Seen around

Tuesday 27th December 2022

Another month; another potpourri of miscellany.

Another great Ensignbus running day

A big shout out to the Newman family (Peter, Steve and Ross) for organising another great running day based on Lakeside at the beginning of the month.

It’s proving to be one of the most popular events of its kind in the Running Day calendar.

We’re very fortunate to have the Newman family’s passion and a big thank you for that.

Peter Newman at the wheel

A shout out to John Till and colleagues at Southeastern

Head of Information Delivery at Southeastern, John Till, recently added a comment to my blogpost from August about useless announcements at Southern/Thameslink stations when there’s significant disruption on the railway. Southeastern use the same system and John reckoned I’d raised “some very interesting (and valid) points so I shared this with our CIS supplier back in September and we’re making some changes to our system as a result – which should be in place from the end of the year.” Highlights include if a train is delayed, but the previous train with the same calling pattern has not yet departed – and is expected to depart first – the late running announcement won’t be made and where the “next fastest train” to a group of calling points is also delayed, “we’ll make it clearer in the announcement as well as including the latest estimated time of departure”.

This is great news and a huge thanks to John for noting my feedback and more importantly, acting upon it, even if it is for a different company.

A shout out to TfL’s Rail Closure Planning Department

Belated praise for Dean Sullivan and the team at Sullivan Buses for arranging destination displays for route 720

Thanks to one of the team at TfL involved in planning last week’s closure of the railway line north of Queens Park used by Overground and Bakerloo line trains for taking the trouble to contact me following last Thursday’s blog on the subject. He explained contrary to my comment about the week before Christmas might not be the best time for such works … “it is an eminently sensible time to do the closure. I only have access to TfL data, so I needed to make some proxies (TOCs have no idea how many people use their services). In the week before Christmas, demand at Euston LU is 20-70% less than average (it depends exactly where Christmas falls). I also checked Green Park, Oxford Circus and Leicester Square stations (all stations you’d expect to see high leisure demand) to confirm Euston was not an anomaly”. That was a statistic I hadn’t previously appreciated – my experience of bus use was always the week leading up to Christmas being the busiest of the year, but obviously the market is different here, so I’ve learnt something.

He also explained “the intention was all routes were set up in iBus, providing real time customer information. As ticket machines were in operation the first part of this clearly worked, but the data feed to both TfL systems and third party apps has failed somewhere” adding that this is being followed up “with our tech teams as to why this happened”.

Frustration about the roadworks was evident too as Harrow Borough Council’s highways team “were advised of this replacement bus operation months ago. The very point of the 720 going to Harrow rather than H&W was to connect to a fast train to Wembley/London.”

Two positives I didn’t draw out which were also commented on were the destination displays being used by Sullivan Buses and that London NorthWestern Railway were stopping their normally fast trains at Wembley Central to provide an alternative travel option from there. It was also explained that weekday running times on the 718 “particularly later in the day… will be addressed” and a positive to take from the map is “it shows the wide variety of alternative buses and rail lines in this area”, which is definitely the case.

I’m pleased to add these balancing points to the previous blog and many thanks for getting in touch.

The best ‘bookstall’

I always enjoy visiting Crewe station not only for the variety of locomotives and carriages to be seen in sidings on the approaches but my favourite W H Smith bookstall. It’s just so nostalgic seeing all the magazines laid out along the front, and I’m so pleased it reopened after being closed through the pandemic and lockdowns.

It’s also the one place where you can easily access magazines about the railways rather than hidden on the bottom shelf near the floor, as often is the case,

Heart of the Community

On a recent visit to Witney I spotted a bus run by West Oxfordshire Community Transport. What struck me aside from the nice Witney Weaver branding was just how lovely and clean the minibus was on a day when most other buses I saw run by much better resourced bus companies were covered in dirt splashed up from roads. So well done to Team WOCT which runs six bus routes across the district including three town services in Witney.

Another Community Bus showing the way

I’ve perviously featured Cuckmere Buses excellent timetable book in these round ups and on a ride on one of the community bus company’s routes in East Sussex recently I was also impressed by the availability of information at bus stops …

… as well as seeing the timetable booklet for all routes available on board the bus together with hand sanitisers which were filled with sanitiser too.

