Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Fruit in Pots [3]

Today, we are going to examine one of the major changes in the First Bus network in Stoke on Trent. The new label is ...
... Cherry Line.
It's hard to know where to start. Maybe with what preceded the cherry.

First, route 20; Hanley, Kidsgrove and Crewe. This was one of the services for which specially branded buses were used post-privatisation when the route was numbered 320.
Its more recent manifestation has three buses an hour to Alsager with two continuing to Crewe.
Annoyingly for through passengers, one sits at Alsager for ten minutes to allow an even 20 minute spacing to become an even half hour; far from ideal.

And here is a service 20, operated by the same bus as the 320 above, but now in plain First barbie livery!
The 20A variant diverted to Talke and Talke Pits, two former mining villages near Kidsgrove..
This ran every 20 minutes ...
... providing a combined 10 minute frequency between Hanley and Kidsgrove.

Renumber that all as 3 and you have the first piece of the Cherry jigsaw.
All three former 20s now run through to Crewe and the intervening 20 minute frequency terminates at Kidsgrove. Oh dear! What has happened to Talke and Talke Pits?

This is where the cunning plan of the Cherry line becomes interesting, clever from a scheduling point of view, but potentially baffling for the general public.

Cherrys don't just come in 3s; they also come in 4s ...
... magically changing from one to the other at Kidsgrove.

Tomorrow we will see where the 4 has come from.

But there is a snag. Iris is not at all happy.
That's Iris, at the front of the queue; boy it is a very busy stop. Of course it hasn't been set up specially for the press photographer; of course not. The editor of local paper (The Sentinel) said, "You may well think that, but I could not possibly comment."

Pensioners claim plans to change two bus routes could leave them housebound. More than 50 people are appealing to First to cancel its proposed alterations to the 20A and 34A services which travel through Talke Pits. Both services currently stop in Chester Road, but this would be replaced with a stop along Monument Road. Dozens of elderly people, some who have been using the services for more than 60 years, fear without a nearby bus stop they will be 'isolated' or forced to spend hundreds of pounds on taxi fares.

But Iris is right; the routes in the area used to do a little wiggle via Chester Road ...
... and First Bus has withdrawn the wiggle.
Presumably, if Iris's chums had travelled in as much profusion as is illustrated by the ever reliable fourth estate, then First Bus would not only have left the service in place; duplicates or increased frequency would be the order of the day!
They Don't Miss the Ferry
(in both senses)
The fbbs have been settled in East Devon for well over a year now; moving to the "Mainland" from the Isle of Wight and downsizing at the same time. One of the reasons was to miss the ferry.

One of the privileges of Island Life was the "abroad"-ness of that stretch of water. But it could also be a stressful part of a journey as well as an expense. It is significant that fbb ans Mrs have travelled around the UK much more frequently in the last year.
The boats all have what are known as "mezzanine" decks which allow two layers of cars to be loaded. Once loaded the "mezz" deck is hauled up on strings, quite thick strings one would imagine, leaving room for the bottom layer to load. In the picture above the empty mezz deck is the white bar below the left hand row of five windows.

Unfortunately, a few days ago one of the strings broke! The deck on the St Helen, the oldest boat in the fleet, dropped suddenly at one corner as the deck was being lowered; obvious from the picture below.
Four people were injured (whiplash?) and taken to St Mary's Hospital Newport. There was some damage so some of the vehicles. The lower deck had been cleared by the time the accident happened.
A full investigation by the safety authorities is under way. The emergency services attended promptly and all was cleared in 90 minutes.
This particular class of ferry has been in service for 30 years with an excellent safety record.

Needless to say scaremongers are now booking with competitor Red Funnel because they don't want to travel on "dangerous" boats. Short memory applies. In 2006 one of the Red Funnel boats smashed into the loading ramp, damaging ramp, ferry and cars.
Note very buckled gates. In this case the fault was a combination of human error and misunderstanding as the vessel approached the terminal. Injuries were slight.

