Ticket for a tenner

I’ve just spent a brilliant few days enjoying the scenery in an area stretching from Gloucestershire through mid Wales to Swansea.

The Black Mountains, the Forest of Dean, the Brecon Beacons, the Heart of Wales and the Gower are all delightful and so much more so from the vantage of a bus and train window.

My plea to bus companies – please review your day ticket offers and check whether they’re being effectively promoted to your leisure travel customers such as me. Chances are they’re not.

Stagecoach Wales have a one day Explorer at £8.30 which extends from Porthcawl as far east as Hereford while neighbouring Stagecoach West have a one day Explorer at £7 which extends west from Hereford as far east as Oxford.

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My Day 1 journeys straddled the boundary between these two adjacent ticket areas. I started at Abergavenny and travelled via Brecon to Hereford and from there on to Gloucester. Did I need both Explorers or was one enough? I showed my £8.30 ticket to the Gloucester bound driver at Hereford. Fortunately she just seemed happy to spot the word Explorer. I saved myself £7.

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It really is time to do away with these artificial boundaries for Explorer type tickets which reflect Company operating practices rather than customer needs. I’ve suggested for some time there should be a national £10 day ticket issued and accepted by every bus company – what a super sales messsge that would be. OK, perhaps with one or two exceptions for premium or long distance journeys: eg Thurso to Inverness, but otherwise a simple and effective sales proposition.

Meanwhile there’s no excuse for neighbouring Stagecoach companies not to be promoting one ticket price across a wide area; after all, no one is going to bus it from Porthcawl to Oxford in a day (although now I think about it I’m tempted: it takes around ten hours) but criss crossing a border, as I did, is much more likely, especially in a scenic area such as Gloucestershire to Monmouthshire/Powys.

The same issue impacted my journeys on Day 2, travelling on Stagecoach routes west from Gloucester through the Forest of Dean back to Hereford then continuing into Powys on a Sargeants route to Llandrindod Wells followed by TrawsCymru to Newtown. I paid for single tickets on both the last two journeys as I was unaware there’s an £8 Powys Explorer ticket – how would I know? There’s no mention of this attractively priced ticket on Sargeants’ or TrawsCymru’s websites nor Powys Council’s site which seems to be in a complete state of flux.

I found out about it on Day 3 when the driver of the Celtic Travel X75 from Shrewsbury to Llanidloes recommended it when I asked if there was a day ticket; and I wasn’t even in Powys at the time!

On Day 4 I’d repositioned to Swansea to explore the Gower using New Adventure Travel’s (strangely branded as N.A.T.) tendered bus network. I’d seen nothing to promote a day ticket on their website (nor is there any reference to one in their printed timetable booklet) but I spotted a poster in Swansea’s Quadrant bus station promoting a great value ticket for £7.50.

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It seemed just the job, but when I asked the driver for a day ticket he quickly established I would only be travelling in the Gower rather than needing the whole of Swansea so sold me a more attractively priced Day Ticket at £5.20.

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These are great value tickets but they really do need promoting more, as does the whole wonderful bus network across the Gower.

The TrawsCymru website gives details of a £10 day ticket available across the extensive geographic network from Cardiff to Caernarfon. It seems a small step to make that the default ticket for every bus in Wales …… and England …. and Scotland.

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Finally another example of ineffective price promotion is the TrawsCymru free weekend travel scheme, now in its second year. There’s been impressive infrastructure investment by the Welsh Government to promote the TrawsCymru network recently but nowhere is there a mention of this amazing weekend free travel deal. You’d think something so astoundingly attractive for visitors and tourists would be shouted from the rooftops; yet not a dicky bird of a mention at bus stops, shelters, whizzo electronic totem pole thingies, or on board buses. Quite extraordinary.

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Interestingly the scrolling messages on the internal screen inside the TrawsCymru bus I travelled on enticed passengers to ring Traveline Cymru, but gave the premium rated 0871 number rather than the 0800 freephone number exclusively available in Wales/Cymru.

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So, have free travel, but don’t tell anyone; have an 0800 freephone number but instead promote a premium one. You really couldn’t make it up!

Roger French      16th August 2018

 

 

 

Are App-A-Rides viable?

Followers of this blog, my twitter timeline and various magazine articles I’ve written will know I’m a bit of a sceptic about the current fashion for App-A-Ride, the modern day Dial-A-Ride and so called demand responsive services.

I just can’t see how the business model will ever deliver a profit. I must be missing something as hot on the heels of Oxford Bus launching Pick-Me-Up and Arriva announcing an expansion of their Click brand into Liverpool came National Express’s announcement last week of plans for something similar in the West Midlands.

