Archive for the 'Public Transport' Category

Taphouse Tour

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Following on from last year’s 100 Pubs adventure, we decided on a twist in our ways to drink too much contribute to the pub trade and have a bit of a giggle.

We’ve lowered the count this time, but added a challenge in other ways.

The challenge is Taphouses: that is, a brewery’s primary pub or bar. If the brewery is on site, all the better, but this isn’t always the case.

There’s ground rules.
1. The challenge is a minimum of 10 taphouses.
2. Each participant must drink at least 1 of the home brewery’s beer.
3. A photo of the taphouse must be taken.
4. Any 3 of the originators must be present, as a minimum.
5. Arrival (at least the last mile) should be by public transport, or walking (maybe cycle?)
6. Each taphouse will be scored out of 10 on ambience, beer choice and quality, architecture, pies/cobs/snacks, and toilets. Yes, Andy and me gave in on this one!

Each visit will be recorded here. If it’s a pub I’ve not been to before, it will get an entry on PubBlog too.

Scoring works as follows: each person judges in each category out of 10. The mean of the scores in each category is then published, and then the mean of those is taken (by summing them and dividing by 5) to give an overall score.

Not So Swift

Monday, October 19th, 2015

I bought a Swiftcard, because it seemed like a great idea. I’ve been waiting for it to be valid on National Express West Midlands, simply because those are the buses I use the most, and finally, it is, so I bought two cards (one for my better half), and off we trotted (well, I hobbled) to get a bus.

The Pay As You Go card is simple; it replaces cash. You top it up with credit, allow auto top-up if you want, and then buy a ticket, but instead of hunting for change, you slap the car on the reader, and tell the driver what you want. They press the right keys, a ticket is issued, and the cost comes off your Swiftcard. Not before time, as most buses in our area do not give change, and the price of two all-day tickets means notes get involved unless you have close to 10 quid in coins, and notes get jammed in the coin chute.

So, the theory is Swiftcard fixes this.

I’ve now used the card three times. The first time, the driver just didn’t know what to do, so just let us on. The second time, attempting to buy 2 tickets, we were charged for one, and the driver thought the top-up receipt (top-ups happen automaticatally on buses, or you can use a terminal at bus stations, or an Android device with NFC and the app) was a second ticket. On the third occaision, the bus was quiet, so I explained how it is supposed to work to the driver, and he worked it out :-)

Clearly, at least at National Express, no one has told the drivers, and I’m not alone.



The system’s great, and in my experience, the tech all works, but they really need to train the drivers, who I’m sure will be just as frustrated. It’s also interesting that just as we get our electronic cash-replacing card, London’s Oystercard gets phased out, replaced by contactless debit cards.

Bus Preservation Society

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Today I took a short bike ride along the canal then Leighswood Avenue and Nortgate up to Aston Manor Road Transport Museum, for the first time since their move to Shenstone Drive. It was quieter than expected- given it was a running day and beautiful weather, but there were many events on today around Walsall, and I didn’t make it up until mid-afternoon.

I found a handy place to lock the bike, and turned round to admire this beauty:

VAL466G, a Bedford VAL with Plaxton Panorama Elite Body

VAL466G, a Bedford VAL with Plaxton Panorama Elite Body

Another view of the VAL

Another view of the VAL

A Bedford VAL. A fairly rare vehicle, but well known- this was the coach (though with a Harrington body) that was used in The Italian Job.

Even better, it was running that day- despite that slot in the programme listing a Guy. Time for a wander around the museum, a quick drink, and the sound of a Gardner diesel running, and then a trip into Walsall in 70s-style luxury: inside it’s memories of school trips (and no Mini Coopers or gold bars):

This took me back 35 years....

This took me back 35 years….

While on the road it’s very refined, helped by the driver’s skill: we wafted past the Big Gig in the Arboretum, and cruised into town, where I switched to this Midland Red bus for the journey back, with the joys of a Self-Changing Gears semi-auto:

Midland Red S17 5479

Midland Red S17 5479

According to this photo on Flickr
, the VAL is resident at the museum now- it should fit right in to their Coach Rally on August 18th.


Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

This morning’s BBC breakfast was full of hype for the launch of 4G data. In theory this sounds great: mobile data has changed our world, from smartphones and tablets to remote telemetry, data logging, and security applications without the need for cabling. We can, at least in theory, stream movies or music, read our email, telework, and tweet a load of shite from anywhere. The networks are now crowing about their superfast performance, their fibre backbones, and anything else they can spin into saying how great they are.

One problem: this is all still radio. Radio needs masts, and residents hate masts, even before the electrosensitivity loonies get going. Without masts, and even with them sometimes, depending on environment, coverage suffers. Plus of course, masts, and the backhaul all cost cash too.

This means that, practically, in some areas, the current 3G/2G connectivity is non-existent or so slow to be practically useless: down the road in WS9 9LR coverage is so poor for Vodafone that voice calls and SMS messages barely work, and data is unusable. Walsall Wood may not be a huge metropolis, but it’s not a rural backwater either, and the same applies to suburban Pelsall and Rushall, where you can find similar holes.

I was complaining about this seven years ago, when 3G data was a niche product.

