Friday, 30 May 2008

Bus Passes. What Exactly Did You Expect?


From The Herald Express

30 May 2008

Torbay Council fears it could be facing a financial crisis as more pensioners are taking to the buses.The numbers of over 60s taking advantage of the national free bus pass scheme is rising at an alarming rate.Deputy mayor Kevin Carroll, pictured, fears the extra numbers will hit the council's already cash-strapped budget even harder.Torbay Council already has to find £3million to fund the scheme this year.

But the authority has reported a jump of 1,500 in the number of passes issued to the over 60s in the last two months alone on top of the 27,500 issued in April.This could leave the authority picking up a larger than anticipated bill for over 60s passengers.Mr Carroll said: "At the beginning of April we had issued 27,500 bus passes, but in the past two months that has gone up to 29,000."In total some 38,000 pensioners in Torbay are eligible for passes and if they all took them up I don't know what we would do."It is already a massive burden for the council tax payer."Our budget for bus passes is currently £3.98million, towards which the government gives us just under £1million."We don't yet know how much the extra passes are going to cost us in extra journeys. It's a real worry.

"We worry about if the increase in people carries on, we could be storing up a terrible financial problem."If the situation gets too bad, we will have to go to the Government and say 'you pay it'."It's a stealth tax. Why should the people of Torbay pick up the bill? It's impossible to budget for."South Devon councils pay an agreed rate per pensioner per journey to Stagecoach.Journeys are billed to the authority where each one starts.But if more and more over 60s are taking to the buses to travel, authorities could be facing a much larger bill than anticipated.

South Devon councils and Stagecoach are already creaking under the strain.Stagecoach say the extra bill could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds for Torbay Council alone.Bus drivers record all the journeys taken using the bus passes and then the 'bill' is passed on to the relevant local authorities.Each journey is billed per person not for how far they travel.The cost is passed on to each council, either on a monthly or quarterly basis and is a rate which has been agreed on an annual basis.

There is no option to raise the price paid by authorities for concessionary fare passengers.Stagecoach says it is not receiving sufficient money to pay for the journeys.However, the rate is agreed on an annual basis, worked out as a percentage of an average journey by an adult.And Torbay, Teignbridge and the South Hams will also have to pick up the tab this summer for holidaymakers with passes from other areas who are now able to use them on local buses.

The issue, described by Mayor Nick Bye as a 'huge sword of Damocles', will be raised with South West Government minister Ben Bradshaw when he visits the resort next month.Mr Carroll added: "Any journey originating in Torbay we have to pay for."With diesel reaching nearly £1.30 a litre, you can understand when people decide to use the bus, especially with other prices going up."

Operations director for Stagecoach Devon, Richard Stevens, said they were expecting the numbers to increase above predictions, and the cost."It's not just a question of the additional bus users from Torbay, but those who will use the bus while on holiday in Torbay. I wouldn't be surprised if the extra cost above budget for Torbay could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds."
As usual, Government are not providing enough money to run the scheme. I am sure not enough thought was given to the whole idea in the first place and we will end up paying in the end.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Hectic Day

