We had become used to the lack of printed timetable information during the COVID ‘Lockdowns’ and other periods of restrictions. We understand that, although we continue to maintain it was the wrong decision.
So what is excuse now? There must be one, in recent months we have increased our travel and come across dozens, no maybe into the hundreds, of bus stops with no timetable information. So what do these bus stops have in common? Well, they all have posters telling is that due to COVID timetables are changing frequently so printed information is not available.
This is rubbish. We maintain that in many areas timetables have not changed for at least six months - that means in some cases a longer period of stability than pre-COVID
Between the timetables in place in January 2020 and those in May 2022 in many cases frequencies have been reduced, firstly due to the reduced patronage as a result of COVID and then due to staff shortages. These frequency can be significant, service cut by a third or even a half are commonplace. With less buses an hour accessible information is important, especially for unplanned travel where printed information at bus stops is essential.
And, there is another request. If printed material is on display make sure it is correct. At a Bus Station (yes, Bus Station and not a rural bus stop) last week we were surprised that the bus I required was shown as departing at xx50. When did that change we through. The printed information was incorrect and departure was at xx00. At least we were there ten minutes early for the bus, had it have been the other way round we would have had a 50 minute wait.
As it was, we missed a key connection because although the bus arrived early it departed late after the driver took a cigarette break in front of the vehicle!
Whilst printed material must be up to date it is also essential that electronic departure screens are both working - we have seen numerous blank displays in recent weeks - and also show the correct information. This means that on bus tracking systems and the associated timetable data must also be correct.
We have also used routes recently where in early 2020 buses had active next stop displays. We find these really useful and a great passenger benefit which is not without initial cost to the operators. So why do we find these either blank, or merely showing a date and time. Is it a case that operators cannot be bothered to input the data and activate the systems.
That poses another question. Have we returned to the days of the 1980s when seemingly passengers were sometimes seen as a distraction from the operation of bus services?
As an example we hear that the online timetable for a high-frequency route in the North West runs to a massive 48 pages and is basically the service registration document – not even cleaned up for external use
We would ask every member of management in the bus industry to ask themselves a question. Why are we running bus services? A large proportion would immediately come up with the right answer - for the benefit of passengers. However, others we suggest would hesitate before answering. It is this minority that is distracting the industry from building back confidence.
And let’s not forget that whilst web-based information is important there is still a need for printed information.
Our travels have also taken us out an about on the railway, and for all the journeys we have taken we have been able to obtain timetable information at stations as well as online
On the trains we have used, at leisure times there is a ‘busy’ feel suggesting a healthy recovery in passenger numbers, although consistency of delivery remains patchy.
We have also noticed that station car parks have been almost to capacity at off peak times and weekends, mirroring what was the situation at peak times pre-COVID. This has to be good news for the rail industry but we hope that train operators don’t start to increase off-peak parking charges to off-set reduced peak time car park income.
Now is the time for bus and rail operators to provide a service the public deserves....
but bouquets for Delaine and Brylaine
Travel by public transport has become a real challenge, no lottery, in recent months. Many operators reduced services as a result of lower patronage, following the start of the Covid pandemic. There was an attempt to work towards the restoration of pre-Covid frequencies during the latter half of 2021, but it didn’t really happen.
Just as passenger numbers were showing the first real shoots of returning there came first a shortage of staff and then, with the Omicron Covid strain taking hold at the end of 2021, exceptional levels of staff absences.
Those problems caused some operators to re-think their offering. Reduced timetable frequencies were introduced to negate the issues. But, other operators have tried to maintain a normal frequency which resulted in, and in. some cases still is causing, ad-hoc cancellations on a daily basis. This is no good for passenger confidence. If we are not careful transport management are riding a one-way roller coaster into the dark depths, with no way of recovery.
Speaking recently to a senior industry consultant, who has years of experience operating bus services and managing operations across several companies, he expressed great concern that even with driver shortages some companies were still taking on new work. His argument was that resources were being spread more thinly and priority given to providing these new special services and contracts, which come with a guaranteed income, at the expense of providing advertised and timetabled services. Surely this activity cannot be allowed to continue.
At least we have Social Media to inform intending passengers of those daily cancellations, but even then it is not easy to get the full picture. One bus company uses Twitter to detail the cancellations but, and here is a BIG negative. It puts out the services cancelled as duties become uncovered. That means I may have to look at three or four separate messages to get the full details of cancellations on a given route. Not good enough!
On the railway as we entered the second week of March there are still reduced timetables and I wonder whether these reductions will be the norm. Earlier this year I had to make a journey on CrossCountry - lots of cancellations and rail replacement on the Birmingham-Stansted route - but where I expected those trains that were running to be very busy they were extremely lightly loaded.
Surely now is the time for both bus and rail operators to work hard to attract passengers back. Infact with a much reduced commuter passenger base they have to work even harder to attract new passengers.
The timetable will not achieve that alone through. With a greater demand at the moment for the money in our pockets, fares have to be attractive. I recently researched fares for an adult and two children on an off peak journey. One operator’s group ticket cost around £16 – another on the same route and operating every 20 minutes said the journey could be done for £6 after 09:30, and as an added bonus that £6 also offered unlimited travel for a day across a whole metropolitan conurbation.
I have chosen not to name operators, but now I will name two. Lincolnshire-based Delaine Buses has always presented a ‘can do’ attitude and earlier this year introduced two group products that offer unlimited off peak travel on all regular services for a whole day after 09:00.
The Delaine ‘Rover’ ticket costs just £5.70, but if two passengers travel together the Delaine Duo ticket costs just £9.50 (that’s a saving of £1.90). And there’s more…. If four people travel together the Group ticket costs £13, which means each member of the group pays £3.25 and the group saves a whopping £9.80.
Anthony Delaine-Smith of Delaine Buses is clear that to be competitive the bus has to compete and offer value for money against the private car. He told SKM: “We view The Duo ticket as a clear and concise offer to encourage two people to travel together on the bus rather than thinking the car is the cheaper option. We have done the same with the Group ticket for £13.
“Getting £9.50p or £13 in the farebox is better than Zero if the perception is 4 Day tickets are more expensive than the car!”
Well done Delaine!
Images © Steven Knight Media
Staying in Lincolnshire Brylaine was another operator suffering from driver shortages but they took an extremely rare, and in my opinion brave, decision. Between January and March they suspended all Saturday services. Whilst many viewed this as walking away from a problem, what it did achieve was to put certainty into the company’s ability to provide its advertised timetables on Mondays to Fridays.
Well done Brylaine!
We are now approaching the time of year when leisure travel historically increases. If bus and rail operators want a share of that leisure business then they need to act now to offer a value for money product with realistic, meaningful and reliable timetables.
It’s over to you, those running bus and train services, to provide a public transport service that will attract passengers both existing, lapsed and new. If you don’t then you cannot complain that your business is suffering or ultimately failing.
First Platinum Jubilee buses take to the road
Image © Stagecoach South
We are pleased to see the bus industry marking the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with specially branded buses. So top marks to both Stagecoach South and Reading Buses who were quick off the mark.
As the country prepares to celebrate the Queen's Platinum Jubilee this summer, bus operator, Stagecoach South, unveiled two platinum jubilee themed buses to mark this unprecedented anniversary.
The buses were officially launched in the week of the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne, which took place on 6th February 1952.
The platinum jubilee buses will be seen across the year, on services throughout Hampshire, Surrey and West Sussex. The vehicles are ADL Enviro 400MMCs 10945 and 10699, which will initially operate from Andover and Worthing depots before moving on to spend time at the other Stagecoach South depots.
Managing Director of Stagecoach South, Edward Hodgson told SKM: “The whole nation and our commonwealth countries are gearing up for a big celebration in June and we felt that it was important for us to honour this historic milestone within the communities we serve.
“We are therefore proud to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, with these two special buses that will be used throughout the year on our local bus networks.
The two buses feature the official Platinum Jubilee emblem, and have been finished in a white, platinum and purple adaption of the Stagecoach livery scheme. The platinum colour represents Her Majesty’s 70 years on the throne, whilst the purple colour is synonymous with royalty.
Steve Thorpe, Marketing Officer for Stagecoach South said “This is such an historic moment, as it is the first time that any British monarch has attained 70 years on the throne.
“We hope that our customers and residents across the area will enjoy travelling on, and seeing, the jubilee buses on the streets throughout the year.”
We have to say that the design really works well, whilst in keeping with the new Stagecoach livery concept. In our opinion it is a far more visually attractive livery than the standard Stagecoach ‘Local’ livery.
Image © Stagecoach South
Whilst Reading Buses told us: “As this year marks the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, we thought we would do our part in joining in the celebrations.
“We have introduced the platinum jubilee double deck bus which will grace the streets of Reading, Windsor and London.
“The bus celebrates the platinum jubilee in a similar way to how we had a bus for the golden jubilee 20 years ago.
“The year-long national celebrations, which mark 70 years since The Queen took her place on the throne, will culminate in a four-day bank holiday weekend in June and we wanted to be part of it.
“The design uses the official emblem which was created specially for the platinum jubilee event by Edward Roberts, a 19-year-old student at the University of Leeds. It sits on our silver livery for use on any route.
“The bus will appear on our high-profile Green Line 702 service which passes Windsor Castle and also runs into London very near to Buckingham Palace.
“In addition to passing or travelling close to the royal residences, the platinum jubilee bus will also regularly be seen on local services in Reading so we hope you will all look out for it”.
We hope that other parts of Stagecoach will embrace the celebrations with branded buses as will other operators.
Image © Reading Buses
Stagecoach pushes ahead with new Customer Contact Centre
Stagecoach has today confirmed to Steven Knight Media that it is pushing ahead with the planned Customer Contract Centre in Perth. It is still due to open in Spring 2022.
The company has also confirmed that the plans are unaffected by the ongoing merger proposals involving National Express.
Stagecoach announced the plan to create the centralised customer contact operation in July last year. It will create up to 80 new jobs assuming many of the customer contact roles currently undertaken by local operating companies.
Happy New Year...
Image © Gareth Hale
Whilst 2021 allowed most of us to make progressive moves back towards some kind of normality, the end of the year saw uncertainty and the re-imposition of various levels of restrictions as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 took hold. However, so far, we have avoided the massively disruptive Lockdowns that dominated much of the first half of 2021.
As Lockdown restrictions were eased, in phases during the second quarter of 2021 the transport sector started to see modest levels of growth.
The rail industry started to see the first shoots of a return to leisure travel, but commuter busines remained stubbornly low as many companies maintained a ‘work from home’ culture. Bus usage started to grow and the relaxation of the physical two-metre social distancing requirements from July started allowed bus and train operators to make all seats available for use. However it was not a full return to normal; LNER, for example, maintained its ‘reservation only travel’ advice which is still in place, although it does have a small number of un-reservable seats available.
Bus companies started to restore something akin to normal timetables, although finding out details of these timetables was a massive challenge for those without smartphones or who are not IT savvy.
In SKMs part of the country printed timetables at bus stops remained consigned to history. In their place were posters advising use of online systems due to constant timetable changes as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than six months on this still remains the case. Still, many bus stops have real time displays don’t they? Well not quite and where they are fitted they don’t always work. Live tracking of buses was patchy and blank screens, or screens that did not show all departures were commonplace. Timetable changes were not always recognised. ‘Buses Back Better’ - we think not!