The fbbs never had any anxiety over safety but, in their dotage (?), don't miss the ferry - at all.

A return visit the see chums on the Island is planned for September. By ferry, of course. The fbb's helicopter is booked for its annual MOT.

 Thanks to our senior** Island correspondent 
 for this news item. 

 ** We don't actually have a junior Island correspondent, but Alan likes the status and power that goes with the job. 
 Next bus blog : Thursday 24th July 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Fruit in Pots [2]

The new "Potteries" web site ...
... is very different from a standard First Bus Offering. There is a list of services arranged diagonally ...
... and a further clickable doodah ...
... with other, less useful headings; apart from "Map" which brings up a simplified but largely geographical network diagram.
click on the map to enlarge

There are a few limitations to this introductory stuff. The map is in PNG format, i.e. a graphic, and does not enlarge at all well.
Elsewhere on the site you will find a better PDF version which, of course, does enlarge without loss of clarity.

More irritating, however, are the consequences of enlarging the whole page. The diagonals all disappear and everything gets, literally, out of proportion.
Maybe it's something to do with optimising the site for tablets. The designers should take some and consider the majority of us who still use those steam powered laptops that are so derided by the modern youff.

Clicking on the chevron for service 1,1A and 2 opens a page packed with good things tangerinic. (It's good fun, inventing words; Shakespeare did it all the time!)
Unfrotunately the timetables are in First's standard HTML (internet display) format which is generally poor.
There is too much "white space" (and pale blue space) and the font is too small but enlargement does improve things. Noteworthy is that only a few morning journeys and the later evening service use the too-small bus station at Hanley; buses operate from stops in Old Hall Street.
General information on fares is provided ...
... although "from just £1 for a short hop" hides a multitude of sins. Unusually for the modernised First Bus, a "young person" is charged significantly more than half fare. Ouch if you are a kid! Yesterday, local paper The Sentinel revealed the fares changes.

New fares come into force 
following major shake up
of First Bus network
Some passengers could end up paying more for their daily commute as fares on some longer First Bus journeys rise. But people travelling within the new 'Potteries network' will get a cheaper deal on tickets. The new charges are being introduced as part of a review of the bus company's North Staffordshire services – with new routes, timetables and colour-coded maps and buses.

First spokesman Ady Culpin said: "We have introduced a new range of tickets called 'Potteries tickets' that have been priced cheaper than our 'all network' ticket range. And we have had a trial with a new 'short hop' £1 ticket, which allows people to travel for three stops within that Potteries network area, which has gone down really well. To balance the cheaper fares out, we've had to increase the price on longer routes in line with the distance being travelled, which we feel is a fairer system."

Finally, on the shiny new web site, a clicky switch provides an individual route map.
This on-line page also shows local maps (see Old Hall Street above) for all the main towns; the Tangerine drips its pips in three of the historic five/six towns, namely Hanley, Stoke and Longton. It omits Fenton, Tunstall and Burslem but terminates at Newcastle once outside the conurbation but now swallowed up.

Question? Will the Bentilee Buzz special offer ...
... still be available on the Bentilee bus ...
... now that it has gone all fruity?
The 26 and 26A, by the way, have become the 6A Raspberry Line.

With these city-wide schemes, the devil is often in the detail. Buses of Taunton and/or Somerset struggles to present a complete image months after the brand was launched. Will Potteries stop flags be branded; i.e. have First Bus contractors been out all day yesterday and overnight with their sheets of sticky-backed plastic? Is there a timetable book? Are leaflets available, not just in the city centre, but at shops and community buildings throughout the City?

