Friday, 18 April 2014

fbb Gets Political - Ooh-er!

Like many rural areas, huge parts of Wales are facing the probability (certainty?) of cuts to the funding for their bus services. A BBC news video clip can be viewed (here) together with extra editorial text.

Wales is struggling with its bus services. There are problems with reimbursement for Senior Citizens' free travel; the replacement for the former Fuel Tax rebate and the overall level of money available for "tendered" services.
The biggest bus operator in Wales is to close its depot at Brynmawr in the Gwent valleys in July, putting 77 jobs under threat. Stagecoach is blaming a "misguided" drop in funding from the Welsh government and reduced local authority investment in bus services. It said cuts to routes in Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf will follow.
South Wales managing director John Gould said the cuts in Welsh government funding were "directly responsible" for potential job losses from the depot's closure.

 fbb's recent mini-break in Abergynolwyn illustrates the problem beautifully. The village still has a pub, the "Railway" ...
... the shop has been closed for several years ...
... and the superb community cafe has recently lost its limited-hours post office counter.
cafe with Post Office sign binned
In 2010 the village primary school closed when the 12 pupils transferred to Bryncrug.

The nearest town is Tywyn and a minimalist bus service is provided by Lloyds of Machynlleth, supported (heavily?) by Gwynedd county council.
The 1638 does not run on Saturdays.

From Tywyn we have ...
... of which the 0800 and 1710 do not run on Saturdays. Depending on your choice of journey, you have between one and three hours to do your shopping. There are some additional trips on schooldays.

Whilst awaiting the thrill of a day's family fun, fbb took a look at the 0920 arrival ...
... empty (as expected); it turns by reversing ...
... and departs.
Of the six clustered round the door, two were not travelling but just having a chat, three travelled "free" ("Senior" passes) and only one paid a fare, namely the gent in the check shirt. The only other village en route is Bryncrug, also served by the X28 which offers four trips along the coast from Tywyn to Dolgellau.

Opportunities for growing the business are not great!

Publicity is poor with no printed infrormation available locally. Times are displayed on the bus tops ...
... implying that the service runs through to Dolgellau, which it does but rarely! Because the confuser thinks the route runs all the way to Dolgellau, every journey except the 1725NS has an explanatory note. How to confuse passengers in one easy lesson; it would be clearer if Gwynedd's little man (or woman) stuck up a timetable.

The frame offers the unhelpful and expensive Traveline (phone 0871 ZOO ZZ33 from the expensive phone box opposite!) and ...
... the txt number but with no txt code to txt for the stop. It matters not 'cos there's no mobile phone signal! And there is no bus map for Gwynedd county anywhere.

For the record, the 1648 to Tywyn picked up  0  passengers, set down  0  passengers and carried  1  through passenger. It whizzed through so fast that a stubby-fingered fbb was too, well, stubby fingered to take a photo; just wondering why up-to-date electronic stuff is so much slower that a box Brownie!

The 1725 arrival from Tywyn (the commuter run?) deposited  0 , picked up  0  and carried  0  through passengers; but did "wait time" for a sufficient effluxion of minutes to allow your chubby blogger to poke and prod his phone camera into action.
The paucity of passengers provoked fbb into remembering a poem by Thomas Gray (1716 to 1771), famous for his churchyard allergy.
The wristwatch tolls the knell of fading day,
The bleating flock winds slowly o'er the lea,
The shepherd homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to buses and to me.
Now comes the speeding 30 on the sight,
And all the airs a great excitement hold,
Say, who will board and who alight?
But zero folk is all that we behold.
Why service yonder ivy-mantled tow'rs?
An empty bus runs to and fro each day.
Of travellers bereft for sev'ral hours,
Financially it sure can never pay.

Clearly, the parsimonious politicians could find sound statistical support for slashing the service, leaving only the school and college day trips. Whilst this might save money from the transport budget, it could well increase costs in other areas. More social care needed? More depressed and lonely people? Ambulances and hospital cars needed? More cars on the road? More environmental damage?

It seems entirely possible that the overall cost to the community will increase.
Press release issued yesterday

A new operator has been appointed to run the Park & Ride service in Taunton. The service is run from two sites at Gateway and Silk Mills and runs peak and off peak buses into the town centre.