Bus stop gone missing

As I passed through Guildford recently I noticed the new double deck cycle racks outside the railway station …

…. but where has the bus stop for RailAir 2 to Heathrow Airport gone?

It was there when the Google camera car passed by.

Keep your distance in Crewe bus station

Crewe bus station will soon be knocked down and rebuilt as part of a major redevelopment of the current site so perhaps that explains why it’s still promoting the need for social distancing.

It was good to see a clear explanation of the work involved across four stages to demolish and rebuild the bus station on display.

With the former Crosville bus garage now demolished ……

Then…
…. Now

…. it looks like Stage 1 is well underway.

What bus stops there?

When I was in Ealing Broadway recently work was still in hand beautifying the public realm outside the newly refurbished and expanded station meaning bus top F (used by routes E2, E7 and E8) was out of action. As a visitor trying to work out where to catch a bus I spotted this Dolly Stop but you’d have to be a mind reader to know what bus routes stopped there – there was absolutely no information at all.

Still, at least there was a temporary stop – too often these days TfL just remove stops without temporary replacements.

Not a good welcome

Gatwick Airport station’s refurbished platforms 5 and 6 are due to open shortly as well as finishing touches to the enlarged ticket hall for passengers changing from plane to train. Except surely there’s got to be a better way to welcome passengers than this long queue. Could it have something to do with the complexity of tickets for travel to London with passengers having to get their heads round so many options when using the ticket vending machines.

This was the scene I encountered on a recent visit around 09:30.

I couldn’t see any ticket office windows – maybe they’re behind the hoardings? There were just a couple of desks, which weren’t quite ready on my visit.

Confusing ticket retailing at Victoria

Work has begun to relieve congestion at London Victoria’s gateline with plans to increase the number of ticket gates from 86 to 125 with a newly expanded concourse area for Sussex trains leaving from platforms 15-19. As part of this the ticket office that used to be sited by platforms 13 and 14 for Gatwick Express trains has been relocated to windows in the main ticket office.

But what are passengers to make of this? Do those windows only sell the over-priced tickets for Gatwick Express or can you buy any ticket? Or do you have to queue up at the adjacent windows for that.

Expanded Ealing Broadway ticket office

With the future of station ticket offices under a cloud as hints keep being dropped about closing them all, or most of them, I was impressed to see the newly expanded ticket office at Ealing Broadway not only has a bank of eight ticket vending machines but also four windows from which tickets can be sold.

Contrasting recruitment campaigns

I couldn’t help but notice the different approaches to making it known new recruits to become bus drivers are welcome by the two main bus companies in Guildford on a recent visit.

I don’t blame the local supervisors at Stagecoach who I’m sure are doing their best in challenging circumstances but why aren’t managers giving them better resources to convey a more professional image?

A biodiversity bus shelter

I know there’s a thing where grass is grown on the roofs of bus shelters in the name of encouraging biodiversity but I was a bit taken aback by the bus shelter at bus stop Z alongside Harrow-on-the-Hill bus station which seemed to be taking the idea to a new level.

And it’s not as though anyone waits at the bus stop as it seems to only be for laying over buses although the flag declares it’s for Harrow Community Transport….

… but judging by the panel in the case below, there hasn’t been much cause to wait since the last trip ran over five years ago in September 2017.

Not very helpful

There’s only one thing more frustrating than a bus shelter timetable case without any timetable information…

… such as this one in Inverness. And that’s a crooked notice.

It’s when I see things like that I just wish I had the requisite tool/s to open up the case and straighten things out ,,,,

Pointing in the right direction

…. as I was able to do in West Ealing where I noticed the arrow pointing to the station’s new entrance was heading the wrong way…

… and it was relatively easy to switch it round to point the right way. Job done.

Keep it clean

I appreciate how difficult it is to keep buses clean during the winter season but it’s a hostage to fortune to use the slogan about being clean in relation to the vehicles emission levels, but can be misconstrued as referring to the actual bodywork’s cleanliness.

Failed connection

And talking of messages on the sides of buses, this bus I spotted in Wembley was on Rail Replacement service last week rather than going connecting to “the new Elizabeth line”.

More luggage

Here’s this month’s photo of passengers with more than the usual amount of luggage.

