Battle for Bellfields begins as Guildford goes electric

Monday 7th January 2019

It’s all happening in Guildford this week. Stagecoach South introduced a fleet of nine ADL Enviro 200EV electric buses on the Guildford Park and Ride services today while, as predicted in my post on 16th November last year, the bus war between Arriva and Safeguard has escalated into Bellfields. I had a look at both developments this morning.

First the electrics and their high profile ‘glide’ brand. There are four Park & Ride sites in Guildford; they’re well used, being popular with both commuters and shoppers. The four car parks are all relatively close to the city centre with Artington, to the south on the Godalming road, only a seven minute journey from the bus station while Merrow on the Leatherhead road to the east has a twelve minute journey time. The other two car parks just off the A3 are equally close: Onslow in the west is ten minutes while Spectrum to the north is eight minutes. So I suspect these not particularly arduous journey times are ideal for the electric buses with their high capacity roof mounted batteries with overnight charging giving a reported 150 mile range.

Naturally the buses come with usb sockets and wifi, but on their current duties you’re hardly on the bus long enough to have time to sort out the plug-in lead from your bag, nor go through the logging in process for wifi. Handy facilities if the buses move on to other routes during their lifetime, I suppose.

The seat moquette is to Stagecoach’s brash “iron brew” colour specification or a cross between Aldi-meets-Tesco-meets-Sainsbury’s. I find it a bit overpowering in double deckers and much prefer the softer grey colour scheme used in the north west (on Service X2 – pictured below); but for the short ride, the seats are comfortable enough, and at least the colours brighten up a single deck interior, if a bit in your face.

Interior messages on the cove panels are thankfully large enough to actually be read and extol some of the virtues of the services as well as promoting Stagecoach’s longer distance routes from Guildford.

Most impressive of all is the quietness of the transmission/engine, the only noise coming from bumps in the road, which those aside, means the smoothness of the ride really does stand out. Quite a few passengers were commenting positively about the “new electric buses” and it was good to hear general positivity about the service. Well done Stagecoach and Surrey County Council – the buses have certainly raised the profile for Park and Ride – an essential ingredient in Guildford’s notorious traffic challenges.

Meanwhile, the residents of Guildford’s Bellfields estate woke up this morning to double the number of buses to take them on the 14-17 minute journey into the town centre. It was obvious to me that Safeguard were not going to take Arriva’s completely foolish incursion last November into the Park Barn estate and Royal Surrey County Hospital competing with their routes without reacting. They’ve been serving that area extremely well for decades so they’re not going to simply give up and allow Arriva to muscle in and take their business away.

A retaliatory competitive service against Arriva into Bellfields was therefore only to be expected. My view hasn’t changed since writing in November: “the only likely outcome” (of the incursion into Park Barn) “is by next Spring Arriva will withdraw Route B (and probably slim down route A) as it won’t be meeting the profit targets expected at Sunderland HQ”.

I’ll go further now and suggest a likely outcome is Arriva will now capitulate, withdraw their Service 3 completely and cede Bellfields to Safeguard. There clearly aren’t enough passengers to support two twenty minute frequency services. There’ll be no generation. Of the two operators there’s no doubt Safeguard enjoy any brand loyalty such as it is, but in the main, passengers will catch the first bus that comes along, which by dint of timings is likely to be Safeguard (timetabled to run five minutes ahead of Arriva). On Saturdays Arriva only run half hourly to Safeguard’s new twenty minute frequency so one departure will have a Safeguard bus behind, and the other in front. Arriva run an hourly frequency on Sundays under contract to Surrey County Ciuncil.

Full marks once again to Surrey County Council who have displayed up to date timetables at all the bus stops along the route and in Guildford bus station – I doubt many local authorities would deliver up to date information so efficiently. Well done.

Today’s experience demonstrates once again how Safeguard, unsurprisingly, have that all important attention to detail spot on with new timetable leaflets for their 3S service on board both buses together with balloons and sweets for passengers as a novelty addition and friendly drivers, while Arriva were still running a “lumbering double deck” I mentioned last November (completely unsuitable for the route) and a branded single deck for MAX 34/35 routes! Hardly demonstrating commitment.

I’m beginning to wonder how long the entire Surrey outpost of the Arriva Kent operation controlled from Maidstone, will be sustainable. We’ve already seen Abellio Surrey give up and pull out …….

Roger French

2018 Quiz Answers

1 What are passengers in Basingstoke soon to miss, that those in Leicester suffered a loss of in the summer?

Printed timetables …. as Stagecoach South announced they wouldn’t be printing timetables for upcoming changes next month. It follows Arriva Midlands doing the same in Leicester in 2018.

2 What did passengers do to force Stagecoach to convert express route X92 to plain 192 in Manchester?

Passengers kept boarding the peak hour limited stop X92 journeys and demanding drivers let them off at stops which the bus didn’t observe, forcing Stagecoach to relent and make all buses observe all stops. A Stagecoach spokesperson said “as a result of ongoing verbal abuse directed towards our drivers by passengers who pressure them to stop at (the 34) stops which the X92 does not serve”.

3 Why was Platform 13 unlucky for Jubilee Line passengers at Stratford?

London Underground introduced a new timetable and driver ‘stepping up’ arrangements meaning they could just use Platforms 14 and 15 for all departures which conveniently use the same island platform removing the need for passengers to walk back and around to Platform 13 for the next train if they just miss a departing train from those platforms.

4 Why did Sid come unstuck for spending £1 on his megabus journey?

The Advertising Standards Authority demanded Stagecoach remove the large £1 fare signs from coaches as not enough seats were sold at that price. Megabus have replaced them with other promotional features – e.g. usb sockets, wifi and a generic ‘mega value fares’.

5 Why were Arriva and Carousel back as one between Chesham and High Wycombe?

The previous coordination agreement that saw both companies share route 1 (Chesham to High Wycombe) broke down in 2017 and competition broke out instead, but they kissed and made up from January 2018 and the timetable once again became coordinated.

6 What new destination could you catch a train from St Pancras to but not back again?

Eurostar began running to Amsterdam but no agreement exists between the UK and Netherlands Governments for the UK Border Force to operate immigration facilities in the Netherlands so no return journey is yet running.

7 Which two towns had a new peak hour bus replacement service laid on for commuters as part of the ‘improved’ Thameslink service from 20 May?

Wellingborough and Bedford.  The new Thameslink timetable south of Bedford meant there was not enough time for some peak hour East Midlands Trains to stop at both Wellingborough and Bedford so a Stagecoach coach now provides a replacement facility.

8 Where could you find a South Western Railway train meet a stream train on summer Saturdays?

Core Castle….where South Western Railway ran journeys on the connecting line at Wareham to the heritage Swanage Railway on summer Saturdays, sadly disrupted by RMT strike action on a number of occasions.

9 Why weren’t train drivers seeing straight driving new electric ScotRail Class 385s between Glasgow and Edinburgh?

The curve in the windscreens led to drivers seeing “double vision” at night so modifications had to be made before the trains could enter service.

2018 Review, Awards and Quiz of the Year

Tuesday 18th December 2018

After my fortnightly French Connection column got ditched last summer, readers of Bus & Coach Buyer have reportedly been worried sick they’ll miss my ritual round up of the year with its concoction of fascinating facts, august awards and quirky quiz questions.  Fear no more. I’m delighted to report BusAndTrainUser has acquired the rights for this annual nostalgic feast, and not only that, has expanded the content to become multimodal. So welcome dear readers, especially first timers, to this event of events in the transport world……it beats all those Summits, Conferences and tedious Award lunches and dinners that bedevil the rest of the year.

Regular readers will notice one or two changes with this year’s ceremony. We’ve moved to an impressive new venue ….. yes, we’re in the cavernous passenger circulating area deep underground at Crossrail’s Farringdon station. Ever keen to raise much needed commercial income to prop up its booming deficit, TfL are renting this vast space out for corporate events until it one day might be used for its original purpose. It’s a real honour to be the first to gather in these prestigious surroundings for our Review and Awards Presentation luncheon so without further ado, let’s begin the proceedings.

IMG_1077

The only trouble is it’s taking the Deliveroo guy over an hour to carry all the food down the fifteen flights of stairs in the emergency stairwell; problems with the station’s electrics interfering with the signals on the Thameslink line above us mean the escalators have yet to be commissioned and passed safe for service, but I’m told testing continues.

