I Wanna Ride The Bus!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

New look titles

Having worked out a little bit more HTML, I decided that it was time to have some sort of image greeting visitors to the blog. Obviously, being a bus-related blog, did I want to have one of a load of buses, a bus stuck in traffic, or something else?

So I grabbed by trusty Canon EOS 350D, fitted the fantastic 28-135mm IS USM lens which I bought about a month after the camera, and headed out to Chapel Street in Salford, where it's nearly impossible not to find a bunch of buses.

I fired up the camera, and as the light was, well grey and bad, I took a couple of test shots to get a feel for the conditions (something that you can do with a digital camera,) tried to look at them, and realised that the CF card was still in the card reader at home.


So back home I went, grabbed the card and flew back to the shooting location.

Still without a final choice of image in my mind, I decided to experiment with a range of shots.

This image was almost the one that I finally chose, I like the look of the person staring out of the bus window a the bus went by, it's a puzzled, sort of complentative look. I like the grey clouds overhead, I don't think that this shot would have been easy to get if it wasn't in somewhere like Manchester.

I decided to try and get a pan-and-shoot shot of a bus going past, which came up with this little gem.

The final shot of the day was the one I finally used, I was fiddling with the camera settings and suddenly saw a huge gap in the traffic and a bus about to fly past. I took aim, slowed down the shutter and clicked the button. The result (after a little bit of editing) is, of course on the title.

I hope you like it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Blog delayed...

Apologies for not updating the blog for a fair while, that's down to work (or the shifts) catching up with me leaving me feeling somewhat lagged.

It is to be expected, it takes about 6 months to get used to the shifts that we do (variable rosters, a week of early shifts followed by a week of late shifts,) and when I started the blog, I had just returned to my normal work after about three months off due to an injury. Any longer, and I think I would have wound up brain dead from watching daytime TV.

Anyway, I have a day off tomorrow, and I intend to use it wisely. You may well see a considered update, if I have time to consider it fully.

In the meantime, I've updated the blogroll to include a blog from the other side of the ticket machine, a bus driver's blog belonging to a driver in Torquay. It's called "Bus Driving" funnily enough...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Regulated Buses

I would like to thank Rail Temp once again for offering to write something about buses in London. He has written a very long and in depth article about how regulated buses work in London, and has even compared some elements of bus travel in Greater Manchester.

His post goes way above what I was expecting. So I'll shut up now, and hand over to Rail Temp.

Given I'm writing this for GM Traveller, this wee article is solely going to cover what Transport for London do with regards to London's bus services.

London Buses Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London, and is responsible for planning routes, specifying service levels, monitoring service quality, managing bus stations, bus stops and other support services and, most importantly, awarding contracts to private operators to run the buses.

It is at this point that we need to go back in time to 1985, when bus services outside London were deregulated. In simple terms, this meant that any operator could apply to run a new route even if another company already ran a service along the same roads. A classic example of this can be found on the Wilmslow Road "corridor" in Manchester, where you have no less than six operators running buses over the "core" section of route (Manchester City Centre to East Didsbury), all using the same route number, but none accepting each other's tickets. If you want an "interavailable" ticket, you either have to buy a DaySaver (at a cost of £3.20 off-peak, £3.50 peak, for buses only), or a Bus Saver (only available in 7 Day, 28 Day and Annual versions).

Originally, it was intended that London's buses should also be deregulated once they had become less dependent on Government funding and steps had been taken to encourage greater competition between operators.

In preparation for this, London Regional Transport set up London Buses Limited to run its bus services, and simultaneously set up the Tendered Bus Division to begin the process of competitive tendering, requiring LBL to compete against private sector operators for the opportunity to run individual routes on behalf of LRT.

The routes were awarded to the operator which could run the best service at the most cost-effective price, and several of the initial routes went to private companies. Another change being the introduction of vehicles in new liveries, rather than the traditional red.

With deregulation still on the cards, LBL created 12 local subsidiaries, namely Centrewest, East London, Leaside, London Central, London Forest, London General, London Northern, London United, Metroline, Selkent, South London, Westlink. London Forest failed to reach sale in 1994/5, so was broken up and split between Leaside (now Arriva London North) and East London (now Stagecoach East London).