Most Inappropriate Tweet Of The Year Award – a late entry

And finally, something that was too late for this year’s BusAndTrainUser Awards but undoubtedly would have been a Gold Award winner …. TransPennine Express tweeted out on Tuesday 20th December how excited they were at a new menu for food on board its trains – the Tweet has since been deleted as being a totally inappropriate and naff thing to shout about, not least when your service is so bad you have to advise passengers not to travel …. as the company did the very next day.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

26 thoughts on “Seen around

Add yours

  1. The RA2 stop at Guildford is being moved along with the stop when the building works have been completed. There was an A board acting as the stop chained to the bike racks last time I was there.

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  2. What a job title …”head of information delivery” !!! ….clearly they, or their superiors, never actually USE the services over which they preside, as most, if not all areas of the information provision are totally useless!

    From blatantly wrong On board announcements which never get fixed, to posters at stations which can’t be written/provided locally because they don’t fit in with corporate look, to lack of truthful information on the web site (eg: “delays expected til 9am”, then “mid-day”, then “4pm”, “8pm” etc, then at about 10pm the most truthful one finally appears “..until the end of service”) and woeful details about alternatives (“you may use TFL underground trains by any reasonable route” … well thanks for that, but to Bromley or Maidstone?) or replacement buses and where you can catch them (where, for example do S/E replacement buses which call at London Bridge go from..? You won’t find the answer anywhere in the station or on the website, and the station staff don’t know either!) …to name but a few areas, …in fact almost every aspect of S/Es provision of info is terrible, both to and for customers AND staff.

    If he’s ever gone home thinking he’s doing a great job in the last 10 years at least, he’s living in cloud cuckoo land – try using SouthEastern like a customer attempts to and you’d soon have a “needs doing” list as long as your arm!

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    1. Thanks for your robust comments. I and indeed most of my team live on the network and use it daily.

      I would agree with you that when it comes to information provision, everything certainly isn’t perfect and there’s a lot more that can be done but have and are working hard to improve things.

      Taking the points you raise in turn;

      Onboard announcements: I’m not clear on the specifics but if you send me some details (I suspect reading your post that you’re well connected and therefore would have my email address) I will raise this with the team that looks after this – I’m not aware of any general issue with the automated announcements onboard. That said, during disruption and particularly on DOO trains, I agree that announcements could be better and that’s why we’re taking a leading part of the delivery of new technology which will arrive in the next 18 months or so, enabling us to generate announcements onboard trains directly from our Control Room. There’s more details on this here: https://www.raildeliverygroup.com/uk-rail-industry/travelling-by-rail/sisj.html#Onboard

      Estimates for service resumption: I totally understand the frustration when an estimate is put out only for this to change and then sometimes change again. These estimates are produced based on the information coming in to the Control Room from site however things can and often do change. For example something that’s expected to be fixed in a couple of hours may subsequently turn out to be a lot more complex than originally thought hence the estimate may shift. “Estimates” are one of our information KPIs and we’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes to improve the accuracy of estimates at the start of an incident, accepting of course that there will always be instances where something unforeseen occurs meaning the estimate is pushed back.

      Alternative routes: The purpose of including advice about using the Underground is primarily help our customers who may need to use an alternative London Terminal to complete their journey. For example if there’s disruption on the High Speed network and the advice is to use trains from Victoria or Charing Cross, the acceptance on the Underground is in place to enable this at no extra charge.

      I totally accept that if you’re trying to travel to somewhere like Bromley or Maidstone, the Underground probably isn’t of any use. Taking this on board, I’ll ask my team to make it clear in messaging going forward, what the purpose of the ticket acceptance is for.

      We also have our live map: http://livemap.southeasternrailway.co.uk which shows the overall “health” of the network and, outside of the TFL area, will include details of alternative bus routes during disruption, when ticket acceptance is in place.

      Replacement buses: I would agree that replacement buses isn’t a particularly great experience for customers, especially given the difficulties we and other operators face when trying to arrange vehicles at short notice. In terms of details of the replacement bus locations, using your example of London Bridge, this information is available on our website (and National Rail Enquiries) for example: https://www.southeasternrailway.co.uk/travel-information/more-travel-help/station-information/stations/london-bridge and the information is also provided on the Customer Information System (CIS) at all of our managed stations. If you’ve examples of where this isn’t the case then please do share and I’ll gladly make sure this is addressed.

