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

A peek into my inbox

I’ve received some interesting promotional emails from the new breed of ride sharers recently.

Arriva Click sent an enticing personalised message on Thursday proclaiming some ‘great news’ for me. It seems Click now accepts concessionary passes. Amazing. Arriva certainly know how to rub salt into the wound of being in that frustrating cohort having to wait well into their 66th year before getting the coveted pass. Thanks Arriva.

Still at least I’m much closer than a good friend in the industry who also got the email and has yet to reach 40!

Even though I knew I wouldn’t qualify, I couldn’t resist clicking the ‘Find out more!’ tab helpfully taking me straight to Section 16 of Click’s Terms and Conditions.

Turns out it’s only a Sittingbourne initiative (Scousers not eligible) and by a complicated process of emailing a photo of your pass, receiving and registering a personalised discount code you’ll receive a third off future bookings. Not exactly headline grabbing.

While we’re talking Click bait, did you spot their interesting tweet last week encouraging school kids to use Click for the school run particularly to enjoy the on board wi-fi and air conditioning?

I was intrigued as I thought I must have missed the ‘great news’ email promoting discounts now available for school kids riding Click (even if rides can only be booked with their credit card). So I made an enquiry and it seems I hadn’t missed the news. No discounts! It’s going to be an expensive school run; wi-fi and air conditioning notwithstanding.

Still all’s not lost as if you’re a regular Click user taking advantage of onboard wi-fi you’d have missed the tweet anyway – Twitter is blocked on Click!

Meanwhile the marketing team at Ford’s Chariot have come up with an enticing wheeze for me. It seems there’s a whole crowd of ride sharers itching to hone their home cooking skills. They also emailed me last week offering £20 off Mindful Chef recipe boxes (and spread over the first two box deliveries at that).

Even more exciting a prize draw might give me a completely free box. Right let’s get riding Chariot straight away can’t wait to start cooking.

While I’m on a sharing recent tweets kick, here’s my Most Inappropriate Tweet of last month from the guys at First Essex ….

it started innocently enough with an enquiry about fares ….

Straight forward enough enquiry but it managed to fox the First Essex tweeters …

Taken aback our enquirer persisted …..

…. only to be fobbed off with an incorrect referral to Traveline. Still at least Traveline will earn some income from its premium rate phone charge if Callum took up Tannita’s advice.

Just what is the point of centralising Twitter posting? If you’re going to centralise at least have comprehensive information systems available. What a completely Open Data Own Goal and, importantly, a missed sales opportunity.

Still at least if you centralise tweeting you’re confident queries on policy issues can be professionally and effectively handled.

Here’s one such example from last month to a multitude of recipients…

No surprises that one switched on Bus Boss replied quickly and succinctly …

Whereas the main recipient replied…

Sadly this has fast become a standard fob off official corporate Twitter response for a number of companies.

Last time I filled a form in (for a fare query) it took seven days for the response.

Roger French 16th September 2018

Gliding on Glider

Ever wondered what around £100 million will buy in the way of Bus Rapid Transit? I popped over to Belfast today to find out.

The idea of creating a metro style cross city transit route has been discussed in the City for some years and as always with projects of this kind, (like in Bristol), it’s way behind the original hoped for introduction. But on Monday last week it finally glided into action.

It’s very impressive to see; there’s no doubt about that. It looks exactly like the vision those pioneers at First Bus envisaged when introducing ftr back in 2006 – a tram-like-driver-isolated-in-the-cab vehicle with bespoke tram-like stops and lashings of bus priority measures.

The downfall for ftr was the onboard self-service ticket machine which was never going to work, as well as introducing those first vehicles on a completely unsuitable route in York. Further trials in Leeds and Swansea never worked either because of the unacceptably high cost of employing conductors.

Translink operated Glider has overcome that problem by using some of the £100 million to install easy to use ticket machines (including contactless cards accepted) at all 110 or so bus stops along the 15 mile Glider corridor and implementing a strictly buy before you board policy policed by two-person ticket checkers who were out in force when I visited today (costly in itself but a good deterrent).