Readers will know I’ve yet to actually share a ride with a fellow passenger other than on the Gett Black Bus 1 route (actually a Black Cab rather than a bus) in London one morning. My various Clicks, Slides, Chariots, My First Mile rides have all been Ride Solo rather than Ride Share …. until today.

In my continuing research to find the positive bottom-line secret of making App-A-Rides profitable I wandered back to Sittingbourne to have another try on Arriva’s Click; the first and original. My train was due into Sittingbourne station at 1114 and previous experience taught me to book a Click ride in advance to avoid a lengthy wait on arrival.

So I logged into the Click app to book my journey at 1015 soon after leaving Victoria. You’re given half hour time slots every 15 minutes as options so I booked 1115-1145 and hoped when the confirmation came it would be closer to 1115 than 1145 to minimise waiting.

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Not having received an update by 1108 I checked the App and was a little alarmed to find my booked slot had slipped to 1145-1215. If I’d not been a BusAndTrainUser I think I’d have cancelled and opted for a taxi waiting on the rank instead.

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But; almost as if the software knew, just as my train was pulling into Sittingbourne station I received a confirmation text that I’d be picked up … in 28 minutes at 1141. So much for minimising the wait.

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Just to add to the fun, as you can see from the rather operational explanatory wording (not sure what AC means!) it would be a spare minibus (maybe number 006 or maybe number 9?) and would pick me up a short walk away from the station in Park Road rather than outside – which, when I arrived, was obviously due to extensive roadworks immediately outside the station. But no mention in the text.

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Frustratingly my minibus passed by where I was waiting in Park Road at 1135 but going in the opposite direction which I later realised was to pick another passenger up heading in the same direction as me as by 1139 it had turned round and was heading back towards me!

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As I’d made my way from the station to the designated pick up point in Park Road I saw another minibus heading into the temporary bus stand obviously scheduled for a break but it did add further to the frustration of waiting to see this.

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Eventually driver Andy arrived with the other passenger on board at 1147 (33 minutes after I’d arrived by train despite pre-booking). He managed to park by a busy junction not helped by white-van parking at the designated spot, and kindly got out to open the manually operated door in this wheelchair accessible spare vehicle on hire.

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Fortunately my fellow passenger was alighting on the route to my destination (clever bit of algorithm) so we dropped her off without needing to make a detour. Interestingly she’s in the social/healthcare profession using Click to make home visits.

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My destination in Tunstall was out of bounds due to a road closure so Andy kindly dropped me as close as he could and then he was off.

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The App software isn’t able to indicate road closures so I didn’t risk booking my return from there so instead took a walk further into Sittingbourne’s suburbs to find another location.

Park Drive/Sterling Road looked a likely spot to book from with the usual unhelpful bus stop information. And a great shame too, as I found out after returning home, a bus on Chalkwell’s route 9 would have picked me up just 15 minutes later from this stop on one of its 5-7 journeys per day and taken me direct to the town centre.

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In the event I had better luck with my return booking. At 1202 a minibus was just 11 minutes away.

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And it turned out to be so. Driver Daniel was very friendly; been driving with Click for around a month and enjoying the change from running a newsagent.

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As we chatted away I detected we were actually heading south along Borden Lane towards Borden rather than north towards Sittingbourne’s town centre. ‘We’ve got another pick up’ Daniel explained. I’m thinking it’s just as well I’d not planned a tight connection for a train at the station.

We made the pick up in Borden and headed towards Tesco where the passenger wanted dropping off, not before he’d affirmed with Daniel the air conditioning wasn’t working as he bid us farewell.

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It wasn’t long before we arrived at my chosen town centre destination (a Pizza Hut car park!) probably about five minutes later due to the Borden deviation so not a huge inconvenience on what would have been a direct seven minute journey at most. But on the other hand more than a 50% increase in journey time was a bit of a downer.

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So for the first time I’ve shared a ride share, and twice, in one day, and to be honest it wasn’t painful. But notwithstanding this, I can’t see how Arriva made any money from either trip I made today. The outward journey cost me £3.75 for the 2.8 mile ride. It took around ten minutes. A bit pricey at £7.50 return (if I’d gone both ways); although you currently get £10 worth of Click credit for handing over £8.50 in advance. (Oxford’s Pick-Me-Up doesn’t require a deposit and just deducts what is currently a flat £2.50 fare from a pre-registered bank/credit card as each trip is made.)

My return trip today cost £2.50 being slightly shorter (as booked) at 1.7 miles although in the event the distance was greater due to the pick up.