      To address your closing remarks, I certainly don’t view the world through rose-tinted glasses and totally agree that there’s more we can do as I said at the beginning, but there has been a lot of good work over recent years. For example:

      – We’ve invested over £300k in improvements to our CIS, for example showing customers where the train is at any moment in time, whether toilets are available / working on board, how busy the train is expected to be, details of any stations en-route where the lift(s) are out of order etc etc.

      – Our SeatFinder tools enable customers to see in advance which train(s) are likely to be busy (or quiet) and plan their journeys accordingly

      – We introduced our Live Map to supplement the “Rainbow Boards” on our website to give customers a more granular view of any disruption and details of alternative bus routes during disruption

      – All of our front-line colleagues now have mobile phones and we’re exploring how we can make better use of technology such as “Teams” to relay / share information with local teams.

      – We introduced “Whatsapp” as another way for customers to get in touch with us 24/7 for help and advice with their journeys.

      This list is by no means exhaustive but gives a flavour of what we have been and are doing.

      We’ve also introduced some ground breaking “decision support tools” to help our operational teams in the Control, for example if a station is going to be left without a service for an extended time, especially when “service recovery” plans are being implemented, the teams are alerted in real-time and can then make steps to “close the gap” eg by stopping trains additionally.

      To answer your very last question, I absolutely believe that things have improved over recent years and my Control based team work extremely hard to provide the best possible information they can during disruption and yes there have been days when I’ve left the office knowing they couldn’t have done any more (They are still wearing the battle scars from storms Eunice and Franklin!) BUT I totally agree and accept that there’s a lot more that can and will be done to improve.

      As I mentioned above, I’m more than happy to listen to any feedback / suggestions if you want to email me directly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So, for just ONE example to illustrate my overall point…

        You’ve responded to my claim that passengers can’t find where the replacement buses actually stop at London Bridge, by directing me to a web page, which clearly neither you nor any of your staff have actually looked at as if you were an intending passenger, because for at least the last 5 years it has said and does say “replacement buses usually stop outside the front of the station”.

        Maybe this totally generic statement (that will inspire absolutely no confidence in any customer at all) might hold true at some locations (but I can list plenty where it doesn’t), but at London Bridge? Seriously? This huge station has frontage on at least 3 totally different roads, some distance from each other, and there are probably at least half a dozen different bus stops which could be considered to be outside those entrances, so I’m just supposed to guess and hope?! Really?

        The information provided is absolutely NO USE AT ALL, and from its generic nature that should have been obvious to the person who first typed that as the entry for London Bridge, and to any member of south eastern management or you or your team that has ever looked at it… but there it has been for at LEAST the last 5 years.

        So I challenge you once again, to tell me, using the information over which you preside and are apparently happy with, WHERE exactly do you wish me to stand and wait for my SouthEastern replacement bus?

        Bear in mind I know the actual answer, and you could easily ring your management colleagues at go-ahead to find out yourself, but it’s more about where the correct information is actually displayed for the PUBLIC to be able to use that I’m asking you to state….. good luck with that!

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      2. All this correspondence simply reinforces my opinion that, currently, most public transport operators, both bus and rail, are quite indifferent to the travelling public. Their management really does need a good shakeup.

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      3. 20/1/23
        “” A fault with the signalling system at Gravesend means some lines are blocked. As a result, trains between these stations may be cancelled, delayed by up to 30 minutes or revised. This is expected until 10:00.
        ””

        THESE stations?
        So nobody checked this before putting it live across all SouthEastern media…

        it’s no help at all!

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      4. Totally agree with you and I can see how / why this has happened. Wouldn’t be appropriate for me to go into detail on a public forum but if you wanted to drop me an email, I’d be more than happy to explain.

        Indeed if you have any feedback – and I’m not ignoring your point about London Bridge replacement buses, it’s very much on my “to sort” list – then please do drop me an email. Despite what you might believe, my team and I are open to challenge and more than happy to take feedback onboard to improve things.

