I Wanna Ride The Bus!

Friday, April 14, 2006

More on single-operator tickets

A little bit more about single-operator tickets and how they can end up costing the user more.

The girlfriend of one of my neighbours has suffered a bit of a misfortune, and wound up in the burns unit at Wythenshawe Hospital.

For those who don't know Manchester and it's area, Salford is the city stuck on the top-left hand side of Manchester, and Wythenshawe is, well, best described as above the airport and a bit to the right of Altrincham. Yes, it's on the south side of the city.

My neighbour bought a Stagecoach Megarider ticket, as the first bus he took out there was a Stagecoach-operated one. He didn't know about the any-bus System 1 option, and has since found himself stuck at certain times of the evening, unable to get into Manchester on the bus of his choice, and then no bus from town to where he lives. He can't get there today, Bank Holiday Monday or on Sunday, asm according to him, there's no bus there.

A megarider is £9 at the moment, that's somewhat cheaper than the First offering, and £4.50 cheaper than the System-1 ticket.

But is £4.50 more important than being able to get any bus that you want?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Single-Operator Tickets

My trip in and out of Manchester to work is fairly short. The normal single trip price on a First Bus is £1.20, rising after Easter to £1.30. Daily FirstDay tickets are going up to £3.30, which will be more expensive than an off-peak DaySaver priced £3.20 and makes the bus and train off-peak Daysaver look like fantastic value at £4.

A weekly ticket on a First bus is rising to £12, just £1.50 below the equivilent all-bus Greater Manchester System 1 offering, and the FirstMonth ticket will cost £42 over the any bus £47

First blamed spiralling costs nationally for bus operators, and on a more local level, congestion and vandalism for the price hikes.

Why do I mention the price rises? I noticed, while waiting for a bus back into Shudewho (I had a meeting in the pub opposite,) a little notice on the bottom of the timetable, reminding passengers that while bus operators have their own tickets, there are alternatives available from System 1 Travel, including DaySavers.

You see, once you get your single-operator ticket, you're stuck with them. On my route, Arriva (formerly Blue Bus,) and JP Travel also serve where I want to go. If I see one of them turn up, then I can use the ticket I already have, even though I mainly use First buses.

They seem to be quieter too, which means a quicker ride into or out of town. I'll save overall, as I do use Stagecoach buses at least once a week on the other side of town too, which would, without an all-operator ticket would mean having to buy another ticket.

So I think that that notice on the bus stop is probably the best thing to come out of GMPTE for a very long time, impartial retailing - and while I'm critical of many things GMPTE do or fail to do, that is sound advice to all bus users, and despite the difficulties I've posted about getting the tickets, I hope people take their advice.

Paypoint Letter

I mailed System-1 Travel on Saturday night about the trouble with getting paypoints to hand out blank wallets with bus savers. Here's the text of what I wrote:

I am a regular bus user and use the System 1 Bus Saver as it is the most appropriate ticket for my travelling needs.

However, since the ticket has no longer been available at post offices, I am forced to have problems each time I renew one.

I can get one very easily, I just walk to the nearest corner shop, ask for one and they will sell me one quite happily, however there is no plastic sticky wallet type thing for the ticket to go into, and I have been challenged about this.

It appears that all of the local paypoint outlets in my local area have none of these in stock, and so I had to go to a travelshop to get one, to be told that the corner shop should not have issued the ticket if they had no wallets.

After thorough examination of the conditions on the ticket, of the System 1 website and of the Paypoint leaflet, I can find no mention of such a rule, and if that is the case, and if my sample of local shops is repeated throughout the region, then the claim of the ticket can be purchased hassle-free is misleading.

Please supply me with a number of blank wallets, so I do not have to be inconvenienced by having to go to travelshops to get my tickets, or suffer embarrasment by using a legitimately-purchased ticket without a wallet.

Early days yet, but there's been no reply so far. I'll keep you posted on when there's a reply.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Devious Diversions

There is something that is stuck to the bus stops opposite Manchester Victoria rail station which spells a tale of doom. It's an A4 piece of GMPTE-headed paper, with ominous words spelled out in in 24pt Times New Roman capitals: "SUNDAY 9TH APRIL THIS BUS STOP IS CLOSED AND BUSES ARE DIVERTED. PLEASE USE THE PREVIOUS OR NEXT STOP."

That's the limit of the information we get from the owners of the bus stops and the providers of bus timetables throughout the metropolitan area, GMPTE. (Looks like this is winding up as another GMPTE moan, I really don't hate GMPTE, honest.) Now bear in mind that Victoria Station is a calling point for, oh, about 15 outbound bus routes, maybe more, and the sign said that buses were diverted, did this mean that they would be missing Victoria Station altogether, or would they just miss the stop which had been commandeered by the railway for what looked like replacement coach services?