There’s also a smartcard system and good value day tickets. I found it quick and easy to buy my ticket.

The high profile bus stops along the route are all impressively fitted out with seats/perches and information including real time.

There’s an abundance of bus lanes all along the route (operational 7am to 7pm), sometimes only in a city bound direction, but even in the off peak when I travelled we gained time by passing other traffic queuing at traffic lights.

The 46 seat (yes, only 46 but lots of standing!) Van Hool hybrid articulated buses look slick and are painted in a smart purple (similar to ftr). They give a very smooth quiet ride. The Glider brand and livery as well as the interior decor are however very much understated but in some ways that gives it a bit of class.

As befits a publicly owned undertaking there’s no promotion or marketing to be seen; you wouldn’t know the key points served by the route (quite a few), frequency (high), price (good value) or added benefits (Wi-fi + usb) from seeing the buses.

I picked up three different leaflets about the service. Only one had a timetable and also had a route diagram, one of the other two also showed the route and details of the smartcard while the third had general information. All a bit confusing. The timetable leaflet was available at the city centre Visit Belfast shop and Metro kiosk but not the main city Europa bus and coach station.

The two other leaflets (but not the timetable) were on display at the very impressive waiting area building at the eastern terminus of route G1 – the Dundonald Park & Ride – now called Park & Glide.

No leaflets were available on board the buses or at bus stops.

Buses had four screens showing next stop and the two following with clear audio announcements except both times I ventured over to West Belfast the system gave up a few stops past the city centre. Presumably some technical teething problems.

Other teething problems were impacting the cross city G1’s timekeeping big time. Buses are timetabled to run every 7-8 minutes with an end to end journey time of an hour. It was taking longer than that leading to inevitable gaps in service, bus bunching and some over crowding.

A service controller was kept busy at the central Wellington Place bus stop moving passengers from one delayed bus to another and there looked to be quite a bit of light running going on. It didn’t seem the service was being controlled remotely using GPS positioning and radio contact with drivers which surprised me.

I’m sure these initial timekeeping problems can be overcome with a quick fix timetable review but it’s unfortunate that in the meantime goodwill during the honeymoon period is being lost as adverse comments build up on social media (#gliderbelfast refers).

The much shorter route G2 shuttle service running ever 10 minutes between the City Centre and the Titanic Quarter was keeping time much better and proving very busy with a steady flow of visitors to this popular tourist attraction.

The scheme promotors have spent quite a bit of the marketing budget on high profile Glider branding around the city centre and you can’t fail to notice the name.

One interesting feature onboard are the three doors being push button operated by passengers once released by drivers which will keep warmth in the vehicle in the winter.

The G1 cross city route is very significant in linking the communities of East and West Belfast (Secretary of State Karen Bradley please note!). I was intrigued to see if other passengers would join me in making the cross city journey on my travels and interestingly on one trip a couple did travel from the heart of East Belfast right into the Falls Road area in the west.

Previously both sides of the city had separate routes – the 4 to the east and the 10 to the west. It’ll be fascinating to see if more cross city, cross culture and cross community travel develops as Glider becomes established.

The desire is to introduce more Glider routes if this initial foray is a success and more significantly if future funds allow especially as a sizeable chunk of the money for this first route came from the EU as part of the Regional Development Fund.

Another interesting and unique aspect is the competition buses and now Glider face from the well established Black Cab scheme in West Belfast and especially along the Falls Road where ride sharing has been in place for many years and was much in evidence today.

It’s a fascinating project which, aside from the initial timekeeping teething problems, has been well executed and just shows what you can do with around £100 million. I wish it well.

Roger French 11th 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

Three Counties Circular

There’s a great bus ride to be had in that part of England where Lancashire meets Cumbria meets North Yorkshire.

