Thursday, 30 January 2014

Good news from East Lancs and Edinburgh

Transdev's bog standard route 152 between Preston and Burnley via Blackburn has been upgraded and rebranded as part of The Lancashire Way. Bigger buses than were used on that route before have been refurbished and fitted with wifi. Unlike other operators, who would use such an upgrade as an excuse to screw the farepayer, Transdev have kept the price of a Silver day ticket at £6 for an adult. If the riding experience is anything like what Transdev deliver on the 36 between Harrogate and Leeds, then passengers on the 152 are in for a treat. TrĂ©s bon!

More good news from Edinburgh, where STV reports that passenger numbers at Lothian Buses are up significantly to their highest levels for 25 years. I think this might have something to do with the fact that Lothian run a stable network that doesn't suffer from major changes several times a year and that they tell you up front and clearly how much any journey with them will cost. It seems so simple: be upfront with your passengers about all aspects of their trip and you will attract more of them!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Sneak a peak at Somerset

What's happening in Somerset? First have rebranded their network centred on Taunton as The Buses Of Somerset. There's a new green livery and a website with a network map that uses the same styling as the Go Ahead group.

It doesn't look like part of First, so is it being sold?

A look at the fares page, shows a network day ticket of £10...

Before, passengers on this network could use a FirstDay South West at just £7...

... not only cheaper, but valid across a much, much wider area.

This will mean fewer tourists from surrounding areas connecting with these routes to visit central Somerset. Of course, anyone 'lucky' enough to be on this new network is now cut off from the wider First network unless they pay again at the new boundary, be that in Weston-super-Mare, Yeovil or Wells.

After the chaos of competition following deregulation, we've had the benefits of consolidation on wide networks and those wide networks are now seemingly being dismantled (by First at least) from within to make sure that they are of use to as tight a demographic as possible. Whatever happened to buses working in the interests of the wider economy, for all?

Monday, 27 January 2014

First forays into Fallowfield following Finglands' finale

First's takeover of Finglands in South Manchester has been cleared by the Office of Fair Trading and will be finalised on 9th February, reports the Manchester Evening News. This sees commercial competition on the Oxford Road/Wilmslow Road corridor, often reputed to be the busiest bus route in Europe, whittled down to just Stagecoach (including in their Magic Bus guise) and First. When I used those routes regularly in 2001/2, I remember having a choice of at least 4 companies. The rule of thumb that has been proven here is that it is nigh on impossible for small independent operators (or small groups, such as EYMS, who currently own Finglands) to compete commercially against the big groups. Their future appears consigned to niche markets such as council contract work that is too inconvenient for the big boys. JPT are left as the last independent serving Central Manchester, but for how much longer?

The Omnibuses blog is back up and running. It was one of the inspirations for the Bugle, so it's great to see it back. Hopefully it will soon resume the in-depth analysis for which we here just don't have the time nor the resources. You can see dynamic links to Omnibuses and many other interesting bus blogs in the panel on the right. Do contact us if you know of one we don't already link to.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Council check: Plymouth City Council

Each Sunday we rate a council for their provision of bus information. This week: Plymouth City Council.

Where do the buses go?

First signs are good: there is a citywide travel map, but who in Devon designed it? It shows roads but no bus route information. Are they serious? Here's an extract:

How are we meant to make head or tail of this?

Good intentions, but a useless end product. More useful is this list of all bus routes in the city together with links to the individual route maps over at Traveline South West. It could have been so much more than just 2 out of 5.


Nice and easy. This page lists all routes in the city with a link to the timetable on Traveline. Can't ask for more than that. 5 out of 5.


No information on single fares, nor on single-operator tickets valid for a day or longer - you need to see the operators' websites for that. There is a day ticket that is valid on any operator: the Skipper. There is also a Plymouth Plusbus ticket, but the council forgot to mention that. Just 2 out of 5 in this category.