Then, just as some kind of normality was emerging came the first hints of a major problem which would affect the entire transport sector. High levels of staff sickness due to self-isolation morphed into widespread staff shortages.
Bus operators were juggling resources against requirements and Social Media was awash daily with details of cancelled services (and still is). Many operators responded with widescale, and in some cases drastic, service reductions. This helped initially but staff shortages still exist and the fast spread of the Omicron variant has seen staff sickness/isolation levels soar.
As 2022 dawned, train operators were cutting timetables due to staff shortages.
We were affected by staff shortages (and problems with IEP trains) during 2021 and had to cancel several planned trips. Worse still was a planned day out in late November 2021.
Despite booking Advance tickets online ten days before travel with a long-distance train operators, there was no sign of the train on the departure board at the station. It transpires that the train had been cancelled as part of a special ‘staff shortage’ timetable. Surely we could have been notified and not left to find out on arrival at the station?
Later the same day we attempted to board a bus (on a 20 min frequency). Despite being at the start point of the journey we were told when a bus appeared ten mins late to get the next one. That bus then left but then picked up service. When we did get on the next bus we noticed that the destination display was for part route only. So the bus we were not allowed on covered the whole route whilst the one we did catch did part route only. What a farce!
We were told always check the app for live tracking. What good is that? Unless systems are updated in real time, a bus due to travel from A-C via B will have a journey code whilst the driver will use the same journey code if merely operating from A-B or B-C. Not helpful!
The challenge for bus and rail operators for 2022 is to get on top of the staff shortage and operate the advertised timetable. In our view there is a confidence issue that must be restored and only the operators themselves can restore that confidence.
But there is more…..
We have a plea to bus operators especially. Please don’t assume every one of your passengers has access to IT on the go. They don’t. Please restore readable and comprehensive timetables to the empty cases that are fitted to bus stops around the country. Tell your intending passengers when your buses run. Think about it, would shops remove opening time posters from their entrance doors because them might change them in the future.
It is also time to take old route and frequency information from bus stops. Please don’t tell me that buses operate ‘up to every 10 minutes’ when in reality is every 20 minutes or worse.
Let’s see 2022 as the year bus and rail operators made it easy to access their services with confidence again!
Stagecoach East announces
revamp of its fare structure
Stagecoach East has announced that it is to implement a complete revision of its fares structure across its entire operating area.
The company provides services in Peterborough, Cambridge, Bedford and surrounding areas as well on the Cambridgeshire Busway and services linking Cambridge with Bedford, Bedford with Oxford and Milton Keynes with Luton Airport.
In announcing the changes the company says that: “We have recognised the need to carry out a full fares and ticketing revision to ensure that our ticket offering is suitable for the changing needs of those travelling with us, and so we have liaised with the Local Authorities to make adjustments to our ticketing structure”.
In explaining the changes, Stagecoach East says: there are three key objectives for our fare changes:
Remove complexity of fares to make it easier for passengers to identify their best value ticket option and to be able to attract passengers back to bus
Introduce ticket types which reflect the change in travel habits and working patterns, something we believe will be a long-term impact of the pandemic
Encourage a shift towards app based, digital ticketing to reduce boarding time and cash handling
The company said: “‘We have carried out customer and driver research and used passenger analysis both pre- pandemic and based on current usage to develop a much simpler ticket structure for all passenger types. The changes will result in 92% of customers paying the same or less for their fare, as we will be reducing most of our single and DayRider ticket price points. We're also revising our multi-journey ticket zones into three easy categories; Town, Plus and East. This means that we can offer consistent pricing across all of our ticket zones, for various passenger types, including adults, youth and groups.
“We understand that a lot of younger people rely on our bus services across the network and so we have introduced new Youth tickets which allows under 19's and students to travel for less, with tickets priced at 33% lower than adult ticket equivalents. This will make bus travel much more affordable and accessible for younger people.
“Due to the success of our recent flexible ticket trial in Cambridge, we have also expanded the Flexi 5 and Flexi 10 ticket offering to our entire East operating region. The new flexible travel products are ideal for those working from home more often but who will still need to make less frequent journeys to the office. Customers will be able to buy bundles of 5 DayRider tickets for the price of 4 with the Flexi 5, and 10 DayRider tickets for the price of 7 with the Flexi 10, on the Stagecoach Bus App. This means they can benefit from unlimited travel in their chosen zone on the days they need to, as tickets are valid for 12 months.
DayRider tickets in Peterborough and Cambridge areas will reduce from £4.50 to £4.20 with the DayRider Plus covering Cambridge reducing from £7 to £6.60. Similar reductions will be made to MegaRider tickets.
Stagecoach East has a document which explains the changed in detail and which can be accessed here:
Stagecoach to launch automonous bus project next year
It’s been a long times since Stagecoach took delivery of five specific 11.8m Enviro 200MMC buses from ADL. Infact, they were registered in December 2019 and were bought for the Group’s first ‘live’ autonomous bus trial in Scotland.
You must excuse us for forgetting about these vehicles, but now we know that Stagecoach plans to put them into service in early Summer 2022.
The 43-seat buses were given fleet numbers 26326-30 and were registered YX69NUH/O/P/U/V.
What reminded us that they were still around, having seemingly been stored for the last two years, was the release of images of 26326 smartly dressed in a special autonomous bus version of the Stagecoach livery. The project is called CAVForth and the buses will use the dedicated transport corridor across the Forth Road Bridge making it attractive for people to make the switch from car to bus
The project is a partnership involving Stagecoach, Fusion Processing, Alexander Dennis Limited and Transport Scotland.
Stagecoach says that the new service will be made up of four single-decker buses running a 14-mile route, including crossing the iconic Forth Road Bridge. It will provide capacity for up to 10,000 passengers a week, connecting Fife’s Ferrytoll Park & Ride with Edinburgh Park’s transport hub and is expected to be popular with commuters, students, day-tripper, tourists and novelty riders; keen to be first to say they have been driven by a computer.
The four buses, which will feature the special new livery, are currently being fitted out with the ground-breaking sensor and control technology, developed and supplied by project lead, Fusion Processing Ltd, that allows them to become computer-driven. The vehicles are also being put through their paces with an array of virtual and track testing to ensure all systems are functioning as expected before on-road testing begins later this year.
Now were a little confused. Stagecoach said in its statement that there will be four buses in the new livery, but five were delivered, so what is happening the fifth vehicle? Well, Stagecoach has responded to a question from SKM and confirmed that there are indeed five vehicles and that the Peak Vehicle Requirement will be four vehicles, which provides a vehicle for maintenance and engineering requirements.
Stagecoach told us that the colours and design were chosen through consultation with local communities and a decision made to ensure the vehicles stand out on the road. The ‘AB’ logo, stands for autonomous bus and is an icon that Stagecoach hopes to see become a standard identifier of autonomous vehicles in the future.
The design of the livery is intended to ensure that it still feels like a regular bus, and is easily identifiable with the well-known Stagecoach brand, whilst also acknowledging the array of project partners who are making this world-leading pilot service a reality: Fusion Processing, Alexander Dennis Limited, Transport Scotland, Napier University, Bristol Robotics Lab, University of the West of England, as well the funding partner; the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.
Minister for Transport Graeme Dey said: “This is another welcome step forward for the incredibly exciting Project CAVForth, as we move closer to seeing it go live next year. This type of innovation shows Scotland is very much open for business when it comes to trialling this technology. This ground-breaking and globally significant project will really help the country establish its credentials on the world stage.”
Sam Greer, Regional Director for Stagecoach in Scotland said: “We are all very excited to be marking the next major milestone in our autonomous bus project, with buses planned to be on the road in early summer next year.
“The new service will provide a bus link between Fife and Edinburgh Park which currently does not exist and we hope will encourage more people to ditch the car, skip traffic jams and enjoy a relaxed journey in a dedicated bus lane and with new innovative state of the art technology.”
Jim Hutchinson, Fusion Processing Ltd CEO, said: “We are delighted to be leading on the world’s most complex and ambitious autonomous vehicle programme. CAVForth is an exciting pilot service and a great demonstration of our automated vehicle technology. The vehicles are fitted with CAVstar, our automated driving system which combines our own hardware and software to create, safe, AV Level 4 full sized buses. The buses will be operating on a 28 mile round trip route that includes motorways, single carriageway A-roads, minor roads, bus lanes, roundabouts and junctions with and without traffic lights. We believe it will be the most comprehensive Autonomous bus demonstration to date. ”
Paul Davies, ADL President & Managing Director, said: “As the UK bus industry’s innovation leader, we are constantly exploring new ways to further increase efficiency and safety. The trial of the UK’s first full-sized autonomous bus service gives us an outstanding opportunity to gain real-world experience. We are also working closely with our colleagues across NFI Group who are developing similar, promising projects.”
Images © Stagecoach
Michelle Hargreaves announces her retirement next year from Stagecoach
News reached us in mid-November that one of our industry contacts has announced her retirement after a 35-year career with Stagecoach.
We first came across Michelle Hargreaves in her role as Operations Director at Stagecoach East (when it was based at Northampton, and not to be confused with today’s Stagecoach East, although Michelle has also been Managing Director there!). During my time with Virgin Trains, contact with Michelle centred around the operation of the Milton Keynes-Luton Airport Rail Link, which on my suggestion became the VT99.
Michelle, who has become a well-loved and highly respected figure in the bus industry, started her career with Stagecoach in 1987 as a Cash Clerk in Blackburn and held a number of managerial positions before taking her first Managing Director role at Stagecoach South West in 2008.
During her time with Stagecoach, she has also held the positions of Managing Director of Stagecoach East Midlands and following the retirement of Andy Campbell as Managing Director of Stagecoach East. before moving into her current role as Regional Director with responsibility for Stagecoach’s bus and tram operations in the north of England. She has also worked as part of the business change team, focusing on developing a strategy around people development and employee wellbeing.
Michelle has been an inspiration for women across Stagecoach. In 2017 Michelle won the FTA Everywoman Transport awards Passenger Award Leader. And, as a Lancashire girl born and bred, she was also recognised as one of the top female role models in the North when she was named on the Northern Power Women Power List 2020.
Some of Michelle’s fondest memories include the setting up of Stagecoach’s well-known 192 Manchester service in the early 1990s. Michelle, along with her commercial colleagues, put the wheels in motion, recruiting all the staff and launching the service from the Ford Car Centre at Bredbury. This is now one of the busiest routes in Britain.
On her forthcoming retirement, Michelle says: “I vividly remember at my first interview being told they weren’t looking for a woman and I was determined to prove them wrong! I’m very proud of the career I’ve had with Stagecoach, and have been given some fantastic opportunities- including the highlight of learning to drive a bus and automatically getting a car licence with licencing laws being very different in the late 1980s.
Michelle has always had an eye for maximising branding and marketing opportunities and one of her success stories at Stagecoach East Midlands was turning the Skegness and Cleethorpes open top services into a widely-recognisable brand with character designs on the buses - instantly turning bus journeys into an integral part of the holiday experience. She also engaged with the local communities and was keen to see involvement with charities.
Images Above © Steven Knight Media
Michelle also supported Steven Knight Media in the production of the Stagecoach East Midlands, and latterly Stagecoach East Fleet Handbooks and was always willing to make vehicles available for the Peterborough Bus Rally, which SKM supported by arranging modern buses.