I recently took a circular trip from Lancaster (Lancashire) taking in Kirkby Lonsdale (Cumbria) and Ingleton (North Yorkshire). I highly recommend it.

The bottom right corner of Cumbria’s bus map showing a protrusion in the Lancashire boundary placing Ingleton and Kirby Lonsdale in two other counties.

Stagecoach run the 80/81 from Lancaster to Ingleton (80) and Kirkby Lonsdale (81). While Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire run the 581 filling in the gap on the map between the two towns.  In fact these 581 journeys continue on to Lancaster (confusingly numbered 582) via a slightly different route having started way back south in Skipton (as a 580). Three numbers, three counties, one bus route!

A Kirkby Lonsdale 581 arrives in Kirkby Lonsdale already screened for the next leg to Lancaster as a 582

You have to choose your travel times carefully for the circuit as the 581/2 is only two-hourly and there are only four journeys a day on the 80 with the last departure from Ingleton inconveniently early at 1325 (although see suggestions below). But it’s certainly worth the ride as the journeys offer splendid scenery and Ingleton is full of charm and delight while Kirkby Lonsdale’s well worth a stroll round.

The gorgeous Ingleton dominated by the long disused railway viaduct

I made a morning of it and went clockwise round taking the 0840 (81) from Lancaster to Kirkby Lonsdale, but if you want to make more of a day of it after a lie-in I’d recommend an anti-clockwise circuit with Ingleton visited first on the 1010 (80) from Lancaster.

Stagecoach 81 links Lancaster with Kirkby Lonsdale while…..
…. the less frequent 80 links Lancaster with Ingleton, but the last journey back is at 1325

Here are some suggestions for the bus companies and local authorities on what works and what could be improved. Consider it a free bit of consultancy to grow the market and earn a bit more revenue.

Hats off to Lancashire County Council for reinstating the Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire 582 journeys beyond Kirkby Lonsdale to Lancaster earlier this year in March. Quite contrary to the cuts happening elsewhere. It brought buses back to the villages of Arkholme and Gressingham (and every 2 hours at that). I travelled that route earlier in the year and especially remember the narrow Loyn Bridge crossing over the River Lune – it’s a definite ‘driver of the year moment’.

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 17.52.49

I mention this as point no 1 is there’s scope for some joined up promotion of the 80/81 with the 581/582 rather than the two separate leaflets produced by Stagecoach and Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire. It just seems obvious to me to cross reference these publicly funded bus routes and show a combined route map. Without this, and without a network map of either Lancashire or North Yorkshire prospective passengers will be oblivious to the possibilities.

The missing link in the Stagecoach 80/81 leaflet

Whch brings me to point no 2. Leaflets for the 80/81 and 580/581/582 (called the Craven Connection) are impressively available but only one place had both – well done Lancaster Visitor Information Centre (VIC). The 80/81 leaflet was available in the lovely Stagecoach Travel Shop in Lancaster bus station (and its very helpful staff member, Ann) but nothing for the 581/2 while the 581/2 leaflet was available in both Kirkby Lonsdale and Ingleton VICs but nothing for the 80/81.

A well stocked Lancaster VIC
A not so well stocked Ingleton VIC – no Stagecoach timetables, nor in Kirkby Lonsdale either

Thirdly the timetable case outside Ingleton Community Centre/VIC only has the 580/1/2 timetable displayed (as well as the Sunday Dalesbus 881) but crucially not the 80. I expect this might be because the former is a NYCC matter and the latter is funded by LCC.

The NYCC Ingleton bus stop missing the LCC funded 80

It’s good to see timetables stuck up in the window of the Ingleton VIC for every service – I’m sure that being an initiative of the very friendly and helpful lady who looks after the shop there.

Fourthly is the old chestnut of not having an all operator day ticket. Come on Lancashire/North Yorkshire if it can be done in the south east of England I’m sure you can organise something too. Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancs have various Dayrider/Explorer options for their routes and Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire has a day ticket for its routes so it shouldn’t be beyond the considerable skills of those highly regarded companies to get together to make it easy for passengers.