There are of course no reduced prices for children or teenagers and no concessions are taken. It will be interesting to see if these issues are addressed in Liverpool’s much more price sensitive bus market when Click begins there in three weeks. It looks as though the requirement for credit will be waived: ‘click, pay and go’ as the tweet promotes.

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My experience today has not given me any further clues as to how this business model will succeed. It looks a sure fire money loser to me. Great to grab the headlines. Great to be seen to innovate. Great to be giving something different a go. But make a profit? No more likely than running rural buses which are being steadily withdrawn ironically as App-A-Rides are being introduced. Maybe, just maybe, they could have an application in rural areas as a halfway mode between a taxi and a bus, but someone is going to have to fund such a service and with local authorities strapped for cash and seniors expecting free travel, it’s not looking hopeful.

Roger French      7th August 2018

Open data? Let’s get the basics right first.

‘We want a mobility ecosystem that delivers seamless intermodal transportation faster, cheaper, cleaner, more responsive and safer than today. This will be enabled by open data on fares and journeys across all modes – data that is available to everyone to access, use and share’.

No, they’re not my words; it’s the “putting passengers first” vision spearheading the DfT’s grand Bus Open Data consultation launched at four roadshows around the country over the last couple of weeks. I just hope this latest craze for all things open and techy is going to be a lot easier to understand than that gobbledegook of a vision the two consultants, Deloitte and ODI, have cobbled together with DfT mandarins. It might sound good to wordsmiths, but it’s totally meaningless to me. They might want a ‘mobility ecosystem delivering seamless internal transportation’; I just want a bus map that shows me where all the buses go and easy access to timetables.

In the old days you could pick up a bus timetable which would include lovely clear maps making it easy to work out how to get from A to B and maybe wander on to C too. There’d even be town plans showing bus stop locations and information about market days and other stuff. In the not-so-old days you could go online and find all that information even easier. Now vast bus map deserts are opening up across the country making it impossible to work out where buses go. London, Kent, Dorset, Somerset, North Yorkshire… the bus map desert list is getting ever larger. How ironic at a time when Open Data has become the latest fad!

Those ever helpful timetable books are getting more and more hard to find too. I spotted Conwy Council still produce a lovely clear and helpful book so as I’m planning a few days in that lovely county next week I gave the public transport team there a ring and asked if they could send me one in the post. They weren’t sure if they could do that; nor whether they had any available. “They’re like gold dust” I was told on the phone, “everyone wants one but we only produce a few now”. Agggghhhhhhhhh! (I’m pleased to say one arrived in the post yesterday. Gold dust definitely).

Everyone uses journey planners these days, I’m told. Well, that might work fine if you know there’s a bus from your A to your B and you have a pretty good idea approximately how often it runs; but what if you don’t know anything? What if you’ve just moved into a new area? What if you’re wanting to be helpful to an environmentally friendly mobility ecosystem and take a car-free holiday using public transport for a week (having been convinced by Catch the Bus Week and all that)?

Using a Journey Planner in such circumstances is like a game of Battleships. Try square B7 – has that hit a battleship or a cruiser? No, neither; you need square C6 for that, which if you’d had a map showing where they all were, would have been obvious.

And come on guys, journey planners are totally robotic in their travel advice. Take my plans tomorrow. One of the routes I’m catching is split due to the ridiculous bureaucratic 50Km rule; it’s not actually split, just technically split, so Traveline thinks it’s two separate services instead of one through bus, and because the ‘connection time’ between the ‘two’ journeys at the split point is too tight it insists I need to catch a bus half an hour earlier to change on to the one I could have got at the technical ‘connection point’. A human being reading a timetable can work that out; a journey planner following pre-set algorithms can’t.

There’s a classic in the Scottish Highlands where a once a day connection leaves Lairg station four minutes after one of the four a day trains arrives. Our helpful journey planner reckons such a seamless modal transfer needs more than four minutes so ignores it, instead insisting you have to make a two day adventure of a journey, yet there’s a footnote on the timetable that buses will wait for late running trains!

But my biggest beef about journey planners is this. Suppose an infrequent bus departs at 8.50am and then at 11.30am. You optimistically put in your origin and destination and a desired start time of 9am. Assuming you’ve managed to pair up precisely the correct originating bus stop from a menu which can stretch to many alternative options (and the same with the destination) then it’ll tell you the only option available is a departure at 11.30am rather than suggesting starting out just 10 minutes earlier. You’re denied that option.

