Friday, 30 May 2008
From The Herald Express
BY TINA CROWSON AND GLENN PRICE
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
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
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 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.
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.
Sunday, 25 May 2008
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.
MANAGING DIRECTOR TAKES BUS TO NEW JOB
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
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?
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
Be warned, TREES are DANGEROUS!
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
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
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
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
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
Isn't driving a bus wonderful?
Monday, 12 May 2008
Sunday, 11 May 2008
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.
Saturday, 10 May 2008
Thursday, 8 May 2008
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
Saturday, 3 May 2008
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
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."