In December 1992, the Government announced that the LBL subsidiaries would be privatised ahead of deregulation. A year later, however, they decided that deregulation would be postponed until after the General Election in May 1997.

Following the election of a Labour Government at that election, all thoughts of deregulation were swept away, and London Regional Transport was replaced by a new body, called Transport for London, which is part of the Greater London Authority, headed by London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

The net result of all this is that London's bus network is being used by more passengers than at any time since the 1960s. It's also one of the largest in the world, with some 8000 buses, on 700 routes, carrying more than 6 million passengers a day. It's not really surprising, therefore, that a joint report by the Audit Commission and National Audit Office last year found London's bus network was "leading the way in the UK".

The first contracts were, as now, let on a gross cost basis. However, from the mid 1990s, net cost contracts were introduced. These involved bus operators retaining the cash revenue paid to the driver as well as a proportion of travelcard revenue received by London Transport.

Under these "net cost" contracts, operators tendered on the basis of the lowest subsidy required, with the anticipation that there would be a strong incentive for operators to improve the quality of service provided to increase patronage and, therefore, profitability.

Unfortunately, such contracts don't take into account the "turn up and go" nature of the demand on bus networks, and operators would often add a premium to cover the risk of losing revenue due to circumstances outside their control, such as long term roadworks. Another disadvantage was that operators' revenues were directly affected by any changes London Transport made to the bus network, which also resulted in operators' contracts being constantly adjusted to take account of the changes.

In the late 1990s, London Transport decided to switch back to gross cost contracts, meaning they kept all of the revenue, and paid the commercial operators a fixed amount for running the route.

This switch was intended as an interim measure, to halt the award of net cost contracts, during the development of new "Quality Incentive" contracts. This was of little comfort to passengers and operators, however, as performance got worse, and although the contracts took inflation into account, they didn't adequately cover the rising costs of fuel and staff, leaving operators making substantial losses, which pushed up the cost of newly tendered contracts by a considerable amount.

Ultimately, this approach led to one operator, Harris Bus, going into administration, and as no other operator was willing to take over their routes, London Buses was left with the unenviable task of creating a new subsidiary, East Thames Buses, to operate the routes, initially from Ash Grove Garage in Hackney, and now from a garage in Mandela Way (just off the Old Kent Road, near the Bricklayer's Arms roundabout) and from an industrial unit in Belvedere Industrial Estate, near the River Thames.

Quality Incentive Contracts (QICs) were finally introduced in Autumn 2001 in response to the rising costs and declining performance of the previous contract regimes. They were also intended to help achieve the Mayor's stated aim of increasing bus ridership by 40% by 2011, to renew the fleet and improve reliability.

The QICs are a form of gross cost contract where payment is linked to reliability in terms of bus arrivals at stops. London Buses sets a standard for each route, and operators can lose up to 10% of the contract price, or get a bonus of up to 15%, depending on how well they measure against the standard.

In addition, the contract can be extended from 5 to 7 years, depending on performance of both reliability and mystery traveller surveys, the latter assessing things like vehicle condition, cleanliness, visibility of bus blinds, and ride quality.

When an Invitation to Tender (ITT) is issued, it includes a specification of the routeing, frequencies and vehicle type required. It also specifies the reliability and proportion of operated kilometres that are expected to be achieved.

Operators then submit their bids, taking into account all of the elements for which they are responsible, such as the cost of drivers, fuel, vehicles, service control, garage and office premises, engineering support, insurance, etc.

On average, each route receives three tenders, which London Buses then evaluate on value for money, taking into account the cost and anticipated performance of the operator during the life of the contract.

In most cases, the operator with the lowest tender will win, but there are a few examples where a more expensive bid is chosen, such as an operator bidding for a group of complimentary routes.