My fifth suggestion is to Lancashire County Council and Stagecoach regarding that rather unhelpful early last journey from Ingleton on the 80 at 1325. There’s a Stagecoach bus arriving Ingleton at 1521 which appears to go dead to Kirkby Lonsdale for one of the two schoolday 81 departures at 1541/1545 or just the one on non schooldays. Why not run this in service from Ingleton at 1525? Also promote the later journeys on the 581/2 at 1558, 1758, 1858 and 1958 in the 80/81 leaflet making it clear there are other options.

Finally I’d suggest promoting the 5/6 journey a day Stagecoach route 567 from Kirkby Lonsdale to Kendal in the mix as this, with the more frequent and infamous 555 (Kendal to Lancaster part) offers extended circular journey opportunities.

It’s all about making it easy for potential passengers and growing the market for leisure travel.

Roger French           6th September 2018

Bristol’s latest metrobus m2 begins

The second of the three new metrobus routes began operating in Bristol yesterday. The m2 links the Long Ashton Park & Ride site (south west of the city) via some impressive newly constructed exclusive busway road to the city centre where the bus does a large anti-clockwise circuit.

It’s been controversial and way behind schedule. This route’s £50 million budget is part of an overall £200 million scheme being overseen by Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucester Councils.

I’m not complaining about the high cost though; compared to rail schemes or roads it’s virtually petty cash and it’s good to see buses receiving impressive infrastructure investment.

First West of England has bravely taken the route on as a commercial proposition and I reckon they’re going to have their work cut out to achieve the elusive double digit margins City analysts demand of PLCs.

Unlike route m3 which began in May serving the busy University of West of England campus at the route’s southern end (north of the Uni is a bit barren) the m2’s main objective is bringing Long Ashton Park and Riders into the city centre. There’s not really much else to it.

Helped by well over a mile of new exclusive busway buses bypass any traffic congestion until they’re close to the city centre. That’s good for journey time and timekeeping (28 mins to Broadmead/22 mins back again) but not so good for picking up other revenue potential.

The circular city centre route has proved controversial as many commuters have complained the new circuit means a much longer walk to their workplace than the previous 903 service, but I’m sure such criticism will die down once the new arrangements become familiar. There are always winners and losers and a circular routing does make sense for Bristol’s central road layout.

The £4 First Bus day ticket is good value and can be used across their network with longer period tickets also available as are First’s M-ticket range. Despite this it’s surprising there’s only one ‘iPoint’ ticket machine at the Park & Ride terminus. As metrobus drivers don’t handle fares that’s surely a recipe for frustration with queues building up at busy times with a bus about to leave. Considering the investment in these ‘iPoint’ totems along the routes, even at quiet stops (on both sides of the road) this seems very shortsighted and penny pinching.

I also see the frequency is only every 20 minutes before 10am on Saturdays and would have thought that’ll be unpopular in the busy weekends leading up to Christmas. Otherwise it runs every 10 minutes at peak times. 12 minutes off peak and 20 minutes in the evenings.

Astonishingly the Park & Ride is closed on Sundays and route m2 doesn’t run! That is a bizarre omission.

The busway has sections of guided track which, just like in Leigh in Greater Manchester, are completely unnecessary. I suspect it may be to do with getting grant funding from the DfT that required a certain percentage of route to be ‘guided’, if so it’s bureaucracy gone bonkers as it slows the bus down, costs more to build and operate when there’s no issue with available road width.

The route serves Ashton Gate stadium but buses won’t stop on Bristol City home game days as capacity is a problem.

It’s also advertised as serving Temple Meads Station but not via the bus stops right outside nor on Temple Gate at the bottom of the access road but to the side in Temple Way accessed through the station’s side entrance/exit. In the event the connection to the station is a bit tenuous as, other than people like myself, few arriving by train would want a bus to a Park & Ride site on the city’s fringe and there are plenty of other buses to the city centre from right outside the station or on Temple Gate. It’s a shame the m2 bus stop in Temple Way hadn’t yet been updated from the former 903.