So I went to the previous stop, Urbis' 8-only stop which is just round the corner from the stop which has the rest of the routes. It also had the sign of doom pasted on.

The next stop in that direction for the 8 is Shudewho, and I went up to the NCP / bus station there to try and find a bus home. This isn't normally a problem, I have a choice of, oh, about 10 routes during the week.

This, however is a Sunday, and I checked out the stop F at the bottom of the hill, home to the 67 and 100 routes, which do run on Sundays, and there were no buses. Surely the diversions didn't go this far out and they were all trying to get through Piccadilly Overcrowdens. Sometimes it's best to ask the question, so up to the travelshop I went.

I was assured that the diversion wouldn't affect my home stop, and the 8 would be next, from stop A, at the top of the hill.

Yep, dear reader, you guessed it, a 100 then sat at the traffic lights opposite stop A, it must have sneaked in and out of stop F.

Finally an 8 arrives, I board, and the bus turns left out of Shudehill. That's a diversion, so I guessed it would pick up the booked route by following the ring road and turning left after Victoria Station onto Great Ducie Street / Victoria Street and onto Deansgate.

No, it dropped down the hill past the Co-Op on the ring road, then turned left onto Corporation Street and picked up the booked route at Urbis, stopping to pick up at the supposedly-closed 8-only bus stop and following the normal route through Victoria Station.

So what can we learn from this? Look before you leap? Check before you travel? That's something I preach all day, have I made a mistake and missed something? So I checked the official source of information, that being GMPTE's website with leaflets and notification of service changes on this page, you'll find plenty of notices but no actual detail of diversions or retimings, and nothing on my routes today, and if I check the journey planner and enter journey details for what I want to do, and check all times at all stops, the route for a 67 which goes the same way appears to be booked route. NP (Urbis,) NY (Victoria Station,) NT (Manchester Cathedral,) then the risky ND stop. That's the normal route.

I guess, the only thing we can learn from this is that we can't trust the PTE to inform the people who fund it, the council tax payers in the area, with accurate information about the buses they're supposedly supposed to be encouraging us to use.

It really is no suprise that bus patronage is dropping in all areas except London, as the only image I get of GMPTE when I think about them is their singular inability to manage a drinking session in a brewery.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Deed Poll?

I've decided that I'm not going to call Shudehill and Piccadilly Gardens by their real names here.

Names that match what happens at each location may be better, so I'll use the already-used here name of Shudewho for that little-used bus station cunningly disguised as an NCP multi-storey car park, and Piccadilly Overcrowdens for that overcrowded bus plaza with the on-street overflows for the ten or so bus stops that can't fit on the main station.

I can't think of a better name for Piccadilly, but I'm open to suggestions...

Ticket Renewal Time

For various reasons, I haven't needed to renew my bus saver for over a month. However, I was back on the buses on Friday, and after much deliberation as to whether or not it was viable this week to get a bus saver, I went into the corner shop (a PayPoint outlet) and asked for a weekly.

£13.50 later, I had a brand new weekly bus saver in my paws, but without the plastic cellophane thingy which I mentioned over a month ago. In fact, as it was so long ago and so much water (or so many buses) had gone under the bridge since then, I clean forgot about the need for the plastic thingy. I asked if they had one, they didn't.

Now that put me in a tricky situation. The tickets are "No refund" tickets, and the issuers are not PTE employees, there's very little in the way of comeback. So I thought I'd get a plastic thingy at the travelshop on my way out to Denton (that's a trip on a Stagecoach bus from one of the off-shoots from Piccadilly Overcrowdens, so I would have a chance to see if there were 192 buses queueing up from Stockport to get in the place.)

I did in the end, after much debate, but they were insistent that the issuer shouldn't have issued it. Now, if that is the rule, should GMPTE / System 1 put a Yes / No question on their PayPoint program that issues the ticket, bearing in mind that there's hundreds of corner shops and other paypoint outlets in the area, and the level of training will be directly proportional to the level of interest the retailer has?

There's no condition on the reverse of the ticket that says that the ticket has to be in a plastic folder type thing, nor does the leaflet saying that paypoints are the place to buy make any mention of the rule.

This is yet another big mess of the PTE's making, (don't believe that System 1 are a different body, my first bus saver had their address as GMPTE Towers on Portland Street,) hot on the heels of the debacle of Shudewho bus station and Piccadilly Overcrowdens.

So I'm going to ask the question of why are consumers being misled to The Powers That Be. Of course, readers, I'll keep you posted.