Another big difference between London and the rest of the country is that fares are set by London Buses, rather than the individual operators. As a result, a single fare on a bus anywhere in London will currently cost you £1.50 in cash, or either £1 or 80p if you have a Pay As You Go Oystercard, which works much the same way as PAYG Mobile Phones, in that you "load" the card with a certain amount of money, then use that instead of cash when you travel, saving money in the process. And if you only travel by bus on a given day, you'll pay no more than £3, as your expenditure is automatically capped.

Finally, London Buses also monitor the performance of the operators. In addition to those required for the QIC checks, they perform Driver Quality Monitoring (undertaken by the Driving Standards Agency on behalf of LBL), Inspections of vehicle quality (undertaken by the Freight Transport Association), Wheelchair Ramp Avaliability checks and customer satisfaction surveys.

Bus and coach services operating within London, but outside of the London Buses network, have to have a London service permit. This does not, however, apply to rail replacement bus services, express services carrying fare-paying passengers for more than 15 miles, or services that are provided free of charge.

Examples of services operating under LSPs are the "Hotel Hoppa" services operated by National Express in the Heathrow Area; the various National Express long distance services that call at Heathrow Airport or Golders Green; Sightseeing Tours; certain commuter coaches and various school services.

As well as London Service Permits and tendered routes, London Buses have negotiated with a number of commercial operators to accept TfL passes and permits on sections of their routes within the Greater London Area, under a London Local Service Agreement. Examples of these include Arriva Kent & Sussex route 402 (Bromley North - Royal Tunbridge Wells), Arriva Kent Thameside routes 370 and 373 (Romford - Grays), Metrobus route 409 (Croydon - East Grinstead) and Metroline route 84 (New Barnet - St Albans).

Bus blogs

You wait ages for one, and then three turn up all at once.

After enduring a Piccadilly Gardens day to forget, which will be the subject of a post when I've calmed down, I arrived home to find a comment left behind from Geoff, a bus user who takes the 43 into and out of South Manchester. He asked if we could exchange links, his blog is new (about a week old,) but it's of very high literal quality, so onto the blogroll he goes. His site, by the way is aptly called 43

Next up, is one from a little further afield, and it's a blog that I wouldn't have found if it wasn't for Geoff asking for a link.

Mfebber's Bus Blog is an established blog about her bus ride to and from work in Arizona, and the blog is again of high quality. I've asked her for a link, but even if she chooses not to do so, her site is so good it's on the roll on quality grounds alone.

Links should open in a new window.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The "ND" Blues (2)

Since I've been watching what goes on at this stupidly sited stop, it's 2 days, 2 trips, and 2 cases of seeing people risk life and limb to get a bus from this stop.

I've reported it as badly-sited and dangerous to the PTE.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Stupid Place For A Bus Stop

Not my words, but the words of a bus driver this afternoon trying to get into and out of the stop opposite the shining glass thing which houses M&S' car park entrance and several posh shops at the cathedral end of Deansgate.

I have to agree.

Prior to the majority of buses heading in and out of Manchester used the Blackfriars Bridge / Victoria Bridge route, that's oh, about six years ago now, there wasn't a stop there, just a building site as this one one of the parts of Manchester wrecked by the 1996 IRA bomb, so buses used to be able to get onto Blackfriars Street pretty easily bu just sitting in the right hand lane there.

With me so far? Good.

When Shudehill opened on the 29th January, several new stops were built. One of the new stops is the one that I wrote about at the top of thie post, it's called "ND" and has the glorious location title of "St Mary's Gate / Deansgate"

The stop was part of a lay-by for the loading and unloading of the small trading establishments built under the now not-so-huge glass block, and that part of Deansgate has been a problem for traffic for a number of years. I try to avoid driving down Deansgate if I can when in a car, as you can sit there for ages in a queue.

Buses have to dive into the lay-by, then try and get out into the right-hand lane to turn right and down Blackfriars Street. It's made harder by the idiots who park in the bus stop or right in front of it. If there's a whole stack of buses (see my post about buses running on top of each other,) then it's very hard to signal to the driver that you want the bus to stop.

It's also a very busy stop with no shelter. Many people who used to use the Corporation St swathe of stops have to hunker down here against the elements which plague the city. The next stop, Blackfriars Street is extremely busy also, and has one tiny shelter wholly unsuited to the demand placed upon it.

