog is about looking back ……

Number of the Year

0 number for the new platform opened in Leeds joining Cardiff, Doncaster, Edinburgh Haymarket, Gravesend London Kings Cross, Rainham, Redhill and Stockport all also having platform 0s.

0 passengers used six rail stations in 2020/21 according to the Office of Rail and Road’s annual statistics released last month: Abererch, Beasdale, Llanbedr, Sampford Courtenay, Stanlow and Thornton and Sugar Loaf.

0 emission buses introduction helped by the £120 million ZEBRA scheme announced by the DfT in March paying for “up to 500 buses”.

£0 value for most of the Cardiff Bus fleet in its 2019/20 annual accounts published in 2021.

2.6% increase in rail fares from March to be followed by a further 3.8% increase in March 2022 (and another year featuring no increase once again in fuel duty).

£12.50 daily charge for non qualifying vehicles in London’s expanded ULEZ from October.

£19.90 London to Edinburgh introductory fare on Lumo.

80,000 trees planted in the first three months of 2021 committed to and funded by Network Rail.

£6 million termination fee paid by First Group for TransPennine Express in May over and above the £42.5 million previously paid.

£8 million for Bow Street’s new one platform station in February.

£21.8 million for Soham’s new one platform station in December.

£25 million (and counting) missing from GoVia’s profit share with DfT for Southeastern.

£32 million spent on Class 442 Wessex electrics by South Western Railway just before the fleet was scrapped and “the refurbishment aborted”.

£56.3 million loss incurred by Abellio running ScotRail in 2020.

£130 million for Greyhound sold by First Group to FlixMobility

£226.5 million committed to Bus Recovery Grant from September 2021 to March 2022.

£1.08 billion support package for TfL between May and December 2021 added to the £4 billion paid since March 2020.

£3 billion support for improving buses announced in conjunction with Bus Back Better subsequently redefined as £1.2 billion after various commitments including ZEBRA funds for low emission buses and Bus Recovery Grant.

£3.3 billion raised from the sale of First Student and First Transit.

Before any more reminiscing it’s time to test your own recall of some of the bus and train stories in the news with the…..

Quiz of the Year 2021

1 What connects: Milton Keynes, Nantwich, Buntingford and Inverurie?

2 What comes next in this sequence: Swansea … Herefordshire … Newport … ??

3 What long standing West Midlands bus route (since April 1926) no longer went round in circles from July?

4 Why did passengers who’d boarded Avanti West Coast’s 21:00 Euston to Manchester journey have to all get off and board another train on a Friday evening in March as it was unable to move for three hours for a never before reason?

5 Why did a Southern Class 313 spend weeks stabled in Brighton’s platform 8 in March with passengers unable to board?

6 Why did “a bolster providing a connection between an anti-roll bar, a yaw damper mounting and a lifting bracket” cause major problems at four train companies and for thousands of passengers in May?

7 Why were Florence and Cicelia in the transport news in May?

8 Why did the Carbon Battle Bus on its UK tour embarrass itself at the Eden Project during the G7 conference in October?

9 Why was a naked attraction pulled in September?

10 Why did the Advertising Standards Authority rebuke East Midlands Railway for not building back better?

And if any of those have stumped you …. read on as some of the answers appear in the next few paragraphs with them all listed at the very end.

Hello and welcome

2021’s been another busy year of musical chairs at the top of bus and train companies. Claire Mann swapped her Director of Bus Operations at TfL name badge for one saying she’s managing director at South Western Railway where she replaced Mark Hopwood who hopped back to GWR having completed his SWR secondment ousting and Matthew Golton who’d been covering the GWR role, and moved instead to be First Rail Business Development Director which must have needed a very long name badge. Also needing a longish badge was new managing director at TfW Rail, Jan Chaudhry van der Velde who returned following a ‘career break’ after leaving West Midlands Trains; Steve White moved from GTR to become managing director at Southeastern as it changed owners from GoVia to the Operator of Last Resort amid controversy over missing millions from a profit share scheme and Matthew Golton became managing director at TransPennine Express. Moving to managing director at Hull Trains was David Gibson replacing Louise Cheesman who moved south to become TfL’s new Director of Surface Transport.