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  3. Thank you for this interesting article.
    I am not a bus or train operator, but merely a user of these services and the one thing that is most apparent from your article is the general lack of information about public transport operations. In fact, in most towns and cities, public transport operations appear to be for the benefit of the operators rather than the public. Outdated timetables or no information at all appears to be the norm and it is hardly surprising that most people are reluctant to use public transport. It really is time that operators came into the 21st century.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Playing devil’s advocate here….but some would argue that all information being online is therefore showing operators are existing in the 21st century

      Of course bus stops and so on should have physical timetables but I reckon your efforts in complaining about the matter would be better directed towards your local authority rather than a blog that argues for the same.

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      1. Why should local authorities have to pay for the incompetence and public disregard of bus operators? Without good information from bus operators about their own services it is clear that bus usage will continue to decline in many areas. Going online is of no help because operators often do not even bother to keep their websites updated.

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  4. I really don’t get it. How, at West Ealing, do you ‘switch…around’ the notice to point the other way, without turning it upside down (which you didn’t)? Unless perhaps there were two notices back-to-back — in which case they could be rotated 90 degrees?

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  5. I see that Crewe is following the usual modern practice of replacing the bus station with a multi-storey car park and tacking some bus stops, sorry, a ‘bus station’ on the far edge meaning that the bus station is now less conveniently sited for bus passengers.

    Because, as ennyfuleknoes, bus passengers are “of course” poor people who aren’t going to spend lots of money; real shoppers with money to burn use their cars. 😦

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  6. The Gatwick ‘refurbishment’ has been pottering along for months. Watching the many hi-viz personnel on Platforms 5/6 wandering about wondering what to do next, and how, has been an object lesson in project mismanagement. It’s been evident from the start that the main focus has been to make the crowds disappear quicker on the way into the airport. Perhaps someone from National Rail can explain why they gave so little thought to rail passengers and their experience on leaving the airport? Amongst stiff competition, GTW is one of the dreariest most windswept and grubby major stations on the network.

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  7. Hello Roger,

    The TfL bus shelter (0115/1016) sprouting vegetation In Harrow on the Hill is the last remaining of three that were first installed back in 1992 originally designed to serve buses unable to use the adjacent bus station due to planned (or unplanned) closure. I will ask a few questions when I get back to the office next week re whether it actually is needed at all in the future, and if so, maybe one of our contractors can deploy some secateurs and update/remove the redundant poster! Keep up the excellent blogs and hope to see you sometime in 2023.

    All the best, John Spencer

    Liked by 1 person

  8. To quote the Network Rail website about upgrading Gatwick Airport station: “The existing station concourse will also be refurbished with a modern open plan ticket office and improved ticket retailing support, creating more space and better facilities.” Looking forward to seeing the reality when its all finished.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’d understood that GTR were keen to have pay as you go (Oyster and contactless) at Gatwick to remove the need for a large proportion of those travelling towards London to buy a ticket at all. Trouble is it seems they’ve not been very good at getting the message across so large numbers still queue up either to buy a ticket or to be told they don’t need one. There’s also the problem that it doesn’t work at all well for families, and not brilliantly for some discounts/concessions.

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  10. Big Changes in the Greater Manchester area

    The first two franchise awards have gone to GoAhead. They will replace Diamond Bus
    in Bolton and Stagecoach in Manchester

    There are other smaller changes as well. Interesting times

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    1. To clarify the above Stagecoach have lost Wigan and not Manchester itself. It is believed first bus have lost the Manchester Fasttrack services

      At this stage a lot of it is still unclear

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  11. A few months ago, Gatwick Airport station, after a lengthy closure due to passenger action weren’t allowing people to purchase tickets, or even touch in using contactless. Then at London Bridge they were charging full fares to leave the station (so not helping anyone wanting to use benefit of a price cap on contactless).

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  12. Thought it would be of interest to Rodger that after just 4 days of Midland Red (South) Limited running the Transport for West Midlands Service 41& 46 from Queen Elizabeth Hospital In Edgbaston and A9 & 169 TfWM have issued am official warning that Stagecoach is currently unable to fully fulfil its new contracts & is advising passengers to check the TfWM Service Disruption Website before travelling as the company is suffering from a severe shortage of drivers……….

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