Michelle said: “It’s now the right time for me to move onto the next phase and I’m looking forward to spending more time with my husband and enjoying my retirement.
“I believe there are lots of exciting opportunities to come for the bus industry and with the great team we have at Stagecoach, there’s a bright future ahead. I’ll miss all the people here but will continue to watch the developments in the industry with interest.”
Martin Griffiths, Chief Executive of Stagecoach said: “Michelle has been a valuable and key member of the Stagecoach team, and we are lucky to have had the benefit of her skills and experience over more than three decades.
“I have really enjoyed working with Michelle and will very much miss her input into the business. I know everyone at Stagecoach will join me in wishing her all the very best for a relaxing and well-deserved retirement.”
Stagecoach says the recruitment process is currently underway for a new Regional Director North and we wish Michelle well for the future once she retires from Stagecoach next Summer.
Portrait Images © Stagecoach
Back in the day it was easy
to obtain bus timetables
Back in the day most towns and cities had a travel centre and information office provided by the main operator. Step inside and racks of timetable leaflets for all services would greet you, and in many cases a tours and excursions leaflet/brochure. Inside season tickets and express service/tours tickets could be purchased. Many operators also produced regional timetable booklets.
Fares were a different matter, but ask and details would be offered.
When timetables were changing notices would appear in the travel centre window and on buses, although in the latter case they were crudely pasted onto the bus window and left an unsightly mess if not completely removed.
Fast-forward many years and we have the advances of the internet, next stop information, live bus times and live bus tracking. This should be a real step change in how bus operators communicate with their passenger, but is it?
We think not?
It is our view that a number of bus operators have taken the view that if timetables are available on their website then they need not do anything else. Well, in our view they are wrong and perhaps need to remember they are providing a product, a customer service.
There can be a massive difference between how operating units within some of the bigger groups approach the provision of information for customers.
In our view it is not good enough to just put service change information and timetables on the web and expect customers to hunt for them. Use Social Media channels to promote the changes but why not us real time information screens at bus stops to advise of the upcoming changes? Why not do something radical, put paper timetables into the frames at bus stops? Yes, I accept changes are still taking place, some far to frequent in our view, but it is no longer acceptable to hide behind the argument that due to COVID frequent changes are taking place and timetables are available on line.
Turning to real time displays at bus stops, and online tracking. It needs to be accurate and updated. Far too often buses fail to track because the on-bus equipment has not been set up, normally when ticket machines have been changed. The passenger has to guess whether a missing departure is because the bus has been cancelled or has incorrectly programmed tracking equipment fitted.
Real time displays also need to have the correct base data uploaded. A recent experience is that when a timetable was revised at the end of August 2021 the display at the stop no longer showed the departures. Two months on nothing has changed and it now shows just two departures an hour for one route, and nothing for the other route with four departures an hour. (And there is no printed timetable at the stop).
So now let’s turn to the actual bus. We are aware many vehicles now have onboard next stop equipment, no doubt fitted at a substantial cost, but recently we have seen these displays either blank or merely showing the date and time. Why? Is it just too much effort to keep the data file updated?. We don’t know the constraints of these ‘next stop’ systems but couldn’t they also be used to scroll messages about upcoming timetable changes.
It can also be frustrating to try and obtain information from bus companies. A few months ago we had to resort to an online contact form, now email or phone numbers were available, to make a ticket/fare enquiry. We did this four days before we intended to travel. We got a response some two weeks after we had travelled.
If the industry is to bounce back and recover from both the effects of the COVID pandemic and also the current driver shortages affecting large parts of the business then it needs to have a robust recovery plan in place. That plan needs to put the passenger first. Companies need to recognise who they are providing the service for and also recognise how they communicate their product.
There has never been a better time for the industry to seize the opportunity to ensure that it can deliver Buses Back Better.
Going Topless.......... in Edinburgh
Our fourth and final sightseeing tour for September 2021 sees SKM and Mrs SKM (Wendy) heading north from the Highlands and into the City of Edinburgh to experience one of the many different tours on offer.
The City of Edinburgh is steeped in history, which no doubt accounts for the plethora of sightseeing buses that operate on a variety of routes.
We had previously done the City Tour operated by Bright Bus Tours, which is part of First Bus, so this time opted to do the Britannia Tour which was new this year and operates out to Leith, where the Royal Yacht Britannia is a tourist magnet.
Individual tour tickets cost £10 for Adults with a two tour ticket costing £16. We bought our tickets in advance and exchanged the voucher for actual tickets with one of the street ticket sellers before boarding the bus. Tour tickets also allow free travel on First’s X24, X25 and X38 services between Edinburgh City Centre and Edinburgh Zoo.
City Tour buses operate up to every 15 minutes with the Britannia Tour buses operating up to every 20 minutes.
A consequence of COVID and the introduction of Social Distancing measures in Edinburgh means that all tour buses have been banished from Waverley Bridge, and its convenience for the City’s railway station to a much less convenient (especially on a wet day) St Andrews Square.
Bright Bus entered the Edinburgh Sightseeing market a couple of years ago. It has the feel of a ‘low cost’ option with part open top Tridents when compared to the modern purpose-built vehicles used by Lothian Buses, although we did see a part open top Enviro 400 being used by Bright Bus. Bus there is nothing low-cost about its offering.
A full multi-lingual commentary through headsets is offered.
The on street ticket seller and drivers were welcoming and despite its age the vehicle we travelled on was clean and presentable although there was no sign of any cleaning materials to ensure touch points could be regularly sanitised.
Our visit coincided with a damp and, sometime, very wet day so we opted to sit under cover at the front of the bus. The commentary was extremely informative and specific location information was accompanied by a vast amount of historic information. This meant that there were few periods without commentary - a vast difference to our Inverness tour a few days earlier.
Despite the age of the vehicle it was clean with seats and fittings in good condition.
As well as serving several parts of Edinburgh City Centre not on the City Tour route the Britannia Tour heads out to Leith and also has a stop outside the Royal Botanic Gardens. Interchange between the two tours is possible at St Andrews Square and also at Dynamic Earth which is located near Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament.
There were a few locations on the tour where the commentary fell out of sync but it did not detract from a really enjoyable and informative tour.
Going Topless.......... in Inverness
During September 2021 SKM and Mrs SKM (Wendy) have been taking a trip on several open top bus tours, sampling the product and giving each one a ‘SKM Star Rating’. We have deliberately chosen to take the trips after the main Summer operating period. For our third review we travel north to the Highlands of Scotland and Inverness.
We both had high expectations for our visit to the ‘Capital of the Highlands’. Why else would City Sightseeing operate two separate tours, each taking around 50 minutes. Tickets ae priced at £10 Adult for 24-hours travel on each tour or £18 for travel on both tours. Mr SKM was able to get a discounted £14 joint tour ticket as he qualified for a Senior discount. Both tours operate hourly.
The Red Tour covers the main town centre and out to Dochgarroch Lock for access to cruises on Loch Ness whilst the Blue Tour heads out to the Culloden Battlefield. Buses were operating hourly on both routes.
We headed to Inverness’ compact but functional Bus Station where shortly before 11:00 a City Sightseeing part open top bus appeared. Soon after a somewhat newer fully open top vehicle joined it. We opted to join the part covered vehicle given the constantly changing weather, and we were pleased that we did.
The City Sightseeing Inverness operation is provided by D & E Coaches.
The driver was welcoming and we joined the bus and initially went to the rear of the top deck. The commentary was through speakers and in one language only - English. We felt this could put non-English speaking tourists off and also that a PR trick had been missed and the commentary should have been advertised as ‘Scottish’.
The bus was clean but presented a ‘grubby’ appearance with faded and weather worn seats.
We found the commentary sparse with long periods of silence, not helped by several; spells of fast running along dual carriageways and trunk roads. This fast running was also uncomfortable in the open section of the vehicle. Moving to the very front seats the view was reduced due to branding stickers placed across the bottom of the window – why do that on a sightseeing bus?
The commentary was marginally out of sync, which meant on several occasions it was a case of looking behind the bus. We have experienced this on other tours.
We stayed on the bus after doing the Red Tour as the two buses alternate between tours but in our view this was not made clear and led to confusion amongst several passengers who wanted to do both tours.
There was no evidence of any materials on the bus to sanitise touch points.
Having had big expectations that across the two tours we would learn a vast amount about the area we have to say we left disappointed. There must be a wealth of generic information about Inverness and the surrounding areas that could be incorporated into the commentary.
Live in West Huntingdonshire?
...then get ready for ting
After a rather long delay, when the contract was re-tendered before it had started, we hear that the new Demand Responsive Transport operation for West Huntingdonshire will start on 25th October 2021. When the contract was awarded back in June it had a start date of 2nd August 2021 according to the bidstats.uk site.
Stagecoach East has been awarded the contract from the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority, which is for a six months trial period to determine relative trip generation and economic viability of DRT compared to conventional bus services in West Hunts.
The contract is worth £240,000 and Stagecoach East will provide or contract in vehicles, drivers, vehicle operations and maintenance, fuel and insurance, operate a web-based App with real time route booking and scheduling and a fall-back manually assisted booking service.
Stagecoach will use four specially branded Optare Solo SRs (48032-35) with a fifth (48036) available as a spare. Operations will be from Fenstanton depot.
Bus we just can’t get our head around the name of this new operation. It’s called ‘ting’. Yes, we have spelt it right, there is no capital ‘T;’.
So what is ‘ting’? Surely it’s the noise the bell makes when pressed to get the driver to stop the bus!
Recent launch information tells us that: “ting is a great new way to get about by bus in West Huntingdonshire, without having to rely on a car. Simply download the ting app, book your trip and your bus will pick you up at your chosen time. Plus, you can travel anywhere within the service zone for just £2 each way!
Rather than SKM explaining what it’s all about, the following is from the Stagecoach East website.
Everything you need to know about ting:
What is ting and how does demand responsive transport work?
Demand responsive bus services are not fixed to a specific route or timetable- the movement of buses is determined by the demands of those wanting to travel. Using the ting app, customers can hail a bus directly from their smartphone and travel where they like, when they like within the service operation times and zone. The app’s clever algorithms enable multiple passengers to seamlessly share their journey with other customers making similar trips in the area.
Where can I travel?
Ting covers the West Huntingdonshire area including key towns such as St Neots, Huntingdon, Cambourne, Sawtry and surrounding villages. The service has been introduced to West Huntingdonshire to improve transport links for those living in rural areas, removing young people’s dependence on parents for lifts and allowing local residents to lessen their reliance on cars.
When can I travel?
The ting service is available 7am-7pm Monday-Friday and 8am-4pm Saturday. Ting does not operate on Sundays or Bank Holiday Mondays.
How much are tickets?
Any one-way ride within the service zone costs just £2 for all adults and children. Concessionary Bus Pass holders can travel for free on the service, subject to ENCTS terms and conditions*.
Travelling further afield? You can also purchase an add on ticket which costs an extra £1 one way or £2 return, and allows you to connect to any other Stagecoach bus service. This means you can travel to any of these great places:
Bedford- catch the 905 service from St Neots or Cambourne
Cambridge- catch the 905 service from St Neots or Cambourne
Peterborough- catch the 904 service from Huntingdon
St Ives- catch the busway or 904 service from Huntingdon
How do I book a trip?