It’s the greatest irony to see techy people salivating at the idea of soaking up data on bus fares and real time journey planners to develop Apps we never knew we needed when the basic rudiments of maps are being ditched by local authorities. Some bus companies are just as bad, by either not producing network maps or burying them so deep on their websites it’s like that illusive one square submarine yet to be found on the grid.

But hang on a minute. What on earth has happened to get us to the point where the DfT are employing consultants to carry out a massive consultation with hackathons, live streamings and all the techy gizmos you can muster so that I, as a customer, can work out what the fare is for my journey. Err, shouldn’t commercially orientated bus companies in a competitive travel marketplace be telling me the great value prices on offer anyway? Why do we need legislation and regulation for what should be one of the basic propositions of selling a product? Frankly the industry needs to hold its head in shame that for far too long it’s made information about prices and ticket options opaque at best and non existent at worse. It’s like we’ve not grown up from the days when the Road Service Licence conditions pre 1986 stipulated every bus driver or conductor must carry a fare table for inspection by the passenger on demand. (It was usually kept hidden away in their bag although London’s buses always displayed a fare chart on an RM  or RT for the particular route the capital’s restrictive operating practices designated it to be operating on that day). That requirement disappeared in the mists of time so bus companies breathed a sigh of relief and decided the best thing was to pretty much forget about telling anyone about fares information at all. Even in those areas where you are required to have the correct fare with no change; and there’s a fare box. And it’s not a flat fare. Glasgow – I’m looking at you (as I recall my no-change fare of £1.88 for a journey in that city; unhelpfully it needs one of each coin, admittedly some time back now!)

Mind you, I’m not convinced clever Apps developed in all-night pizza-eating Hackathon sessions in geeky-novetly-warehouse type settings which tell me all the fare options, day tickets, capping, weekly variants et al for my journey will make an iota of difference to modal shift. Unless pricing is made a whole lot simpler and attractive as part of the purchase offer the reverse may happen. “Blimey, now I’ve got all this information through the Holy Grail of Open Data, I never knew it was all so complicated. I’ll stick with the car. So much easier. You just fill up every so often and it’s one price.”

The DfT’s grand consultation has a second strand to it; and that’s Accessible Information. ‘Talking Buses’ to use the more colloquial term. In her forward to the consultation document the Minister says “I think every passenger, regardless of where they travel in Great Britain should be able to do so confident they have boarded the correct vehicle and are travelling to the right place”.

Well, hear hear to that. But hang on, why are we having to consider regulating bus companies to be doing something that is just so basic and should have been done as standard many years ago when the technology first became available. It’s not as though it’s expensive in the overall scheme of buying a bus which is going to last for the best part of 15 years and maybe more.  Instead we’ve had boasts about virtually impossible to log-on to WiFi provision, faux leather seats that aren’t any more comfortable and splashes of silver or gold in the external livery from most Groups but a complete block on spending a couple of grand or so on something that really is useful and welcomed by all passengers as the Minister observes.

She continues “with Regulations which focus on the information needs of passengers rather than the means of providing it, I believe we can encourage the change which is so desperately needed”. Commercial bus companies – change desperately needed by passengers – information needs ………………… Regulations.

What a terrible indictment of a so called commercial industry which aspires to entrepreneurial freedom and baulks at regulation and franchising that we need Government to regulate for something passengers “desperately need” (and she’s right, us passengers do desperately need it …. and maps too please!).

 

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Roger French            20th July 2018

How those PMQs should have gone…..

Jeremy Corbyn: “With fares rising above inflation, passenger numbers falling and services being cut, does the Prime Minister accept her failure on yet another public service: the buses?”

Theresa May: “I’m delighted my right honourable friend has taken the opportunity to raise the topic of buses; a vital and hugely important public transport mode which seldom gets the national attention it deserves. Buses are hugely successful at moving millions of people in their local communities and we should celebrate and congratulate the efforts made by so many dedicated people working tirelessly in the bus industry to provide attractive services which, despite his generalisations and negativity, in many areas of the country, are offering great value fares, maintaining or even increasing passenger numbers and improving frequencies.”

Jeremy Corbyn: “Since 2010, her Government have cut 46% from bus budgets in England and passenger numbers have fallen, and, among the elderly and disabled have fallen 10%. Her Government belatedly committed to keeping the free bus pass, but a bus pass is not much use if there is not a bus. Does she think it is fair that bus fares have risen by 13% more than inflation since 2010?”