Getting ready for Elizabeth Tasker’s retirement next month saw Lee Wasnidge moving from Manchester Airport to take over as managing director at Stagecoach Manchester while at the newly expanded Stagecoach West and Oxfordshire Rachel Geliamassi sat in the MD’s chair newly taking responsibility for Oxford, as her predecessor Rupert Cox at West moved up the director food chain to become Stagecoach’s Interim Regional Director South. Over in First Bus Doug Charingbold arrived from Addison Lee to become managing director at First West of England; Dave Askill stepped up to become head honcho at Nottingham City Transport and Ed Wills took the helm at Go-Ahead’s Brighton & Hove while Edward Hodgson continued as managing director at Stagecoach South instead of leaving, which he’d announced. Finally, new top dog at Go-Ahead Group from November was Christian Schreyer as he took over the Chief Executive baton.

We said hello to TFW Rail Ltd which ousted Arriva Trains Wales in February making it hard to work out the difference between Transport for Wales (the authority) and Transport for Wales (the train operator). Elsewhere on the tracks a warm welcome went to electric trains running to Corby under the new EMR Connect brand; welcome also to Bow Street station near Aberystwyth in February and Soham station in Cambridgeshire this month, the return of daily trains between Okehampton and Exeter from last month as well as a new platform 0 at Leeds; a rejuvenated frontage at Doncaster station; the eastern most bore in Gasworks Tunnel after track remodelling outside Kings Cross and the impressive Werrington dive under north of Peterborough while a new name on the East Coast Main Line was First Group’s budget airline competitor Lumo, running between Kings Cross and Edinburgh from October now joined by this week’s LNER foray into Middlesbrough and not forgetting ScotRail’s impressive Queen Street Glasgow station redevelopment completed earlier in the year.

Class 387 trains became the mainstay on the Heathrow Express; Class 707 trains swapped SWR’s south London tracks for Southeastern’s (together with an all over blue refresh and new CityBEAM brand after just four years); Mark 4 coaches took over TfW’s Gerald train to an expanded timetable linking north and south Wales after its lockdown hibernation; refurbished Class 769 (formerly Class 319) trains arrived in the South Wales Valleys; while over on the Isle of Wight after a frustrating nine month wait Class 484 trains (aka former Underground Class D stock) finally entered service on the Island Line. Trains started running on the much delayed central core of Crossrail but sadly no passengers could travel as it was all part of the many months of warm up trial running. No passengers were carried on the Waterloo & City line either which took a Covid break returning initially only in peak hours before getting back to normal in November with a similar fate for Gatwick Express only returning in its own branding high-fares rip off this month, passengers having enjoyed the benefit of travelling on the self same trains all year at cheaper fares but officially branded as Southern journeys. Controversy surrounded the return of the Night Tube in London with TfL wanting the Central and Victoria Lines to return but the RMT having other ideas involving striking, including as I write these very words, last night and today.

Still in London a huge hello in October to a much expanded Ultra Low Emission Zone covering the area between the North and South Circular Roads rather than just the central congestion zone while the central zone saw a return to two-way traffic around Aldwych with a traffic free Strand on its south side.

It was a quieter year for competition and aside from the launch of Lumo on the tracks the two notable incursions on the roads were in Buckinghamshire With Redline upping its competition with Arriva between High Wycombe and Aylesbury and Red Eagle’s new route X20 competing with Arriva’s route 280 on the Oxford to Aylesbury corridor from September. Meanwhile Go Cornwall’s competitive strike at First Kernow between Falmouth and Truro skidded off the road before it started for lack of drivers.

Traws Cymru continued its expansion with two more new routes: the T19 between Llandudno and Blaneau Ffestiniog and T10 between Bangor and Corwen together with adding to its myriad of Flecsi DRT schemes with a new one in Blaenau Gwent and a revised scheme in Newport.

Further DRT schemes were also introduced in England as more local authorities misguidedly believed a few minibuses and an app are the answer to all their bus network problems, helped by the DfT’s magic DRT money tree. Launching during 2021 were Milton Keynes (Connect); Warwick (West Midlands On Demand); Wickham Market (Katch); Bromsgrove (Bromsgrove on Demand); Bedale (YorBus); Buntingford (HertsLynx); east Leeds (FlexiBus with electric powered minibuses); Nantwich (go-too); West Hunts (ting); Leatherhead (Surrey Connect) and up in Scotland in Inverurie (Ready2Go).