Download the ting app from your app store- search for ting Trips. Once you’ve created your login, you’ll be prompted to select your: pick up location, desired destination, the time you’d like to travel and the number of passengers. Your ting bus will then be booked!
Phone our local call centre- dial 01223 433 255 and our friendly customer service team will ask you all the right questions. Our call centre is open 7am-7pm Monday-Friday and 8am-6pm Saturday. Please note that the call centre is closed on Bank Holiday Mondays.
How far ahead can I book?
The earlier the better, especially if you have a train to catch or a scheduled medical appointment to get to. You can book up to 7 days ahead. However, you can also book as late as you like before you want to be picked up. There’s a chance it might be fully booked at the time, so earlier is better.
Has the UK Bus industry
reached a critical turning point?
We feel the bus industry has reached a turning point. Crippled with staff shortages and sickness bus operators - major groups, smaller operators, local authority owned and independents - across the UK are being forced to cancel services, revise timetables and reduce frequencies.
All this comes at a time when the industry has embarked on a campaign to get people back onto buses to help the economy recover from the effects of the COVID pandemic, during which the Government insisted buses should only be used for essential journeys. We believe that we were seeing the green shoots of a recovery but are hearing that bus operators are concerned that the recovery will now go into reverse.
Passengers will desert bus travel in their droves if the service becomes unreliable with ad-hoc cancellations and significant reductions in frequencies meaning that potentially those buses that do run will be nearing capacity. We are also hearing of instances where planned driver changeovers on cross-town/cross-city routes fail to take place leaving passengers sitting on a bus with no forward driver or information on onward journeys
We are hearing that drivers are being subjected to the inevitable complaints and verbal abuse from disgruntled passengers. They are also working harder carrying more passengers on those buses that are still running. Back-up from Depot Controllers is also significantly reduced as any spare Controllers are being used to cover vacant driving duties. As for Inspectors to assist with service regulation and passenger enquiries in many areas of the country, they no longer exist due to financial pressures
Those drivers still working are being asked to work overtime to help maintain the timetable, but many are turning their back on working overtime which could subject them to more passenger conflicts and abuse. Others are conscious of the work/home balance, most likely appreciated at a time of furlough and simply do not want to spend any more time at work than necessary We hear that staff morale is also suffering.
There is no doubt that the bus industry may need to review its whole operation and restructure to match available resources against demand rather than trying to reinstate what are essentially pre-COVID timetables. This could be a good thing as in many parts of the country routes are still being operated “because that is historically how they have been run” but must be balanced against the ongoing Bus Recovery Grant which is dependent on around 90% of pre-Covid mileage being operated
The industry must also acknowledge the needs of its workforce and not pressure them to work overtime. It should be a driver’s choice whether they do so or not. It is not for Management to force them to do so. Such actions will harm staff morale further and set management/workforce morale on a downward spiral. Remember it is easy to damage morale, but it is much harder to build it back up. But we acknowledge that overtime is a key tool for bus companies (more on that later).
We think that the industry will in time - and it could be better to do it sooner - match its resources to the bus service offering that it can reliably provide.
We have previously said that if bus companies persist in pushing passengers to online information, then they should ensure that where they have real time tracking its provision and accuracy is 100%. Now more than ever passengers need to know if their bus is running. Unfortunately, we have the situation where a bus may not show real time information on the App/Web but instead shows the scheduled departure time. However, that bus could be cancelled or simply not have a correctly programmed tracking system - how is the passenger expected to know that?
As for Overtime for drivers, we are not advocating that it is done away with. As far as we can recall it has always been a part of the bus company scheduling toolbox to match constant changes in staff availability. Indeed, we are aware that in a number of cases there were Union agreements that there should be a number of duties that were allocated as overtime. At Coventry Transport these were ‘Told Off’ duties that drivers and conductors could volunteer for. These were separate from the short notice overtime that was offered to cover last minute vacant duties.
At Midland Red drivers and conductors were fortunate in that they were contracted to work a Monday to Friday week with Saturday and Sunday duties covered by Volunteers and Weekend Part Time staff. What was interesting here, at least at my local garage, was that it was not Management who allocated the weekend overtime duties, it was done by the depot Union (at that time the Transport & General Workers Union).
Driver shortages are nothing new. In the 1970s and early 1980s Midlands-based operators saw staff leave the business as they eyed up more attractive working packages in the local car manufacturing industry. Ad-hoc overtime was then the norm but was heavily incentivised. It was easier than to get drivers (and conductors) to cover extra trips at short notice. The tight hand of the union at Midland Red ensured that any short notice overtime attracted a three-hour payment, even if they trip only took 30 minutes. We know of drivers who returned from their one trip to then be asked to do another one which would attract a second three hour payment!
Back then money was no object, but such agreements now lie in history. Managers need to maintain a high staff morale and value the contribution of their workforce. Trying to effectively pressurise them into working overtime is not the way to do it. Perhaps a better way is for those managers who can, and we include Managing Directors in this, do so and go out and periodically do a driving shift and experience the conditions drivers are facing.
The bus industry will get through this. It is renowned for rising up to the challenges that it faces. However, we firmly believe that it is the management that hold the key to how effective their response will be There will be other challenges to contend with and we suspect a key challenge will centre around pay demands. Already Stagecoach is under fire in the East Midlands and South West from a dispute over pay with union RMT and at two depots in the East Midlands there is a ban on working Rest Days and Overtime.
Going Topless.......... in Windsor
A short hop from Oxford sees SKM and Mrs SKM (Wendy) sampling one of two open top operations in the town of Windsor where they find all is not well.
Windsor, home to the Queen’s residence is also located across the River Thames from the well-known Public School at Eton.
It boasts two open top tour operations, one from Golden Tours and the other from RATP-owned Tootbus.
We opted for the Tootbus tour, again buying our tickets online in advance. The online voucher being exchanged for physical tickets on the bus. An adult 24 hour ticket costing £15.
Perhaps expectations were set high following our Oxford visit a few days earlier and the bus stop was identified by a sticker wrapped around the pole rather than a physical bus stop flag. Information in a display case at the stop also had out of date fare information.
We took our trip in early September with buses operating every hour. The bus was a few minutes late arriving for the first tour of the day. Heading upstairs we found the seats were wet, but we sat down and plugged the headphones into the audio unit. We were confused on several occasions when the commentary made reference to areas that we just could not see, as it was out of sync. The commentary was, however, informative but unlike the Oxford tour we were not left with the feeling that we should get off at any of the stops and explore. Perhaps the hourly frequency was a deciding factor.
We took several full tours during the day and with two buses in use and alternating on the hourly departures the audio commentary was better synchronised on the second vehicle, which also contained additional recorded commentary, which made us wonder why it was not available on the other vehicle we had travelled on. The seat back audio unit on this vehicle also mentioned a ‘Kids’ commentary which was clearly not available.
What we did find somewhat concerning was that the commentary we listened to in early September 2021 still made three active references to Prince Philip and did not remark on his death some five months earlier.
There was little slowing down to allow passengers to get better views of some of the sights, as we have experienced on many other sightseeing tours.
We made a third trip, aboard the vehicle we had originally travelled on our first tour. The seats had dried off, but close examination showed them to be dirty with heavy deposits.
There were also heavy deposits around the audio units on the backs of the seats. This was concerning given that the company promotes its extra cleaning regimes in response to COVID. We even used our own antibacterial wipes to clean the seats we were using!
Yes, the tour was enjoyable and informative, but that was far outweighed by the issues experienced. So strongly did we feel about the issues experienced we made contact directly with Tootbus and to their credit we had a response in less than an hour. On the cleanliness issue Tootbus said “The buses are cleaned on return to the garage every evening and inspected before departing in the morning so it’s extremely concerning to hear your comments regarding the cleanliness which clearly requires more vigilant processes being put in place”. Adding, In respect of the audio commentary “Thank you also for raising the point of the commentary which should have been updated since the passing of Prince Philip and will be addressed”.
In view of the above we have suspended our star rating for this review.
Going Topless.......... in Oxford
During September 2021 SKM and Mrs SKM (Wendy) will be taking a trip on several open top bus tours, sampling the product and giving each one a ‘SKM Star Rating’. We have deliberately chosen to take the trips after the main Summer operating period.
First up is City Sightseeing Oxford.
Oxford is renowned for its dreaming spires, colleges and the remnants of its Castle and prison, the majority of which remains in use today but as part of a modern hotel complex.
For the visitor and tourist whose knowledge of the layout of the city centre is limited the operation of an open top tour bus is invaluable.
In Oxford the Oxford Bus Company provides an open top bus tour as part of the worldwide City Sightseeing operation, so it was appropriate that a tour was taken during a short break in the city.
Tickets can be bought on the day, or booked online in advance. Our online voucher was valid for use for 12 months from the date of booking. On boarding the bus the voucher was handed to the driver and exchanged for 24 hours tickets. 48-hour tickets are also available.
Tickets come with various add-on options for walking tours and access to Carfax Tower or a punt on the River Cherwell, with the basic adult ‘Bronze’ ticket costing £16.50. For £2 extra an unlimited City Day Pass can be added offering travel in the Oxford City area with the Oxford Bus Company and Thames Travel.
To assist intending passengers City Sightseeing has information points and ticket sellers at a number of the 20 stops served by the bus.
We always find that it is useful to take a full round trip on a sightseeing bus, allowing a basic understanding of the attractions and geographical layout of the area.
The first bus we joined was clean and the commentary was easy to follow. Buses were running every 20 minutes with one of the three departures an hour having ‘live commentary’. We found this useful as the guide was able to add more detail than is provided on the recorded information - and also answered questions from some of the other passengers. There is also a ‘Kids’ commentary, which Wendy chose to listen to on one of the journeys, to gain extra information. Commentary is also available in several languages. Each full circuit of the tour takes around one hour.
On the day of our visit the country was experiencing exceptionally high seasonal temperatures and most buses were well loaded in the open part of the upper deck. The bus was also being diverted away from its normal route due to the annual two-day St Giles Fair and we felt that information on the diversion could have been communicated by the driver during the some of the many stops that the bus has.
Drivers and ticket sellers were polite and the open top service made the ideal way to get around the City of Oxford and learn about the history of the city and its buildings.
Failure to use railway crossing phone likely cause of train/tractor collision
Images © Network Rail
Back in August we were caught up in the disruption which followed the collision between a freight train and a tractor on a user controlled level crossing in Cambridgeshire.
Train services were suspended between Ely and Peterborough for four days whilst the derailed train and damaged farm equipment were removed and track and signalling equipment repaired or replaced.
CrossCountry took the decision on the day of the incident that it would operate Birmingham-Stansted Airport services between Birmingham and Leicester and Cambridge and Stansted Airport only. What a cop out when there was nothing stopping trains from Birmingham reaching Peterborough! Admittedly some are worked by Cambridge crews but at least those resourced from Birmingham could have operated. Some trains on an irregular basis is better than none, especially when there seemed to be big delays in arranging replacement transport.
I was lucky. I managed to get a train from Peterborough at 13:52, later than my planned and booked departure, but believe it only operated because the train had been left in Peterborough station earlier in the morning by a Cambridge crew who had worked it from Birmingham. Luckily for me there was a Birmingham crew Cambridge who came by taxi to Peterborough and took the train back to Birmingham.