IMG_1078

So before the soup arrives, here’s a quick reflection on the past year’s news, and a round up of what was in and who was out during the year.

In a nutshell

It wasn’t the best of years for trains with May Meltdown (no, not the Prime Minister but the 20 May timetable chaos), new trains delayed, refurbished trains delayed, station openings delayed, electrification delays, not enough trained train drivers, not knowing there’s not enough trained train drivers – it wasn’t so much see it, say it sorted during the year as didn’t see it coming, didn’t say anything and definitely not sorted. It wasn’t much better on the buses with delayed new bus rapid transit schemes and delayed entry into service of electric buses. 2018 was also a year for proud announcements about ‘Business Change’ and ‘organisational reorganisations’ as well as sparkly new app based ride sharing minibuses being introduced as last year’s sparkly app based ride sharing minibuses bit the dust as they ran out of funds. More authorities and bus companies thought the answer to encouraging more bus passengers was to stop producing printed information and literature designed to encourage more bus passengers but on a positive note hundreds of new buses hit the road (all billed as ultra environmentally friendly of course) and there surely will be hundreds of new trains hitting the tracks …… next year.

North American private equity investor Apollo Asset Management made a bid for First Group at what informed sources said was between £1.10 and £1.20 a share. First Group rebuffed the offer as “undervaluing the company” and “opportunistic” but pointedly the Group has not exactly improved its performance since with current share price at 81p making for continuing rumours about a break-up of the Group in 2019. It was the year when the Alice in Wonderland World of Economics finally hit the rail industry yet Transport Groups seemingly still reckon it makes sense to be involved. Not only do you spend millions trying to win a franchise, once you’ve got the green signal to go you have to pump in mega more millions to keep the show on the tracks; as First Group found with Trans Pennine Express during the year; as Abellio found with ScotRail during the year; as Stagecoach and Virgin found with East Coast during the year (losing it to LNER); as Arriva found with Northern during the year, as Go-Ahead found with GTR during the year; as …OK, this could get a bit tedious but you get the picture.

And on top of all that, if you ran trains, 2018 was the year to get slated by passengers, trade unions, politicians and the media for being incompetent fat cat money grabbing charlatans. I reckon CEOs of our transport companies must all have sadomasochistic tendencies to keep on trumpeting to their favoured City investors about the wonderful world of running trains for little, if any, financial or reputational reward.

In positive rail news, the much expanded London Bridge works ended (on time), the Bermondsey Dive Under opened; blockades at Derby and Liverpool Lime Street saw new or extended platforms and track layout and signalling installed while energised electrification finally reached Swindon and the former Eurostar platforms at Waterloo reopened for business with South Western Railway..

Hello Goodbye

It was hello to Reading Buses in Slough as they and Courtney, picked up the pieces from First Bus withdrawals in the town and a goodbye to Stagecoach in North Norfolk with the admission its purchase of Norfolk Green had not been ‘bottom-line enhancing’ while Abellio bade farewell to Surrey, Whippet whipped off the Cambridge busway and Go-Ahead picked up First Bus left behinds in Clacton-on-Sea. Seaford & District packed in normal year round bus work as did Emsworth & District further along the south coast; Regal Busways and EOS packed it in in Essex as did Stephensons of Easingwold in North Yorkshire while Arrow Coaches of Brighouse ceased trading completely and Avon Coaches gave up on the Wirral due to Merseyside’s MyTicket for young people. It was goodbye and good riddance to Express Motors of Penygroes at the beginning of 2018 with its directors jailed for fraud later in the year.

Transdev completed the formal purchase of Rosso, Rotala bought Central Buses in the West Midlands but sold Wessex in Bristol to Stagecoach. Comfort DelGro bought New Adventure Travel in Cardiff and Newport, while Peter Shipp sold his beloved East Yorkshire to the Go-Ahead Group. Stephenson of Essex acquired NIBS Buses of Wickford and HCT bought Powells Bus and the Impact Group.

It was goodbye to bendy buses in Coventry, picking up passengers at ScotRail run station IBM and farewell Tim O’Toole from First Group and Charles Horton from “the troubled” GTR franchise, with Kevin O’Connor quitting Arriva as UK Bus managing director, while a whole host of managing directors departed Stagecoach including long standing Martin Sutton and Andy Campbell not forgetting Steve Burd, Tom Bridge and Philip Norwell, Justin Davies said farewell First Cymru, Kevin Carr retired from Go-Ahead, Elsie Turbyne left NatEx owned Xplore Dundee while Norman Baker both joined and left the Big Lemon as MD. Very sad and tragic news was the untimely passing of Paul Thomas, Stagecoach East Scotland’s MD at such a young age.

In brighter news it was a hello and welcome to the Transport for Wales franchise operated by Keolis and Amey while Arriva Trains Wales went into the sidings and a welcome hello to new bus stations in Lincoln and Gloucester and a much needed revamp and refresh of Preston’s Grade II listed whopper. Hello also to ScotRail’s Hitachi electric Class 385s (once their bendy windscreens had been straightened) and Stagecoach’s new no frills megasightseeing operation in London as well as hello to a feast of new bus brands including Cheshire Cat in Warrington, the welcome return of Badgerline in First West of England, along with Discover and Lynx, Tottington Line, Lakeline and Red 4 in Transdev Blazefield’s Rosso and York & Country around York while Thames Valley was resurrected by Reading Buses in Slough, Glider glided into Belfast, Chiltern Hundreds launched surprisingly enough in the Chilterns and Dragonfly flew into Hatfield as Foxglove and Lilac grew in Northampton all from UNO.

Hello also to First Group CEO Matthew Gregory, Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines, Patrick Verwer to head up GTR, Louise Cheesman became managing director of Hull Trains and new bus managing directors including Matthew Ashton at Arriva’s Yorkshire Tiger, David Bradford at NatEx West Midlands, Chris Coleman at Stagecoach Oxfordshire, Matt Cranwell at Stagecoach East Midlands, Ian Humphreys at First Manchester, David Liston at Stagecoach North Scotland, Christine McGlasson Xplore Dundee, Gareth Powell as Surface Transport Supremo at TfL, Andrew Sherrington at First Cymru, Heath Williams to Ipswich Buses, Robert Williams to CEO Reading Buses, Ed Wills at Go-Ahead Ireland while Martijn Gilbert moved from head honcho at Reading Buses to Go North East and Phil Medlicott moved from First Manchester back to Stagecoach Midlands. MD Musical Chairs at Stagecoach saw Matthew Cranwell move from Cumbria and North Lancs to East Midlands being replaced by Mark Whitelocks moving from North Scotland. Nusrat Ghani arrived as a Minister at the DfT while Andrew Jones returned after Jo Johnson was off.

Competition broke out in West Lothian as Lothian Country (aka as Lothian Buses) headed for Livingston to take on First East Scotland while in Guildford, international corporate transport giant Arriva inexplicably decided to compete with local family owned and well respected Safeguard on a town bus route.

Numbers of the Year

12   bus lanes in Coventry temporarily removed in 2017 were permanently scrapped.

£32   public funding per passenger journey (yes, that’s for each single passenger journey) on Huntington Association Community for Transport in 2014 according to an external audit.

25   % hike in charges for coaches at Edinburgh Airport from January. A stop for 10-20 mins increased from £8 to £10

70   days notice for bus registrations was announced by the DfT with 1 day’s notice of implementation in April

840  Britain’s most scenic bus route according to 827 votes cast in an online poll that attracted 15,000 clicks.

£1.8m  TfL’s deficit running buses per day in its updated business plan to 2022/23

£6m   TfL spend on toilets on 40 routes including a handsome ‘Turdis’ outside desirable houses in Biggin Hill

£11.5m  TfGM’s grotesque spend on exploring the case for franchising – you’ve got to laugh or you’ll cry.

£92.3m   Enforcement income from the Dartford Toll – total income £204.7m. Work that one out.

Right that’s 2018 for you. Now as it seems Deliveroo are still struggling and the lunch is running later than a Bombardier Class 710 train destined for the Gospel Oak to Barking line we’ll move straight on to the Awards and present the beautifully crafted trophies to our worthy winners …….

Please could all winners note there are no official photographs this year (cutbacks following the commitment to freeze the price of your admission ticket for four years) so instead, please remember to ingratiate yourselves with selfies immediately after picking up your trophies so we get maximum coverage on social media. It goes down so well with your passengers waiting for a delayed bus or train to know their favourite transport company has just picked up a well deserved award at a lavish presentation ceremony…..