This notice has been on display in our buses for a while now. I think a large number of those three million made it on to my bus this lunch time. I started from the Harbour as a 12, my favorite route, heading for Brixham. It had been raining all morning and with it being holidays the roads were pretty full so buses were a little late. I was due of the Strand at 11 41 so I was down there ten minutes before, I like to be a little early so I can have a chat to the other bus drivers and the controller. You never know what gossip you might hear. Anyway two buses turned up but neither were mine, too early. They both set off together heading for Brixham. Mine turned up 5 minutes late. Five minutes doesn't sound much but it now means there is a 15 minute gap between me and the bus in front instead of a 10 minute gap. Extra passengers for me. I made a couple of minutes up by the time I got to Christchurch and was beginning to think I might even get to Brixham on time. Then I turned in to Hyde Road. Hyde Road leads to Paignton Bus Station and is a two lane, one way street. In theory. Parking is permitted on the left side but the right side, the second lane has double yellow lines painted by the curb in an unsuccessful attempt to stop parking there. It is the right hand lane after all but even though there are double yellow lines people park there none the less. All have Blue Badges. Blue Badge Holders can park on double yellow lines for free for three hours. There are car parks very close by that are handy for the shops but everyone has to pay, even Blue Badge Holders. Why pay when you can park for free. Now at the top of Hyde Rd there is a left turn in to Torbay Road so anyone wanting to turn left is in the left lane. Anyone wanting to go straight on,like the buses, is also in the left lane (parked cars in the right lane remember). But, round the corner to the left there is a level crossing. When a train is due Hyde Rd comes to a stop. Today there must have been several trains due as it took ten minutes to cover the length of Hyde Rd, usually 1 minute. So by the time I got to the Bus station there were 60 people wanting to go to Brixham waiting for little old me. It takes ten minutes at least to load 60 passengers, longer if half of them tell me I am late, I know when I am late and I get even later when 30 people take the trouble telling me I am late.
So on to Brixham, I get there a couple of minutes after I should have left but there are only half a dozen people waiting, should be away in no time. Except I now have a bus with 80 passengers who all want to get off, no, actually that's not quite true. Three little old ladies decided they liked my driving so much they would come back to Torquay with me. Either that or Brixham in the rain looked a little grim for their taste. Brixham in the sun is fine but it doesn't look it's best in the rain and it did rain at lunch time. Back to the passengers who wanted to get off the bus, as they stepped off the platform they were confronted by a person who wanted to get on. This person stood one foot back from the door and right in the way of everyone getting off. At one point I was tempted to move the bus forward a couple of feet to make it easier for my poor alighting passengers but decided not to waste my time as this reincarnation of Canute would have just move two feet to her left. She doubled the time it took for everyone to get off. Then when all who wanted to had gone she said "Where do I catch the 22?". (Sounds like a good title for a book, could do with a little work on it) Remember me saying there were only a few people waiting when I got to Brixham, I pulled out with 75 people on board 12 minutes late. They just appeared and appeared and kept coming and kept coming. They must have had a premonition because when I got to Waterside, half a mile past Windy Corner an other driver came on the radio and reported an RTC(1) at Windy Corner and that the road would be blocked for a while.
This post will have more added to it in the morning but I have to be up early to take one of the cats to the vet, Good night all.
Well I got the cat to the vet, and back home again. Just his annual injection, he's been before but is still scowling at me. If I go near him for the rest of the day he will run off, still the exercise is good for him.
Where was I, oh yes, coming out of Paignton the radio went, my replacement driver in Torquay had been held up in the heavy traffic and was late for her break so she would not be able to take over but a spare driver had been found and was on his way but might be a minute or two late. No problem there, I still had to get through Preston and it was raining hard. Preston, holidays and heavy rain do not make a good mix, very lumpy, lots of stop go traffic. We really do need a Preston by pass as much as we need a Kingskerswell by pass. At least something doing to the lights at the bottom of Preston Down Rd. Best idea would be take those lights out and make Preston Down Rd a give way with a left turn only because that is where the problem lies. Anyway I made it to Cary Parade and the spare driver was waiting for me so I went for my break.
After lunch onto 12A/12Cs, a trip to Marychurch, back to the College and then to Teignmouth. The rain cleared and out came the sun and traffic became much quieter so the afternoon was relatively easy. After some initial worry about driving up the coast to Teignmouth, narrow, bendy, tree lined road, I am finding it less of a worry. Care must be taken particularly on the tight left hand bends watching the side of the bus doesn't come into contact with the banking and for oncoming traffic, but so far so good. Only two cancelled tickets on the new machine today, a bit of a record.

Welcome Back

Now you know the summer season has started. Every year in the summer we need a few more buses and Oxford, where this Brooks Bus normally operates for all the students needs less, so we borrow a few of them. Handy arrangement but some visitors get a little confused, is it a Stagecoach bus? Yes it is. All our tickets can be used on these blue and white buses. Board with confidence. They are used on the 12, 12A, 12C, X45 and X46 routes. Enjoy.

New Machine, Yet Again.

It rained all day today, Traffic wasn't too heavy but the driving conditions were bad so everyone drove slowly and it was hard work if not especially busy given that it is half term here.

I worked on Sunday when the new machines were introduced and then had Monday and Tuesday of so today I was still not 100% confident that I would remember everything. So I got on the bus and pressed the right buttons until the machine asked me to present my card. I have a small card holder with the machine smart card in it as well as 3 or 4 other cards and I presented the holder. "No, sorry that card's no good." said the machine (not exactly those words you understand but in my brief moment of panic I failed to make notes) One of the other cards in the holder was my Concessionary Bus Pass and the two cards together were confusing the poor machine. After I worked that out things went well and I was beginning to relax a little and try out other methods of issuing tickets. There are 3 or four ways of getting the same ticket out of the machine. A lady, bless her asked for a concessionary to Brixham and I pressed what I thought were the right buttons and a ticket emerged. She looked at it and said,"£4.55. I thought it was free." Which was why I said bless her. I grabbed the ticket and went back to the basic method which has worked so far and gave her the right ticket and cancelled the £4.55 one and resolved not to press any buttons unless I knew exactly what I was doing. I had a few minutes at Brixham and worked out what I had done wrong. Too complicated to explain right now as I would like to get some sleep tonight. Several people boarded the bus in Brixham and they all got their tickets fairly briskly. Then one gent said, "You seem to have mastered the machine. The driver on Sunday was at 6s and 7s with his machine." He asked for a concession to Newton and I smiled sweetly and promptly issued a return for £6.00. Bugger.