A claim for a refund was made to CrossCountry the same day but almost a month later that refund is still awaited as CrossCountry confirmed that in September it was taking around 20 days to process Delay Repay claims against a normal target of ten days.
In respect of the train service response immediately following the incident Cross Country told SKM: “each event is different but the immediate situation is usually damage control to quickly plan to keep services moving as best as possible for passengers, and ensure we can manage the traincrew and fleet challenges.
“The main problem on the 19th August was the location of both trains and traincrew at the time of the route blockage. We had trains at Peterborough with Cambridge crews on board who could not make the return working, and similarly Birmingham crews at Cambridge. “With the resources available it was determined if we’d tried to run through to Peterborough we would have quickly run out of traincrew to work them back, leaving us unable to maintain the frequency between Birmingham and Leicester, where the road transport connection was. We also faced issues on the Cambridge side as were told we could not run to Ely as there were too many trains standing.
“Fortunately, we were able to build a plan to run through to Peterborough and back for the second day”.
The Rail Accident Investigation Branch is now carrying out a detailed investigation into the collision which occurred at 09:01 on 19th August 2021 when a freight train consisting of a class 66 locomotive and 36 container wagons struck a loaded farm trailer at Kisby user worked level crossing, situated near to March, in Cambridgeshire. The train driver applied the train’s emergency brake around six seconds before the collision occurred, but the train was still travelling at around 58 mph (93 km/h) when it struck the trailer.
As a result of the collision, the trailer parted from the tractor that was pulling it and was then dragged along by the train. The leading axle of the locomotive and an unladen wagon in the middle of the train also derailed. The train ran derailed for around 780 metres before it came to a stop.
Both the train and tractor drivers suffered shock following the accident and the train driver was also treated for minor injuries. The locomotive suffered significant structural damage during the accident and level crossing and track equipment were also extensively damaged. Train services were disrupted on both lines for four days while the train was recovered and repairs were made to the track and signalling infrastructure.
Kisby user worked crossing is fitted with a telephone and with user-operated powered (POGO) gates. These gates are not interlocked with the railway’s signalling system. Users are directed by signs at the crossing to use the telephones to obtain permission from the signaller before opening the crossing gates and crossing the railway. RAIB has been unable to find any evidence that a request to use the crossing was made by the driver of the tractor involved.
RAIB’s investigation will seek to identify the sequence of events which led to the accident, including the actions of the tractor driver and other users of the crossing. It will examine how the crossing was being managed and how the risks associated with its use were being assessed and mitigated by Network Rail.
Stagecoach WILL be taking coaches off its X5 Bedford-Oxford route
Just over a month ago we posed the question ‘Do coaches on the X5 Bedford-Oxford have a future?’ following suggestions and rumours that Enviro 400MMC double deck vehicles were to be used.
At the time Stagecoach East’s Managing Director Darren Roe was non-committal on the plans merely saying that coaches would remain on the route until further notice.
But, yesterday the Company broke cover and admitted that it is planning to remove the Volvo B11R/elite coaches from the route and replace them with double decks, known to be Enviro 400MMCs.
In an item on the Stagecoach East website the Company has confirmed that the buses will be repainted into the new Stagecoach ‘Distance’ livery and will also be upgraded with luggage racks and operational WiFi. They will also offer USB charging facilities and have leather seating.
Stagecoach also says that the conversion to double decks will also improve reliability on the X5, as well as the 905 Bedford-Cambridge on which the upgraded double deck buses will be used.
We suspect four or five of the coaches will be retained for the 99 Milton Keynes-Luton Airport route, but we do wonder if in the long-term single decks, such as Enviro 300s could be considered for that route.
Three of the 18-strong fleet of Volvo B11R/elite coaches have already been cascaded to Stagecoach South West for the Plymouth-Bristol Falcon service. We have not heard where the remaining surplus coaches will be heading.
Meet 'Turbo the Turtle'
from Avanti West Coast
Many years ago, perhaps too many to mention now I was involved in the naming of a Virgin Trains Pendolino ‘Penny the Pendolino’. It was. Fun campaign jointly with Alstom to create awareness of both train and Virgin’s train services amongst school-age children, (whilst also annoying at least one railway journalist who hated the unconventional name!).
Now we hear that Avanti West Coast’s has unveiled a new fun campaign titled “Feel Good Travel” aimed at encouraging people back to rail.
Spearheaded by Turbo, a rollerblading turtle, Feel Good Travel launched in the same week the West Coast Main Line operator reintroduced extra services on its Manchester, West Midlands and North Wales routes.
By encouraging people back to rail, the campaign will also help support the communities Avanti West Coast serves, including local businesses, and promote a more environmentally friendly travel choice.
The new campaign includes a 60 second television advert featuring Turbo whizzing around on his rollerblades and also appears on video-on-demand, out-of-home sites as well as radio, in print and digital media, and with supporting social activations.
The majority of filming for the advert took place in an around Manchester with a selection of rural shots in the village of Castleton. The final scene shows one of Avanti West Coast’s iconic Pendolinos crossing Twemlow Viaduct in Cheshire.
Kate Squires, Marketing Director, Avanti West Coast said: “We really want to inject a feel good vibe when people think about travelling with us. That’s the purpose of this campaign.
“We’re incredibly excited to bring people back on-board and shout about all of the great reasons why it’s the best way to get around. This is the perfect way to do it.”.
So our challenge to Avanti West Coast now is: dare you name a Pendolino ‘Turbo the Turtle’?
You can view the Avanti West Coast campaign video here:
More variations of the new Stagecoach 'Local' livery
A whistle-stop visit to Nuneaton recently saw us admiring the freshly repainted Enviro 200s of Stagecoach Midlands. Their coat of many (Stagecoach Local) colours certainly was bright, but there again the weather was dry!
But this could have been a completely different livery scheme to the one we are used to seeing on Stagecoach East Enviro 200s. Biggest difference was the lack of any black painted areas around the windows and on the front and rear light clusters. The area around the edges under the rear roof line were also painted on Midlands vehicle but are black on the East examples. The lack of a grille under the rear window also means that there is no black on the Midlands vehicles.
Despite Stagecoach launching its new livery last year, we seriously wonder whether any consideration has been given to q definitive General Arrangement drawing for repaints. The impression we get is that it is a case of ‘paint it to look something like this!”
This may be not be our last comment on the new Stagecoach liveries.
Images © Steven Knight Media
Bumpy Pathway Ahead
You may recall that a few weeks ago we reported on the state of the pathway alongside the River Nene in Peterborough.
Well, we have managed to get an update through a further Freedom of Information request with Peterborough City Council.
Despite the footpath showing further deterioration since we last reported on the issue noting has been done and it seems that nothing is planned to be done imminently. Brushing that aside (or into the hole in the footpath!) Peterborough City Council remains adamant that there are no long-term plans to permanently close the footway but that the repair is the responsibility of the Freeholder Management Company.
Walking near the site on a regular basis it certainly looks as if the retaining wall alongside the River is also showing signs of subsidence damage so will we now see the River closed to users - it already has ‘Danger’ warning signs fitted.
Back to the FOI response and Peterborough City Council says that it has been in regular contact with the Freeholder management company but that it has still not received any information on timescales or plans to address the subsidence issue.
When questioned about permanent closure of footpath Peterborough City Council told us: “Currently there are no plans to permanently close this section of Henry Penn Walk. The footway is currently closed due to safety concerns and the continued deterioration”.
Bus Times Return
Top marks to Stagecoach Midlands who have restored printed timetable information to many of its bus stops. This is how it should be, although a tidier fitment would improve the appearance at this bus stop! There is still too many bus stops around the company that ‘due to frequent timetable changed’ timetables are still not displayed.
This was the display on a stop on Tuttle Hill in Nuneaton and we hope that all those operators around the country who still refuse to display timetable information take note. If you fail to provide clear, concise and up to date information at bus stops it will certainly deter prospective passengers.
This is not what we need when bus companies should be working hard to get passengers back onto their services.
Images © Steven Knight Media
Will they go, or will they stay?
Do coaches on the X5 Bedford-Oxford have a future?
Since the X5 Oxford-Cambridge service, operated by Stagecoach East, was truncated at Bedford, the plan has been for the Volvo B11R/elite coaches to operate the X5 Oxford-Bedford leg, whilst Enviro 400MMC double decks have been allocated to the replacement Bedford-Cambridge 905 service.
The coaches are also used on the 99 Milton Keynes-Luton Airport route, which has its roots in the Virgin Trains Rail Link service which was launched in 1998.
But there are stirrings with rumours that the coaches may be banished from the X5 and the route converted to Enviro 400MMCs. The coaches are now also high mileage.
Stagecoach said that it was “unable to comment on the plans for the X5 yet, the service will continue with coaches until further notice” when it was contacted by SKM for a comment.
The statement added: “all bus companies are having challenges at the moment, and we are working through a series of scenarios to try and ensure we provide the best customer service we can whilst we are still under government support, which we know at some point will reduce and eventually end”.
However, three of the 18-strong coach fleet were ‘whisked away’ from Stagecoach East’s Bedford depot at the start of August 2021 and have become part of the Stagecoach South West fleet. Just one Enviro 400MMC (10499) has transferred the other way although we have seen suggestions that two more are due.
Immediately following the loss of the three coaches, a shortage of serviceable Volvo B11Rs due to maintenance requirements and one vehicle away at ADL Anston, Enviro 400MMCs had to be pressed into service on the X5. On 12thAugust this included 11279, which is the vehicle that has received the prototype fitment of the bridge alert technology that Stagecoach UK announced last week and which will now be fitted fleet-wide.
If a plan to put Enviro 400MMCs onto the X5 and ditch the coaches is developed, and at the moment it is merely our guess, then we would suggest that in addition to the suggested two Enviro 400mMCs reported to be coming from the South West fleet then the balance of eight vehicles could see Peterborough lose its remaining eight Enviro 400MMCs to Bedford, although we haven’t been able to piece the jigsaw together to predict what will replace them in Peterborough. It could be Enviro 400s from within the Stagecoach East fleet or cascaded stock from elsewhere in Stagecoach UK, maybe Manchester could be a source. Only time will tell.
Images © Steven Knight Media
Stagecoach East wins Demand Responsive trial in West Hunts
Stagecoach East, at the second attempt, has been awarded a six month contract to operate a new Demand Responsive Transport contract in West Huntingdonshire.
The contract award notice was published on 19th July 2021 and is worth £240,000. It has been let by Cambridgeshire & Peterborough combined Authority. The award notice has a start date on 2nd August, although this had been delayed.
The contract award notice says that the six month trial project is to determine relative trip generation and economic viability of Demand Responsive Transport, compared to conventional bus services, in West Huntingdonshire. No information has been published on the operational area for the new DRT services.
The terms of the tender state that the winning company will provide or contract in vehicles, drivers, vehicle operations and maintenance, fuel and insurance, a web-based App with real time route booking and scheduling and a fall-back manually assisted booking service.
SKM understands that Stagecoach East is readying a fleet of five Optare Solo SRs (48032-36) to operate the service. They are being painted into an all over white scheme onto which we would expect suitable DRT branding to be applied.
Image © Steven Knight Media
Nature reclaiming the busway
We managed to take a trip along the Cambridge Busway recently, for the first time in around 18 months. We chose to travel on one of the mega 98-seat Volvo B8L/ADL Enviro 400XLBs but must admit the ride quality was not as we remembered.