Residents living in Battersea and Nine Elms welcomed their new Underground stations with Northern Line trains ready to whisk them off to High Barnet and Edgware from September, those living in Whitechapel enjoyed the reopening of their newly expanded station while residents in Merthyr Tydfil and Exeter savoured the sparkly new bus stations opening in their towns, albeit the latter was somewhat too small for the number of buses, and those living in Gosport got a bit more of their impressive Eclipse Busway opening this month.

A few bus routes saw interesting expansions and cuts including TfL’s new route 456 between Crews Hill and North Middlesex Hospital, route 324 extended to the Centennial Business Park in Elstree while route 414 was cut back from Maida Hill to Marble Arch and a whole host of other routes had their frequencies slashed. Over in Kent Stagecoach struck out from Canterbury and Faversham to Maidstone with two new routes X3 and X4 while in Llangollen, Denbighshire Council launched a weekend Dee Valley Picturesque Bus, Yellow Buses had fun with open top buses with Buster’s Beach Bus getting as far east as Mudeford and a New Forest Explorer linked Ringwood and Christchurch while former Oxford to London coaches found their way up north to appear on Go North East’s X9 and X10 between Tyneside and Teesside and the newly branded Chaserider introduced a new route X14 between Cannock and Telford.

Amazon got up close to the bus industry with a whole host of out sourced contracted bus routes for its employees working in its huge often remotely located fulfillment centres and in Kent its AZ route operated by Go Coach Hire became a public route too making for an interesting development.

It was a big year for zero emission buses and new kid on the block Arrival kind of launched its electric bus except it’s still in development so wasn’t really launched at all whereas Aberdeen welcomed a fleet of nine hydrogen powered double deck buses for First Bus route 19 (a “world first”) beating London to that claim to fame and its introduction of similar vehicles on Metroline’s route 7 in June and just recently the appearance of the genre in Birmingham too.

2021 was another 12 months branding fest for bus routes with a bumper bundle of new names hitting the streets including in Washington (Go North East’s Little Pink); Durham (Go North East’s East Durham Explorer); Manchester (Go North West’s Cross City and Middleton Minis); Rossendale (Transdev Blazefield’s Rossendale Rovers); Burnley (Transdev Blazefield’s Ribble Country); Preston (Transdev Blazefield’s Little Hotline); Huddersfield (Team Pennine’s HuddsQuick, KirkheatonQuick and Holmfirth Explorer); Halifax (Team Pennine’s Calder Country); Otley (Keighley Bus Company’s Otley Dash); and almost equalling Transdev Blazefield’s new brand haul was First Bus South West’s exciting schemes to stimulate the leisure market with its Lands End Coaster, Falmouth Coaster and Exmoor Coaster joining the longer established Atlantic Coaster as well as a daytripper, Dartmoor Explorer and an Exeter City Tour. First Hampshire & Dorset also beefed up their branding with prominent Wessex and Berkshire names while in Aberdeen First Bus branded its 16 coaches as King Coaches and in Swansea and Porthcawl ran Cymru Coaster branded open top bus routes. East Yorkshire’s East Rider brand extended to new route X5 linking Goole and Hull as well as a revamped X7 with Beverley Locals joining the network later in the year. Finally over in Cannock a brand blast from the past was brought back with D&G Bus using Chaserider for its acquired routes from Arriva.

Sneak previews for branding coming in 2022 have included recent photos of a newly painted bus branded as Copper for First’s Falmouth-Truro-Newquay route.

Over on the Isle of Sheppey there was some justice in seeing Chalkwell take over the bus network from Arriva for those with memories of how the roles were reversed in 2017 when Arriva’s then great hope for the future – Click – ousted Chalkwell from its local route to Sittingbourne’s science park. Another welcome development was a rejuvenated Jurassic Coaster network in Dorset with First Bus introducing a new open top X52 between Bridport and Wool. Also dabbling in the open top market for the summer was Cardiff Bus with a route to Penarth using a bus on loan from Reading and Aldermaston Coach Lines with its route 26 along Southsea seafront.

Summer saw the welcome return of Rail Charter Services’ Staycation Express to an expanded timetable on the Settle Carlisle line this year using an HST as well as operating during the October half term. Further north scenic rail line lovers were treated to the launch of a refurbished Class 153 on two return journeys a day between Glasgow and Oban on ScotRail’s Highland Explorer.