Theresa May: “Local authorities are responsible for setting budgets to fund those relatively few bus routes which are not provided commercially, rather than Government, so his assertion is misplaced; although I acknowledge Government has made unprecedented cuts to grants paid to local authorities since 2010 making it virtually impossible for them to fulfil all the commitments they would wish to. Those areas with the most successful bus services are where local authorities work in constructive partnership with bus companies. Despite constraints on public funding some enlightened local authorities have used income from parking and even bus lane enforcement to fund unremunerative bus routes. It’s a ‘win win’ policy as motorists are curbed in favour of bus passengers. Bus fares rising by 13% above inflation over 8 years is 1.6% per annum which has helped fund a whole range of initiatives including cleaner Euro IV buses helping to improve air quality.”

Jeremy Corbyn: “Under this Government, fares have risen three times faster than people’s pay. Bus users are often people on lower incomes whose wages are lower than they were 10 years ago in real terms and who have suffered a benefits-freeze. Under the stewardship of this Government, 500 bus routes have been cut every year, leaving many people more isolated and lonely and damaging our local communities. Does the Prime Minister believe that bus services are a public responsibility, or just something that we leave to the market?”

Theresa May: “Dergeulation of buses introduced in 1986 has been hugely successful in allowing enterprising bus companies to provide attractive services in the market which millions of people use every day. It’s for local authorities to fund bus routes to meet identified social concerns but these are very much in the minority. It is unfortunate that we’ve seen local authorities cut routes they have been funding but I’m pleased to see in some areas private bus companies have worked hard to provide some replacement journeys commercially and volunteers in some local communities are taking the initiative to provide Community Bus replacements’”

Jeremy Corbyn: “When Sadiq Khan ran for Mayor of London, he promised to freeze bus fares, and what has he done? He has frozen fares. If the Prime Minister is concerned about the travelcard fares, she should speak to the Secretary of State for Transport: he is the one who sets that fare. Bus routes are being wiped out: 26 million fewer journeys have been made across the north of England and the midlands under her Government. So much for a northern powerhouse and a midlands engine. Can we be clear: does the Prime Minister think that deregulation of the bus industry, putting profit before osssengers, has been a success or a failure?”

Theresa Mayor: “Mayor Khan’s fares freeze was simply a populist attempt to get votes and get elected. The policy is a disaster for London’s public transport and bus and Underground users will ultimately pay the price when fares must inevitably rise significantly to catch up with rising operating costs. In the meantime the Mayor is overseeing cuts to frequencies of well used bus routes due to the dire financial situation he has created thus making gaps between buses longer causing inconvenience to passengers who have to travel on more crowded buses often in unpleasant conditions. It’s a short sited policy purely for political motives and needs to be called out for the cynical bribe it is. It will inevitably end badly with passengers suffering. The right honourable gentleman refers to falling passenger numbers in the north and the midlands but they have also been falling in London notwithstanding the Mayor’s fares freeze therefore confirming that fare levels are not necessarily the determination of passenger numbers. There are many other factors at play not least policies adopted by local authorities and shopping centres towards car use and car parking, as well as local economic performance.”

Jetemy Corbyn: “It will be a Labour Government who save the bus industry and who give free fares to under 26-year-olds. The truth is that since deregulation fares have risen faster than inflation, ridership has fallen and these private monopolies have made a profit of £3.3 billion since 2010. That is what the Torres give us in public transport. The Government have given Metro Mayors the powers to franchise and regulate to secure better services. Why will they not extend that power to all local authorities?”

Theresa May: “There’s no such thing as ‘free fares’; someone has to pay and the Labour policy will mean taxpayers, including those on low incomes, the ‘just-about-managing’ my Government are concerned about, having to pay more tax to fund free bus travel for young people. There’s also no logic in the Labour proposal to offer free fares only where bus routes are regulated. Either it’s a sensible policy to adopt for all; or it isn’t. I would like to see better fares for young people and would encourage bus operators, many of which are in common ownership with train franchise holders, to consider extending the 16-25 Railcard to include a third discount on bus travel. That would be a fine commercial initiative from entrepreurial private bus companies. In many cases the profits earned by private bus companies are not sufficient to fund full replacement of assets; and I would remind him that all such investment is funded at no cost to the taxpayer. All local authorities already have the power to fund bus routes that are not provided in the commercial marketplace and they don’t need extra powers to do so.”

Jeremy Corbyn: “it is a shame that this Government are so shy of giving powers to local authorities, and are instead more interested in cutting their resources. Bus services are in crisis under this Government. Fares are increasing, routes are being cut and passenger numbers are falling. The situation is isolating elderly and disabled people, damaging communities and high streets, and leading to more congestion in our towns and cities, with people spending more time travelling to work or school. It is bad for our climate change commitments and for our air quality. Will the Prime Minister at last recognise the crucial importance of often the only mode of transport available for many people by ending the cuts to bus budgets and giving councils the power to ensure that everyone gets a regulated bus service, wherever they live?”