Nothing against the bus, although there did seem to be some lateral movement at times. No, the real issue was the ride over the joints on the concrete trackway. We suspect this will only get worse. That said, the Busway still provides a fast link between St Ives and Orchard Park or St Ives and Cambridge North, where bus speeds are generally reduced as they join the main roads into Cambridge.
What was noticeable was how nature has really reclaimed the land alongside the Busway and that’s no bad thing. Wildflowers have taken root and returning a few days later and walking along the Busway from just East of Swavesey to St Ives there were vast numbers of insects and birds to be seen in what has become a long and thin nature reserve.
And the speed of the passing buses is doing a great job in spreading the seeds of the plants lining the Busway. There is no doubt that buses along the Busway are doing their bit for the environment.
Images © Steven Knight Media
'Uneven Footway' -
now that really is an understatement!
Given the added focus on Health & Safety we are really surprised that the solution to major footpath subsidence on Henry Penn Walk in Peterborough is merely to close the footpath.
The problem isn’t new, the first signs were in October 2017, a little short of four years ago.
Henry Penn Walk is a footpath along the city side of the River Nene and starts near Town Bridge enabling access along to Thorpe Meadows.
Initially the cracks were repaired but the repairs did not hold and in May 2018 barriers were put around the damaged area, but with no repairs the subsidence continued and a section of the footpath was completely sealed off in October 2019. In August 2021 that still remains the case….
In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request last year from Steven Knight Media, Peterborough City Council said: “Initially we undertook repairs to the footpath as this is under our ownership. However once it was determined that the retaining structure was moving we undertook investigations to determine the owner of the retaining structure”.
In its FOI response Peterborough City Council added that it does not intend to take any further action on the problem saying: “As we are not the owner of the retaining structure we do not have a work plan. We are in frequent contact with the freeholder on the matter and they are working with their insurer to assess the issue and undertake the necessary corrective works”.
It certainly looks as through the retaining structure is now showing visible signs of damage and warning signs have been fitted on the river side of the structure. As for the footpath it is now showing terminal signs, but don’t be taken in by the extent of the damage - the sign at the Town Bridge end of the footpath merely advises that there is an uneven footway.
We are attempting to find out the latest position with any planned repairs, as we suspect are the occupants of the adjacent flats.
Images © Steven Knight Media
Stagecoach plans new national customer centre: what will it mean for local OpCo information?
News reaches us that Stagecoach is to employ 80 people in both full time and part time roles at its headquarters in Perth, Scotland as it sets up a new customer contact centre.
The new operation will come into play in the Spring of 2022 and provide a seven-day a week service, and move towards extended operating hours on both weekdays and weekends within the first year.
Whilst the dedicated call centre will create new jobs we suspect that a number of jobs will be phased out at local company level as work is transferred to the new customer contact centre. This sounds like a retrograde step and will cast aside much local knowledge.
The current specialist call centre which oversees Stagecoach Smartcard enquiries, and which is based in Stockport, will not be impacted by the creation of the new customer call centre.
A Stagecoach Spokesperson told Steven Knight Media that: “There will be one easy point of contact that customers can use to speak to a member of the Stagecoach team on any queries they have, including questions about timetables, feedback on services, help with smartcards and lost property. Customers will also be able to buy tickets directly through the new shared service contact centre.
“Major investment is being made in a new customer relationship management system to help provide tailored support, better understand customers’ end-to-end journeys, and quickly address any emerging common issues”.
Currently there are various processes within the different Stagecoach Operating Companies (OpCos) on how timetable, fares and lost property enquiries are handled. These can be through dedicated information teams, marketing teams or reception/general admin teams. Generally this information service is only provided between 09:00 and 17:00 on Monday to Fridays.
The fine detail of how the individual Stagecoach OpCo Social Media channels will be impacted is still being discussed, but we understand that the likely outcome is that some activity will move into the new contact centre but some will have to stay with the local operating companies.
“The search”, says Stagecoach, “is now underway to fill a senior role to head up the new contact centre the centre, with customer advisor job roles expected to be advertised in the autumn”.
Carla Stockton-Jones, UK Managing Director for Stagecoach, said: “This is a clear demonstration of our commitment to providing the best possible service to customers.
“Our major investment in a dedicated new customer contact centre will allow us to provide a significantly improved service, and our highly-skilled and trained team will have all the latest information on our services and UK-wide network at their finger-tips to be able to quickly help our customers.
“There is a huge opportunity to attract people to more sustainable public transport in the years ahead as national governments look to move to net zero. Delivering the best experience to every single customer is central to helping people make the switch away from cars to public transport.
“The new central contact point will allow us to provide extended opening hours and a seven day service so we’re there to support our customers when and how they need us.”
It might say 'Gold' on the box
but is it 'Gold' inside the box?
When Stagecoach introduced its new family of brands and liveries we were led to believe that the Stagecoach Gold brand was being swept aside.
Well, now we are not quite sure, especially with a recent comment provided to SKM by Stagecoach.
Despite several operating companies pulling back from marketing the brand, it seems that until a few weeks ago, Stagecoach continued to actively push the product on its Stagecoach Bus website.
The website until just a few weeks ago was telling us that “Stagecoach Gold is a luxury bus service available at no extra cost”, adding that “Our blue and gold buses have leather seats, extra legroom, friendly and welcoming drivers.
“And, what’s more you can use any Stagecoach bus ticket to travel in style”.
We were also told that Stagecoach Gold has “friendly, specially trained, uniformed drivers”. But at some companies we know that the ‘Gold’ routes are no longer on special rotas and drivers no longer wear special uniforms.
Well, if Stagecoach Gold remains part of the brand portfolio then we don’t understand why the new Scania/Enviro 400MMCs currently being delivered to Stagecoach West carry ‘Distance’ rather than Stagecoach Gold livery.
In other areas of Stagecoach’s operation, it is becoming common to see ‘Gold’ branded buses on other routes. Nothing wrong with that if the brand is being retired but it would be useful for passengers if the ‘Gold’ lettering and route branding was removed.
Above both Images © Steven Knight Media
We do firmly believe that the Stagecoach Gold offering is being dropped, but as we detail above, the Stagecoach Bus website until a few weeks ago said otherwise!
But we weren’t fooled by the website when we checked it in early July 2021.
Then, many of the links to timetables were ‘dead links’ or returned out of date information and in one case the route had not been operated by ‘Gold’ buses for many years. In another the timetable link refers to the correct route number but in a totally different area of the country, albeit served by the same OpCo.
We spoke to one OpCo and pointed out what we had found, and we note that the web page we had been viewing has now gone, but there still remains several references to Stagecoach Gold on the main Stagecoach Bus website.
Just this morning we have just found the following statement on the website: “We constantly invest in our fleet and some of this investment is to convert services to our Gold standard. Any enhancements like this will be advertised by Stagecoach in your area”. That suggests Gold is still seen as an ongoing brand.
When contacted for a comment Stagecoach told SKM: “Our plan is to replace the Gold livery with our new livery, and this is what you will have seen happening.
“In terms of the wider plan for (the) Gold (brand), due to the (Covid) pandemic, we are still reviewing what this means against our new brand strategy and will communicate more on this later in the year”.
So ‘Gold’ could continue as a brand concept, or it may not.
Getting the basics right is key to ensuring potential passengers can be converted into actual passengers and we await with interest what the future holds for the Stagecoach Gold brand and details on how it will, be marketed to passengers if it is to continue.
No immediate return to full WiFi provision on Stagecoach buses
Stagecoach Bus has no immediate plans to return the provision of WiFi to those routes where it was ‘turned off’ last year.
The routes involved include some high-profile long distance ones.
Stagecoach said at the time that “From 26th October (2020), we are temporarily switching off Wi-Fi on many of our buses. Like many organisations, we’re reviewing all aspects of our operation as we continue through the Covid-19 pandemic with a focus to make sure we can continue running safe and reliable services for you. We’ve found that many customers are not using the bus Wi-Fi, especially on shorter local bus journeys”.
Fast forward to 22nd July 2021 and Stagecoach has told SKM “We are keeping the WiFi situation under review, but as yet, there are no plans to reintroduce it.”
The company spokesperson added: “as we are still receiving government support, we are being responsible over additional costs within the business”
Stagecoach has not disclosed how much it has saved by turning off WiFi on the majority of its buses.
A Stagecoach source told SKM that the company had not received “much feedback” from passengers about the removal of the WiFi facility, which seems to suggest it's not seen as a major issue.
The Stagecoach Bus website suggests that WiFi is still available on the following services, although we would question whether the ADL Enviro 400MMCs used on the 905 Bedford-Cambridge route are even equipped with WiFi facilities.
Cambridge Park and Ride
Bedford and Cambridge - 905
Edinburgh Airport - 747
Merseyside and South Lancashire
Liverpool - all routes (except service 22 Chester - West Kirby)
Preston - X2 Preston - Southport – Liverpool
Chester - Chester Park & Ride services
Tees Valley - Tees Flex
Brackley - Bicester - 505
Winchester Park & Ride
Guildford - 1 & 2
Canterbury Park & Ride
Canterbury – Unibuses
Traws Cymru - T4 , T14
Kilmarnock - 1, 11, X76
Ayr - X77
Dumfries - X74
Ardrossan - 11, X36/X34
Cumbernauld - X25/X28, X19.
Avanti Pendolinos to get ultimate £117million makeover
Image © Avanti West Coast
I had to pinch myself. Has it really been 20 year since I was involved in the media and stakeholder launch programme for the (then) Virgin Trains Pendolinos. The answer is yes and time has come for the trains to get a major refurbishment.
Avanti West Coast told us this week that it has kicked-off the UK’s biggest ever train fleet upgrade, as the first Pendolino (390125) was taken out of service for work to begin on the £117m project. This first set to be refurbished, which has travelled over 5.1 million miles, will go through a rigorous testing and acceptance regime as is not due to return to service until the end of the year.
“The programme”, says Avanti West Coast, “will transform all 56 of Avanti West Coast’s iconic Pendolinos. The trains are widely regarded as the UK’s hardest working train fleet, clocking up more than 270 million miles since they were launched - enough to go to the moon and back more than 500 times”.
The work will return the whole Pendolino fleet to an ‘as new’ condition.
Customer improvements include:
A refurbished 11 carriage Pendolino will have 607 seats. 508 will be in Standard Class, up from the current 444 (an increase of 9.6%). The remaining 99 will be split across First and Standard Premium.
“The Pendolino is a real workhorse which has helped to transform services on the West Coast Main Line,” explained Phil Whittingham, Managing Director for Avanti West Coast. “This investment will take them to the next level and they’ll feel like new trains with state of the art technology and brand new seats. I can’t wait to see the reaction from our customers and people.”
Rail manufacturer Alstom will oversee the refurbishment at their new depot in Widnes in the North West securing 100 skilled jobs.
The upgrade programme will run until February 2024 when the last of the 56 strong fleet is expected to leave Widnes.
Image © Avanti West Coast
Pole position as Stagecoach masterminds sporting event travel
Image © Steven Knight Media
Image © Martyn Sacaloff
There is no denying, when it comes to providing transport at major events then Stagecoach certainly knows how to do it.