And, critically, how many vehicles will show the new network brands? Please let your chubby blogger know.

fbb has requested leaflets, but none has arrived - yet. Of course the 64,000 dollar question (a phrase well out-of-date since "Millionaire" hit our screens) is, have First got it right; or will there be a forest of timetable changes in a few months to confuse everybody? The Tangerine timetable heading does not inspire long-term confidence.
Tomorrow, we will attempt, without safety net or protective clothing, to explain what has happened on the ground by analysing one set of routes, before and after the change. Does the fat bloke know no fear?

 Next bus blog : Wednesday 23rd July 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Fruit in Pots [1]

fbb was told (by his mother) that he was reared on Ostermilk ...
... and Sister Laura's.
The variety available today includes "Fruit Pots" which are, no doubt, far more nutritious and healthy than the concoctions fed to the mewling an puking** baby that was to become fbb. Of course, as you come to expect in an fbb blog post, the link to public transport is tenuous in the extreme.

fbb has never visited "The Potteries", Arnold Bennett's "Five Towns" that were (and still are) actually six towns.
In 1963, pre-fbb was driven by father to Keele University for an interview.
The course was for four years, not the usual three, with a foundation year which included lectures on a vast range of scientific and literary subjects. fbb was attracted by that idea, being something of a jack of all trades and a master of none. But he was not offered a place (boo) and went to Sheffield instead (hooray, as it turned out. God had other plans!).

But it is the six-town conglomerate nature which makes understanding the Potteries public transport provision very challenging. There is no one town centre from which a network of routes can radiate.
A glimpse at the Overground map of December 2013 ...
... shows that, although many routes call at Hanley (City Centre in the above map), there are plenty that don't. If you would like to download a full sized map for reference you can do (here) but fbb will provide relevant extracts as this series of blogs progresses. Matters Stoke-on-Trentian have attracted you author's attention previously.

There is the new Hanley bus station; too small (there's an unusual fact) and inconvenient for the city's shops (astounding, what a surprise!) outlined in "'Orrors Expected at 'Anley" (read again).
Then there was the shock of a non standard First Bus livery for buses on routes 25 and 26, reported in two exciting episodes (here) and (here).
This particular bus began its life in Manchester before donning its new but historic paint scheme.
A few weeks ago, the slickly named First in Staffordshire and South Cheshire web site announced something new and exciting.
All would be revealed on 23th June - except that it wasn't. The date was subsequently changed to a revised revelation on 30th June. Even that didn't go quite according to plan.
fbb duly clicked ...
... and clicked again ...
... and was utterly disappointed. But, to be fair, the boob was later corrected and a site that was radically different from First's humdrum web pages appeared on fbb's screen. First's web site was ever ready to remind us all.

a selection of tweets

Plans for the changes were announced for consultation purposes back in April as reported in the local rag.
Fewer buses to drop-off
at Hanley bus station as First
announces major shake-up.
One of the biggest shake-ups of bus services in Stoke-on-Trent can be revealed today – complete with new London Underground-style colour coded routes and buses. First Bus is launching a major consultation into the proposed route changes which should come into effect this summer. Planned changes include more bus stops in Hanley, more direct routes to the University Hospital of North Staffordshire and Stoke Station and a better service to Trentham Gardens. Fewer passengers will use Hanley's cramped £15 million bus station under new First Potteries plans.

Tomorrow the new network, a substantial recast of many traditional bus routes and numbers, will be introduced. fbb will be monitoring the local Potteries media to see how it all develops; will locals blow a municipal raspeberry?
Commercially, will the sky be the limit?
And will it all be just a "grape" idea?

More to the point, how many buses adorned with fruity names will be on the road from tomorrow morning? So far the enthusiasts have only photographed one variety.
Tomato line?

We will reveal more tomorrow.
** Mewling and Puking comes from "As You Like It" by Bill the bard; it poetically defines the seven ages of man and is spoken by Jaques in Act 2 Scene 7
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.

For the record the "seven ages" are:-

infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon (selfish arrogant middle age) and old age, facing imminent death
You have to wonder where fbb fits in to the scheme!
 Next bus blog : Tuesday 22nd July