Theresa May: “I’m very pleased to have had this useful exchange of views with the right honourable gentleman and grateful he has reminded me of the vital importance of buses. It is true more needs to be done to tackle air quality and congestion and there’s no doubt the bus offers the most effective solution. The responsibility for taking action must lie with local authorities as local circumstances vary from one area to another but it’s the role of Government to lead and set strategic policies and I intend to instruct the Secretary of State and the Chancellor to bring forward proposals which will favour buses including the return of the fuel tax escalator and the reintroduction of full fuel duty rebate for buses. I will also be announcing a new ‘Air Quality Solved By Increasing Bus Use While Reducing Car Use And Car Dependency’ Fund of £10 billion which local authorities will be invited to submit bids to. I look forward to further debates about how the Government can provide more help for buses in this House in the future.”

 

Roger French    16th July 2018

How’s Catch The Bus Week for you?

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2018 CTBW official launch photo

Thursday. And it’s Day 4 of Catch The Bus Week 2018. How’s the fun all going for you? Got on a bus yet?

If the traditional embarrassed-men-in-suits-plus-a-few-women launch photo in Westminster (Westminster? – it’s the only way to nab a Minister on a late Monday morning) (and yes I know #CTBW, as it’s affectionately known in the trade, is pretty irrelevant to London, frequency cuts all round despite stacked out buses so the last thing you want are a shoal of motorists tempted to give the bus a try) (and yes I know a fifty+ year old non-accessible Routemaster as a backdrop is hardly a shining example of modern day get-me-out-my-car bus travel, but it IS Sir Peter’s and it’s got some souped-up engine that’s very clean and green), anyway where was I, oh yes, if the launch photo in Westminster is anything to go by this annual oversized-green-foam-waving-hands extravaganza is now well past peak hour.

Like me you’ll probably struggle to make out all the pressganged mob summoned for this year’s launch photo particularly those well hidden behind the  exuberant hand wavers in the front row (who’s bright idea was that then?! I’m pretty sure that’s Transport Focus CEO Anthony Smith’s left eye and I’m told Stagecoach’s Paul Lynch and CPT’s CEO Simon Posner are in the back row somewhere) but compare it to the same launch bonanza a few years ago and you’ll firstly be struck by the inclusion of more women, but markedly a noticeable absence of Transport Group Big Cheeses. Back in 2015 they were all there on Westminster Bridge, even Go-Ahead CEO David Brown put in an appearance alongside other renowned Group Bus Division MDs but by this year, they’re nowhere to be seen. David Brown had wisely delegated his invite to Martin Dean (well, he has picked up the CPT President baton this year) who was billed to appear in the 2018 pre-launch strictly embargoed press release, but Martin had obviously found another pressing engagement so gave it a miss. If we carry on at this rate, it’ll be the night cleaning supervisor from Merton Garage, an overworked Arriva Click driver from Sittingbourne and a cupcake baking PR luvvie from Merseyside who’ll be drafted in for the 2019 launch.

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2015 CTBW official launch photo on Westminster Bridge and an impressive line up of Group CEOs and Bus Division MDs with the obligatory Transport Minister.
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2016 CTBW official launch saw a smattering of Group Bus Division MDs in the photogenic interior of Arriva’s Brixton garage. At least H&S rules were ignored to forgo high viz wearing.
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2017 and bizarrely Arriva’s Brixton garage was chosen again for the launch backdrop. Shame about the subliminal message on the bus advert, but love the garage floor hatch marking.

I’m not sure whether it was deliberate sabotage or just unfortunate timing but rather than #CTBW’s “national celebration of the benefits of the bus” launch, Monday’s news media was dominated by Campaign for Better Transport’s latest Buses In Crisis report churning out doom laden statistics aplenty about damaging loss of bus routes, disgruntled passengers left isolated and draconian council cuts to bus funding. Rather than celebrating by giving the car a rest for a week and jump on board to give bus travel a try, by the time I’d finished watching the lunchtime BBC news I was on the phone to my nearest Audi dealer checking what special offers they could do as I feared my local bus route was not long for this world.

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So, lesson 1 in #CTBW – be careful who your supporters are and check they’re ‘on message’. Campaign for Better Transport enthusiastically tweeted their support for celebrating all that’s good about bus travel to promote #CTBW at 10.48 on Monday but just an hour and a half later unleashed the first of many tweets telling us all there’s a dire bus crisis on hand. Timing is everything in life.