So the waiting is finally over, here they are the ever prestigious, all new ….. BusAndTrainUser Awards 2018

Late And Over Budget But Hey It’s Open At Last Award

Our first Award has proved massively popular this year attracting a plethora of top quality entries. The judges decided to delay their decision well beyond the original announcement deadline but finally made their minds up just a few minutes ago that ….. the Bronze Award goes to Translink’s Glider bus rapid transit introduced in Belfast in September just a mere twelve months late; the Silver Award to a well deserving joint entry from Warwickshire County Council and Network Rail for the much delayed opening of Kenilworth Station having achieved the amazing feat of four previously delayed opening dates, but the winner of the prestigious Gold Award is unsurprisingly the TramTrain between Sheffield and Rotherham for its much delayed AND four times original budget achievement during the ten years of implementation planning.  

IMG_3451

The judges also wanted to make a special commendation award to the West of England partners involved in Bristol’s metrobus rapid transit project noting its introduction this summer had commendably been achieved after a doubling of costs over budget as well as managing impressive implementation delays including only two out of three routes up and running with one more to follow in the new year. The judges noted an entry for the 2019 Awards would therefore be entirely appropriate.

Next up another ever popular award….

Let’s Rearrange The Deck Chairs and Contemplate Our Navel Award

Another great range of entries including Stagecoach for taking managing directors away from their day job to work full time on a highly impressive sounding ‘Business Change Programme’; First Group for also taking key directors away from their day job to head up a project finding new ways to improve bottom line profits in its continuing ‘Transformation Programme’ and not to be outdone, and a worthy entry to the shortlist, Arriva launched proposals for wide ranging ‘Organisation Change’ so it can become the ‘mobility partner of choice’. Our fourth and final entry for the short list is the Confederation of Passenger Transport for announcing controversial proposals for business change to deliver a higher public profile using less resources (‘keeping all the benefits of membership but at less cost’ syndrome) that also saw off Simon Posner, CPT’s Chief Executive and Ian Morgan, its Chairman. The judges found it too hard to make a decision on this Award and so have brought in expert business change consultants to advise. A result is expected in due course.

Meantime it’s …..

The ‘I Told You So’ Back Track of the Year Award

Not surprisingly as financial clouds gather we’ve been inundated with entries. What made for an ego filled PR puff overbrimming with bullshit about the cutting edge of innovation in 2017 came back to bite the bank balance with vengeance this year. The judges managed to whittle the entries down to a short list of five: Stagecoach South East for abandoning their Mercedes Sprinter microbuses under the Very Little and Not That Often brand in Ashford in favour of standard buses; Bournemouth’s Yellow Buses for renumbering, rebranding and revamping its bus network following last year’s disastrous renumbering, rebranding and revamping its bus network; RATP for abandoning its loss making Slide app based ride share venture in Bristol; Esoteric Systems (with First West of England) for abandoning its loss making MyFirstMile app based ride share venture in Bristol ….. but the winner is….. Arriva for their unashamed audacity of only half abandoning the 2017 conversion of Hemel Hempstead’s town routes to completely unsuitable Mercedes Sprinter minibuses giving Bennetts End residents welcome relief as standard size buses were brought back. The good news is Arriva must surely be in the running for an unprecedented win of this award two years in a row if it finishes the job off by returning big buses for residents of Warners End and Gadebridge in 2019.

IMG_5311

Most Preposterous Quote of the Year Award

Always a popular award with multiple entries which the judges narrowed down to two joint winners. The first Award goes to Alison O’Connor Director of Corporate Affairs at Arriva on the roll out of the Group’s new logo. Alison reckoned “our new identity is more customer friendly and will support us as we develop our services to deliver the flexibility and choice that our customers want”. She went on to explain the “new identity supports our strategy for growth and our vision of becoming a mobility partner of choice while positioning Arriva more strongly in a changing transport market”. Yeah, right. 

And our second joint winner for preposterousness goes to former Transport Minister Jo Johnson responding to complaints of hard seats on the DfT specified Thameslink Siemens Class 700 trains wistfully told numb bum complainers they needn’t resort to bringing their own inflatable cushions as “the seats normally become more comfortable over time through use”.

IMG_1911

Most ridiculed Auto Announcement of the Year

There’s just one candidate way ahead of any other entry this year. Many congratulations to TfL for the fleet wide roll out of its “Please hold on …. the bus is about to move” announcement which played out thirty seconds after the front doors had shut and the bus was well on its way from the bus stop. The judges also commended GTR for its saturation coverage at stations and trains insisting passengers check their train times from 20 May….. just a shame any semblance of timetables which could be relied on were abandoned within hours of their introduction which brings us to our next Award……

Surely They Must Have Known Award

This new Award for 2018 has proved a hit with entrants. We have a joint entry from GTR and the DfT together with the Thameslink Industry Readiness Board for their “Not Realising The 20 May Timetable Will Go Belly-up Until A Few Days Before” entry; another joint entry from Network Rail, Northern Trains and Transport for the North for their “Realising The 20 May Timetable Was Going Belly-up Weeks Before But Carried On Regardless” entry and a third joint entry from Transport for London with Crossrail for their “Not Realising A Delay Of Well Over A Year Was On The Cards Less Than Four Months Before Introduction” entry. The judges decided the only fair way of deciding the outcome of this hotly contested short list was to put it back to the people for a people’s vote; but this may take time to organise so in the meantime emergency arrangements, including the army on stand-by, are being introduced while the award remains unawarded.

Award for the most controversial Award of the Year Award

This year’s Award for the most controversial Award of the Year goes to the National Rail Awards ‘Train of the Year’ Award. Social media was abuzz with controversy in the Autumn when Siemens collected Gold as its Class 700 trains for Thameslink where judged Top Train in the National Rail Awards run by Rail magazine. It didn’t go down too well with Brighton based commuters uncomfortably sitting on hard-ironing-board-backed, armrest-missing, no-leg-room, narrow seats with coffee and croissant in hand, no plug sockets for much needed battery charging and fancy information signs proving unreliable. Mind you the hundreds of suitcase wheeling tourists boarding at Gatwick joined by hundreds more commuters at East Croydon were well pleased to hear the news, adding their own congratulations, as they found ample space to stand in comfort for their shorter length journey.

Consult But Ignore The Responses And Do It Anyway Of The Year Award

TfL have been consistent winners of this Award year after year and it won’t come as a surprise to you all to know it’s the 2018 worthy winner too. Last year it was the ‘ignore feedback about cuts to frequencies on the Finchley Road and don’t withdraw route 13’ entry which won as TfL sneakily withdrew route 13 and renumbered the 82 to 13 hoping no-one would notice. This year’s winning entry is the ‘cut routes 10 and 23 from Oxford Street and 25 west of Holborn even though the original justifications …. Oxford Street pedestrianisation and Crossrail are not introduced. You’ve got to hand it to TfL no-one does ignore consultation responses quite like them and win awards for it. 

IMG_9170

Time for our penultimate award and it’s the ever popular….

Naffest Use of Social Media of the Year Award

Usually this Award category is dominated by Virgin Trains and LNER for their annoying over-hyped far-from-realty marketing and promotional use of Twitter, but this year the judges were so impressed with Arriva Click’s expansion into Liverpool and the associated outlandish messages Tweeted they’ve awarded all three trophies to them. The Bronze award goes for the Tweet which encouraged school children to take Arriva Click to school when no child rate fares are available; the Silver award for this gem of a naff promotional Tweet …. “#SundayFunday is better with free Wi-Fi, air conditioned transport and purse-friendly trips to the carvery. Extra gravy on those spuds please!” – just a pity you can’t get an Arriva Click on a Sunday as they don’t run … so not so much a Funday ….

IMG_E1209….while the Gold award for the audacity of trumpeting “fantastic demand” and blaming “high demand if your first day ride requests are postponed” (the truth being only three minibuses were on the road on Liverpool’s first day of Click and minimal journey requests were being made but the minibuses were not close by even those!). Fake News Of The Year.