Despite these shortcomings Ashton Gate stadium and Temple Meads are highlighted in the route’s inflation leaflet.

There were copious supplies of the leaflet available at the impressive Park and Ride kiosk along with other facilities.

The buses are functional and comfortable rather than luxurious and are clean and well presented. The livery is a bit drab and doesn’t really excite.

The bus stop facilities along the route are excellent, if anything, a little over the top but better to over provide than under.

If I didn’t fancy using First West of England’s smart newly branded Excel excellent bus routes but instead was an ardent motorist living in North Somerset with commitments in central Bristol I’d definitely use Long Ashton’s Park and Ride car park and hop on an m2 bus into the city centre. It beats sitting in Bristol’s notorious congestion.

It remains to be seen whether sufficient people will do likewise to make it viable. Certainly every effort’s been made to make it an attractive option and well done to all concerned.

If you’re down Bristol way soon give it a try – it’s free on the last two Saturdays this month.

Roger French 4th September 2018

I Didn’t Get Gett

Having been plagued for some weeks by marketing emails from the London black cab App organisation called Gett, I finally relented yesterday and headed up to London to use up the £10 credit (with an expiry of 31st August) they’d recently added to my account in a last ditch attempt to entice my return custom. It wasn’t as if I’d been much of a customer, having made one solitary journey back in October 2017 to try out the new peak hours only ride-sharing Black Bus 1 route between Highbury & Islington and Waterloo they’d just introduced amid much fanfare with partners Citymapper who’d worked out there was latent demand on that corridor from the enquiries they’d been monitoring on their Journey Planner App.

I thought I’d replicate my Black Bus 1 journey and see if once again I’d be sharing the intimacy of a black cab with other riders for the bargain fare of £3. I’d not been able to do my usual trip research beforehand as all the Gett App would tell me was I’m in an unsupported area down in Sussex where I live. I’d had a look at the Gett website, but that hadn’t mentioned anything about Black Bus 1 either. So it wasn’t until I came out of Highbury & Islington station at 0842 I could sus out the travel options.

I trotted along to nearby Compton Terrace on the main road just south of the station where I’d waited before and sure enough having entered Waterloo as “where I want to go” at 0844 the Citymapper App listed a taxi icon among the options (as it had done before) showing an arrival in 5 minutes and with a journey time of 45 minutes (taking 50% longer than the tube options).

I clicked it, got an encouraging ‘Book & Go’ clickable icon over a map with reassuring reference to my Smart Ride not costing the expected £3 but would be a freebie at £0.

I clicked that only to be stumped by payment options of Apple Pay or “Add Credit Card”.

I decided to add my credit card details despite that £3 fare being reassuringly struck through and then received confirmation at 0845 it was “Using £3 from your credit” and the “Driver arrives in 16 min”.

As a bit of a novice at this game I had wrongly assumed with those messages I’d done all I needed to do. It turns out I hadn’t; and despite not wanting to use Apple Pay, I needed to find another icon to “pay’; even though I had a fare of £0.

But there was I thinking I was all good to go, especially when I rechecked at 0847, as within only those two minutes the screen had updated to “Driver arrives in 2 min” and what looked like a fellow passenger appeared alongside me also staring intently at her phone.

She confirmed she’d also booked a ride and within a minute an anonymously branded black Mercedes people carrier appeared.

The driver was a bit perplexed to find two of us, and establishing we weren’t a couple he confirmed I wasn’t booked with him and needed to wait for another driver.

Clicking back on the Citymapper App showed a wait for another driver of another 15 minutes so I decided to interrogate the Gett App instead; after all they were the people who’d gifted £10 credit to me and were so keen for my return custom. In fact it puzzled me how Citymapper knew I had credit as I’d had no communication from them.