Somerset County Council is pleased to announce that The Buses of Somerset will be the new interim contractor from Tuesday 22 April, taking over from Webberbus.

The County Council has been closely monitoring the Taunton Park & Ride service for several months following complaints about late and missing buses, particularly in the evenings and has now taken the necessary decision to change the contractor of this service.
Cllr Harvey Siggs, Somerset County Council Cabinet Member for Transport, said: “Taunton’s Park & Ride service is vitally important to the town and we were disappointed to hear reports of poor service. We want the best for our customers and have taken this firm action to make sure they receive a more reliable service in the future."

This is the second time that fbb has reported a "falling-out" between Webberbus and Somerset Council. Is there a deeper problem here?
 7 of 9 Easter Oddities 
Good Friday?

An innocent man is arrested clandestinely at night, condemned by an illegal court, passed ignominiously from Roman to Jewish authorities (and back) for fake sentencing, tortured and then nailed in agony to a substantial chunk of timber.
Good Friday?

The Friday could only be "good" if it produced good. The Christian message is both profound and delightfully simple. There is deep theology and some very basic human truths. The offer of forgiveness fulfills a deep-seated universal human need. The strength that comes from a real faith is a potent provision for everyday life but the real joy is in a confidence in a secure eternity. In our increasingly cynical and materialistic world, these things can be easily dismissed as "religious drivel".

The oddity of all oddities is that Good Friday could so easily be the biggest drivel of all.

But millions (about 2.1 thousand million and growing) continue to follow the leadership of a crucified and, apparently on Good Friday, very dead failure.

Really odd!
 Next bus blog : Saturday 19th April 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Improve the Service : Make it More Complex [2]

 Stagecoach Coaster 700 runs from Brighton to Portsmouth.
The fbb diagram of the route shows three chunks of service each running every 30 minutes. The through run from end to end takes about four hours and 15 minutes. fbb has done the whole route, but with breaks in Bognor (morning coffee and bun) ...
... and Shoreham-by-Sea (fish and chip lunch, Blundens).
This made the journey manageable. But if your bladder and backside can bear the burden of bumpiness, the whole run is possible end to end.

But Stagecoach did a survey.

fbb does not know what the survey questions were, but there is always a suspicion that Stagecoach, having surveyed, will do what it wants anyway. The revised network, with all the "improvements", has recently been announced.
And it looks good, but read on ...

We plan to improve punctuality by dividing the original route route into three distinct sections

Brighton to Littlehampton : buses will run up to every 10 minutes (
no change) with onward travel to Arundel every 20 minutes (improvement)

Littlehampton and Bognor Regis to Chichester : buses will run up to every 20 minutes from Littlehampton (
reduction from every 15) with a bus between Bognor Regis and Chichester every 10 minutes (improvement).

Bognor Regis to Chichester and Portsmouth : buses will run up to every 10 minutes between Bognor Regis and Chichester (
improvement) continuing to Havant and Portsmouth every 20 minutes (improvement).

Confused? Here is an fbb diagram to compare the new pattern with the plan for the current service:-
Each line represents a 20 minute service. And the Stagecoach blurb reveals the snag with these stunning improvements:-
No longer can the brave explorer buy their Explorer and travel from Portsmouth to Brighton (or vice versa) in one go. "A change" means TWO changes. And all four legs are numbered 700.

And there's more. Traditionally the service has always run through Portsmouth to the South Parade Pier at Southsea, calling at The Hard (Portsmouth Harbour) on the way. From May ...
... to go to or from the seaside bits of Portsmouth you need, not only to change buses but, presumably, pay another fare.
And that makes THREE changes for the full through omnibological trek. The blurb assumes that passengers will understand that eastbound journeys will start from The Hard, not Southsea.

Although the blurb says that the new package will "reduce waiting time", many more passengers will have to change with some sort of time penalty, possibly extra fares to pay and, worryingly, an increased risk penalty. Here are extracts from the two new timetable sets.