IMG_E8791And our final award should have been announced much earlier in the proceedings, but sadly has been delayed and may not even be ready to be presented even now. But here’s a sneak preview of the rather extensive shortlist ……

Caledonian Sleeper for the delayed introduction of new CAF Mark 5 sleeper coaches … the judges were particularly impressed by the company teasing passengers by selling tickets for the planned launch in October before admitting the trains were nowhere near ready and would happen next Spring instead (full refunds were given); Virgin Trains East Coast (aka LNER) for building up expectations, as only their annoying PR style knows how, for the introduction of Azuma trains in December only to quietly drop the idea due to implementation problems; VivaRail for the delayed introduction of former District Line D Stock Underground trains (Class 230 in new money) to the Marston Vale Line; Trans Pennine Express for loco hauled Mark 5s being delayed (also teasing us with a plan, then aborted, to introduce older stock until delivery); ScotRail for the delayed introduction of a fleet of refurbished HSTs to the newly branded Inter7City (and teasing us with just one set which occasionally runs on tracks for passengers); GTR for Siemens Class 717s on the delayed Great Northern suburban routes; the already mentioned delayed Overground Class 710s for Gospel Oak-Barking; Northern Trains delayed Class 195s – all the aforementioned promised for December introduction and, of course, no surprise that the winner by a long delay is Crossrail for missing its December introduction date spectacularly, announcing an ‘Autumn 2019’ replacement and only weeks later changing that to an indefinite delay. A very worthy Delayed Gold Winner.

Many congratulations to all our worthy winners. Remember if you don’t enter, you can’t win, so make a promise now to enter for the BusAndTrainUser Awards 2019 just as soon as we announce we’re open for entries. Don’t delay it.

I’m sorry lunch has still not arrived but Delay Lunch Repay forms will be available as you leave, but to round off proceedings, I had hoped our special guest speaker Minister of Transport Nusrat Ghani would be here, but as is normal practice we have a video presentation made especially for such absentee eventualities …. it’s for your enjoyment and to remind you of 100 Bus & Train Events in 2018….. click here and enjoy.

Finally as no blogpost just before Christmas is complete without a few quiz questions, here are a few posers to ponder over for the next few days before the answers get posted……

Christmas Quiz

1 What are passengers in Basingstoke soon to miss that those in Leicester suffered a loss of in the summer?

2 What did passengers do to force Stagecoach to convert express route X92 to plain 192 in Manchester?

3 Why was Platform 13 unlucky for Jubilee Line passengers at Stratford?

4 Why did Sid come unstuck for spending £1 on his megabus journey?

5 Why were Arriva and Carousel back as one between Chesham and High Wycombe?

6 What new destination could you catch a train from St Pancras to but not back again?

7 Which two towns had a new peak hour bus replacement service laid on for commuters as part of the ‘improved’ Thameslink service from 20 May?

8 Where could you find a South Western Railway train meet a steam train on summer Saturdays?

9 Why weren’t train drivers seeing straight driving new electric ScotRail Class 385s between Glasgow and Edinburgh?

Answers at the end of the year, or if you can’t wait – click here as most of them appear in our 100 Bus & Train Events in 2018 video.

Thanks for coming. Safe journey home everyone. Take care up all those stairs!

Happy Christmas to you all.

Roger French

The battle for West Lothian

Wednesday 28th November 2018

A right royal bus battle is underway in West Lothian with more salvos being fired this weekend.

At the beginning of August First Bus gave their extensive network based on Livingston a good old sort out introducing a simplified route pattern offering quicker journeys and new links into Edinburgh’s city centre and airport. It left a few gaps but none, it was claimed, that were well used. Meanwhile Lothian Buses, under its Lothian Country brand, decided to not only fill those gaps but also expand its western flank into Livingston and onward to Bathgate, Armadale and Blackridge with new competitive routes challenging First’s new network.

I’d read all the PR spin from both companies about the changes so thought I’d pop up there yesterday and take a look to see what’s occurring. I sussed something was afoot earlier in the summer when I spotted the virtually anonymous branded bus pictured below outside Edinburgh Park station – the terminus of the former First Bus Service 21A – part of the convoluted network that’s now been much simplified.

This is no David and Goliath battle as I recently saw in Guildford; First Group may be a multi-national multi-modal giant but it has a huge financial debt burden round its neck from past follies meaning any network developments are forensically scrutinised while Lothian Buses is hardly a minnow – they’re in Scotland’s Premier League of bus operators by size as evidenced by recent phenomenal expansion…..taking over First Bus routes ceded in Mid and East Lothian; taking over a former Stagecoach route to Queensferry and quadrupling the number of airport services they run in addition to its long established extensive network throughout the city and significant sightseeing operations. This latest expansion has been introduced in three phases beginning in August with the latest route introduction commencing this weekend, with some new all night journeys on another route on Saturdays.

On Sunday the Lothian Country network will have grown within just fifteen weeks from nothing to operating five major routes with a peak requirement of thirty vehicles meaning additional annual costs looking for new revenue north of £3 million. Quite a task, particularly when, on the whole, First Bus do a good job in this area and the recently revised network has been a positive development. To use a TV quiz show analogy, this is not The Chase where the all conquering Beast or Governess trounce aspiring contestants, this competition is more akin to Pointless – in every meaning of the word.

IMG_4997First Bus may have retreated in recent years from many areas across Britain and still struggle in others but I detect renewed energy in Scotland under the leadership of the impressive and much experienced Andrew Jarvis. I don’t see First Bus waving the White Flag in West Lothian whatever Lothian Country may wish.

Many of First’s buses are branded with the long established West Lothian brand in a rather smart two tone dark blue livery but there’s evidence of work in progress to introduce a new brand for the two main Edinburgh corridor routes 23/X23 and 24/25 to a similar scheme now becoming familiar in many parts of the country.

It’s unfortunate that in the meantime, just when First should be making maximum impact, there’s a bit of a hotchpotch of double decks and single decks in various liveries on the network and route branding is far from effective, but I’m sure it’ll all look good when repaints are completed – as can now be seen in Bristol for example.

If there’s evidence of exciting initiatives locally, there’s the usual shortcomings from First’s all dominating centralised overhead operations including their usual unhelpful website and mobile app where you need a degree in computer software to find the information you need. For example prices of day tickets involves far too many clicks to work out zones and options – and after all my searching I couldn’t find the ticket I wanted to buy on the mobile app – the £7 day m-ticket for both Edinburgh and Livingston zones so I had to buy it from the driver at the higher price of £7.50. Not ideal when you’re dealing with intensive head to head competition where prices should be well promoted, never mind unavailable.

Lothian Country have more or less matched First’s headline ticket prices although this being Lothian there’s their usual inflexibility disallowing customers wanting to buy a single m-ticket (the only bus company that insists on a £10 minimum purchase) and while they’ve bundled the purchase of day tickets into attractively priced offers (eg their equivalent to First Bus £7.50 day ticket can be bought five for £25 or twenty for £95) their use is restricted: “m-ticket bundles can be used on any non-consecutive days within 180 days” – get your head round that one!

Both operators use an exact fare cash box system on board and Lothian are working hard to play catch up to First Bus who’ve offered contactless for a while – contactless readers are installed on Lothian’s buses but not yet activated. Not being able to buy the £9 all Lothian day ticket (including Airlink which I wanted to use later in the day) on my smartphone app and unable to use contactless on the bus, I ended up having to stuff a £10 note into the farebox for my £9 ticket (hence the inclusion of my wallet in the second photo below!). So for both operators I ended up paying over the odds for my ticket! So much for competition making for keener prices.

IMG_4998

I won’t bore you with describing all the competitive hot spots in detail but in summary there are three main markets – Edinburgh to Livingston by two different routes; within Livingston itself; and between Livingstone and westward to Bathgate, Armadale and Blackridge. There’s also a market for cross Livingston traffic – eg Bathgate to Edinburgh (and both First’s established and Lothian Country’s developing networks are designed to provide such journey options) but make no mistake rail dominates that market with frequent trains taking a fraction of the time on two electrified lines between Edinburgh and Glasgow (one via Bathgate through the north of Livingston and the other via Shotts, to the south of Livingston). I haven’t seen such a large car park at a station as at Bathgate for a long while and unlike when Google peered down on it, when I went by yesterday it looked very full.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.10.06

The epicentre of this competitive spat is Livingston. It lies 15 miles to the west of Edinburgh (30 miles east of Glasgow) and has a handy nearby access to the recently completed M8 linking both cities. It’s Milton Keynes on steroids; not least its ‘Town Centre’ which is a huge complex of shops, restaurants, cinema and ‘leisure’ options and over one hundred ‘Designer outlets’. Buses use the north/south road about a third of the way along in the aerial photograph below. Facilities for buses and passengers are basic and functional offering the usual contrast with the polished floors and commercial ambience inside the shopping centre. There are real time signs at each departure bay and an ability to wait under cover on the west side with smaller shelters at each stop on the east side.