The trouble was the Gett App, like the website made no mention of Black Bus 1, and I appeared to be booking a standard black cab to take me to Waterloo.

Even more consternation as there was no mention of my credit and instead wanted me to pay with my credit card; although it did make reference to me getting “£10 off this ride” with my “coupon”.

Not being a black cab user I feared for my bank balance for such a long journey if I went through with the transaction, but decided to give it a go, only to be told the expected arrival time of a driver was another 15 minute wait and with an expected arrival time in Waterloo not until 0953 which was 57 minutes away.

As by then it was 0856, this seemed a very long time away, so after a three minute cogitation, at 0859 I decided to abandon this smart ride-share gig altogether and instead plump for a traditional ride-share gig, the humble TfL red bus to take me to Waterloo.

Despite battling with some of London’s usual peak hour congestion, we arrived in Waterloo at 0941 comfortably ahead of Gett’s prediction had I used them, and it only cost me £1.50.

I still have no idea what the relationship is between Gett and Citymapper  and how my £10 credit appeared on Citymapper. It would seem Gett no longer run a BlackBus 1 for £3  and just run traditional black cabs but Citymapper contract an anonymous ride share company to do so instead but not marketed under that Black Bus 1 brand. The whole experience was confusing and I was reassured traditional bus, tube and train are still the modes of choice for me and I won’t be disrupted.

Roger French                           1st September 2018

All Change for Cross Country

Today is the last day to make your views known to the DfT if you’d like to see changes made for the next Cross Country franchise due to begin in December 2019. Although as befits things on rails it might be put back into 2020.

F51B2C9E-3115-4EC6-A72E-828DAB35D84B.jpeg

The current franchise has been operated by Arriva Trains UK since 2007 when it took over from Virgin Trains.

The main issue DfT highlights in the consultation document that needs resolving, as we all know only too well, is over crowding particularly on late weekday afternoons when the 64% of us travelling who are long distant leisure travellers clash with the 23% using Cross Country trains to commute home from the major towns and cities served. Sunday afternoons also peak out as the number of journeys simply hasn’t kept up with growing demand for leisure travel.

Aside from the obvious answer of running longer trains, one option posed in the consultation is whether to concentrate resources on the core network centred on Birmingham and bounded by Plymouth, Southampton, Edinburgh and Manchester leaving extended journeys to outposts such as Aberdeen, Glasgow, Guildford, Bournemouth, Paignton and Penzance as well as localised parts of the Stansted Airport-Birmingham, Nottingham-Cardiff routes to other franchises. This could even include one of the two journeys an hour north of York terminating there or possibly Leeds.

The consultation points out GWR have plans to improve timetables west of Plymouth and TPE and LNER have plans for north of York while SWR serve the market well west of Southampton to Bournemouth.

For me the beauty of long distance travel is not having to change trains. Once settled into a seat with many miles ahead it’s a pleasure to enjoy the journey without the hassle of getting off, worrying about and waiting for a connection and then finding a new seat for the next leg. It might mean less frequent journey choices but that’s more than made up for by a direct journey.

Indeed I lament the ending of long distance journeys that once served Brighton including latterly a journey to Manchester via Reading and Birmingham. Although only once a day and taking much longer due to pathing difficulties (it used the Clapham Junction/West London Line/Willesden link) it was popular with passengers who dislike using the crowded Underground to cross London for stations such as Paddington and Euston.

Families heading for holiday destinations in the south west encumbered with luggage really appreciate having a through train to their destination. Bearing in mind the Rail Delivery Group’s current campaign encouraging train travel for leisure trips to Devon and Cornwall it will be the ultimate irony if Cross Country trains end up being cut back.

Another possibility raised in the consultation is whether the market can be segmented by removing some of the stations served or making some stations set down or pick up only to discourage commuters and move them on to more local trains. But as the consultation admits, longer distance passengers might also use and value stations proposed for withdrawal (eg Burton-on-Trent, Stafford – my examples) and it’s just not practical to enforce set down/pick up only restrictions.