While we wait patiently (very patiently) for Rail Fares Reform, over in Wales 1Bws ticket was launched in July giving unlimited travel on every bus in north Wales – Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd, Isle of Anglesey, Wrexham – as well as routes to Chester, Whitchurch and Machynlleth and at a bargain at £5.70 too and down in the Solent a new Waterside Wanderer ticket was launched recently giving travel on Bluestar buses, trains and the Hythe Ferry spearheaded by the Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership for the Hythe and Waterside area.

Goodbye and good luck

This year’s long standing managing director retirements included Mark Fowles at Nottingham City Transport, Alex Carter at First South West, James Freeman at First West of England, Martin Harris at Brighton & Hove while Marc Bichtemann left First York to return to his native Germany for family reasons and Chris Coleman left Stagecoach Oxford “to pursue new opportunities”. In the higher echelons David Brown retired from his ten year tenure as CEO of Go-Ahead in November while Matthew Gregory stood down as Chief Executive of First Group in September moving on to “new opportunities” while Chairman David Martin became busier becoming an Executive Chairman as a temporary replacement, which is still continuing as I write this.

Arriva consolidated its operations by saying goodbye to Cannock, Sheppey and Surrey as well as bidding farewell to Green Line route 758. ABus said goodbye to Bristol after 30 years with owner Alan Peters retiring. Diamond Bus quit the West Midlands Partnership and then sort of rejoined while Hunstanton said goodbye to its bus station, Alperton bid farewell to its Metroline operated bus garage and RATP’s Quality Line dropped its interests in Epsom and the town’s bus garage. Stockton bade a temporary farewell to its large bus station to enable a £120 million redevelopment due to be completed in 2024.

It was also goodbye to the Courtney Buses name with owner Reading Buses favouring widespread use of its Thames Valley branding for the Bracknell and Maidenhead based routes and in neighbouring Surrey the Hallmark Buses name disappeared with owners Rotala using its Diamond name in preference.

We bid a fond farewell to the Island Line’s Class 483s from front line service in January – the 83 year old former Underground trains – and it was goodbye to paying bus fares for everyone in the summer school holidays in Swansea, at weekends in Herefordshire from September and throughout December in Newport as well as West Berkshire with feee fares for all, whereas conversely in Heathrow, it was goodbye to the free travel zone surrounding the airport with fares being charged once again while on Avanti West Coast, rail fares got just a tad more complex with the launch of a new Standard Premium class of travel.

The 12 week lockdown at the beginning of the year saw many familiar names temporarily disappear including National Express, Megabus, Oxford Tube, Flixbus, Hull Trains and Grand Central all hibernating before returning in the summer, although a Covid casualty, Snap, decided not to return.

Over in Hereford at the year end it was farewell to Yeoman’s involvement in many of the city’ bus routes while for much of November and December, as well as earlier in the year in June, it was a case of missing the West Midlands Metro CAF built trams after cracks were discovered needing urgent attention, with a similar crack problem (“a bolster providing a connection between an anti-roll bar, a yaw damper mounting and a lifting bracket”) in Hitachi’s Class 800s at GWR, LNER, TPE and Hull Trains causing much angst and consternation with widespread service cancellations for a time. C2C and Gatwick Express trains popped up in Berkshire to help out GWR while Cross Country ran services via Swindon at the height of the problem.

Turmoil earlier in the year in Manchester with Unite the Union members working as drivers at Go North West going on strike for 12 weeks with a motley collection of other operators arriving to keep services going.

In September a Minister unwisely went on record saying there was “no need to panic buy” petrol and diesel because just a handful of petrol stations had not had their usual delivery from BP the previous day …. and the rest is history, including Sanders Coaches in Norfolk and Go Coach Hire in Kent having to withdraw services for lack of fuel in the ensuing debacle. It wasn’t just fuel that was in short supply though with the whole industry suffering from a serious shortage of drivers during the autumn leading to reductions in timetables and impromptu cancellations aplenty. A similar problem of staff shortages also impacted a number of rail companies.

Hitting the buffers for the last time were TfW’s Pacers removing the class from the network while also coming a cropper was Grand Union’s application to run a Carmarthen to London Paddington timetable with its rejection by the Office of Rail and Road and in Birmingham hitting the buffers (so to speak) was long standing outer circular routes 11A and 11C with extensive roadworks in Perry Barr necessitating a split of the service.

The end of the wait is in sight.