 

 

Never mind, there’s always plenty of positive high jinks dreamt up by bus company marketeers up and down the country to tempt me from driveway to bus stop during #CTBW. After all, it’s a celebration and it’s only for a week; so plenty of amazingly eye catching stunts and not to worry about modal shift for the other fifty-one weeks. Well, we don’t want to get too serious about persuading people on to buses do we! A week is surely plenty enough. And what fun there is to be had. I mean who could resist the chance of a free ride if the bus driver on the bus I choose to try out for the very first time just happened to be the whacky extravert in the depot who came up with the zany idea of wearing a green clown style wig that day. Ingenious indeed.

 

 

Unusually I haven’t yet make any bus journeys at all during this year’s #CTBW as I’ve been far too busy at home pinning all my hopes on winning one of Arriva’s 1,000 one-day mTickets being given away on their App every day. All you had to do was follow the ten step guide, (yes, only ten steps but all easily explained in a helpful online video) to log on, find the area you want from Arriva’s national coverage, find the special ticket you want, enter the ‘CTBW’ promo code, and your click might just be early enough in the morning to come up trumps and get a freebie day out on an Arriva bus.

So far I’ve been unlucky every day I’ve tried as my promo code came back not valid (I even had a go at 6am this morning, but no they’d all been snapped up already) and ended up being offered a full priced ticket as second prize; still at least I can use that at any time convenient for me as freebie tickets must be used by this Sunday just like Cinders at the Ball staying past midnight. And we all know what happened to her.  Not to be downhearted I’ve also entered the Arriva prize draw which was giving away other freebies each day including a cash prize of £1,000 on Saturday. I’m sure to be in with a chance on that. I’m on tenterhooks as I post this.

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I’m also spending the week getting inspiration reading all the supportive tweets from much sought-after-to-influence ‘stakeholders’, especially MPs. Amazingly in 2017, Greener Journeys’ summary report outlining the successes of last year’s #CTBW, pointed out 38 MPs and local politicians had got involved. It seems that’s not a bad response rate from the estimated 22,000 MPs and local councillors representing us all around Britain. So hey, well done. You have to start somewhere on this engagement malarkey and I guess 38 is a good a place as any after seven years #CTBWeeking.

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Except this year buses became the centrepiece for Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday when Labour Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn devoted all six of his allocated questions to Prime Minister Theresa May on the subject of buses. OMG what a coup for #CTBW. That’s never happened before. Ever. #CTBW has finally made it big time. Err, except Jez’s questions didn’t mention celebrating the bus but were all based on the aforementioned Buses in Crisis report taking the opportunity to hammer home six times how fares are rising faster than inflation, passengers are in free fall, bus routes being cut, elderly and disabled left isolated, private monopoly bus companies making excess profits etc etc.

What a failure, he opined, deregulation had been and invited our Tes to agree. Six questions about buses proved too much for the PM; in fact one question was too much for the Maybot who’s no doubt never waited for a bus, ever, so mumbled something about local authorities and finances before reverting to form by boasting about extra money being put into the NHS. Jez reminded her he was on a bus mission rather than healthcare and so it went on for six excruciating questions with the PM totally out of her bus depth, Jez totally on script from the Crisis report briefing he’d had and shamefully far too many other MPs treating the fact buses had been raised at PMQs at all as something of a joke.

The Maybot is not the only politician who doesn’t quite get their bus briefing. If I were a voter in Louise Haigh’s Sheffield Heeley constituency I’d be relieved to know my modest one bus journey a month will completely solve the nation’s congestion troubles AND eliminate climate change as an issue once and for all. It must be true I read it in her tweet…..

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So, lesson 2 in #CTBW – politicians really do need to be constantly reminded what buses really are all about. All year round. Not just one week, once a year.

After all the fun and giant hand waving leading to this year’s #CTBW highs and successes, thoughts are no doubt already turning to 2019’s #CTBW. I’ve already set aside the first week in July in my 2019 diary and can’t wait. Indeed, here are five ideas to run up the flagpole for the first planning meeting Group PR people will no doubt be eagerly anticipating. I reckon these really would make a difference.