Portsmouth to Bognor : Chichester to Littlehampton
Arundel and Littlehampton to Brighton.
Thus a through passenger from Havant to Rustington will have a 10 minute wait Chichester and a five minute wait in Littlehampton. Under the current arrangements the journey takes 52 minutes; the improved service from May takes 65 minutes; a 13 minute increase.

Is this a wise plan?
 6 of 9 Easter Oddities 
The "Last Supper", sometimes called the Passover Meal, took place the evening of (Maunday) Thursday which seems odd to some as the passover "eve" was on Friday. BUT in Jewish culture "tomorrow" begins, not at midnight, but when the sun sets today. So Friday starts on Thursday evening. One oddity explained.

Most arty images of the supper have the meal guests oddly arranged along one side of a long table.
Silly. Ignoring the spotlight on Jesus as an artistic fiction, the image below is more realistic.
Yet again we seem to be in the presence of some pre-ordained plan; not a horrific and tragic coincidence.

Then Jesus sent two of them with these instructions: “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house he enters, and say to the owner of the house: ‘The Teacher says, Where is the room where my disciples and I will eat the Passover meal?’ Then he will show you a large upstairs room, fixed up and furnished, where you will get everything ready for us.

Jesus took the symbols (bread and wine) of the ancient Jewish ceremony and game them a powerful new meaning. "This is my body. This is my blood." After the meal the disciples wended their way home and Jesus walked to his pre-planned death.
Oddly powerful.
 Next bus blog : Friday 18th April 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Improve the Service : Make it More Complex [1]

A well known bus industry skill!
Stagecoach's route 700 has run for over 35 years along the coast from Brighton to Portsmouth. It was even called "Stagecoach" before Uncle Brian the Bearded had ever  thought of running buses.
Between Brighton, Littlehampton and Arundel it was once joined by route 701. But in recent years, the whole lot was numbered 700.

Once upon a time the leaflet (at least) had an understandable route map; necessary because there are plenty of wiggles on what is essentially a very long all-stops service which runs fast via the A27 for the short hop between Havant and Hilsea (Portsmouth). Nowadays the web site offers a weird and less-than-intuitive scrolling diagram.

You click on a destination ...
... and the screen scrolls furiously until you get to a helpful plan of that town - NOT.
Click on an "i" button and you get a panel about that "attraction" plus, where available, a link to the appropriate web site.
What you don't get is any idea where the bus goes in between or any guidance as to which stops you need. As an exercise in whizzy computer programing it is, well, whizzy; but as a source of useful bus information it is, well, not useful.

Anyway, for some time, the pattern of service has been every 10 minutes between Brighton and Littlehampton, thereafter every 30 to Arundel, every 30 to Chichester direct and every 30 via Yapton to Portsmouth.
For timetable enthusiasts, the repeat pattern looks like this.
Apart from the minor anomaly of the two buses an hour via Yapton, the pattern has been relatively easy to understand. But last year, Stagecoach did a survey.

Oh dear!

But the results seem promising.
There is an improvement from every 30 to every 20 to Arundel and ditto to Portsmouth. Experts will remember a time a few years ago when there were four buses an hour between Chichester and Portsmouth which soon reverted to every 30!

And users will be pleased to see that the new timetable is "designed to reduce waiting time and improve punctuality".

It's all looking jolly good and beneficial for Hampshire and West Sussex bus users. Three rousing cheers for Stagecoach!

But ...
 5 of 9 Easter Oddities 
Why was the little Jewish boy crying on the steps of the Synagogue?

He was a little sad, you see! (Groan)
Most of us have heard of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were the dominant political and religious "parties" of Jesus' time. Jesus had told the parable of the vineyard to illustrate their failure and its consequences and went on to reveal that he knew what was in their mind.

He asked them, "Surely you have read this scripture?"

"The stone which the builders rejected as worthless turned out to be the most important of all. This was done by the Lord what a wonderful sight it is!”

The Jewish leaders tried to arrest Jesus, because they knew that he had told this parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.

Rejected but Wonderful? Very odd.
 Next bus blog : Thursday 17th April 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

From Surf to Star [4]

Northampton, fbb's birth-town, has a population of about 220,000.
It has a poor bus station but a good network of bus services run almost exclusively by Stagecoach.