So we have an utterly useless map, but Traveline saves the day with maps and timetables. There is an any bus day ticket, but if you need any other ticket, it's up to you to trawl the operators' sites. Plymouth City Council scores a total of 9 out of 15.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

No go in No Yo? / Bradford bargain?

Last night, North Yorkshire County Council voted for huge cuts in the subsidies it pays out for uneconomic bus routes. BBC News says this will save the council £2million. It comes however at the expense of isolated communities in Britain's biggest county. One wonders how many of the bus routes to be cut might become economic to run if pensioners paid towards the cost of transporting them around. It looks like large parts of North Yorkshire are about to become a no-go zone for those of us without a car.

Staying in Yorkshire, new tickets have been launched by Arriva in Bradford, reports the Telegraph & Argus. The new local tickets bring the cost of local travel in Bradford down to £4 a day and £14 a week. Previously, the cheapest Arriva-only tickets covering the area were the West Yorkshire DaySaver at £4.50 or the weekly ticket at £17.50. As a comparison, First, who have a more comprehensive route network in Bradford charge £3.90 for a FirstDay Bradford and £14 for a FirstWeek Bradford. Looks like Arriva have realised that they were charging well over the odds for local travel there.

Monday, 20 January 2014

McGill's makes a move on Malta / Fungus on First

Now Arriva have pulled out of Malta, McGill's, who bought Arriva's Scottish business, are considering bidding for the Mediterranean nation's bus franchise. More details at BBC News.

Mushrooms have been found growing on a First bus in service in Cornwall, reports This Is Cornwall. First are quoted as saying that the bus in question will be thoroughly checked. But how can a company of their calibre allow a bus to deteriorate into a state where mushrooms can grow on it in the first place?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Council check: Blackpool Council

Let's take a look at how well Blackpool Council informs residents and visitors alike about public transport in its area.

Which bus goes where?

No map or even route list from the council. There's a link to council-owned Blackpool Transport, who provide excellent maps of their own routes, but to the exclusion of those routes that are served by anyone else, which leaves quite a few gaps. The appalling Traveline North West, which Blackpool don't link to anyway, makes it impossible to see a list of all bus routes serving Blackpool.

Shockingly bad. 0 out of 5.


None are provided by the council. They can be found on the operators' websites, but if you don't know who runs the route you need, you have no way of finding out.

Appalling. 0 out of 5.


After their performance in the last two categories, you didn't really expect Blackpool to have any information on how much it costs to use public transport, did you? Blackpool Transport is one of the few operators to publish all of their single fares, but the council doesn't bother telling you that. They don't mention Blackpool Plusbus either. There is no ticket available that is valid on all operators' buses.

Woeful. 0 out of 5.


They really haven't bothered at all. Congratulations Blackpool, you're the first in our survey to hit rock bottom! 0 out of 15.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Norwich motorists / Presentation

A guest comment column in the Eastern Daily Press takes aim at First for not allowing its tickets to be sold in Norwich bus station. The writer adds "This has probably been a decision made by someone paid a large salary who only drives their car." How widespread is the problem of bus network decisions being made by people who don't actually use the buses themselves?

An Arriva driver in Kent tells Kent Online how his facial tattoos often cause people to be scared of him. Arriva obviously don't think it puts off bus passengers (maybe the Arriva bus tattooed on his arm played a part in that decision!), but other operators might not be so tolerant. So what sort of rules should there be on a driver's appearance?

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Council check: Southampton City Council

Let's take a look at how Southampton City Council promotes the buses in its area.

Where do the buses go?

A full public transport map is provided, which includes all routes of all operators. It also has an enlargement of the city centre and all of the main district centres in the city. The only downside is that it is only updated once or twice a year and Southampton's bus routes change more often than that, so the map is rarely fully up-to-date. All of the major local operators also produce good maps, but they don't give you the overview that that the council does. 5 out of 5 in this category.


The council doesn't provide timetables themselves, but they do have links to most of the operators in the city, who of course do provide timetables on their websites. The only notable absences are Stagecoach, whose 46 runs from the General Hospital to Winchester, and Wheelers, who have recently launched three routes in the city. There is a link to Traveline South West, where you can find all of the city's bus timetables in one place. 2 out of 5 for Southampton.