As the day went on it got easier. In Torquay I even managed to issue a multi ticket, five singles to Brixham. Instead of issuing 5 individual tickets the machine allows you to save paper and issue one ticket with single to Brixham X 5 printed on it. What a good idea. I even changed a ticket roll today, my first.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Summer 2008 Part 1


What is normally a fairly straight forward process turned in to a possible nightmare. No not possible, a certain nightmare for some people. It started some time in, I would imagine, February or March or when ever head office in Exeter started to look at the summer timetables. In the past this has meant slight changes to timetables, more time on the 12 route and increased running of other services and the reintroduction of the open top service. Not this year. The MD decided now was the time to go for whole scale changes.
The most noticeable being the curtailing of the 32 service at the Harbour. In living memory the 32 has run between Shiphay and Marychurch via the Harbour and is one of the few services to make a profit. From now on the Babbacombe Rd would have 12A/12Cs running along it. This was at once seen as an attempt to extract more money from the concessionary pass holders who would now have to change buses at the Harbour and would therefore mean the council would have to pay for two free rides. There was no other logical explanation for it, certainly not the one I heard from the MD which was he was now providing a service from Paignton to Marychurch. He had been doing that in the form of the 12B which ran mostly empty. The second big change was the dropping of the 12A from Newton Abbot. The MD said that it was because the buses were held up on the road through Kingskerswell but he only reduced the number of buses along that road from eight to six only now they would all be 12s. Along with this he also cut the 12A service between Brixham and South Devon College. There used to be 4 an hour, last winter he reduced this to two an hour. Now there is only the 66 every hour running along this route. This is not what the college, the council and he agreed 3 years ago when the college moved to Paignton. A five year contract to provide direct services to college in return for £300 000 a year. But the number of students travelling to the college could never have paid. There just weren't enough of them using the buses.

The third big change was the removal of the 85 service which ran between Exeter and Torquay via Dawlish. The Dawlish connection is the important bit. There are several big holiday caravan parks in Dawlish and a day or two out in Torquay was an important part of the holidaymakers plans. The money they spend in Torquay is important too. In the past they got an 85 direct to and from Torquay. Now they must get a number 2 which runs between Exeter via Teignmouth to Newton Abbot. To get to Torquay, I'm sorry but holidaymakers don't normally got to Newton Abbot, they must change to a 12A/12C in Teignmouth. This makes it a bit more of a bother on what should be an easy day out so I expect less people will make it to Toquay this summer. The buses that used to run along the coast road on the 85 were single deck low floor, now double deck low floor buses are doing the trip along a narrow, bendy, tree lined road. Already, and we have only been running a week there are marks on buses where they have come into contact with the side of the road while negotiating tight left hand bends.

The red mud is from the banks of earth at the side of the road. And where did the MD get all these double deck buses from? He took them of the 12A route which he cut because, he said, congestion in Kingskerswell. He lives in Kenton so he must be aware of the congestion in Teignmouth and over Sheldon Bridge every summer.

A noticeable omission this summer is the open top service. People on holiday expect to have a ride on an open top bus. It all part of a sea side holiday. But we aren't running an open top. Not enough drivers. Too many drivers required to run the 12A/12C to Marychurch and Teignmouth when the 32 and 85 did the job well enough in the past.

A footnote about the first photo on this page. It was put up on the staff notice board on March 27, two days after the route changes had been registered with the local Traffic Commissioners (a Legal Requirement, 8 weeks notice). I published it a couple of days later and got dragged in to the office to be asked why I had published confidential information. As if Firstbus were going to read my blog to find out what Stagecoach were doing for the summer when they could go on The Traffic Commission's web site and find out in much greater detail. I thing someone doesn't like me blogging. (Note; if you are reading this then I have left the company, due hopefully to retirement. I wrote it in May but just didn't publish it). Oh yes I didn't hit the side of the road with the bus in the other photo.

Greetings From Torquay

Bank Holiday Monday, May 26 2008.
Torquay Harbour and people fishing.
Indistinguishable from any other Bank Holiday Monday in that it is raining, windy and cold.
Just as it always is on a Bank Holiday weekend.
And it is my day off.
Not nice enough to be working.

A New Ticket Machine.

Isn't it nice?

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Summer 2008 Part 2

Written on 27 May 2008

Something else that happened this summer, we got new ticket machines. Much more complicated than the old ones so we all needed training on how the work them Once you know the sign on and sign off procedures there are 3 different ways the sell tickets and 17 thousand ways to cock up. One example of how complicated the new machines are, If you sell several tickets, say two adult and 3 children returns on the old machine you issued the tickets buy pressing nine keys, you then got the total cost buy pressing two more keys. Simple. One the new machine there are 3 different ways of issuing the ticket but to get the total cost you have to use a 4th way, which is press 9 keys in exactly the right order or the whole thing fails and you either end up issuing too many tickets or too few or have to start again. And the forth way is nothing like the other three ways.

During a training session I heard a rumour that the Managing Director, Mr C Hilditch had left the company. This was on Tuesday 20 May 2008. On Wednesday it was comfirmed. A couple of days later this item appeared in the local paper:-


BY GINNY WARE 24 May 2008

The managing director of bus firm Stagecoach Devon is transferring to a new position within the group, based in Blackburn, the company has confirmed.Chris Hilditch left his job at the Exeter-based headquarters on Wednesday and is due to take up his new post as managing director of a subsiduary company of Stagecoach on June 1.Mr Hilditch, who lives in Kenton, has worked for Stagecoach for 10 years. He began his career with the bus company in America and joined Stagecoach Devon five years ago.Stagecoach denies any connection between Mr Hilditch's leaving and the introduction of the new South Devon timetable this week.