Rennes (Brittany, France) has a similar population and a good bus network operated by Keolis.
For once, the livery is uninspiring, lacking the usual French "panache", but the brand is nattily titled "Star".
City routes cluster round Place de La République ...
... leaving Illenoo's rural and interurban services to depart from the bus station, not the most beautiful of facilities.
But it is close to the Railway station - much more picturesque ...
... and modern.

Up to this point, the communities are vaguely similar. But there is one huge, public transport difference. Northampton does not have an underground railway ...
... but Rennes does.

Opened on 15 March 2002, the metro in Rennes is based on the Siemens Transportation Systems VAL (véhicule automatique léger or light automatic vehicle) technology**. There is one line, the 9.4-km Line A, which runs north-west to south-east from J.F. Kennedy to La Poterie via Gare de Rennes (served by Gares metro station), with fifteen stations, thirteen of which are underground. Stations are equipped with platform screen doors.
click on the map to enlarge

Line B (blue dots) is planned, authorised and building will start soon; likewise an extension to Line A (red dots) is in an advanced stage of planning.

Services run between 0520 and 0040 each day (except Thursday, Friday and Saturday night between 0520 and 0135), and with a waiting time of approximately 80 seconds between trains. From end to end, it takes around 16 minutes, with an average train speed of 32 km/h. All stations are equipped with lifts.The system has 30 trains, each weighing 28 tonnes and 26 metres long, with a capacity of 158 passengers (50 sitting and 108 standing).

There is a spectacular open air section (above diagram, bottom centre) with an amazing terminal station at La Poterie.
Whoops, sorry. That's Rennes-La Poterie unstaffed halt on the TER/SNCF "proper train" line to Chateaubriant.
Metro, centre left : SNCF top right

The Metro terminus looks quite different ...
... and was designed by Sir Norman Foster. (Perhaps assisted by some of his lads and lasses?) It features a bus interchange with park and ride and looks spiffing at night.

Amazingly, fbb has visited Rennes. Well, not quite; but has passed through. As a spotty teenager he was privileged to accompany his dad on a trip to set up deals to import fruit and veg. This involved visits to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels, Paris (briefly overnight) and Brest. Somewhere in the domestic coal measures is a photo album from this mini-tour. To get to Brest the train (then from Paris Montparnasse) travelled via Rennes and St Brieuc. Luncheon was, memorably served on the train; a very exciting gastronomic experience experience for the youth.

Things a very different now and the area is well worth a visit.

VAL in Toulouse

**VAL : VAL is a type of automatic rubber-tyred people mover technology, based on an invention by Professor Robert Gabillard (Université Lille Nord de France). It was designed in the early 1980s  for the then new metro system in Lille. The acronym was originally for Villeneuve d'Ascq à Lille (Villeneuve d'Ascq to Lille), the route of the first line to be projected (and inaugurated). It now officially stands for Véhicule Automatique Léger (automatic light vehicle). In contrast to some other driverless metro systems like the Docklands Light Railway or Vancouver's SkyTrain, the VAL design uses platforms that are separated from the track by a glass partition, to prevent waiting passengers from straying or falling onto the track.
 4 of 9 Easter Oddities 
Cursing the fig tree was a parable-picture of the failure of the old-style Jewish religion; the "tree" of Israel would not bear fruit. The temple clear-out gave the same message; Religion had replaced God! Then there was a story Jesus told about a vineyard.
Another picture of the nation of in which the "workers" (Jews) failed to give the "owner" (God) his rightful place and dues. The parable ends with the vineyard being taken away and given to others. All three, although truthful in practice at that time, were provocative and confrontational.

The people were still marvelling at everything Jesus was doing, when he said to his disciples, “Don't forget what I am about to tell you! The Son of Man is going to be handed over to the power of human beings.” But the disciples did not know what this meant. As the time drew near when Jesus would be taken up to heaven, he made up his mind and set out on his way to Jerusalem.

He could have walked away, but he didn't. He could have avoided conflict, but he didn't Very odd? Or purposeful?
 Next bus blog : Wednesday 16th April