Built in the early 1960s Livingston’s twelve residential districts surrounding this monolith of a ‘town centre’ have been commendably designed around cul-de-sac type roads with plenty of pedestrian walkways providing links to distributor roads (shown in yellow below) making for fairly sensible bus route options but the car inevitable dominates thanks to over-sized car parks around ‘The Centre’ offering cheap parking.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.21.27First’s revamped and simplified network serving Livingston has retained long established route patterns which obviously reflect passenger travel patterns, so it’s a bit surprising Lothian have chosen to run different route patterns which while having the advantage of offering new journey opportunities, on the downside can seem somewhat circuitous and I have doubts whether the demand is really there for such links. For example my journey on the half hourly X27/X28 took around 45 minutes from Bathgate before reaching Livingston’s ‘bus station’ followed by a futher 55 minutes for the journey to Edinburgh.

As we toured around Livingston’s residential districts it was noticeable how many people were opting for the First Bus in front (in one district it was a 23, in another a 26) although Lothian Country seemed to do well picking up passengers from the huge St John’s Hospital complex.

IMG_5002

IMG_5004

First Bus’s main 15-minutely route from Bathgate (Service 25) takes a quicker 33 minutes to reach Livingston and First runs an hourly X23 journey to Edinburgh taking 56 minutes while four buses an hour on the 23 or 24/25 take 64 or 66 minutes via two different routes.

For those that like maps, and who doesn’t, here’s the revamped network run by First Bus:

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 11.12.03and here’s the network run by Lothian Country (note the wiggly [light blue] route of the X27/X28 through Livingston mentioned above):

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.37.37to which the latest route, the half hourly X18 joins this weekend which interestingly bypasses Livingston completely and provides a direct link from Armadale and Bathgate into Edinburgh, something First Bus don’t provide:

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.40.11But the journey time from Armadale Station to Edinburgh is 90 minutes which compares unfavourably with the train’s 38 minutes, and I wonder if there’s enough demand for shorter hops along such a route. No doubt time will tell, as will the assessment of how this overall additional thirty buses on to the West Lothian bus network fairs. It’s certainly a bold move, and something the industry has not seen on this scale for many years.

As I observed in the case of Arriva’s challenge to Safeguard in Guildford last week, the incumbent operator has an advantage over any interloper if they’ve built up loyalty and familiarity. Admittedly I travelled off peak yesterday, but fifteen weeks on I would have expected to see buses busier than they were if this is going to be a financially sustainable operation for Lothian. I suspect it won’t be.

Roger French

PS Coming soon to this blog …. My Hundred Best Train Journreys 3 – don’t miss it – an amazing collection of another thirty fantastic journeys, these ranked 31-60.

Switched on Harrogate

Friday 23rd November

Hats off to Transdev Blazefield owned Harrogate Bus Company for getting their brand new fleet of electric buses for the town’s network of local bus routes on to the road and into service.

Unlike London’s all electric Waterloo garage where buses only charge up back at base, this scheme introduces ‘opportunity charging’ while buses layover in the bus station in between trips to keep the batteries topped up.

Stagecoach have electric buses which charge up in Inverness bus station (but it takes forever) while Arriva introduced ‘charging plates’ in the road at the termini for a route in Buckinghamshire, with TfL introducing a similar scheme in north east London for a handful of buses, but this is the first time opportunity charging has been introduced in such a big way and via overhead prongs.

As well as Harrogate bus station infrastructure has also been installed for the buses at the nearby Starbeck bus garage for overnight charging in a more conventional way.

Ambitious innovative schemes such as this one in Harrogate are never straightforward to introduce so full credit to Alex Hornby and his team for their commitment and hard work to make sure the inevitable frustrations are overcome.

I remember the trials and tribulations with the power company in Brighton to get even one roadside real time information sign connected up to a power supply so I can imagine the challenges involved in wiring up three large charging points in Harrogate bus station.

Indeed, there are still delays in commissioning the electric substation at the bus station so the bus manufacturer Volvo has loaned the large diesel generator which was previously used on the one bus trial earlier this year at Greenhithe in Kent.

This hums away as it does it’s stuff and is not as efficient as a proper mains substation, taking longer to recharge each time, nor obviously is it as environmentally friendly. But at least it’s enabled the scheme to get going rather than returning buses to the Starbeck garage for recharging during the day.

Operators with gas buses have faced similar infrastructure delays and frustrations but once sorted (I’m told the substation will soon be operational) it really will be the business and the whole project is very impressive.

The Volvo buses themselves have a real wow factor. You can’t fail to notice their quietness, impressive acceleration and smooth ride. It’s obvious much thought has gone into the interior design and layout to create a pleasant travelling environment to match the environmental credentials of the propulsion.

Nice touches include ample legroom, comfortable seats with a very attractive moquette, benches with contactless charge points over the rear wheels, bus stop push buttons on the insides of seats, a nice front view window in the seat behind the driver and two well proportioned rubbish bins including one for recycling as well as the usual usb points, Wi-fi and next stop announcements and some 2+1 seating.

All this is topped off by a very smart and attractive external livery promoting the Harrogate electrics brand. Ray Stenning and his team at Best Impressions have come up trumps once again with another desire creating package.

As well as the inevitable teething problems from a new bus fleet not least one with a new power and charging arrangement (as explained above) with incumbent driver and engineer unfamiliarity, my visit this afternoon coincided with the usual Friday traffic congestion that besets towns like Harrogate. So instead of a fifteen minute frequency on route 3 to Jennyfield, and half hourly on each of the 2A, 2B (Bilton) and 6 (Pannal Ash) – the four local routes involved – there were some delays and gaps in service but interestingly I picked up an empathic and positive approach from passengers who rightly seem pleased their bus company are investing significant sums in an impressive fleet of buses which will make a contribution to better air quality in their town.

Congratulations to Transdev for backing this extremely bold innovative initiative in Harrogate and to Alex for overcoming the many hurdles to deliver an impressive result.

I’m sure the remaining teething problems will soon be overcome and Harrogate electrics will be the obvious choice for Gold in the UK Bus Awards ‘Environment Award 2019’ this time next year.

Roger French

Go South Coast – a multi award winning exemplar

Tuesday 20th November 2018

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 20.38.53
Photo courtesy © The Bus Industry Awards Limited

Many congratulations Andrew Wickham and all the team at Go South Coast.

They’ve only just gone and added yet another award to their bulging trophy cabinet this afternoon at London’s Troxy: the prestigous UK Bus Awards 2018 Bus Operator of the Year; having won top Shire Operator of the Year and pipped Nottingham (top City Operator) and Ensign Bus (top Independent) in the final play off.

It’s been an Award filled six weeks for Go South Coast; picking up David Begg’s National Transport Award for Bus Operator of the Year on 11th October, the magazine Route One Award for Large Bus Opeator of the Year on 31st October and climaxing today with the UK Bus Awards’ top accolade.

img_4065img_4063-1

Not only that, but Andrew and his team were also victorious in the same categories in both the Route One and UK Bus Awards last year making for a record breaking quintet of award winning trophies and, may I say, all richly deserved too.

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 20.26.03.png
UK Bus Award Winners 2017 – photo courtesy © The Bus Industry Awards Limited

Unlike the usual crop of other worthy winners: Nottingham, Reading, Lothian, Brighton & Hove, Ensign Bus which all have a well defined geographic urban area at the heart of their business, Go South Coast is a very diverse company with a varied portfoilio of brands and operations within its remit which makes its award success all the more worthy of praise.

IMG_E8474
A diverse portfolio includes buses running every 3 minutes between Poole and Bournemouth (m1 and m2 also winning the Sustained Marketing Award this afternoon)……..

IMG_3859
…… to one return journey three days a week from Lockerley to Romsey

These range from the original Wilts & Dorset core now branded as ‘more’ (based on Poole) and Salisbury Reds; urban operations in Southampton as Bluestar and Unilink, the infamous and much loved Southern Vectis on the Isle of Wight, the 2017 addition of Thamesdown Buses now branded Swindon’s bus company, not forgetting small coach and contract operations as well as tendered bus routes run by Damroy and Tourist Coaches in deepest Dorset as well as the former coach company Excelsior and some National Express contracts.