There is absolutely no connection between Chris' leaving and the introduction of the new bus timetable this week."Mr Hilditch says he is looking forward to a new role and a new challenge.

He said: "It's something which came along. There is a personal family reason why I am leaving as well, but I do not want to go into that."I have enjoyed my time with Stagecoach Devon."For all those people who have been supportive of me since I decided to take this new role, thank you very much. I am going on to an exciting new career and I am looking forward to that."

Notice how the company spokesperson was forced to say twice that Mr Hilditch didn't leave because he had made such a hash of the new summer timetables. What some cynics would say is, they missed out that the summer time tables were the straw that broke the poor camel's back.

New Ticket Machines

Today was an interesting day due to the introduction of new ticket machines. I was due to start at 08:54 and needed to catch a bus at 08:25 to get to work. I had thought about getting the bus before that one so I would have plenty of time to try out the machine without the benefit of the watchful eyes of understanding and sympathetic passengers. But being Sunday the earlier bus was at 07:45. So I set the alarm for 07:45 and caught the 08:25. I may be dedicated but only within reason. Still I had plenty of time, I wasn't due of St Marychurch until 09:21. So I handed in my module which worked on the old machine and received my smart card which worked on the new machine together with complete instructions on how to use the new machine. We have had training but a piece of paper with helpful hints is always comforting. Still with plenty of time I checked with control as to which bus I should take and went up to the park to find it. It wouldn't start. Great. In ten years of collecting buses from the park this is only the second that wouldn't start. Still the bus park is, if you are going to break down, the best place to do it. Plenty of fitters handy and even a few spare buses. But there was a delay and instead of 15 minutes playing with the machine at St Marychurch so I had some confidence I knew what I was doing, I got there with only a couple of minutes before I had to use the thing for real.

Actually, once I got the routine sorted out it went pretty well. The paper feed jammed once. This was due to the fact that on the old machines the ticket had to be gently pulled of the machine. Some people never managed to master this technique and snatched the ticket with the same force a shot putt putter uses to make sure the shot doesn't land on his foot. The new machine cuts the ticket for you but if you snatch before it has cut it can jam the machine.

I went to Teighmouth first thing, on the way back it got a bit misted up so I switched the demister on. This made it worse as I was now able to ascertain that visibility was down to 20 feet (6 metres). And there were still cars out there with no headlights on? The climb up to Labrador Bay is slow anyway and I was only a couple of minutes late into Torquay.

Tree cutting. I mentioned tree cutting earlier in the week. Back in the old days half a dozen drivers would climb aboard an open top bus and drive slowly along the route and hack away at anything that got anywhere near the bus. Being the people that drove buses along the road they did a comprehensive job. Those days are gone and the council do it now. But no one seems to have mentioned to council workers that when it rains trees get wet. And when anything gets wet it tends to make them heavier. And heavier things tend, due to dear old Issac's invention, move closer to the center of the Earth. And branches that do not overhang the road when dry do so when wet. And it was wet on the road to Teignmouth.

Queuing for car parks. Torquay was a fine sunny day today, unlike the road to Teignmouth, too nice to be working as many of my passengers kept telling me. Please don't.They also kept telling me I had a new ticket machine but that is a different matter. Lots of other people also noticed it was a fine sunny day and decided to have a drive to the sea side. One of our larger car parks is on Cary Parade, just past the bus stop. Once some drivers get in that queue you can see in the photo they seem to think we are trying to pull out in front of them so we too can get in the car park. Will they let us out? Well eventually they do but it can be a bit of a pain.

From the Herald Express

This story appeared in the local paper today.


BY GINNY WARE 24 May 2008

The managing director of bus firm Stagecoach Devon is transferring to a new position within the group, based in Blackpool, the company has confirmed.Chris Hilditch left his job at the Exeter-based headquarters on Wednesday and is due to take up his new post as managing director of a subsiduary company of Stagecoach on June 1.

Mr Hilditch, who lives in Kenton, has worked for Stagecoach for 10 years. He began his career with the bus company in America and joined Stagecoach Devon five years ago.Stagecoach denies any connection between Mr Hilditch's leaving and the introduction of the new South Devon timetable this week.

Operations director Richard Stevens said: "Chris is leaving to take up the job as managing director of National Transport Tokens in Blackpool."He's not leaving Stagecoach, it's a new role within the organisation."In the interim, Bob Montgomery, the service delivery director of Stagecoach UK Bus, will be acting as the managing director for Stagecoach Devon until a successor is appointed."

There is absolutely no connection between Chris' leaving and the introduction of the new bus timetable this week."

Mr Hilditch says he is looking forward to a new role and a new challenge.He said: "It's something which came along. There is a personal family reason why I am leaving as well, but I do not want to go into that."I have enjoyed my time with Stagecoach Devon."For all those people who have been supportive of me since I decided to take this new role, thank you very much. I am going on to an exciting new career and I am looking forward to that."

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Teignmouth, three times in one day.