As is often the case, there is no information on single fares at all. There are links to most of the operators' sites (see above) where you can find out about their own tickets. A ticket does exist that can be used on any bus - the Solent Travelcard - but shamefully Southampton City Council doesn't tell you about it. They also ignore the Southampton Plusbus ticket. So while the city has a good range of bus tickets to choose from, the council provides no help in deciding which is the best to buy. 0 out of 5.


So we have a good map, while timetables can be found on Traveline or the operators' websites, but no fares info at all (although you can find it elsewhere but you have to already know where to look). Southampton City Council scores a total of 7 out of 15.

Full information on all of Southampton's buses can be found on our sister blog, Southampton Bus Update.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Archway extricates / Airport express at risk / Reekie rovers

Lancashire villagers can breathe a sigh of relief as the 80 between Preston and Fleetwood will be revived from Monday. The Blackpool Gazette reports that Archway Travel are stepping in to run the service, which last ran on 20th December after Classic Bus North West collapsed. The timetable has not yet been published, but the service will be run commercially for initially three months. The service will finish at 2030 on weekdays, 1700 on Saturdays and there will be no Sunday service.

Cardiff's city to airport express bus is being reviewed, just months after it was launched. Wales Online reports that passenger numbers are far lower than expected, while the service is being subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of £470,000 a year. Wales's transport minister, Edwina Hart, has commissioned a report to gauge whether the T9 service is performing as well as it should.

Two friends from Edinburgh are doing the city's equivalent of the Tube Challenge today to raise money for charity. The Edinburgh Evening News describes how they plan to use all but three of Edinburgh's bus routes in one day. You can follow their progress live on Twitter.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Announcements / Smith smash / Classic in court?

Go Ahead's Bluestar has announced that all of its buses will now feature audio next stop announcements as standard. The Daily Echo reports how it will help the visually impaired and anyone not familiar with the area they are travelling through. Buses in London and on the continent have had this as standard for years, so it is great to see one of our major operators taking it seriously and rolling it out across all routes. One of the fears car addicts have of using buses is that they won't know where to get off - they will now!

In the recent disruption at understaffed National Express Dundee, drivers declined to do overtime and managers had to take to the wheels in order to keep services running. While this was all going on, managing director Phil Smith crashed a bus into the back of a car. Full details in the Evening Telegraph.

Classic Bus North West, which collapsed last month leaving villages between Preston and Fleetwood cut off from public transport, could face legal action from Lancashire County Council. The Garstang Courier reports that the council will also make a complaint to the traffic commissioner.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Northampton newbies / Lessening in Lancs

New buses are coming to Northampton courtesy of Stagecoach. After years of decline and aging buses with First, which has now withdrawn from the town completely, Stagecoach are showing their commitment to the region. More in the Northampton Herald & Post.

The Lancashire villages isolated by the collapse of Classic Bus North West have a temporary solution, thanks to three parish councils. The Blackpool Gazette says they've funded a partial replacement for two weeks, after which it will be up to the County Council to step in. The County meanwhile is looking to cut evening and Sunday services across Lancashire and a local transport expert has detailed the damage that they will cause in an interview with virtual-lancaster. My own view is that running buses only at times that are convenient for pensioners will mean no-one but pensioners uses them. When that generation are no longer with us people won't be in the habit of using buses and our industry will be crippled. Evening and Sunday services are essential to make a bus service viable, especially where it provides a key link between towns.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Council check: Bedford Borough Council

Let's see how Bedford Borough Council performs in telling people about bus services on its patch.

Where do the buses go?

Comprehensive schematic maps are provided of all routes in Bedford Borough and Bedford Town, as well as a detailed map of Bedford Town Centre.

Bedford have gone out of their way to make life easier for passengers and bus companies by making it easier for all to see which bus goes where. They get 5 out of 5 in this category.