So not only was Shudehill a complete mistake, but the errors are compounded by having completely unsuitable facilities for those who are forced to use the new stops.

Regulated transport praised

I was directed to this little snippet by regular reader Rail Temp who found an article in his industry publication. Although I've wanted to post solely my own material I've copied the bulk of his article below.

I've also contacted him and he's prepared to write an article for this blog about what TfL does. That's very kind of him, as I've got no idea of how far their influnce spreads.

Transport for All

Transport for London has been such a success, argues the Local Government Association, that equivalent authorities should be created in all major cities: Transport for Birmingham, Transport for Liverpool, and Transport for Manchester.

The new transit authorities would have the power to determine rail, tram and bus routes and fares. Says Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics, "For too long the scatter-gun approach to local transport has hurt the economic vitality of many cities in the country. Setting up TfL has been a success and it is a model that should be copied across the country."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Another Fine Mess

I don't often take the bus into Manchester first thing in the morning. Normally the shifts I do mean that I have to be in work before the buses start, so it was a rare treat to be able to take the bus into work today for a morning start.

However, I had a bit of a shock on the 67 bus today, for some reason or other, GMPTE think fit to run the buses on a different route into Manchester city centre outside of main shopping hours. It appears that the route 8 runs on it's old route through to the Shudehill turn and then to the bus station, while the others go over Blackfriars bridge, and then turn left onto Corporation Street.

Why, is anybody's guess. The route through Victoria Station is beneficial to public transport users as it provides a direct interchange with the rail network and stations all over the north of Manchester and other locations in Yorkshire. The alternative route serves two different bus stops that the PTE deem are suitably served, as all outbound routes go through Victoria Station.

It is this kind of mixed-up thinking that puts people off using public transport. After all, who knows where you're going to end up?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Commercial Freedom

This post was inspired by Railway Temp's comment left behind earlier today. He wrote: "...the commercial operators are free to do what they like, so you end up with empty buses following ones that are packed to the gunwhales."

Commercial freedom means that operators are free to set their own timetables and routes. The driving force behind that is profit. A commercial operator will try to make as much profit as they can, and that means squeezing the maximum out of the profitable routes, and if they can, dropping or changing the unprofitable ones until they do make a profit.

GMPTE do not have the power to interfere with the commercial operation of bus companies in the area, they do, though print the nifty strip timetables as part of their remit as the PTE, and publish the departure times on the bus stops.

If a commercial operator decides not to run a particular timetabled bus, there is no sanction from the PTE if it's a commercial service. I would be shocked if the PTE didn't have sanctioning powers if the operator chopped a bus that was subsidised, but on the big corridors out of the city, the routes are nearly all commercial except for some late buses.

The PTE can publicly moan about the poor service, as it did not that long ago with First Manchester (who are the near-monopoly operator between Manchester and Oldham) when services in the Oldham area and on the Oldham Road corridor was extremely poor, they can proably refer them to the transport commisioner, but that's the limit of their say in things.

The PTE is also somewhat hamstrung when it comes to the subsidised services. They pay the operator to run the bus, but it's the operator who decides how much they're going to charge for the contract. When the contract's up, they're free to raise the charge or chop the service, leaving the PTE with it's obligation to provide the service high and dry, and, yes, the PTE's had a moan about that as well in the Evening News in the past.

The commercial operators don't just have freedom here, they rule the roost. They can hold a transport authority (and ultimately the council-tax payers throughout the area,) to ransom on the subsidised services, and if they don't run the commercial services, there's very little anybody can do about it, except pay through the nose, if or when the bus comes in.

Visitors to the Blog

It's good to see that after a week of blogging, there's people who have visited here who have felt strongly enough to comment on the items I've posted.

A big up must go to Yankunian, of The Manchizzle for her kind words on his blog when adding the link. I'm grateful for her encouraging words via email as well.

Thanks also to the two who have commented so far, Stephen Newton's insight into the old, open bus station at Piccadilly was an eye-opener as it disproved my opinion that the Arndale was the only bus station in Manchester at one point, and Railway Temp, another anonynous blogger who appears to have his own blog up and running confirming that London's buses have both the timetables and the fares fixed by the transport authority there. Packed buses is the subject of my next gripe post.