A couple of photos taken in Teignmouth today. The bus was the one I used on my first trip up there. I have to admit it was easier driving this small bus along the not exactly wide road between Torquay and Teignmouth but it has a limited carrying capacity. Fortunately we are not fully into the summer season yet so I managed OK. The destination blind could be a bit more informative. A holiday maker in Teignmouth is unlikely to know where Roselands is but might like to know that the bus is going to Torquay. I know they could ask but some tourists are reluctant to ask bus drivers questions due to the reaction they get back home. Down here we do try to be helpful but I have been told by visitors from some places that asking a bus driver a question is about a safe as burning the garden rubbish using an ex army flame thrower. We are due to get some larger buses on loan, usual practice in the summer so these Mercs should not be making too many more trips up the coast.

One item I heard on the bus radio today was about carer passes. We used to allow travel around Torbay to a person travelling with a disabled traveller but this concession is not included in the Government funding so Torbay reluctantly withdrew this facility. Some, richer, local authorities do fund carer passes but only in their own area. So down here the carer has to pay. An other driver had a little difficulty getting this message across to the holder of a carers pass from an other town and the driver had to delay the bus while she used the radio to contact control and asked them to confirm the situation. When you get your first mobile phone most people read the instruction book carefully, when you move on to your tenth mobile phone the instruction book gets thrown in a draw with hardly a look. Concessionary Passes are new, it's your first one, at least glance in the direction of the rules. Also I have been surprised over the last few weeks how many visitors have got on the bus and said they have a pass but left it at home because they didn't know they could use it in Torbay. A costly mistake but one that leaves more money in the pot for those who do bring their passes with them. A resident of Teignmouth who couldn't care less about buses or bus passes. All he cares about is flying and will the visitors feed him?

A Thing of the Past (Almost)

This is what our ticket machines look like today. Tomorrow, Sunday and for ever, they will be completely different, super duper electronic monsters that we have all been trained on over the last few weeks. But sitting in a nice stationary class room with a trainer saying do this, do that without a queue of people waiting to get on is a little bit easier than actually being on Torquay Harbour with 35 people waiting to get on and you're trying to remember how to issue such and such ticket. I fully expect that in a weeks time we will have completely mastered them and will issue tickets with the same confidence a magician produces rabbits out of his hat. But that will be in a week's time so if you are using a Stagecoach bus in Torbay on Sunday and for the next few days please be a little patient. (Photo of new machine tomorrow, I know you can't wait.)

The Balloon is up and running on the sea front, it started yesterday. One thing I did report was that it went up 400 metres. I got that information from the local paper, the Herald Express, but it was wrong. It should have read 400 feet which is only 120 metres, no where near as high as I expected. You should still be able to see 20 miles or more but not the 45 miles I reported a few weeks ago. Trips cost £14.00 adults £11.50 Senior Citizens (me) and £8.00 children. Bring your own camera.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Something for the drivers of double deckers to read.

Omnibuses, a blogger who writes about the bus industry posted a story from last Thursday's Telegraph about a bus in London that hit a tree resulting in one dead pedestrian and 18 injured.

Be warned, TREES are DANGEROUS!


Tuesday I ran around as a 12A/12C all day and made the trip up to Teignmouth (Pronounced Tinmouth) once. It is a fairly narrow, bendy, tree lined country lane, the road between Teignmouth and Torquay which most drivers treat with some respect. Some Boy, and Girl Racers, however do tend to think because it is tree lined, it is an off road section of the RAC UK Rally and consider it an insult to their manhood/womanhood if the 6 miles takes more than 6 minutes. It can be a bit hairy on some of the bends, which being tree lined and therefore difficult to see round are best taken at about 10 mph in a 34 foot long bus.

Wednesday was all 12s. Down to Brixham back to Newton, down to Brixham, back to Newton etc,etc boring really after Teignmouth but I like boring, it's good for me.

Then today, Thursday, (pay day) an other trip up to Teignmouth. The motorists on that road must love us. On the way back from Teignmouth I had to wait time for two minutes at Sheldon Bridge. Due off at 18:45. As the clock ticked over to 45 I looked in the mirror, several cars coming so I waited until the road over the bridge was clear of any traffic before pulling out. It is a long slog uphill out of Sheldon followed by narrow, tree lined bendy bits. It takes 8 minutes to get to Maidencombe and when I looked in the mirror there was a seriously large number of cars behind me. Maybe the drivers didn't know the way to Torquay and were just following me.

OK, so the picture is of Teignmouth pier and nothing to do with narrow, tree lined, bendy country lanes but I was too busy holding onto the big round thing to take any photos of the road. One day I will take ride up to Teignmouth and get some from the front seat upstairs.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Story going round at Work

There is a rumour doing the rounds at work today that we, Stagecoach in Devon that is, are without a Managing Director. I don't believe it myself, not until it is officially confirmed anyway.
More when I hear more.

The story is confirmed, Mr C Hilditch who has been Managing Director of Stagecoach in Devon for at least 5 years has left. No firm details are available as to the circumstances of his leaving nor what his future plans are but I would like to wish him all the best where ever he ends up. He certainly stayed longer than the three Managing Directors who preceded him in the ten years I have been with the company and brought many changes to the company, the most notable been the updating of our fleet of buses, a project not yet complete.