And to top off all of that there’s part of a former central engineering works which rose out of the ashes of the original failed Frountsource privatisation of National Bus Company’s southern engineering sites now successfully trading as part of Go South Coast as Hants & Dorset Trim, specialists in refurbishment, repairs, conversions, retrims and paint jobs. You don’t get much more diverse than that portfolio.

IMG_5470
Andrew (left) with former Opertations Director Ed Wills (now with Go-Ahead Ireland) and Alex Chutter, General Manager Swindon with the new look Swindon bus company

Andrew has led Go South Coast as managing director since 2011 having perviously been its operations director between 2003 and 2009. In 2009 he was promoted to managing director of Plymouth Citybus for two years on its aquisition by the Go-Ahead Group. Aside from that brief interlude, Andrew has therefore amassed fifteen years of continuity with Go South Coast overseeing many developments including the fall out from the original Dorset tender contract which didn’t quite work out as expected; more recently the aquisition of Thamesdown and it’s turnaround into a thriving urban operator and importantly, and key to any successful bus company, an evovlution of continuous improvements and investment in quality alongside nuturing excellent relationships with local authorities and other stakeholders.

IMG_4700
Damory – part of a multi-modal international transport group PLC but still ‘Dorset’s great local bus company’.

Andrew will modestly say this award success is down to having an excellent team. There’s no doubt Go South Coast has some highly motivated, top quality managers and a huge team of committed and enthusiastic staff providing excellent bus and coach operations in Wiltshire, Dorset and parts of Hampshire; but they’re motivation comes from being led by a passionate, energetic, committed leader who inspires his team and offers that all important encouragement to achieve the best.

Andrew exudes these qualities and well deserves the recognition that comes from this unprecedented award success. His dedication and commitment is infectious and I’m delighted to see his hard work being recognised.

At the launch of the latest buses for Bluestar in Southampton earlier this month

It’s not easy. I was chatting to Andrew a couple of weeks ago at the launch of Go South Coast’s latest £4 million investment in nineteen impressive ADL Enviro 400 double deckers for Bluestar route 18. I mentioned how important it is for a managing director to be able to ‘get his (or her) arms around a bus company’ (structurally and geographically). Andrew admitted it wasn’t as easy as it once was following recent expansions but these Award wins demonstrate his industry peers rightly have admiration in a job well executed despite the challenges from a growing business.

It’s not as if Go South Coast has the market to itself either. Competition with First Bus in Southampton and Yellow Buses in Bournemouth and Poole has actually raised the quality of bus provision rather like it has done in Oxford for many years, rather than go down market.

Go-Ahead’s readiness to invest in Swindon, which the Borough Council was unable or unwilling to do, has been to the benefit of bus provision in that town and competitive spats with Stagecoach have now subsided with each company concentrating on what it does best.

Where Go South Coast has a monopoly, particularly on the Isle of Wight, it continues to invest in quality improvements and provides a comprehensive network, including, uniquely, an intensive service on Christmas Day which must surely confound critics of the deregulated market which allegedly ‘leaves people isolated in their homes’.

IMG_7408
The popular Needles Breezer at Alum Bay – a must ride, if you haven’t done it

IMG_4118
The three New Forest Tours are an excellent way to explore the National Park

Go South Coast also knows all about the tourist and the leisure market with some great services on the Island as well as operating three extremely popular routes throughout the New Forest National Park during the high summer season and the year round Stonehenge tourist bus from Salisbury.

IMG_9782
The Stonehenge bus provides a popular public transport link from Salisbury

The Company’s network of inter-urban routes across parts of Dorset provides important connections between a range of destinations on impressive and comforable vehicles and are well marketed; not surprisingly they’re well used and popular. Travel Centres in Swindon, Salisbury, Southampton, Poole and Newport are well stocked with timetable leaflets and there’s a handy timetable book for the network of routes based on Poole and another for the Isle of Wight, produced twice each year.

IMG_3440
The popular X3 linking Salisbury with Bournemouth is just one in a network of inter-urban routes run by ‘more’

Every time I’ve travelled I’ve found Go South Coast staff to be courteous and friendly, not least when I’ve made bizarre requests for the bus to stop for a few minutes in the village of Nomansland so I could record I’d been there (another service with one return journey running just three days a week route!).

IMG_3736
In Romsey

In Nomansland

All in all a great example of how a company with a diverse portfolio of services in a challenging market in southern England can thrive when given the backing of investment from a Group plc and is led by a first rate managing director given the necessary autonomy and a great team.

A true exemplar for the bus industry to showcase. Congratulations once again.

Roger French

Will competition safeguard buses in Guildford?

Friday 16th November

Head to head bus competition broke out in Guildford last week. It won’t last; one operator will blink first – read on to find out which.

Long established family owned Safeguard Coaches runs circular routes 4/5 linking the city centre with Aldershot Road, Park Barn and the Royal Surrey County Hospital. Eight years ago they also ran part of route 3 serving Bellfields but back in 2010 Arriva, who also operated buses to both areas, took over the route to Bellfields exclusively leaving Park Barn exclusively to Safeguard. I’m not sure whether this arrangement was something of interest to the Competition Authorities at the time, but the local media certainly took an interest.

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 16.24.50

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 17.01.22
From the local Surrey media

In the event, the “arrangement” is now history as Arriva have crashed back into Park Barn with a ten minute dedicated service (Route B) at the same time as revamping a longer cicular route (service 26/27) which also served the Royal Surrey County Hospital and an area called Stoughton. Now RSCH gets its own ten minute dedicated service (Route A) while Stoughton has its own fifteen minute frequency Route C.

The spark for Arriva’s Park Barn incursion came a few weeks ago when Stagecoach were given rights by the University of Surrey to run buses through the campus which had previously been served by Arriva on their now abandoned circular 26/27. The replacement route A now has to bypass the campus using what’s known as The Chase which also treads on the toes of Safeguard’s route 4/5.

Furthermore part of Stagecoach’s new network (Route 2) provides competition between the city centre and Stoughton to Arriva’s new Route C (old 26/27).

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 16.54.00
The new Arriva A B C routes

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 16.56.22
The long established Safeguard Coaches circular 4/.5 routes

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 17.04.03
Stagecoach runs circular linked routes 1/2 taking in the University, Hospital and Stoughton

Passengers have never had a better service with well over twelve buses an hour running direct between the city centre and the Royal Surrey County Hospital and up to twelve an hour between the city centre and Park Barn estate. Bus fares have also come plummeting down. One thing’s for sure, despite the Hospital being a busy attractor for passenger journeys and Park Barn being what we euphemistically call ‘good bus territory’, there’s definitely not enough passengers for the high frequencies now on offer.

I feel sorry for Safeguard. They’re rightly regarded as a quality independent operator (because they are); a winner of industry awards; and well respected by the local community and passengers who use the 4/5 route – which meets the needs of the area well. They’ve provided an excellent service in Guildford for ninety years and route 4/5 is a quality local route of which they should be proud.

I’ve got sympathy for Arriva. It must have been disheartening to be chucked out the University campus which I’m sure was lucrative to serve on its 26/27 circular and the incursion from Stagecoach in Stoughton must be unwelcome. I appreciate the attraction of making good the loss with an incursion into Park Barn, but it simply won’t work out for them.

Good for Stagecoach who must have been working closely with the University to gain exclusive access rights to the campus and introducing what looks like a decent mini network linking the University with its catchment areas.

I’m impressed Surrey County Council have obviously worked hard to get all the bus stop flags and timetable cases updated with new route numbers and timetable displays even including large index displays and departure signs in Guildford bus station. Full marks to them for that and what a shame their comprehensive timetable book for Guildford only published and valid from 1 September (coinciding with the new Stagecoach routes 1/2) is now out of date.

Arriva have produced an attractive timetable leaflet for the A, B, C routes available in their travel shop in the bus station but it was a shame there weren’t any available on the buses I travelled on today. I wonder if they’ve done a house-to-house in the affected areas to promote the new routes?

Safeguard also have an attractive full colour timetable leaflet for the 4/5 (commendably Arriva have copies on display in their Travel Shop) and a small additional leaflet promoting extra buses to and from the hospital and its cheaper fares.

As always in these things it’s attention to detail that’s important – not one of Arriva’s strengths. For example the internal cove panels in one of the buses I travelled on was promoting an out of date 0844 telephone number and season tickets for the full Guildford wide network rather than the new less-than-half-price tickets (bizarrely called ‘seasonal tickets’ – will they only last until the Spring?) available on routes A, B, C.