My lesson for #CTBW is this: ditch the ridiculous oversized green foam hands, the awkwardly posed launch photos and instead get serious……

  • Launch a £10 go anywhere ticket throughout Britain, issued by every bus company and accepted by every bus company. Only exceptions being long distance bus routes such as in East Scotland and Leeds to the east coast. Call it a National Wanderbus ticket. All operators keep revenue where it’s taken and no complicated share outs.
  • Make PLUSBUS free for Catch The Bus Week 2019. How integrated would that be? Revenue risk is pretty low matching the relative low sales, and think of the fantastic marketing opportunities and increasing awareness. Follow on with the traditional annual promotional £2 maximum for a PLUSBUS day ticket for the rest of July and August.
  • CartoGold to work with every County Council and bus company to produce a countrywide interactive online British bus map. Funding to come from the Greener Journeys budget by saving next year’s glossy report produced by consultants telling me for every £1 spent on glossy reports produced by consultants I get 93p benefit in media coverage. I reckon for every £1 spent on producing this really helpful bus map there’ll be £1.93 gain in extra passenger revenue because we’ll be able to work out where buses actually go.
  • Replace the Traveline premium rate 0871 number for timetable information with an 0800 Freephone number for #CTBW. Better still make that permenant.
  • Every bus company to display eye catching promotional messages about bus travel and mocking car use on every space on every bus throughout #CTBW with strictly no commercial third party advertising booked for that week. Actually, given the investment, it makes sense to make this a permenant policy and bask in the impact – it’ll sure beat waving oversized green foam hands on Westminster Bridge/Brixton Garage for lasting effect. It might actually get through to the target market – motorists. This is the kind of thing I’m thinking of…..

 

 

 

 

It really does work. Been there, tried it, got the t-shirt.

Roger French              5th July 2018

 

 

Motorists on buses

76900ABB-ADDE-4B8D-B067-09F963ED73FA.jpegThere’s been a bit of a spat on Twitter over the last 48 hours about whether motorists can be persuaded to use buses in the same way they’re enticed to use trains and trams. Train and tram fanatics claim metal wheels on tracks are masters of the mass transit mode with buses just bit players.

Examples cited where buses are making a difference (Eclipse in Fareham/Gosport; Leigh Busway in Greater Manchester; Stagecoach’s Little & Often frequency boost in Ashford) are met with disdain as being too small fry for serious consideration. It’s true in the national scene they’re just isolated examples, but buses are all about local markets – including mass movement in local markets.

There seemed agreement in the online discussion that its ‘modal horses for courses’ which was encouraging  – I’m a great believer in looking at the overall public transport offering and making it attractive to use as a whole. But the tweet exchanges once again highlighted that buses simply don’t get the high profile attention and coverage they deserve. Sadly there is a tendency for some working in the rail sector to look at buses as the poor relation. A bit like the Fat Controller’s scorn for Bertie The Bus. It’s a great shame, as in terms of relativity of numbers who travel, many more people travel by bus than any other public transport mode.

In most mid size urban areas they’re the main public transport show in town. Increasingly they’re also upping their game in inter-urban markets albeit from a small market share.

Where sensible parking control measures are introduced in towns and cities (its management, pricing and enforcement) coupled with sensible priority measures for buses through congestion hotspots – often with formalised Park & Ride operations – then buses really can shine as a mode of motorists’ choice. Such policies coupled with bus company investment in high frequency bus routes offering great value tickets, well marketed with attractive branding, operated by comfortable buses with all the trimmings (free WiFi, usb, next stop audio/visual etc) and driven by helpful drivers are what the famed ‘Partnerships’ are all about. These very much have modal shift motorists in their sights.

Travelling around the country I see much evidence where this partnership approach really works effectively and motorists do see they have a realistic alternative to driving on congested roads and struggle to park in high priced town centre car parks. Sadly there are far too many places including those with no chance of new train or tram tracks, where these components are not fully or even partly in place and that’s the challenge bus companies and local councils must continue to tackle.

A final thought – there’s also huge scope to get trains, trams and buses working much more closely together as modes to attract motorists. Many journeys  don’t start or end at a rail station.

It’s hard to believe buses and trains are in common ownership even in the same operating areas with little or no ‘joined upness’ to attract passengers. There’s probably no more than about two dozen train stations which display bus timetables, as one small example. Quite extraordinary.

Roger French.   29th June 2018

Welcome

Here’s something new. A place for mini travelogues and bus and train comment. Where there’s space for more than just 280 characters; follow me as I tweet on the road and from the tracks (@BusAndTrainUSer) keeping an eye on what’s good, what’s bad and what’s positively ugly. It’s also for wry and pithy commentary on bus industry developments, along the lines of my French Connection column which featured fortnightly in Bus & Coach Buyer for ten years, (hey; “it’s all gone online” now). And the added bonus will be some observations on how the trains are doing; saves writing letters to Rail and Modern Railways! I won’t be holding back. Expect to be landed with plaudits if you’re excelling, but I’ll name and shame if you’re seriously leaving passengers behind.

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Roger French        20th June 2018