I have no idea yet who will replace him.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


A couple of photos of buses in Manchester.

First a FirstBus, a bendy bus carries 145 passengers between Manchester and Bury. In the past I have used this service a lot and have had to pay but now all I have to do is flash the concessionary pass and go and sit down. No bother about telling the driver where I am going or getting a ticket like passengers do down here. Runs every ten minutes even on a Sunday and was, well if not exactly full, wasn't empty either. I did get 3 photos of bendybuses, all from behind. By the time I had seen them coming and got the camera to my eye they had gone past.

These two Enviro 400s seen here in Picadilly Bus Station, the 255 and the 256 heading for Partinton and Flixton on the south side of Manchester.

The journey home was much easier than the trip down but given the cost of fuel and the hire car next trip will be by bus, National Express. I suppose I could use my bus pass and go by local transport but that would take a bit too long.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

The Drive North

Seven and a half hours to go 300 miles. I don't often get out of Devon and haven't driven a car up what is laughingly called our motorway system for several years and was very surprised at the traffic on the motorways these days. The section up from Exeter on the M5 as far as Bristol went by at 70 mph and I though I would make good time to Llandudno. Then the doubts started as the traffic slowed to a 1 mph crawl. An accident thought I. No, just volume of traffic. I took this photo after sitting still for 5 minutes and I have a similar photo taken two hours and 20 miles later. Never again will I moan about the road through Kingskerwell. At least that is only 4 miles.

This happened several times and I was glad to reach Chester and head along the A55 where the traffic moved at a steady 70 mph. It rained quiet a lot as well but then it always does up north.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Mobile Phones and Getting on a Bus

A few months ago the company issued some helpful instructions for first time bus users on how to catch a bus. Some people thought this a bit funny at the time but with rising bus usage ( anyone over 60 can leave the car at home and travel for free (provided they aren't tax payers that is)) there is a large group of people who may never have used a bus. One thing that was left out in the leaflet was how to get on a bus while using a mobile phone. Here are two examples.

First I pulled up at the stop and opened the doors. The intended passenger had a phone in his right hand and was attempting to push it in to his right ear. At first I thought he wasn't going to move and almost shut the doors, then I realised his right foot actually was moving very slowly. He was lifting it up at about a millimetre a second and moving it towards the door. His conversation continued without pause along the lines of, "Yes I know." and "You don't say." Eventually his foot reached the platform. Tectonic plates do move slower but only just. An other couple of, "Yes I know"s and a "You don't say" followed, before the other foot even thought about joining it's companion but it did make it. Then came the tricky bit. His wallet was in his inside jacket pocket. Which hand do you use to get something out of your inside jacket pocket. Right. But this guy was using his right hand to hold the phone and nothing comes between this mobile phone and it's owner's ear. Nothing. So the desperate struggle. Epic film scrips such as the Ten Commandments and On The Buses were written faster than it took to get the wallet out. Try it, use your left hand to get something out of your inside jacket pocket, please don't try on a bus platform though. Now all during this trial of ingenuity and dexterity the conversation continued along the same lines I have already mentioned plus, "The cheeky bugger." repeated twice. Now all but the most determined soul would, after the effort to get the wallet out, have given up on the next step and put the phone down for 5 seconds. This soul was unfortunately very determined and attempted the almost impossible task of continuing an extremely boring conversation which I was forced to listen to, while removing what ever he needed from his wallet using only one hand but concentrating not on the wallet but on saying, "Oh my God. He didn't." a few times. He several times forgot completely about this task as the conversation reached the dizzy heights of, "I don't believe it." said 3 times in quick succession. Grass was starting to grow under the bus and birds were building nests on the roof when a bus pass emerged. We were in the home straight. But I still needed to know where he was going. Paignton was mentioned in the conversation so I took that as the destination and issued a ticket. Our hero than started to move down the bus but stopped before one step had been taken because his phone had lost it's signal. Batteries had probably run out. Thank God there isn't any where to recharge them on the bus. (Hope I haven't given the impression I don't like mobile phones).

Later, only an hour later, so I hadn't really recovered from the first encounter I spotted an other standee at a bus stop with mobile phone to ear. This can't happen twice in one day. I stopped, opened doors and took a deep breath. Person with mobile phone said, "Hang on, I'm getting on a bus." He then moved the phone away from his ear (this is the important bit) and said to me, "Single to Newton please." and placed the right money in the cash tray. 10 out of 10.

Every mobile phone should come with those two scenes in it's memory and in the instruction book that comes with the phone.

Four days off so I am going up to war torn Manchester to visit family and friends. Back to work Tuesday which means I miss the start of our summer season but only by a day.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Bus Passes or Lack of Them

Yesterday in Torquay a couple boarded the bus, the female half approached me as if I was her new best friend. This attitude didn't last however. She asked me if they needed to show their passes. "Yes," said I. Well I would wouldn't I. She changed instantly to my new worst enemy. "Well I haven't got mine," short pause, "and neither has my husband." I told her they would have to pay and she snarled ( maybe that's too stronger word but it is the closest I can get at the moment) "Paignton. Singles." and headed down the bus. Husband slapped a fiver down on the cash try which I grabbed quickly. Two single tickets for Paignton emerged from the ticket machine. "Four pounds fifty please." and carefully placed the change in the cash try and expressed a wish that they would both have a nice day.