An Old Chestnut

The old saying, you wait ages for one, then three turn up all at once holds very true for buses in the evenings in my part of the world.

For some reason, the timetable has huge gaps, then several buses are timed to run within a few minutes of each other, followed by another huge gap.

As these routes share the A6 corridor into Manchester from the north, would it not be better to space the buses out over the A6 corridor, so the same service frequency is maintained at the end of the routes, but there is a really frequent service along the combined parts of the routes in question - instead of seeing the sight of buses falling over each other to get out of town?

It's a Friday today, and if I look out of my window right now, I'll expect to see several buses flying out of Manchester all at the same time, as they all leave at the same time from Piccadilly Gardens.

For example, why not run the 8 15 minutes before the 36? Both go to Bolton, and then Manchester to Bolton has a bus every 15 minutes during the night bus period, and while that may not benefit somebody living in, say Clifton or Walkden, it will benefit all those who live between Manchester and Swinton, as well as those who go to Farnworth or Bolton.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Market Day

The markets in the Lancashire mill towns are famous. Bury's market is very well known, Bolton's fish market is one of the best in the country, and there are other great markets all over the area.

Bolton's market is right next to the bus station, I had a day off and needed some fresh food, so I caught the bus to Bolton to get my fruit and veg as normal. Bolton's an easy bus ride away from Salford, and the number 8 runs every 10 minutes.

I don't like shopping for fresh food in supermarkets. It's possible to get good quality fruit and veg at very good prices from your local market stalls.

For example, I bought top quality bananas at 28p per lb/454g. Strawberries, huge, ripe and juicy at 89p/lb. Tesco were offering the same at nearly £2 for the same weight. White seedless grapes at really cheap prices, and oranges at ten for a pound. I spent less than a fiver and got two carrier bags crammed full of five-a-day goodness. I dread to think how much the same would have cost me at Tesco.

Further afield, there are other great markets outside of the Greater Manchester area. Blackburn's market is the largest covered market in Britain. An ex-work colleague runs a busy stall in Accrington's market, Clitheroe's market has some stalls that sell some really good specialist stuff and I'm sure that the Yorkshire market towns nearby also have a good trade.

However, the dominance of large retailers is slowly killing off these markets. Markets will only survive if people go there and buy from there regularly, and even the best ones have signs of traders struggling.

I noticed a couple of vacant stalls in Bolton's market hall. The number of fresh-food sellers in Darwen's market is about a third of how I remember it as a child.

The population is relatively stable in this part of the world, and people still need to eat; so if market stalls are closing, it means that instead of sourcing their food from a good local retailer or trader who has years of trading knowledge behind them who knows their customer, and gives good old-fashined quality service, people instead are going to the homogenised pre-packed world of the supermarket where some sixteen-year-old who thinks that Discoveries are a group of channels on satellite TV slams the bland pre-packed food over a computer on a Saturday morning.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Shudewho? (Part 2)

The second reason why I believe that Shudehill is little-used is that the majority of the buses that use the A6 corridor now go into Piccadilly Gardens, the open, windswept place that is the only bus terminus in Manchester city centre where it's possible to step off one bus from the A6 corridor and then get on another to go to the south of the city.

Piccadilly Gardens is busy. In fact, it's very busy. Department stores are right on top of the Gardens complex, buses fight trams to get into the place, there's a hotel tower block on one side, and what was a sunken garden on the other has been replaced by a patch of grass and a big concrete block.

Piccadilly Gardens does not have the infrastucture to be as busy as it is. It's open to the elements, the congestion has to be seen to be believed. Many bus routes say Manchester Piccadilly but don't go the gardens but side streets off it because the central Gardens terminus is so overcrowded. That's one of the reasons why there was to be a new bus station, to take some of the pressure off the Gardens.

Not all buses served Piccadilly Gardens prior to Shudehill opening. Some buses from the A6 corridor served the temporary Exchange bus station (on the site of the old Exchange bus station from years back,) and others terminated on Corporation Street opposite the Co-op headquarters.