A promotional poster inside Arriva’s Travel Shop

Safeguard on the other hand have high profile posters promoting their lower prices by the entrance of every bus – including bargain fares for NHS staff and their timetable and promotional leaflets are available on board buses. Also impressively their contactless payment option has a weekly and four-weekly cap built in. That’s quite an incentive to stick with one operator for your week’s or month’s travelling and as the incumbent operator with a long history of serving Park Barn and the Hospital, I’d be surprised if passengers desert them.

Certainly my observations today, which I appreciate are only at the end of week 2, indicate far too few passengers using Arriva’s new Route B and there’s certainly not enough potential to grow the market sufficiently to sustain both this and the 4/5. I can’t conceive Safeguard ever capitulating, they look financially sound enough to sustain this unwelcome onslaught. The only likely outcome is by next Spring Arriva will withdraw Route B (and probably slim down Route A) as it wont be meeting the profit targets expected at Sunderland HQ.

Routes A and C look like a good idea – it simplifies what was a rather convoluted 26/27 circular but if I’d been Arriva I’d have also redeployed resources from the 26/27 (and used the transfer in of more modern single deck buses from elsewhere) to boost and protect the service to Bellfields – providing a more attractive offer than double decks lumbering round every twenty minutes – it wasn’t that long ago the great hope for Bellfields was the ridiculous Mercedes Sprinter minibuses, but that ended in disaster as the buses were totally unsuitable; I can’t help thinking double deckers are just as unsuitable to the other capacity extreme and I’d be very wary of a locally based family owned highly respected operator reinventing history and returning to that pre 2010 arrangement of serving Bellfields!

A double deck on Route 3 to Bellfields today

The Mercedes Sprinters were completely unusable and withdrawn from route 3 last year

One to watch with interest in the coming months.

Roger French

Feeling healthy on the bus?

Thursday 20th September

The Westminster Parliament’s Transport Select Committee have been inviting comments for their Inquiry into the health of the bus market. As Monday’s closing date for feedback is fast approaching I thought I’d better gather a few thoughts for them.

The Inquiry’s scope sounds worthy enough…

Personally I prefer the Easy Read booklet ….

(Love the blue coloured rail ticket to illustrate a bus ticket!).

I always worry about these London based Inquiries particularly when MPs (and DfT mandarins) spend so much of their time in London and see lots of red buses. There’s always a risk of buses-in-London are good; buses-in-most-other-places are bad syndrome.

To illustrate this institutionalised London bus bias phenomenon, here’s a tweet from the Transport Select Committee from a few weeks ago calling for evidence and feedback for the Inquiry.

More pertinent would be what’s been happening over the last 25 months (never mind 25 years) now that London is coming to terms with zero public subsidy grant (as per many provincial local authorities) and the impact of a politically motivated but financially suicidal fares freeze.

And that’s aside from all the external factors which impact bus travel such as population growth (or not); population density; land use locations and density; economic activity etc etc.

I’ll cut to the chase with my comments for the TSC. There are two principal issues.

First that lack of subsidy. When deregulation was introduced in 1986 one objective was to end the damaging cross subsidy dragging all bus routes down to the lowest common denominator of (lack of) investment. Profitable routes were robbed of investment to prop up loss makers instead of reinvesting in frequency improvements, new buses and attractive marketing to realise their potential for growth.

Loss making but socially necessary routes where instead made solely the responsibility of local councils who could fund them as much or as little as they desired. Now, that no longer works because in austere Britain local councils simply don’t have the funds anymore. They can barely keep statutory responsibilities going let alone non-statutory nice-to-haves like bus routes.

So point one is: without public funding the 18% of bus routes which need it can’t possibly be healthy; they won’t run unless community transport operators step in or commercial bus operators provide some form of skeleton service as a goodwill gesture to compliment their networks.

The second point is about structural organisation within the industry. Those award winning bus operators running successful networks correlate almost exactly where empowered and impassioned managers are based locally with authority to make a difference without the corporate straitjacket imposed by increasingly centralised transport groups.

It’s as simple as that. And as it’s self inflicted it can easily be solved. It just needs Corporate CEOs and FDs to have faith in their local managers and let them do the business without constant referrals up the convoluted chain of command.

Back in the mid 1980s the National Bus Company split up its large subsidiaries that had built up through mergers and reorganisations in the 1970s for a very good reason. To get management closer to the action in more locally run businesses as deregulation and the threat of competition approached.

That still applies today but there’s an even more important reason. The need to finesse effective relationships with key local stakeholders like council CEOs and leading politicians who can introduce policies to restrain car use and give buses priority. They need reassurance and confidence that such politically courageous decisions will come good and be effective. That only works if you have respected senior bus managers embedded in local communities.

So point two doesn’t really need a Transport Select Committee Inquiry nor DfT bus policies, it just needs a new approach by the Groups to reintroduce localised management structures where they no longer exist and employ empowered impassioned managers.

We’d soon have a healthier bus market. Just look at where it currently works well.

Roger French 20th September 2018

Seven steps to simpler rail fares. Sorted.

9F528440-78DE-4965-8CC6-B68B0A46202C

Tomorrow is the last day to give feedback for the Rail Delivery Group’s review of rail fares with the aim of making them much easier to understand. They’ve produced a simple clickable online survey which, if you don’t make any additional comments or suggestions, only takes around five minutes to complete, so is well worth a whirl.

There are questions on things like the merits of basing fares on distance, time of day/day of week, level of service, time of booking, method of booking, flexibility of travel, split ticketing, rewarding loyalty, discounts for railcards as well as methods of payment.

The RDG review pledges any changes will be financially neutral so for every attractive outcome offering lower ticket prices there’ll be others paying more for their journey. I can’t see the latter going down well with the rail industry’s political masters nor the commentators and media who like to find fault. Which group of passengers will willingly pay more for the sake of achieving a more logical, easier to understand fares system?

And in that context here are my seven suggestions for simplification:

1. Do away with cheaper return tickets and just have single journey tickets.

In some cases cheap off peak returns are only 10p more than the single which is particularly anomalous. Instead maintain the ability to buy a return (for convenience) but it’ll simply cost double the single. In averaging this all out, most people already make return journeys so this won’t have a huge impact on what people pay; it will mean cheaper single journey prices and modestly more expensive return prices but still achieving the same overall revenue take. While we’re at it, the summation of single leg journey prices mustn’t be less than the price charged from end to end to avoid split ticket anomalies.

2. Do away with Advanced Purchase discounted tickets.

In many cases, for Standard Class travel, they don’t offer the savings they first appear to once the cost of a return journey is taken into account. An off peak return is very often just as cheap as two Adanced Purchase tickets for the separate journey legs. Furthmore, off peak returns offer complete flexibility on journey travel times.

3. Do away with peak/off peak price differentials; charge the same ticket price irrespective of travel time.

Bit radical, I know, but season ticket holders travelling five days a week already pay something close to five times the off peak fare anyway. They always reckon they’re hard done by, but actually the perceived high cost of travel is because they pay in bulk and make more journeys. An occasional traveller pays much more per journey as they pay full whack in the morning peak with an Anytime Ticket. This change will obviously mean off peak ticket prices rising relative to peak prices but see my suggestion number 7.

4. Do away with cheaper tickets restricted to one particular train company.

All tickets should be available on any train running between the origin and destination and used by ‘any permitted’ route between those points. Which brings me to…

5. Make it much more clear what the ‘Any Permitted’ route options are for tickets.

I’m pretty sure only the renowned ticketing expert Barry Doe knows what can be done and what can’t; the rules are so complex and almost impregnable. It can’t be beyond the wit of the fares experts at the RDG to produce a nice interactive online map of the rail network where you can click on your origin and destination stations and up comes all the route options possible on the map. I think people would be amazed what flexibility is available and when combined with the ability to break your journey at any station on route (something many passengers are also unaware is possible) opens up many flexible travel options.

6. Do away with seat reservations.

Increasingly I see passengers ignoring their allocated seat and instead opting for a preferred better placed unreserved seat especially when unreserved (or less busy) coaches are marked up on platform indicator boards. Passengers like the ability to choose a preferred seat once they actually arrive on the train, but this leads to chaotic scenes where reserved seats are foregone as passengers rush to bag unreserved seats. I’m also increasingly finding electronic seat reservations systems are unreliable leading to more confusion as passengers board along the route expecting to find their reserved seat.