Timetables for all routes in the borough can be found here. They could have made you go trawling through the operators' sites or Traveline, but again have done the hard work for you. 5 out of 5.


This is Bedford's stumbling block. No information on single fares. Nothing about day tickets. No multi-operator ticket. You need to check with the individual operators for any info on tickets, such as Stagecoach  who provide information and Grant Palmer who do not. Plusbus gets a passing mention. The cheapest adult rail ticket with which you can buy a Bedford Plusbus is an Anytime single between Bedford and Kempston Hardwick at £2.50, meaning a spend of £5.40 gets you a ticket to use on any bus in the Bedford Plusbus zone.

This category really lets Bedford down. Just 1 point out of a possible 5.


Good, comprehensive bus network maps and timetables all in one place. Let down by the lack of a multi-operator ticket or any information on the tickets that are available.

Bedford scores a total of 11 out of 15.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Fares aren't all going up, but what are they?

'Tis the season for bus fares to go up. In much of the country they are, but not on First in Llanelli, as that town's Star reports. What a shame then, that the Star gives prices for day tickets without making it clear that they are day tickets! Many readers who are bus novices will read that and think that's the flat single fare and be put off.

Which brings me to one of my pet topics: single fares and finding out what they are. So many bus companies don't want their potential customers to know how much it costs to use their services. Really. How on Earth are they still in business?

Demographics are in the bus's favour. Fewer young people are learning to drive and that bodes well for bus passenger numbers in the long term. But only if we can get them on board in the first place. When people consider using the bus they have three key questions:

  • Where does the bus go?
  • When does it run?
  • How much will it cost to use?

If they can't get an answer to any one of those three questions, the bus company will have lost business. It really is as simple as that. The first two are usually easy enough to find out if you know where to look, but the third is a major problem.

Not enough bus companies have a section like this on their site. This is from Trent Barton.

There are a few honourable exceptions in the bus industry. Companies that are happy for people to know how much they will need to pay include Trent Barton, Brighton & Hove, Stagecoach Manchester, Blackpool Transport and Velvet. If you know of any more, please leave a comment and give them a well-deserved free plug.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Warnings of woeful withdrawals

More cuts are to come all round the country.

In the West, the Bath Chronicle reports of more communities to be cut off in Wiltshire, Dorset and Gloucestershire. The Chron then ruins its doom-ridden story by mentioning the closure of Salisbury bus station as though that were somehow down to the council cuts. It isn't. The bus station is owned by Go Ahead and they are selling it. Buses will run from on-street stops, just as they do a ride on the X7 away in Southampton and you know what? Sotonians cope, so I'm sure that residents and vistors to Salisbury will survive too.

Talking of Southampton, there's a bit of fuss about a route that is being cut there this weekend. First route 10 is the only link between Southampton General Hospital and Totton, just outside the city and near to the edge of the New Forest. That route has been served since at least 1988 but runs for the last time tomorrow, Friday 3rd January 2014. The Southern Daily Echo reports on residents' worries and a very slim chance that Totton Town Council could help fund a replacement. Southampton City Council are understandably reluctant to fund a service that benefits residents outside the city. No-one's cut off by the cutting of the 10 though. You can still get between Totton and the General by bus. You just need to change buses at Southampton Central Station. You do now need to use two bus companies, so it will cost you more if you are of fare-paying age. Many people are averse to changing buses though, so it does mean that employees at the General are now less likely to move to Totton (possibly affecting house prices) and people in Totton are less likely to visit the shops in Shirley. The economic effects will affect more than just those that used the 10 themselves.

More doom from Lancashire, where people waiting for a replacement bus service following the collapse of Classic Bus North West have been told it might not happen. The Blackpool Gazette quotes John Fillis, head of Highways and Transport at Lancashire County Council, as saying that there is no money to support what he refers to as "failed bus services". Presumably he thinks that the communities now isolated have "failed" too and need to be punished for the fact that Classic Bus North West is no longer in business. Maybe Lancashire isn't "Where Everyone Matters", as the sign at Chorley Interchange exclaims, after all.