When Shudehill opened, the dominant operator on the A6 corridor, FirstGroup moved at least the 32 (Wigan to Manchester express) and 12 (Bolton to Manchester, the pretty way) routes into the crowded Gardens terminus instead of using the new bus station. I rode a 12 one night back home from the Gardens (fine rain and windy as usual,) and a person struck up a conversation about somebody getting lost.

He said to me, "All the buses go here now instead of Corporation Street." If that's the general opinion of bus users who use the A6 corridor, then it's no wonder that Shudehill is extremely quiet.

Manchester has two-and-a-bit bus termini and a coach station. Shudehill is too small, and in the wrong place. Unless operators are forced to use Shudehill, then we will continue to see passengers hukering themselves down against the elements in Piccadilly Gardens, either in the central plaza or the dark, dingy side streets that lead out from there.

For a city that is supposed to be proud of itself and in the process of flat-building regeneration, those who use public transport continue to get a very poor deal.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

New Look

I suppose this is something new bloggers do, play around with the look of their blog.

I've just swapped the basic template supplied by Blogger for a bolder one and already I'm happy with the new look which seems to take into account those users who have wider screens while keeping those narrower ones happy too.

Sadly it lost all of the little changes I had made to the sidebar, but those have been restored now with a couple of other little alterations.

All I want to change now is the title bar, I think some kind of image based title would look good there, but I'll need to take some photos first.

I hope Thursday's a nice day, I've got a day off, and I fance a ride on the big wheel to take some photos.

Shudewho? (Part 1)

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that there are little niggly things that make what should be a pretty easy journey frustrating. One of those things is the alternate reality surrounding Manchester's new bus station, Shudehill.

Manchester does not have a single bus station. People say that Manchester used to have a single bus station at the old Arndale centre, but I'm not so sure that the Arndale served all of the routes, I may research that if I have the time. I know for certain that there used to be a bus station at the site of the old Manchester Exchange station in Salford, as my mum can't navigate at all round Manchester, but knows how to get to Kendals from the Exchange bus station because that's where she went with her mum as a child.

In the last decade or so, the lack of a single central bus station has been felt, and a site for a replacement bus station was identified next to the Metrolink route through the city centre, and the chance for an interchange station was grabbed with both hands.

Was this going to be the single bus station Manchester has been crying out for?

No, the site is too small, and sadly seems to be more interested in being a multi-storey car park rather than a bus station.

Is the bus station any good? I think it's safe to say that at present, it hasn't lived up to the hype. For starters, Shudehill is slightly in the wrong place. Yes, it's next to the trams, and yes, there's a great big car park on top of the station, but that part of Manchester is quite a long way from the main part of the shopping district, and the walking route to Market Street is down a narrow pavement with many obstacles for those who are visually impaired, then there's the matter of the buses that serve the station - and that's the topic of tomorrow's post.

Entering the Blogsphere

It's still very early days for this blog, it's not even a week old yet, and so I'm still getting to grips with how the whole thing will work.

I've added links to the four blogs which have inspired me to start blogging, two of them are London-based, even so, they are well worth a read. The other two are high-quality Manchester based blogs, and I'll be looking to add more of these in the near future.

I've also joined BritBlog and protected the site (for what it's worth) with a Creative Commons licence, and managed to add the bits and bobs with my very limited HTML knowledge, though I had to stop and think about why the CC text was coming out much larger than the rest of the links when I previewed the page.

I'm not that happy about the overall look of the site, I may heavily customise the template once I know enough about HTML to tinker with the design.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Why Take The Bus?

I used to live in a Lancashire town some way from where I worked. It would take about 30 minutes to drive to work, and I would end up feeling frazzled before I even started work.

When I switched careers and moved to my present job, the commute into Manchester by road was a nightmare. I once fell asleep at the wheel on the way home, and on another day I was almost totalled by a car spinning out in the rain just a matter of yards in front of me on the motorway.

Something had to give.