Bearing in mind the foregoing, counter-intuitively, suggestions for new destinations to be added to the Cross Country network are also invited with Liverpool, Bradford and Swansea mentioned. Although these would be welcome additions they’d be contrary to the other aim of ditching peripheral routes to concentrate capacity on the core network. The consultation acknowledges this and points out there are also track capacity constraints so I get the idea it’s one of those things you add into consultations to create a feel good factor but won’t ever come to anything.

792E1A54-0482-49D0-9FD8-70C7D671D9FF

But if we are going to add lines on maps and setting aside those track capacity constraints I’d like to see more south east options added including the aforementioned Brighton and hey, why not, Dover and Canterbury, maybe even using High Speed 1 tracks for part of the way. I can dream too!

The new franchise is an opportunity to draw a line under the hugely unpopular Advanced Purchase on the Day idea (APOD – as it’s fondly known) whereby a passenger nicely ensconced in their seat (even paying full whack) can be turfed out by a last minute passenger boarding along the route having just bagged a cheapo ticket with a newly reserved seat. The fact Cross Country’s senior management have always been in denial about how disruptive and unpopular this ‘innovative ground breaking’ (not) idea has been only made the irritation worse; and the Company’s Twitter team’s only response to any complaint is ‘you can also reserve a seat by text for yourself’, yeah and turf someone else out of their seat. I’m not that anti-social. Nor do I want to be pre-allocated a naff seat with no window!

Fortunately DfT bods seem to have caught on (maybe one of them had to shift seats) and the consultation says it expects bidders to come up with ways to improve APOD and meet expectations for all passengers. Here’s one – scrap seat reservations on Advanced Purchase. That’ll sort it.

Aside from the need for longer trains, the new franchise desperately needs a new fleet of trains to see off the unsuitable Voyagers. I really can’t think of a less attractive train to make a journey over 200 miles; and please can we have decent seat-align-with-windows especially in the first class section and a greater choice of in and against direction seats.

Judging by recent franchise awards, new trains seem a strong possibility and what a positive and welcome step forward that’ll be.

You have until 11.45pm tonight to let the DfT know your views.

Roger French           30th August 2018

I Gave the Bus A Chance

I arrived in Liverpool yesterday lunchtime to try out Arriva’s new Click service and soon spotted the awful ‘Say Yes To Bus’ bus with its gaudy contravision vinyl, passing by on route 53.

8A7D0C1E-DF03-4CEF-B296-917852C35081

2F40CDB3-2468-4820-8F99-93794A8195D6

‘Say Yes To Bus’ is a campaign funded by partners in the ‘Liverpool Alliance’ with the laudable objective of encouraging bus travel across the Liverpool City Region.

A marketing agency called Agent Marketing is running the campaign. They tweet under the Better_By_Bus handle and as well as ‘Say Yes To Bus’ have come up with the ‘Give Bus A Chance’ slogan.

Agent Marketing boast they ‘help develop brands through insight and collaboration’. They ‘connect people through a unique, united, multidisciplinary approach to marketing. In this era of constant change we do whatever’s absolutely necessary to help you transform and unleash potential.’

Sounds impressive; so I thought I’d test how the potential for bus route 53 is being unleashed at Liverpool’s Queen Square bus station during last night’s peak period.

In the event I whiled away a happy 90 minutes from around 4.30pm to 6pm observing and waiting. Here’s what I saw. I was also hoping THAT bus would come along to test out those ‘clear views’ from the interior!

Route 53 is jointly operated by Arriva and Stagecoach running every 7-8 minutes between Liverpool’s Queen Square bus station, Bootle  and Crosby. The timetable has alternate journeys provided by Arriva and Stagecoach.