The aim is to make the operation seamless on the day, but to do that there is a huge amount of planning needed that takes many months. Indeed, within a few days of each event there will be a detailed debrief and an action plan devised to include ‘lessons learned’. This is a part of the learning curve and helps in developing the strategy for future events.
Over the past weekend Stagecoach South East has managed the operation at the Open Golf tournament whilst in the south Midlands, Stagecoach Midlands has co-ordinated activity for the British Grand Prix.
Having been involved with Stagecoach at Silverstone in the past it is a major operation which requires the support of other Stagecoach Operating Companies. For this year buses and drivers are drafted in from Stagecoach East, Stagecoach West, Stagecoach South, Stagecoach South Wales, Stagecoach London, Stagecoach East Midlands and Stagecoach Yorkshire.
Images Left and Above © Martyn Sacaloff
For some drivers it’s a day shift seeing them return to their home depots at the end of each day. For others they are provided with a hotel locally.
In total there were 70 vehicles on the Friday, 177 on the Saturday and 275 on the Sunday. Some drivers will have done one or two days, others will have done all three. They were accompanied by over 50 support staff from across the business - admin staff, controllers, supervisors, engineers, cleaners, managers, etc.
The Stagecoach contract for Silverstone generally calls transport to/from the Circuit from a number of Park & Ride sites. Stagecoach also provides transport for marshals, officials and media within the Silverstone circuit.
Stagecoach Midlands also runs special services from Milton Keynes and Northampton to Silverstone Circuit and a network of longer distance Megabus services are also operated.
The sheer number of buses required is to some extent due to the revised road layout which is put in place around the Circuit. That means, with few exceptions, drivers and buses are only able to operate one trip to/from the circuit. Whilst I was involved at the Sixfields Park & Ride site up to 12 of the first departures to the Circuit returned to Sixfields to do a second trip, however, they were grouped in a convoy and given a Police escort out of the Circuit. On occasions a similar arrangement existed for the drivers on the first departures following the race.
Stagecoach Midlands Commercial Director Patrick Stringer told SKM: "Whilst the later start time for the race (and the 'Red Flag stoppage' meant that we had to run buses later than in previous years, we're used to dealing with such changes (either short notice or known in advance), and we still got everyone out by the time of the allotted last departures".
Behind the scenes arrangements had to be put in place to clean and fuel the buses as well as well as providing staff attending with refreshment facilities throughout the day along with a continual supply of bottled water.
Partrick stringer praised all of the Stagecoach staff involved in the operation: "We are immensely grateful to all staff who worked over the weekend in whatever capacity, whether that was at Silverstone directly or covering work at their home depot, be that locally at Midlands or at other Stagecoach companies; we are particularly thankful for all the efforts colleagues made in what were high temperatures and given that this was one of the busiest ever years, having been the first full public British F1 Grand Prix for 2 years.
"We've had some great feedback from passengers who were thankful for all the efforts we made to get them into the circuit and back again".
We had seen comments about traffic delays after the race but Patrick told us: "The traffic congestion wasn't particularly worse than any previous years, and whichever way you look at it there will always be delays when such a volume of traffic is all exiting the area in the same direction; the traffic marshals were really helpful at giving buses priority when leaving the bus park and it was an impressive sight to see convoys of buses leaving at frequent intervals".
Image Above © Martyn Sacaloff
Image Above © Martyn Sacaloff
Having missed out in 2020 due to Covid restrictions meaning the public was not admitted to the races at Silverstone, Stagecoach Midlands was keen to show what it could do this year - and it didn’t disappoint!
We leave the final comment to Patrick Stringer: "It really was the hottest and busiest weekend I've ever done at Silverstone but we got everyone in and out safely so it was definitely a success!"
Stagecoach F1 Photoview
Silverstone 2010 with former Stagecoac h West Scotland Tridents a recent transfer to Stagecoach West) and Stagecoach East Busway Scania/Enviro 400 in use on shuttles to Hinton and Sixfields
Images Above Both © Steven Knight Media
Above and Below: Silverstone 2005 with Olympians working many of the shuttle services
Both © Steven Knight Media
2009 and Stagecoach Oxfordshire Trident takes part
© Steven Knight Media
SKM at the 2010 Silverstone operation (right) with Stagecoach Midlands Marketing Manager Adam Rideout and Stagecoach East Controller/Inspector Joe Somers
© Gareth Evans (CBW)
Pre-event photoshoot from 2005
© Steven Knight Media
Leyland Olympian takes Pole Position on the Grid at Silverstone
© Stagecoach Midlands
Stagecoach to return 90-seat
Enviro 400XLBs to Busway B service
News reaches us from Stagecoach East that changes to the Busway timetable from 25th July 2021 will see the fleet of Volvo B8L/Enviro 400XLBs (13901-12) being returned to the Busway B service. For several months they have been restricted to the peak hour ‘C’ service between St Ives and Cambridge, which is being suspended for the school and college holiday period.
The B will revert to operating between Hinchinbrooke Hospital-Huntingdon-St Ives and will also revert to terminating in Drummer Street Bus Station in Cambridge. It will have a PVR of ten Enviro XLBs from the fleet of 12, although one 13907 is currently away at ADL Harlow for repairs. 13912, which received roof damage last year has recently returned to service.
The Busway A service will operate between St Ives-Cambridge city centre-Trumpington Park & Ride site with additional short journeys at peak times operating between Cambridge city centre and Trumpington. Ongoing road works means that Orchard Park and Shire Hall can only be served by the Busway A on journeys towards St Ives.
Stagecoach East had big plans for the Busway service at the start of 2020 but these were scrapped when the first Covid lockdown was announced. Time will now tell whether passenger numbers recover to pre-Covid levels and the 2020 plans have to be taken off the shelf, dusted down and looked at again.
Why are bus times
and fares so secretive
You have to hand it to the rail industry. The industry is extremely transparent when it comes to train times and fares. This is nothing new and has always been the case, although access to the wide range of fares has become the norm as online information has taken off. But in many cases printed information can still be obtained.
Such an approach is not ‘rocket science’. The rail industry provides a service. It has its competitors - mainly the private car - so making train times and fares readily available is an essential part of providing a public service.
So let’s turn to the bus industry. Why is the provision of comprehensive fares and timetable information still extremely ‘patchy’? Ask the question to some of the operators and they will try and hide behind the constant timetable changes as a result of the COVID pandemic meaning it’s not feasible to provide printed timetables.
That just doesn’t wash with us. The train companies have been able to provide continue to provide timetables despite changing service levels.
The first thing many bus companies did at the start of the pandemic and ‘Lockdown 1’ in March/April 2020 was to remove timetables from roadside bus stop display cases. Not helpful when times have changed and where many locations lack real time information displays. The solution was to direct potential passengers to the websites.
We must remember that not everyone can access the websites when out and about and also if we find a timetable on line can we be certain it is the latest one? Checking the timetables on a major group site last week presented us with timetables that were from three years ago and were clearly out of date. We knew they were wrong, but would the average intending passenger?
Navigation around company websites can also be difficult, even for the computer literate, and we prefer to use the excellent and independent site bustimes.com for our bus service information enquiries. Now if getting accurate bus times is a lottery then the ability get detailed information on fares is a real challenge.
Why, or why, do bus operators make it difficult - or impossible - to obtain detailed fare information. On a recent stay in North Yorkshire we planned a trip by bus but nowhere could we find a single fare. By deduction we found details of area tickets and identified the one we would need but we only intended to make a single journey. We struggled to navigate the company website so sent them a message. The response we received was a website link to the area ticket and the route timetable. We never did establish the price of a single ticket and as a result abandoned our plans - the bus company lost business.
Some operators have online fares tools but many of these require the user to know the exact name of the stop - where this is the case the Bustimes website can be invaluable as it list bus stops by name. This can be a real help.
In recent months we have also seen bus timetables where non-registered timing points carry a note that passengers should be at the stop five minutes before the time shown. Now the approximate time may only be two minutes later than the previous timing point which is registered with the Traffic Commissioners. So, what the company is saying is effectively its buses (in such a case) could leave a registered timing point three minutes early!
If the bus industry is to respond and grow post COVID, then it has to put passengers first. Provide passengers with the tools they need to use bus services again, or even encourage them to choose the bus over their current preferred mode of travel.
Passengers, and prospective passengers, need clear and concise timetable, route and fare information.
Post-COVID the industry has a real opportunity to get it right. We hope that they do so.
‘Deli’, ‘Dish’ and ‘Dine’ for LNER
First Class passengers
We’re excited. Why you may ask? Well , train operator LNER is slowly restoring catering on its trains and for First Class passengers the offering has been completely revised.
It seems there will be three different food options with initially all trains offering the ‘Deli’ option, which also sees the return of a wider range of hot and cold drinks served at seat. Gone are the disposable tea and coffee cups replaced by proper crockery.
This is a great move forward towards travel normality and on its website LNER says that over the next two months it will add ‘Dish’ and ‘Dine’ menus to selected trains, although it is keeping quiet on what these menus will include.
LNER says that: “Once all three of our menus are on our trains, passengers will be able to see which menu is on each train when booking tickets”.
It will also be possible to see the menu available on booked trains in the booking section of the ‘My account’ section of the LNER website.
We look forward to sampling ‘Deli’, ‘Dish’ and ‘Dine’ in the coming months.
Images © LNER/Website
A ‘RED’ day for ‘MIDLAND’ Buses
Anything that mentions Midland Red buses always catches our attention and a recent announcement from the Transport Museum in Wythall did just that.
The team at Wythall have announced that their special running event on Sunday October 3rd looks set to be a record day. The event commemorates 40 years since iconic Midlands based bus operator, Midland Red or Midland Red Omnibus Company Limited as it was then known and was one of the largest English bus companies, was split into six new regional entities in September 1981 by the National Bus Company.
The event will act as a reminder of the variety and engineering excellence that the company brought to the region in over eighty years of operation as, not only did it run services over a wide area; from the Welsh border in the west to Northamptonshire in the east, Derbyshire in the north to Gloucestershire in the south; it also built its own vehicles in Birmingham.
The museum’s Midland Red collection is the largest under one roof and includes a wide variety of the company’s vehicles from 1913 to 1976, many in running order. On the event day the museum intends to run eleven of its own vehicles with many more visiting from private owners and collections. The museum will show examples of SON, S12, S16, S22, S23, CM6 Motorway Express, LD8, D9, the unique D10 prototype, a D12 fresh from restoration plus a Leyland National. Visiting vehicles will include a C1 coach also fresh from a ‘nut and bolt’ restoration (joined by another C1 in private ownership), a C5 motorway coach, another D9, S15, S22 and S23 plus more.
The Transport Museum at Wythall is famed for its ‘happy hour’ service when buses will run an intensive service from the museum to the Maypole on the Birmingham city boundary. We intend to set a 21st century record for the numbers of MR vehicles we can muster for public service on a single day. It should be a sight to behold.
Images © Steven Knight Media
Timetable chaos for
East Midlands Railway
We welcomed the introduction of East Midlands Railway’s new ‘regional’ timetable in May 2021. More trains and improved journey opportunities were promised.
Look at what the company’s MD had to say a few weeks before the May timetable launch.
“Will Rogers, Managing Director of East Midlands Railway, said: “This new timetable represents an exciting new chapter for train services in the region and will bring significant benefits to the communities we serve.