And, that, dear readers is my take on 2021 except for the all important…..

BusAndTrainUser Awards 2021

Only six this year so making them even more prestigious than usual, the first being the ever popular New Bus Route That Got Withdrawn Before It Even Got Started Award.

A crowded field with a great short list of three contenders including Hulley’s new route X1 between Ashbourne and Manchester Airport destined to be linked to its Snake X57 making for a very elongated snake but that never was, being withdrawn within a day or maybe two of it beginning; Go Cornwall’s competitive foray against First Kernow with its new route F1 registered between Falmouth and Truro pulled for lack of drivers before it began and for the second year running Arriva’s Green Line 720 between London and Stansted Airport for which brand new vehicles were purchased for its commencement in Spring 2020 but continued on hold before finally succumbing with the registration cancelled in 2021. And the winner is …. Hulley’s ambitious plans hitting the crash barrier, including, sad to report, its Snake X57 ending in the new year too, although it seems to have disappeared already.

Second up is a rail Award…. and it’s the all important That Infrastructure Upgrade Was A Complete Waste Of Money Award and … drum roll please ….. the winner is ….. Manchester’s Ordsall Chord which opened four years ago after £85 million construction costs but continues to be pretty much superfluous to requirements seeing just one train an hour wandering along linking Manchester Victoria with Oxford Road and Piccadilly, mainly because there’s no spare capacity along the Castlefield corridor for extra trains. A very worthy runner up was South Western Railway for its £32 million spend on refurbishing the Class 442 (Wessex Electrics) only to abort the plan to reinstate them to the Portsmouth line and scrap the fleet instead while Highly Commended was the East Coast Main Line various project upgrades awaiting patiently for a timetable that will actually work for everyone.

Photo courtesy BDP

Third Award is Naff Bus Map of the Year although I have to admit to never wanting to knock a bus map, as they’re an endangered species but our winner this year, Stagecoach Devon – what were you thinking of?

Fourth Award is back on the trains and goes to an anonymous passenger who wins the Using GWR’s Power Sockets on its Trains to Good Effect Award as spotted on Twitter back in September.

Our final two Awards recognise the outstanding work of Government during the year . First up is the Rank Hypocrisy of the Year Award. Our judges have had a hard time wading through the many entries in this category not least in the year Britain’s hosting the G7 and COP26 involving fuel guzzling carbon-burning flights to far away places such as Cornwall and Glasgow for our beleaguered no-time-to-take-the train Prime Minister. After much burning of the midnight oil (metaphorically of course, as otherwise that would be hypocritical) the Award goes to our ‘PM in Waiting’ Rishi Sunak for announcing in his Budget the week before COP26 a further year’s freeze in fuel duty plus a cut in air passenger duty for domestic flights. Nice one Rishi, only topped off by yesterday’s announcement of a 3.8% increase in rail fares for next March as he jetted back from a jolly in California.

And finally for this year it’s the Government Over Promising And Under Delivering Again Award and in another crowded field the Award goes to Grant Shapps for announcing the introduction of Flexible Season Tickets on the railway in a great fanfare in June saving passengers “hundreds of pounds”…. except the eight days in 28 days requirement coupled with its pricing structure didn’t offer the massive savings some had expected from the headlines. Shapps’ own Welwyn constituency has a £140.40 flexible price for 8 days in 28 to London (that’s £17.35 a day compared to the off peak return of £13.90, peak day return of £19.20 and a traditional season ticket for £79.50).

And aside from a 100 Bus and Train Events in 11 minutes video launching on YouTube tomorrow that’s it from me for 2021 as I’m taking my own Omicron inspired circuit breaker for a while but I’ll be back in the New Year when hopefully things have calmed down again.

Meantime a very Happy Christmas and good health for the New Year and many thanks for reading especially if you’ve been with me throughout the year.

Roger French

Quiz of the Year. The answers. 1) These places all saw DRT schemes introduced in 2021. 2) West Berkshire – all places introduced free bus travel in that order in 2021. 3) The outer circular (11A/C) was split into two separate routes due to roadworks at Perry Barr. 4) A cat was sitting on the roof of the Pendilino in Euston station. 5) It became a Covid LFT testing site for staff. 6) Cracks appearing in Hitachi Class 800 trains led to widespread withdrawals of trains. 7) Names for the tunnel boring machines for HS2 which began excavation work in the summer. 8) The electric powered coach travelled 263 miles from London to Cornwall on one charge but there were no serviceable chargers left in Cornwall so it had to limp back to Collumpton where it eventually found one. 9) Channel Four’s T-Side bus advertising campaign caused offence by poking fun at bus passengers. 10) East Midlands Railway were rebuked for cancelling a competition because of “poor quality entries” having asked the public to submit ideas to help it “build back better” … shades of ‘Buildy Back McBack Face Better’ perhaps?