Oh, I only saw one 192 while I was there. It was a nifty red one with a big 192 on the front run by UK North who have bought the GM Buses trademark. Who's going to buy the SELNEC name?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Traffic Jams

I had a drink after work on Saturday, several in fact at the excellent Hare & Hounds opposite the new Shudehill bus station.

In my booze-fuelled state afterwards, I remembered that a) I was going away on Tuesday for a conference, b) I needed to take my camera, c) There's not much point in taking a camera that has full memory cards, and d) Where have the memory card fairies hidden 2 of my 3 cards?

I remembered reading a Jessop's catalogue a little earlier on in the day an thinking that as it was just after pay day, I could run to getting a new memory card for the camera, at least then, I would be able to take decent quality shots all day without worrying about card space. There's a Jessop's on Deansgate, at the corner of Blackfriars Street near the infamous ND stop.

So I staggered half-way down the hill to Corporation Street that is the number 2 bus stop on the Shudehill bus station, collapsed in a seat and we trundled back up the hill, out of the bus station and on our way.

This, dear readers was a Saturday, and the world was out shopping. If ever there was an advert for congestion charging, then Manchester at the weekend would fit the advertising agency's bill time and time again.

The route 2 follows the main bus route out of the city for the majority of Salford and a few other places as well, being onto Corporation Street, past the Urbis (and it was my view of tired, wet individuals on Saturday that prompted yesterday's post,) through Victoria Station and onto Deansgate.

It was there that we hit the traffic.

I was almost sober when I got off the bus 3 stops later. Yes, the number 2 is free, but it isn't exactly quick on a Saturday.

Back to the camera business, I didn't buy from Jessops, I bought from the place over the road from there, who did me a very nice deal on a Sandisk 2 gig Ultra 2 card (the same price as a 1 gig at Jessops,) a new card reader to replace the one my sister smashed and I bought 2 new matched batteries to go in my grip along with a better charger than the Canon rubbish that shipped with the camera.

With that little lot, I was about £200 lighter, but I shouldn't need to recharge or reload while I'm away - and that's a good thing when you're trying to travel light.

Oh, quick question for any camera people here. Why won't my new reader or the reader on m,y printer read the 2 gig card, while my camera happily takes it? It's a pain in the backside when it comes to uploading the images, as I'll have to use the camera to upload - which means using the Canon proprietry software as Windows dosen't see the camera as a disk drive, like what my Old Olymous C5050Z did, but as a camera, so My Computer mis-reads the CR2 raw files when shooting in mixed mode.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Urbis Woes

Manchester is on the western side of the Pennines. It therefore gets a lot of rain. Maybe not so much as other places in England, but it has a reputation of being a wet city.

So, how does the owner of all the bus stops in the whole of Greater Manchester respond when a new bus station is opened and traffic through the city near this bus station is completely re-routed making a series of three very long and very busy bus shelters completely obsolete, and displacing their users in the process?

Why, it does nothing of course.

So next time you go past the Urbis centre and see the hoardes of displaced people there trying to keep themselves warm in the wind and rain, while waiting for their bus, remember that the PTE owns three very big and very unused bus shelters that could be used there.

Piccadilly Congestion

The BBC have run an article about congestion in the Piccadilly area because so many buses are using such a small space.

While the article highlights competition on the 192 bus route, it's worth mentioning again what I wrote in the first week of this blog; 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.

The article states that GMPTE and Manchester City Council are blaming competition on the bus routes for the congestion, that operators have bumped up bus numbers on the route in a bid to drive the other firm off that route.

While competition is a contributory factor for the congestion, and always will be so as other operators are allowed to muscle in on seemingly profitable routes (Wilmslow Road for example,) some of the blame for congestion has to be levelled at Manchester City Council and GMPTE.

Manchester City Council are to blame for the idiotic traffic system on the approach to Manchester from the north side, by closing off certain roads, and making other ones only accessible at certain times of the day, by putting a bus station to serve that side of the city in a place that can only be described as far less accessible than it was 8 years ago - because they stuch a bloody great lawn and glass white elephant block in the way of what was the most direct route.

GMPTE are to blame (they own the bus stops, so they can put their feet down if they wished,) because they have not allocated the bus stops in the city in such a way that relieves congestion. They could easily tell First, for example, that the 12 and 32 routes that were shifted to Piccadilly when Shudehill opened cannot be accommodated at their Piccadilly Gardens bus station, and they must use their Shudehill station instead.

People have died as a result of accidents between buses and pedestrians at Piccadilly Gardens. Unless the powers that be actually do something instead of bemoaning problems of their own making, then future deaths must be laid firmly at their door.