Isn't driving a bus wonderful?

Something You Don't See Every Day (2)

There I was, having a post lunch breath of fresh air in Paignton Bus Station when I realised there was something odd about the place. I couldn't quite work out what it was. So I took the photo to take home and study and see if I could come up with a solution.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Big changes come up next Monday

Are you ready for the changes coming up next Monday?

Click here for our new timetables.

I will miss the action as Monday is my day off.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Flying is Easy

Getting an X46, the X Stands For Express.

A little story about going home from work the other day. Just as I came out of the depot to walk down to the main road a bus went past heading to Torquay. I muttered a swear word and continued down. It takes 3 minutes to get to the stop, we are allowed that and when we walk down to take over a bus we get paid that 3 minutes. In fact we get paid 8 minutes, the 3 to walk down and we should be at the stop 5 minutes before the bus is due to arrive. So I was a bit surprised when I got to the stop to find the bus, an X46, still there. The driver sitting, and all his passengers, waiting for the relief driver. I knew at once who it was, he was in the depot reading a magazine. True it was a bus magazine but he should have been driving a bus towards Torquay laden down with 50 passengers by now. The driver waiting to get of the bus was at the end of his shift and wanted to get home. He had been unable to contact control as the radio wasn't working. It hasn't worked properly since before Christmas, repairs have been carried out but it is so old half the time museums around the world have to be scoured to find spare parts. One part from the transmitter is now in the British Museum as it has Marconi's fingerprints on it. Mr Hilditch, the MD, recently told me the radio system would not be replace for at least 12 months.

I offered to sit with the bus so the driver could walk up to the depot and tell the relief driver, hopefully in no uncertain terms, that his bus and passengers were waiting. That would take an other 3 minutes. The bus had already been here 5. So of he went. 6 minutes later the relief driver appeared. Was he in a hurry, did he apologise to the passengers for keeping them waiting, did he regale me with some tale that had no point and took an other two minutes to tell? No, no, yes. And we were lucky, most of this drivers tales, all with little interest or point usually take much longer. By now two number 12s, both of which would have got me home quicker than the X46 had gone past.

Finally he got in the drivers seat and got the bus ready and set of 13 minutes late. What a way to run a bus service.

The Balloon; An Eyesore?

Me, I think it blends in well.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Bikers on the Newton Road

The Newton Road between Penn Inn and Scott's Bridge is a single carriageway two lane road which at most times is full to overflowing. Traffic is slow along this road and a bye pass is urgently needed but it would seem we have as much chance of getting one as Labour have of winning the next election. At this time of year lots of motor cycles head down this road to Torbay in the same fashion as northern motorcyclists head for Blackpool. Now we have had a fair share of these motor cycles sliding along the roadway instead of riding along said road. In an admirable attempt to reduce the accident rate involving bikers the local council, Devon County Council have erected several notices along this road. The notice read as follows:-

Dear Bikers, we have noticed that some of you (not all) ride your bikes along this road at speeds that can only be described as excessive, some even make it to over 80 mph. This is not a good idea as it takes at least 400 feet to stop from this speed unless you hit a solid object, in which case you will stop in about 2 inches. Well your pride and joy will, you will tend to fly through the air with the greatest of ease which can, briefly be fun. But gravity will win in the end and the roadway is very hard. We have also noticed that some of you engage in the exciting hobby of overtaking, usually completely on the wrong side of the road and usually at speed that suggests a death wish, on one or more of the several blind bends that adorn this road. Again not a good idea as you stand a good chance of coming face to face with something bigger than you, namely a quarry truck, a double decker bus or a car towing a caravan driven by a driver on his way home after an exhausting holiday in the bay.

We also note that many of you seem to have the wrong idea about double white lines that appear now and then in the middle of the road. We, at the highways department, have put these lines there because we believe at these sections of road it is extremely advisable NOT to go over the centre of the road. We aren't the only ones. The Department for Transport actually brought out a law many years ago, probably before most of you were born, which probably explains why you seem not to have heard of it. Just in case you haven't, here it is; You may not cross any double white lines in the middle of the road. While we are here, these double white lines are not, as legend appears to have amongst bikers, super thin motor cycle lanes. And while we are on about biker legends, now and then, almost always just before side roads on the right we have put in an extra lane in the centre of the road. It's the one with a couple of arrows marked out in the roadway pointing to the right. They are for cars and other vehicles to move into when they want to turn right. They are NOT motor cycle acceleration lanes. If any old biker tells you they are, don't believe them because biker accelerating and car moving into the same space is usually not a pretty thing to see. In fact the only thing we haven't noticed you doing is using your mobile phone while riding but given the size of the helmets you wear even that would be easy for us to miss.

Now you may have guessed by now that Devon County Council actually haven't put this notice up. For one thing it would be bigger than the Bayuex Tapestry and cost a fortune. There would be more crashes than it would save as people ran off the road while trying to read the big words and no one would be able to move for wrecked cars.