42 thoughts on “Annual Review, Awards and Quiz of the Year 2021

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  1. Roger . . . thanks for all your efforts in 2021 . . . it has been required reading for me every time. I’ve commented a bit as well . . . !!

    Enjoy your break . . . hopefully you’ll be able to continue travelling in 2022 to keep informing us all of what’s new and good (and not so good!!).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And s massive thank you so you Roger for your regular informed articles through the year. Much appreciated.

    Enjoy a trip on the DRT of your choice.

    We have buses back better to look forward to in 2022.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Free Bus and Taxi travel to vaccination Centres

    Suffolk Country Council has introduced a free travel scheme for travel to a vaccination centre

    Travelling to your booster appointment

    All options below offer free transport to and from your appointment. If able to, please show proof of your NHS appointment to the driver either through your appointment confirmation email/text on your phone or a printout.

    ‘Vaxi Taxi’ or Connecting Communities will serve those living in areas where there are no regular local bus services
    All bus services to vaccination centres are free. Plan your journey to a vaccination centre using our journey planner or through the vaccination centre website.

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  4. Many thanks for this concise roundup of the year and the fantastic blogs throughout it, one minor typo – I think you may have meant Stockport rather than Stockton for the bus station closure. Best wishes for the festive period.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, Roger, for your blogs this year. They have both informed and entertained.

    Happy Christmas to you and all contributers.

    I think it’s fair to say if 2021 was something or a rollercoaster for the transport industries, 2022 promises to be the whole theme park!

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  6. Roger,
    I’m mighty impressed by your comprehensive recall (or was it notes?) to bring us this compendium of all that’s happened in transport during this very strange year.
    As others have said, your blog is essential reading. Well done and keep up the great work in 2022.
    Happy Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sadly, another year best forgotten, but Boy oh Boy!, you certainly targeted the “Bus and Train User awards” in all the spot-on places Roger, particularly when involving the political elite and the appalling waste of money on things such as the Ordsall Chord. The only bright spot for 2022 I can think of is that the ghastly new “clearly we have lost our way” Stagecoach livery may somehow get abandoned. But probably not.

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  8. Stagecoach take the axe to their new Guilford services

    Stagecoach have switched the Monday to Friday services to a Saturday timetable. They are also making big cuts to the service from January so not off to a good start. This will only drive more passengers away from the services

    Did Stagecoach carry out any due diligence before taking on the services or was it just an anti competitive move by them ?

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  9. Bob, according to the Stagecoach website the changes in January are due to the ongoing shortage of drivers and it is hoped that some frequencies will be increased again.

    I have no evidence, but I wouldn’t mind betting that not all the drivers employed by Arriva decided to transfer to Stagecoach.

    Agree, it’s not a good look so soon after taking over these routes.

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  10. Excellent stuff once again. Now this is what I call investigative journalism! (blogism?) Thank you.

    One correction for the benefit of the TransPennine Express MD – he is Matthew Golton, not Matthew Cotton.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The Stagecoach fiasco in Guilford is something the Traffic Commissioners should take action on, Clearly Stagecoach took on these service and registered them knowing they were not in a position yo operate them to the timetables they registered

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    1. Bob – the “Stagecoach fiasco”…. They doubtless bargained on attracting more of the Stagecoach drivers than have moved across. That might be because some drivers are “of an age” and have pocketed the redundancy and decided to do something less onerous, or some may be enjoying an early break knowing they can walk into a job in the new year. Stagecoach have done the right thing – it’s evident that they can’t cover the work “as is” and so have temporarily revised the times to reflect what they can do. Stagecoach aren’t a bunch of fly by nights and I’m sure they are working hard to get drivers recruited and trained. At least they’ve introduced temporary times rather than the arbitrary cancelling of services on a daily basis.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Stagecoach in Guildford . . . damned if they do; damned if they don’t. Stagecoach will have, most likely, interviewed the Arriva drivers, and made assumptions on how many would transfer across . . . if some indicated they would move, and then didn’t . . . then that’s hardly their fault. TUPE would not apply in this situation. In London, pre-TUPE, this happened more than once . . . whatever the driver may say, if they don’t turn up on day 1, that’s when their new operator knows for sure!!