7. My final suggestion, having swept away cheaper returns, cheaper advanced purchases, cheaper peak tickets and reservations in favour of a simple easy-to-understand one price system…….is to add a bit of complexity back, but using a promotional marketing approach by significantly expanding the range of Railcards.

7a Make Railcards available for any adult without the need to be of a certain age, have a partner or children, or work for the armed forces. Yes, let anyone buy a Railcard. A sort of Nationwide Network Card. The range will include paying something like £100 up front for a year which would offer say, a 50% discount off peak on the new standard single fare. Or another could be £40 offering a third discount. I’m not privy to know the revenue streams from different tickets now, so it’s difficult to know what the price band/discounts need to be, but I hope you get the idea behind the principle of establishing say three or four Railcards of this kind to appeal to different market segments. You’d design Railcards to appeal to regular users as well as occasional users and the discount would encourage travel by offering a good value price. Offers could also be made on the upfront price of the initial Railcard purchase to encourage take-up and discounts given for longer duration Railcards, as now, say for a three year validity.

7b Existing Railcards would continue and with some extensions of validity. For example Senior Railcard discounts should be available at any time, including during the morning peak in the London and South East area (ok, I need to declare a slight vested interest here; ok, a big-time vested interest here – I live in London and the South East and I use a Senior Railcard; a lot). Journeys wholly within London and the South East (as per the Network Railcard area – which itself is nonsensical to have one Railcard’s restrictions based on another’s area) are not discounted until after 9am presumably on the logic of not giving a discount at a busy time of day with packed out trains. But that doesn’t stand much scrutiny as Londoners with a Freedom Ticket (available to over 60s) giving completely free travel can use the overcrowded Underground at any time as can Senior Railcard holders travel at a discount on packed out morning peak trains in other conurbations around the country and finally as justification, Senior Railcard holders can already travel across the L&SE area border at morning peak times – e.g. there’s no time restriction on discounts for a pre 9am journey from Brighton to Ipswich (Ipswich is outside the L&SE area) but discounted travel is not possible pre 9am for Brighton to Colchester (Colchester is within the L&SE area). Again this is something many passengers don’t know about, indeed my recent experience has been even some ticket office staff don’t know about it either and wrongly assume a Senior Railcard means no discounts before 9am. Not true.

So that’s it, a much simplified ticket system with some attractive incentives through a new range of Railcards. Sorted.

If you’ve got ideas or comments about rail fares be sure to click here by close of play tomorrow.

Roger French           9th September 2018

LT’s reshaping began 50 years ago today

I won’t say I remember it as if it was yesterday, as that really would be an exaggeration but it seems impossible to believe today marks the 50th anniversary of London Transport’s revolutionary Bus Reshaping Plan hitting the streets of Wood Green and Walthamstow as well as a plethora of new Red Arrow routes criss-crossing Central London.

The Plan certainly looked impressive.

It was full of interesting statistics and artists impressions of how things would look much better when the whole of London had been reshaped. Here’s a flavour ….

For an impressionable teenager with a growing interest in London’s buses it was a game changer. Aside from RFs, the beloved GSs in the Country Area and the first experimental XMSs on new Red Arrow route 500 introduced in 1966, fifty years ago London’s buses were all double deck and mostly RTs and RMs at that (ok some were ‘L’ and ‘W’ variants and also a few RLHs and XAs for added spice). So a fleet of gleaming single deck buses with two doors seamlessly interchanging with revamped trunk routes and the Underground really did capture the imagination.

The idea was to limit the impact of traffic congestion on long routes while introducing cost savings through one person operation on the new shorter localised routes with a revolutionary 6d flat fare. All the new ‘satellite’ routes (as they were futuristically called) were centred on Wood Green and Turnpike Lane Underground stations and shopping area in the first scheme introduced on 7th September 1968.

I grew up in Winchmore Hill located at the north end of the new W4 route. This replaced the well established 141 (previously Trolleybus 641) north of Wood Green having originated in Moorgate.

As well as Winchmore Hill, new shortened routes went to Edmonton (W1) and Alexandra Park with Crouch End and Finsbury Park in the peaks (W2) and oddly a long established route from Northumberland Park via Wood Green to Finsbury Park (233) was simply renumbered W3 and converted to flat fare MBS vehicle operation. It was shortened and split into two sections on Saturdays with a W5 and W6 meeting at Wood Green and both continuing south to Turnpike Lane along the High Road shopping area, but as that was a congestion hotspot on a busy Saturday the arrangement didn’t last long and the W3 soon became daily. Unlike the others it hasn’t succumbed to any route change since 1968 and is the only route still operating exactly the same fifty years on!

It all must have seemed a very sensible idea on paper when LT’s Board Members gave the go ahead but sadly the wheels soon came off the whole Plan.

The MBS class was not best suited to London conditions and engineering staff were ill prepared. Mechanical and electrical problems weren’t helped by the buses being stored for months in damp wet conditions as negotiations with trade unions over their use had become protracted.

Drivers weren’t used to their longer length particularly in London’s congested traffic and manoeuvrability was a problem.

Passengers certainly weren’t used to the front entrance door (nor the centre exit) and particularly not the fiendish looking ticket machines protecting the turnstiles (yes, turnstiles) which were almost impossible to pass through if encumbered with shopping. I witnessed many shopping bags being pushed through and reaching the far side of the turnstile while their owners became stranded on the entry side. Children had to push an audible button on the ticket machines to alert the driver they were only paying 3d to release the turnstile.

The buses soon gained the ‘cattle truck’ nomenclature as the lack of seating forward of the centre doors meant most passengers had to stand with very little to balance against or hold on to in the central area away from the windows. After a short while seven individual seats were retro-fitted in this area.

The 6d flat fare was welcomed by those who’d previously paid more (8d, 1/-, 1/3), but regarded as extortionate for those making shorter cheaper priced journeys (4d), or in those pre-Travelcard and Hopper Fare days, had previously travelled through on a newly curtailed long trunk route without paying a separate fare at all.

Reliability, far from improving, plummeted as all these problems compounded to leave long gaps between buses.

Over in Walthamstow, the new bus station in Selborne Road alongside the just opened Victoria Line Underground station wasn’t ready so buses had to decamp to neighbouring unsuitable residential roads to turn, with dolly stops making for a chaotic introduction of the new flat fare circular route W21 and a whole host of truncated and changed longer distance bus routes to take account of the smart new tube trains; albeit they only reached Highbury & Islington for the first few months with Victoria itself only reached the following March 1969.

Other areas of London received flat fare routes later in 1968, including Bermondsey/Rotherhithe (October) and Ealing (November) as these plans were well advanced by September 1968 but it was soon back to the drawing board for later schemes.

With the benefit of hindsight and being positive and kind, the Plan suffered from being ahead of its time. Shortened routes in a congested Capital City make sense; indeed TfL are still shortening routes for exactly the same reason fifty years on. One person operation was eminently sensible to reduce operating costs, it’s just that ticketing technology freeing the driver from handling fares and cash has really only become available relatively recently. The 6d flat fare was certainly ahead of its time. And was remarkably cheap. In today’s money it would be around 45p. TfL’s flat fare, admittedly on longer routes across the whole network is currently frozen at £1.50. Better interchange between the shortened ‘satellite’ routes at Underground stations was another forward thinking aim; an improved bus station was built alongside the Piccadilly Line station at Turnpike Lane, which has since been further expanded and improved in the intervening years, as have impressive interchanges right across London.

As highlighted above route W3 is noteworthy for running unchanged between Finsbury Park and Northumberland Park fifty years on exactly as it did when introduced on 7th September 1968 (and as it had done since October 1949 as route 233 before that) while Red Arrow 507 also still runs between Victoria and Waterloo pretty much as it’s done for the past fifty years except for a minor rerouting via Vauxhall Bridge Road from May 2011.

Also noteworthy is route E3, part of the Ealing scheme introduced on 30th November 1968, between Greenford and Chiswick also running pretty much unchanged today.

There’s a brilliant new book just published by Capital Transport – Reshaping London’s Buses by Barry Arnold and Mike Harris. It’s extremely well written and full of fascinating background and detail; well worth a purchase and a read.

Finally if you’re reading this on publication day take a trip over to North Weald on Sunday (9th) for a unique line up of preserved ‘Merlin’ and ‘Swift’ buses organised by the Epping Ongar Railway.

Roger French       7th September 2018