04E52806-443A-417C-8269-B929CD86EB44

0E9A47B3-CB54-433B-87D7-6521B6F4A25F

It’s a busy route. Arriva run 9 year old single decks while Stagecoach run a mixture of single and double decks, the latter being almost new Enviro 400 vehicles. They look impressive.

It didn’t take long to notice queues building up at the Queen Square boarding point and to realise the Arriva journeys were consistently running late and pretty much on the Stagecoach timings effectively providing two buses every 15 minutes and double the expected wait for passengers. Not really Saying Yes To Bus.

On the first occasion this happened, the Stagecoach bus had hung back at the setting down point at the top end of the bus station but regulars were obviously used to the phenomenon, saw the Arriva single decker getting uncomfortably crowded as it loaded, waited for it to depart and sure enough within a minute the nice gleaming Stagecoach double deck drew up and departed on the tail of the Arriva bus with a handful of happy passengers on board.

7D25DDB1-47F9-4CF9-BF75-FF9AD0E54E01

94126C70-3A2F-446D-B28E-1913D1DDE4D0

6553C89C-50F6-48A1-8BE9-8AA337F485EC

Around fifteen minutes later and a hefty crowd has built up who were visibly relieved to see the single deck Arriva bus arrive at the setting down point further up the bus station closely followed by the next Stagecoach double decker but this time that driver decided the best thing was to head straight off without waiting for the Arriva leftovers at the departure stand.

6F32A274-7B5B-4137-B04D-664E147FB0E0

BD07F4C8-C877-4A75-A3B3-1F24417F08D5

Another fifteen minutes; another hefty queue; another Arriva single deck pulls up; another Stagecoach bus immediately behind, this time a single deck too. The Arriva driver decides to share the load and closes the doors after taking around half the waiting crowd leaving the rest to hop aboard the Stagecoach bus.

76465BAC-EBA9-461E-9154-199E369ED14E

5EB5EC1B-EFB3-4D6F-80D2-67A35C812702

9E588965-DA13-4CAB-B0EB-94C0F9E5D565

Another fifteen minutes; another hefty queue; and this time no sign of an Arriva bus as a Stagecoach single deck pulls up to greet the waiting crowd. Except sure enough it’s almost immediately followed by the Arriva single deck which has a curtailment at Waterloo Interchange just short of the scheduled Crosby destination to try and get back on time. The tables are turned as the Stagecoach driver sets off leaving some of the waiting crowd for Arriva.

0D99182E-5480-4876-B22C-2C8946F16C95

405F03F7-5823-4130-B3D2-93C09191B772

292A40C8-C24A-4365-A4DD-A6AC6114E75E

And guess what? Another fifteen minutes and another Stagecoach bus comes first and it’s another smart looking double decker. The crowds are slimming down as we’re approaching 6pm and the main peak is over.

776E3F2C-8502-4FC4-8D3C-BBB45C9DC4B1

But where is that Arriva ‘SAY YES TO BUS’ single decker? I’d worked out from my sighting earlier in the day it was due about now.

51BA24D7-E682-4793-B974-D10E17C5CA45

And sure enough it came gliding down the bus station but seeing the Stagecoach bus had just pulled away from the stand drove straight by without stopping wrongly assuming no one would be waiting.

7CC8CC06-A257-4EF1-A108-C12454F2FF80

I looked at the man who’d just arrived at the stop and wanting to catch it too. He looked at me with a resigned look. I reckon he was thinking twice about Giving The Bus A Chance. I don’t blame him.

It might make it ‘Better By Bus’ if Arriva paid some attention to the timekeeping of route 53 so the route’s potential really can be unleashed. A full fleet of double deckers would come in handy.

Finally, on a more positive note, I hear Stagecoach sensibly have had no truck with the awful contravision for the ‘Say Yes To Bus’ campaign and instead settled for a more modest single deck side.

918C4F14-98D3-446B-9D34-1B768F33D936.jpeg

Shame they’ve blocked the view out of the windows with other vinyl!

Roger French 29th August 2018