    I was surprised that Stagecoach took on the full Arriva service levels, especially on Saturdays when they increased the frequencies on Routes 34/35 . . . hindsight says maybe they were over-enthusiastic. At least they’ve taken appropriate action now.
    Fiasco . . . no, more like a prudent reaction.

    In other news . . . Brylaine (Lincolnshire) have withdrawn all Saturday and Sunday bus services from 1 January to 31 March, citing staff shortages . . . they will concentrate on weekday services instead. At the risk of inflaming sensibilities . . . Boston is an area with a very large Eastern European population, so I dare say that Brexit may have been a factor here as well. However . . . this sounds like a reasonable reaction to staff shortages . . . concentrating on a full service 5 days/week rather than a random service 7 days/week.

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  13. The situation in Guildford is not a fiasco, and as many have stated above, merely a sensible move to equate Driver availability and indeed, if you look at the loadings, match Passenger usage. Looking at the detail, reductions are neither severe nor dramatic, and probably long overdue, although always sad to see service levels reduced. IF common sense ever prevails once more (doubtful), and people stop worshipping the “Tin Box”, service levels can always be restored.

    And if we don’t defeat Covid soon, as the saying goes, “you ain’t seen nuffin’ yet!”

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  14. the fiasco is Stagecoach taking on the service without the staff to operate them. If TUPE applied it would be reasonable to assume you would have the staff but TUPE did not apply and assuming they would have the staff was just reckless. This is something that ther Traffic Commsioners should come down hard on
    Unfortunatly this is all to typical and just drive people away fromnbus service. There is no exuse for this sort of behavior. In effect they contracted to operate service at a certain servise level and have failed to do so. In most industries. it would put you in breach of contract

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  15. Bob . . . there was no “contract”, other than with Surrey CC for certain journeys, mainly on Sundays. It is noticeable that the Sunday timetables have not been reduced.

    If an Arriva driver said “yes, I will join Stagecoach” and then didn’t . . . what else are Stagecoach to do? As I have already said, on the basis of previous experience, sometimes drivers will promise to turn up and then don’t . . . it’s human nature nowadays not to keep one’s word.

    Possibly they should have expected ‘some’ level of no-shows; the level of timetable reductions implies that around 20-30 drivers did not “transfer”, which is very high. Indeed, they apparently realised the problem a couple of weeks ago, when they decided to operate Saturday timetables for this week and next. I’d say that they realised the full extent on Monday this week, and immediately applied to operate further reduced timetables from 2 January. It could also be that, in line with many, many other bus operators, that Omicron infections have also hit them hard recently.

    Stagecoach have drafted in drivers and managers from around their organisation to keep services running in the short term. They have made a quick decision to cut back timetables to match resources to services. Reckless?? No . . . pragmatic, more like.

    You seem to delight in knocking the bus industry at every opportunity . . . based on working within the industry since 1975, I cannot recall any time like this. Even in the dark, dark days of the late 1970’s, it was never this bad. The daily uncertanties caused by the Covid “pingdemic” are like nothing we’ve ever seen before. All service industries are suffering in the same way . . . there is no bottomless pool of trained relief drivers in any industry, be it bus, train or HGV.

    With the greatest respect, you need to look at the bigger picture, and not take every chance to criticise bus companies that are doing their utmost to run a service. No bus company likes to run “no-service” . . . we actually try very hard to operate the best that we possibly can!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Just to say that we (North West Surrey Bus Users Group) have cut Stagecoach Guildford some slack because we would rather have a lesser scheduled service oprating reliably than random cancellations. It might be that with ‘lockdown by stealth’ the service would need to be reduced anyway for commercial reasons. Arriva paid a retainer to the Guildford staff in an attempt to stop them leaving before 18 December. This and the fact that some of the drivers have gone to other local operators, especially Falcon who have taken on 8 more buses worth of work, means there is a huge, hopefully temporary, staff shortage.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Spot-on GreenLine727!
    I am constantly amazed how resilient the industry is. It is a wonder how many buses actually do operate given that up to 20% of employees may not be available to work at any given time.