So I moved to Salford and wound up living fairly close to where I work. Living so near means that I don't have to drive to work any more, and while walking would take about 20 minutes or so, it's not the safest of journeys.

When I moved, I was a 20-something young man with a fairly fast car. The insurance with full no-claims and no points on my licence was reasonable when I lived in Lancashire, but when I tried to insure the same car and gave my new postcode, the cost was prohibative, so I sold the car as there was little or no need for wheels where I now lived.

There's no need to drive where I live. Supermarkets fall over themselves to deliver shopping, there's three mainline railway stations within a mile of here, and I live just yards from the A6 where buses fall over themselves to get in and out of Manchester.

In theory, taking the bus should be a no-brainer. £47 for a 28 days' unlimited travel (less if you choose to use just one bus operator,) and a timetabled frequent daytime service to Manchester and all points on the A6 / East Lancs Road corridor. However there are several things which make the whole thing fairly frustrating, with the net result that I sometimes seriously consider getting a car again. I'll examine these over the next few days and weeks.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

You Know It's A Sunday When...

You walk to your usual busy bus stop at 8.50am and find that there's no buses to the new Shudehill bus station for half an hour :-(

You mis-read the bus timetable and think there's one at 9:01 and then 10 minutes later realise that the timetable actually says the first one on that route is 11:01

The usually overcrowded "All routes except 8" Urbis bus stop is full of people with no idea of what bus is going to turn up if at all because GMPTE have "helpfully" plastered service alteration pieces of A4 paper all over the stop leaving passengers with no idea of what buses are affected and what ones are not.

You get home and half of the estate seems to be moving house.

It must be a Sunday.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Nice, quiet bus ride

Now that's the way travelling by bus should be. Quick, easy and on time.

I took the 100 bus home after work for a change. Very good journey, and I managed to fill in a little bit more of my paper's Super Sudoku puzzle en route.

Maybe the snow kept the crowds at home.

Friday, March 03, 2006

I wanna bus ticket!

Unlike in London, where the buses are regulated, so there's a common ticket policy throughout the whole of London which goes along the lines of here's a bus, here's the flat fare, there's a large number of operators here who all have their own ticketing policy. Some buses are cheaper than others, and some are expensive.

To try and flatten the differences, GMPTE, like other PTE bodies have their own tickets available for the public to buy. Except here, the PTE has distanced itself from dealing with most tickets, and left it to it's subsidary "System One Travel Cards" and it's their name that appears on the buses, not GMPTE. Other areas seem to have been able to handle a multitude of operators better than here, but I digress.

As a bus user, if I want a bus season ticket to cover me on any bus anywhere in the area I need what's called a Bus Saver. It costs 47 pounds for a month, no that's changed, 28 days, and it's a pretty good deal. I use multiple operators, so it's far better value than getting an individual bus company's equivalent ticket.

I used to be able to walk up to my post office, show my "Club" photo ID card, and say to the nice person behind the desk: "A monthly bus saver please" and hand over 47 quid and get a nice bit of cardboard in exchange. Or, I could walk to one of the travelshops (GMPTE bus information / sales place at most of the big bus stations,) and do the same. Not as convenient as my local post office, as I don't live next to the bus station - otherwise I wouldn't need the bus!

Sounds easy and straightforward, and it was. It worked well. There's a lot of post offices in the area, and I never had any trouble getting a bus saver from any of the ones I tried. However there's been a bit of meddling, and since Feb 17th, one now has to use a PayPoint outlet. The Post Office isn't a PayPoint outlet, but my corner shop (which is nearer) is.

So a couple of weeks ago, it was time to get a new bus saver. I popped out to the post office to get a new one, to be told that I needed to go to a pay point outlet.

I went home, then out to the pay point but left the ID card at home. They could issue the ticket but needed the card number to put on the machine. They didn't know what I was asking for at first, but after a little bit of searching, to their credit, they did find it and we did agree on what I needed. There was no talk about needing anything other than the photo card, and I duly left empty handed.

I renewed the card at the new city centre bus station that dosen't serve all the routes that take in Manchester city centre, Shudehill. (That'll be the subject of another post.)