So what notice did DCC put up. The one they always put up. The one directed at the people not to blame.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Bus Stop

This is one of our bus stops in Lymington Rd. As you can see it is marked out in Yellow with BUS STOP also written large in yellow. This means only buses can stop in the marked out space. It has to be marked out like this as it is a residential street with no off street parking. The car parked at the front of the bay is inches from the line. Some years ago there was a light van parked in this spot. The owner didn't drive the van, he used it as a garden shed storing all the junk that get put in the average garden shed (using my garden shed as the average). You know the kind of stuff, should be in the nearest landfill site waiting to be discovered by some 30th century archaeologist who will marvel at the kind of junk the 20th and 21st century produced but the owner might one day find a use for; or, more likely, too mean to have the council clear it away. The van wasn't taxed or insured and was eventually towed away. It had been there so long the council had to come down with a grass cutting machine to clear the roadway.

Anyway the post with the bus stop sign, known as a flag, was right at the end of the bay and the waiting passengers would stand by the flag and we would stop 6 feet before the flag so we had room to pull away. We would stop and the passengers would then walk the 6 feet down to the bus doors. Last year the council replaced all the posts and flags in the Bay including this one. It's their job, not the bus company's. But the new flag ended up exactly where the old one stood. So the passengers still had the 6 foot hike to the bus. Now the council have extended the bay by 6 feet and the passengers still wait by the flag. As we roll slowly into the bay to stop at the flag the passengers start their 6 foot walk and we go past them right up to the flag and they have to turn round and walk right back again. A bit of a dance really. They will get used to it in time.

Monday, 5 May 2008


Ever wondered where all those notices on the side of bus came from? No, neither had I. But I pulled into Paignton Bus Station yesterday and this chap in a yellow jacket approached the bus and asked me how long before I went. Usually this either means his wife is in the shop round the corner and wont be a minute, (She usually is about 5), or he wants a quick ciggy before getting on the bus. Not this time when I said two minutes. A quick spray to clean the window and quick as a flash the notice was up. Round the other side and a similar notice appeared as if by magic. I wish I could put wallpaper up like that at home, the place would be decorated in a couple of years instead of the 5 it has taken so far.
The notice is about the changes coming up for the summer Basically the 12 is a ten minute service between Newton, Torquay, Paignton and Brixham but there are lots of other changes mainly to the 12A (not going to Brixham but going toSouth Devon College, Paignton, Torquay, Babbacombe, St Marychurch and Teignmouth) the 12B is discontinued and a 12C is now running between South Devon College and St Marychurch and Teignmouth but by a different route than the 12A between College and Paignton. Catch the 12A for the Zoo, it's a good Zoo, been on telly. The other main change is to the 32 service in Torquay, it will no longer run up to Babbacombe and St Marychurch, catch the 12A or 12C from outside Debenham's on the Harbourside.
We also should have new ticket machines by the start of the summer season, some drivers have been trained how to work them and the rest of us should know how they work in the next two weeks. They are different so if you get on a bus and the driver is staring at the machine muttering nasty words under his breath please be patient, we'll get there in the end.
The balloon went up yesterday for a trial run. It has to be inspected by the Civil Aviation Authority as it is classed as an aircraft before passengers can be carried. The first passengers should be flying by the middle of the month. One or two passengers, visitors down for the Bank Holiday weekend were disappointed it wasn't up and running yet. More photos when it does start.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

The Fastest Growing Religion in the World.

Health and Safety.

After 10 years of sitting in the bus cab wondering how to get out at the end of a shift I finally have well written, carefully worded instructions to follow. As you can see I have managed to open the door, gone are the days of having to get on the radio and ask control how to extricate myself from the bus.

This just isn't our company that is caught up in this, how soon before all buses will have to have a notice like the one below placed inside the doorway so stressed out passengers can't sue the bus company because they were unable to find the seats?

Health and Safety departments I'm sure vie with each other to see who can come up with the most ludicrous rules and then meet down the pub afterwards to have a good laugh. Or maybe they are true believers. Which is much worse.

Friday, 2 May 2008

New Attraction In Torbay

Torbay, not know for being exactly progressive, has shocked the country by installing it's very own Nuclear Reactor on the sea front. It has also shocked one or two thousand of Torbay's residents. When I was down one the sea front this morning taking the photos I heard one person exclaim that she though it was dangerous as well as a bit of an eyesore. Nick Bye, the Mayor said his vision for Torquay, sorry, Torbay was leading us into the 20th Century at last.

OK. What it really is, is a helium filled balloon that will carry 30 volunteers at a time several hundred feet up in the air in an experiment designed by leading experts in the field to see how many people will be willing to part with £14 to go several hundred feet up in the air so they can have stunning views of the beautiful English Riviera. I might not be first in line but any photos I do take from up there will appear here first.

I did try to get the two double deckers stacked one on top of the other so up could compare it's size with two double decker buses in the traditional manor but both drivers said, "Sod off, this is my break trip."

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Pet Explorer

We have a ticket colled a Pet Explorer. It costs 75p and is used mostly by people with dogs but it also covers large household pets.

But not horses.

Sorry ladies.