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  18. I see a lot of posters who presumably worked in the Industry seem to think Stagecoaches actions are acceptable
    well they are not. They registered to provide a certain level of services. They new they could though not provide those level of services but still went ahead and registered them and having registered them then started to cut the services. This is all to typica\l of the vert low standards in the industry and is regarded as acceptable by them. Such low standards would simply not be tolerated in any other industry. It is in my view a good part of the reason that bus companies cannot retain their customer let alone attract new ones

    This is where the traffic commissioners should step in and take some of the routes of them and let other operators who can provide the full timetables operate them

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  19. Oh Bob, Bob . . . if we just look at Guildford in isolation for now . . . which other operators “could” step in??
    Do please enlighten us all . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I am certainly willing to give the industry all the credit for the way they cope with covid.
    But it was not the case that operators were never known to fail to operate services beforehand, even wilfully.
    Bob has a point on customers’ legitimate expectations
    Whatever we might have been taught for upwards of 50 years, or more, the customer is not always wrong. It’s the difference between a manager, and a customer. .

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  21. Just Announced

    Southern Rail have announced that they are susxcpending all services into London Victoria untill the end of January. They claim this is due to Covid. I can accept that Covid is playing a part but it is hard to belive it can account for that level of cuts

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  22. What Guilford exposes is a weakness in the regulations. An operator can just register services but no check is made by the traffic commisioners to ensure that whoever registers the service has the resources to operate them

    Clearly at present there are some issues with Covid which you cannot plan for but clearly this cannot account for the substantial cuts Stagecoach have made

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  23. greenline727

    Falcon were in talks to take on the services and other operators had registered services but withdrew them when Stagecoach registered them

    Stagecoach if as is the case were not in a position to operate the full timetables should have registered the service levels they could operate

    The reason Sunday services have not been cut is they are operated under contract and if they failed to operate them the contracts would likely to have been taken away from them

    With the commercial services there is an implied contract that the Traffic Commisioners could enforce but are unlikely to do so in my view

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    1. Stagecoach registered their services on 8th November. The Omicron variant of Covid was first reported to the WHO, by South Africa, on 24th November.

      So please, rather than wild conjecture, perhaps you could explain how Stagecoach could have foreseen they wouldn’t be able to operate the timetables they registered, when they, like most of us, assumed things were settling down?

      If you don’t believe Covid is responsible, how else could Stagecoach tell in advance how many drivers they would have, given the current situation? Or would you rather have had reduced timetables for ever more, “just in case”? Were their expectations that Arriva drivers would transfer reasonable?

      Arriva weren’t managing to run their reduced timetables as advertised (and still aren’t, in other areas of the south-east). At least Stagecoach are admitting it and doing something about it, rather than having missing journeys. I think that alone will tell the Traffic Commissioners reasonable efforts to stick to _a_ registered timetable are being made.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. You know . . . I’d written a long piece answering these points . . . but then I realised that I’m just repeating myself.

    So I’m not going to bother . . .

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  25. We have to be pragmatic. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

    But the TC have come down hard on small fish. There is always a suspicion that bigger fish can “get away with it” in any walk of life. Taken too far, it undermines confidence, and ultimately the whole regime. We all have a duty to act responsibly, in our own interest as much as everyone else’s . I do not suggest Stagecoach overstepped the mark, but we should all be careful.
    Sorry if I offend anyone, but I’m being honest.

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  26. I think Stagecoach in Guildford have acted responsibly by reducing services to something they can hope to provide reliably (although a shame that their policy of not producing printed timetables means that not all passengers will realise). It’s however unfortunate that Surrey had considered “that bus service levels have now largely stabilised” and thus produced new editions of its “popular” bus timetable booklets, that ended up being current for only a couple of weeks (and even most of that was taken up by Christmas reduced services anyway). This contrasts with the deplorable situation in Devon, where they persevered with the old timetables (resulting in up to 600 journeys a day being missed), when it was obvious to observers that drastic action needing to be taken urgently, yet save for a reduction on a few routes eventually, much is still not happening until later in January. And as for that route diagram, the only word to describe it is embarrassing.

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  27. You imply that Hulley’s Snake X57 seems to have disappeared already, but it was certainly operating properly on New Year’s Eve, when I did a round trip on it.

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