They punched the details into a yellow PayPoint machine, and in exchange for my 13.50 (a week's ticket this time,) I got a bit of flimsy paper stuck in a blue sticky-back plastic wallet type thing. Something my corner shop didn't have.

So I asked my corner shop if they had any of the wallets for the bus tickets (and I showed them mine.) They asked if that was what I had asked for, and said that they didn't have the blue wallet. Why did I need one? The wallets have a bit of wavy luminous orange on them, probably to show the bus driver the bit of flimsy paper hasn't been fiddled with.

I took the bus to the famous Bury market (that's any bus from home that goes to the Shudehill and a 135 from Urbis) and popped into the travelshop on the way back. I explained my problem and asked if I really needed the blue wallet type thing. "Yes" was the response. Could I have a couple of the blue wallet type things so I could buy my ticket from the corner shop? "No" Can my corner shop sell the bus savers? "Is it a paypoint?" "Yes," say I. "Yes, they can sell you one." "So can I have a couple of those blue wallet type things so they can put the ticket in there when I buy one from them?" I plead. "No, and they shouldn't be selling them if they haven't got the blue wallets." was the response.

Back at home, I checked the GMPTE and System One websites. While they're very pleased to say that I can use one of 600 paypoints in the area to get a bus saver, there's nothing about the blue wallet type things being needed.

How many people are getting caught out by this?

I wasn't for getting caught out. I tried (in vain) to see if the post office had any excess monthly tickets left over, but they all had to go back, so I was forced to use a travelshop. It looked like half of Manchester had the same problem, as the queue was out of the door at the Piccadilly Gardens one.

I think the queue was a common thing, as signs were up saying that you could beat the queue by walking over to Shudehill and getting one there, with directions. I can admit that Shudehill's very, very quiet (probably because the buses people use don't go there,) but who is really going to walk across the city centre, buy what they want then walk all of the way back?

Paypoints more convenient? Don't make me laugh.

A bit of Background

I live in a metropolitan area. That means that there's a Passenger Transport Authority (PTA.)

They in turn have an executive body who implement the policies of the authority in whatever way is needed. How that policy is implemented though, is down to the executive body.

I think the authority is full of well-meaning councillors who want to do a good job for who elected them. Until I hear otherwise, that's my viewpoint and I thought I'd better make it clear at the early stages of this blog.

A Blog is Born...

So I've taken the plunge and decided to join the throngs of people who run their own blog.

So why write about taking the bus?

I clicked, no that's the wrong word, stumbled on an excellent blog (when I've worked out how to place a link on this site, I'll add it,) written by a London Underground station supervisor and was enlightened by the comments on that site. I found other blogs equally stimulating, and decided that the world could stand my little jottings every now and again.

But isn't taking the bus in Greater Manchester is somewhat removed from being a station supervisor for a busy tube station?

Well it is and it isn't. I have great regard for those who work on the London Underground, they do a tough job. Some blog sites have a go at the staff on the Underground, but I've never had a bad word to say about what they do. If I go to London, I'll probably write about a visit and my experience on the tube, and compare it to riding the bus round here.

London has several things in common with Manchester. One thing is the size of the place. London is big. Very big. Manchester and Salford are two cities leaning against each other, and with the other boroughs, the area that is "Greater Manchester" is fairly big. It's possible to lose yourself in some places in Manchester and think that you're in some of the London boroughs. Salford and Hackney have both featured on BBC's Life of Grime series. Both areas have some kind of over-arching transport body - London's has teeth, while here the authority just leaves sloppy gum marks, if it manages to bite at all.

You may think from that introduction that I'm a little bit critical towards the authority in question, the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive.

You'd be right. GMPTE is the authority that owns the bus stops, bus stations, the land on which the Metrolink tracks rest, and the body which tenders out sponsored bus services to the operators in the area. They have something to do with the trains in the area as well, but they don't like to talk about them, because here, in the alternate reality of GMPTE-land, the tram is King, the bus a Prince Regent, and the trains are the little fiddly things that they have to deal with by law.

So come with me on a journey. It may be a bit scary at times, but that's just the world that we live in.