What a difference a few weeks make. Within days of the new timetable coming into play there were numerous cancellations and then followed the following statement from the company.
“In recent weeks it has become apparent that our new timetable has not performed as expected resulting in short notice cancellations. We are sorry that we have not performed as we, or our customers, expect.
“Everyone at EMR is immensely disappointed but we have introduced a dedicated team to fix these issues and reinstate these services as swiftly as possible. We are working to understand the detailed reasons behind those areas which are not working well.
“While we fix these issues, we must introduce a reduced timetable which will run from Saturday 19th June until further notice. This will allow us to protect key services and routes such as those to Skegness - as well as ensuring we have sufficient capacity across the network. We will still run 85% of our normal timetable, which equates to over 460 trains per day. This reduction will help to reduce short notice cancellations and short forming which we know are immensely frustrating for our customers”.
Using percentages and total trains somehow hides the fact that the company has taken some 80 train services out of its’ regional timetable, but on some days more trains have been cancelled on an ad-hoc bases.
One of the issues that we understand the company may be looking at in detail is whether its plan was really too ambitious. It went from a reduced COVID-timetable to the new, enhanced, regional timetable.
We understand that driver training on the Class 170 units being transferred to EMR was behind schedule. It was paused due to COVID but is now back up and running, but has on occasions caused driver issues and it seems from the company’s own train running information on its’ website that there is a shortage of drivers.
Train guards and conductors are embroiled in a long-running industrial dispute which has seen a number of Sunday strikes coupled we believe with a failure to agree new rosters.
A look at EMRs’ website on most days shows short-formed trains, which we fail to understand as the company should have enough rolling stock.
We had hoped that after the debacle of 2018 and the timetable chaos on Northern and Thameslink/Great Northern following service changes that such an issue would not happen again. It seems it has. Back in 2018 there was a blame culture between the industry and Government which at the time included calls for the then Transport Minister to resign.
`This time it seems that EMR has accepted responsibility.
Chaos following timetable changes occurred pre-2018 and in the past c2c had to abandon a timetable change whilst in January 2003, just months after its Operation Princess launch on CrossCountry, Virgin Trains was forced to scale back some routes to make the core-network reliable.
Images © East Midlands Railway/Website and
© Virgin Trains/Virgin (Mileporst 92 1/2)
Avanti Pendolinos in the news
Our good friends at Avanti West Coast have advised us that a further two Pendolino trains, 390039 and 390045, have gained full Avanti livery wraps. Our Avanti source suggests that given 390039 is named Lady Godiva they have given her a set of new clothes to hide her modesty!
390039 and 390045 are the latest to get their full set of Avanti West Coast vinyls. Ironic given that 039 is named Lady Godiva!!
So that’s 24 of the 55 Pendolinos done, since 390119 carries Avanti’s Pride colours, Next up for ‘wrapping’ this week is 390132.
The full list of fully-branded Class 390s is: 103, 104, 008, 112, 117, 119 (Pride), 123, 125, 127, 128, 130, 134, 136, 137, 039, 141, 043, 044, 045, 047, 148, 049, 153, 155, 156.
Whilst taking about Avanti West Coast we must congratulate them on their recent speed record attempt between London and Glasgow. Although they failed to better the APT speed record by just 21 seconds they did create a new Pendolino speed record between the two cities of 3 hours 53 minutes and one second. The run took place on 17th June 2021 and sued Pendolino set 390044.
The previous Pendolino record of 3 hours 55 minutes and 27 seconds had stood since 22nd September 2006 when 390047 made a non-stop southbound run.
The fastest time between the London and Glashow remains held by the APT set (power cars 49003/06) which completed the run in 3 hours 53 minutes and 40 seconds in 1984.
Avanti West Coast and the wider rail industry are to be congratulated for attempting the speed run and no doubt a repeat could be on the cards in the future to grab the record from the APT.
It is no easy feat to plan a record breaking run on what is a busy railway system. The train path has to be chosen carefully and all potential conflicting train movements identified. A robust plan put in place to negate the conflict, which in some cases may add a few minutes delay to other trains.
The actual train then has to be selected, based on reliability and performance data. We understand that Avanti’s engineers had narrowed the choice down to 390008 and 390044, both chosen on their performance and also because they are fully branded.
390044 was appropriately named ‘Royal Scot’ at London Euston before its high speed run.
As was the case with the 2006 run, the driver was Preston-based, given that the route knowledge of Preston drivers extends from London to Glasgow (and Edinburgh).
Images © Avanti West Coast except
390047 high speed run © Virgin Trains/Virgin (Paul Furtek)
Stagecoach’s new identity: A strong re-brand or a waste of time?
We are confused by Stagecoach’s new livery policy so what hope for its passengers?
It has now been around sixteen months since Stagecoach launched its new image and the Company told us there would be three livery variations for its buses and coaches.
But how does the livery variations work? We must admit we have given up trying to understand the policy.
When launched it seemed there would be a generic livery (known as ‘Local’), a ‘Specialist’ version and a ‘Distance’ scheme. Sounds good on paper but what does it mean?
The standard livery, known as ‘Local’ lacks impact, but we have to accept it is here to stay. At least there is variety since despite being the main face of the bus operators’ brand there are numerous variations in the way that the livery has been applied. So far the ‘Local’ livery has not been watered-down with branding, other than the additional graphics on some open top vehicles in the South West of England. We do know a man who may have been able to create a bit more ‘desire’ in the new image though! In our view the livery is pale and weak and really needs strong primary colours with something other than the off-white base colour scheme which does a great job in showing off diesel fuel spills down the bodyside and poorly set bus wash brushes.
We do agree with the abolition of local branding though, it will stop the practice of leaving old regional branding on vehicles when they are transferred to other depots or even other Operating Companies.
Next we have a green ‘Specialist’ livery. What’s all that about? So far it has been applied to three Enviro 300s with Stagecoach East Midlands and a handful of Tridents and coaches with Stagecoach West. The East Midlands vehicles are supposedly for the Hull Park & Ride service whilst those with Stagecoach West are for schools services. We know that some of the Tridents and Enviro 300s have regularly been used on normal services. So what is the point of a livery variation. Do any passengers understand what it’s all about - we don’t!
Now lets move onto, what we consider to be the most impactful of the new liveries, the orange ‘Distance’ version. But let us pose a question. What is the criteria the defines the use of the ‘Distance’ livery?. Is it for routes over ten miles, over 20 miles, over 30 miles? We admit we just don’t know and we suspect the same applies to some management teams on the ground.
Yes, we have seen the ‘Distance’ livery applied to coaches in Scotland which are used on some longer routes and it is currently being applied to vehicles used by Stagecoach South on its 700 Brighton-Portsmouth ‘Coastliner’ service. Elsewhere we feel that the ‘Distance’ livery is being seen as a replacement for the ‘Stagecoach Gold’ brand. Let us not forget that ‘Stagecoach Gold’ was (we say it in the past-tense because it is would appear to be on the way out) the brand used for vehicles with an enhanced specification and not necessarily only for vehicles used on longer-distance routes - remember the original ‘Gold’ offering, then called ‘Goldline’ was used on vehicles operating town services in Perth and Leamington Spa.
So that brings us to the use of the ‘Distance’ livery on the new Scania/Enviro 400MMC vehicles currently entering service on the Gloucester-Cheltenham route. Is it being used because of the distance the route covers or is it seen as merely a replacement for the ‘Stagecoach Gold’ brand?
We have touched on the seemingly demise of the ‘Stagecoach Gold’ brand, although vehicles carrying the livery are likely to be around for some years to come pending a call into the paint shop. We also expect local branding, some of which has been around for years, to be quietly dropped.
But what of the three basic livery concepts. Well, since Stagecoach’s announcement in February 2020 other livery schemes have appeared.
The Enviro 400City/BYD electric vehicles operated in Manchester and Cambridge fleets carry two very different bespoke liveries.
In Cambridge the Busway vehicles carry an ocean green livery with ‘Busway’ branding but several other vehicles were repainted in the ocean green livery pending a massive uplift in Busway services. Due to Covid the service change was postponed and the vehicles were redeployed on normal services in Cambridge but with no branding. Perhaps there is an opportunity to apply some marketing branding and environmental messages onto these vehicles!
Then back in Manchester we have a new version of the ‘magicbus’ livery.
When the new liveries were launched Stagecoach did confirm that the Oxford Tube, Scottish Citylink and Megabus liveries and branding would be retained, albeit with a refresh and that has been the case.
There are two other liveries/brands that have proved to have strong passenger recognition and we are pleased to see them continuing. They deliver a brand identity to either a regional area or a interurban network. Where there is such a strong recognition it would be foolish to throw them away just for the sake of introducing the new image.
We are talking about the Stagecoach Cumbria & North Lancashire’s Lake District operation and Stagecoach East Midlands InterConnect network.
The team in Carlisle has worked hard over many years to create a Lake District identity and as investment in vehicles has taken place so the brand has evolved. Starting with a green-based version of the Stagecoach ‘Beach Ball” scheme the team, working with Ray Stenning and his designers, have created an integrated network identity. The vehicles carry a green-based livery with appropriate graphics and are marketed under the ‘Lakes Connection’ or ‘Lakesider’ brand. Such is the strength of the brand that all of the vehicles based at Kendal depot carry the Lakes identity, as do some working out of West Cumbria depot.
Across Lincolnshire we have the purple/lilac ‘Beachball’-inspired scheme for interurban services in the County and the repainting of vehicles into this scheme continues. The ‘Pronto’ livery and brand in the East Midlands fleet also has a strong passenger awareness.
Once passengers return post-COVID it will be interesting to see how they associate with the new image but we suspect Stagecoach will steer clear of research to get that information.
All images © Steven Knight Media except
Stagecoach ‘Specialist’ livery © Stagecoach Bus
Stagecoach ‘Distance’ livery © Stagecoach West/Twitter
Manchester Electric Bus livery © Stagecoach Manchester/Twitter
Sorry Looking DMU at Grosmont
We fully understand that the locomotives and rolling stock on preserved railways needs to be taken out of use for major overhaul on a planned basis. However, we were saddened to see this Class 101 Metro-Cammell diesel multiple unit recently on the North York Moors Railway.
We certainly get the impression from the collecting moss on the bodyside and windows that it has been out of use for some time, although we accept that the damp conditions in the area will have speeded up the accumulation of moss.
The train cuts a sorry sight and we wonder why the railway has not covered it with a tarpaulin to help protect the train from further weather damage, whilst also hiding its poor appearance from passengers on passing trains and walkers on the Goathland-Grosmont Rail Trail path.
Our images show the train in June 2021 and also in a much better condition when in regular use on the railway.
Bus companies help the NHS
It has been pleasing to see the way that bus companies around the country have adapted their services, or operated special shuttle services, to serve the main NHS COVID vaccination sites. It really demonstrates that when needed bus companies can still rise to the challenge of providing as real socially-needed service.
We are also pleased to see that a number of companies have adapted buses into mobile vaccination vehicles.
Well done to all of our bus companies who have risen to the challenge and supported the NHS.
What we hope is that beyond the current vaccination programme these specially converted buses don’t just get parked up at depots and then sent for scrap. They could still have a strategic use in the future.
What we would like to see is these mobile vaccination vehicles either gifted to the NHS, if they would be able to make use of them or donated to other voluntary organisations.
Copyright @ Steven Knight Media 2022