If you go into the centre of Birmingham, you can easily see 3Mbit/sec: faster than some home broadband, and fast enough to run an entire office from (trust me, I have done it), but outside the city, coverage can have some huge holes: this is why, for example, NXWM’s trial of wi-fi on buses didn’t catch on: the only way to backhaul the data from the bus is over 3G, and by the time you have a busful of people, and the router keeps dropping out, it becomes painful- the same applies to the West Coast Main Line, and that has a fixed route.

In summary: Phone networks: stop bullshitting us. Cut the shiny marketing, bullshit about fibre optics and other tech terms littering the adverts: just make the existing 3G service work before you try to flog us the replacement. Let me be able to tweet bollocks from the pub, or fire up my VPN from a house in Pelsall that doesn’t have broadband.

NB: I’m only picking on Vodafone here because I have more experience of them, and because they’re ‘Best Network’ of the year as voted by Mobile Choice Consumer Awards. They all have the same problems, in different places.

The End of the Trolleybus

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Staying with the bus theme, I bought a copy of Classic Bus magazine to read at the airport, and it had this rather lovely short article and picture about the last days of Walsall trolleybuses that might interest some people. It’s a big file though, as a full-colour A3 scan.

Walsall Trolleybus near J10 (PDF, 20MB)

Walsall Trolleybus near the site of M6 J10. From Classic Bus magazine.

Mutiny on the Buses

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

As the lad himself has detailed, we went to Wythall Transport Museum. It’s a bigger concern than Aston Manor, and well worth a look: Andrew enjoyed himself taking the piss out of my new-found bus obsession, but then getting diverted by the really odd types with notebooks. I got to listen to some Gardner diesels close up, and we got a nice ride out to Henley-in-Arden.

Pictures in the Gallery.

The bad news is that Aston Manor again seem to be about to become homeless: sadly, this is only announced on their Feckbook pages, not on the proper website. Anyone know of a potential new home, again?

On The Buses, again

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

This time, I wasn’t driving.

We went to Aston Manor Transport Museum‘s open day in it’s new Aldridge home. The new building is bigger and better for purpose, if not as impressive as the old tram shed in Witton. We had a great time: a look about, a ride in some lovely old vehicles, and a chance (thanks to the lovely people) to see if I can fit properly behind the wheel of a D9 after the PD2 disappointment (I didn’t, properly).

I think I’m becoming a bus pervert: the sound of a Gardner 6LX or Leyland 0600 and a Self-Changing Gears Pneumocyclic gearbox is becoming strangely attractive. Both the Gardner and the Leyland engine are slow-revving, noisy beasts with enough torque to pull anything.

Pics- click to embiggen.

Daimler CVG5

Daimler CVG5 in West Bromwich Livery

Daimler COG5

Daimler COG5 in Coventry Livery.

Guy Arab LUF

Beautiful, Gardner-engined (with crash box) Guy Arab LUF. We had a ride to Walsall & back in this.

Guy Arab IV

Guy Arab IV

One great thing this year: plenty of bus journeys (all included for the admission price- we went to Hardwick and back, Walsall and back, and Chasewater and back on a mix of old machinery), and the fact they met up with steam trains at Chasewater for the train perverts. Great value and fun.

Notwork West Midlands

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Regular readers may remember this tale of woe where we were forced to spend time in a pub eating and drinking due to the inability to obtain a bus time, as the local online travel info service doesn’t include services by Diamond Bus.

This annoyed us at the time, and has further annoyed my dear other half, as if you try to get journey times between home and the big bad city, it only shows journeys sponsored by Centro. This means a few early or late ones. Kind of negates the value of a ‘network’ journey’ planner, huh?

The service is run by West Midlands Travel Information Services. This is a private company (PDF, 210K), with shareholders that include bus companies (including Birmingham Coach, aka Diamond, as of the last published statement), CENTRO, and councils. They told us:

Unfortunately commercial services operated by Diamond have been withdrawn from the data feed we hope this is only a temporary situation and are working with our partners Centro to resolve it. In the interim you may wish to use Diamond’s own web site

and after further questioning along the lines of “why”:

While Centro are a publically funded body they are only a partner and data supplier to our organisation. As the details behind why information on these services has been withdrawn is confidential I hope you will appreciate that I cannot disclose the reasons that lead up to this decision being taken.

I would however like to reiterate that we hope the current situation is temporary and are doing everything we can to find an amicable solution.

We’ve asked Diamond why, but haven’t had an answer as yet, if we do, it will be posted here.

Whatever the story, this is another example of the disjointed mess that public transport has become: no-one has control or responsibility, and us, the users who pay for it (via taxes and fares) suffer. Centro are supposed to do stuff, but in practice are seemingly powerless. Incomplete data is worse than no data in my opinion: the current planner could see you taking a longer, slower, more expensive route.

As it happens, I’ll be using the Diamond 56 to Birmingham at least once next week. As I’m an infrequent but regular user, I know it exists, and generally, it’s a reliable service with clean buses and decent staff. I know that many of my friends and neighbours don’t have a clue what bus goes where, and ‘Network’ West Midlands won’t tell them any different. With the alternative being a bus into Walsall and then a bus or train from there, I suspect many of them will reach for the car keys, even with fuel scarce and £6 a gallon, and city centre parking expensive. This is the competitive, efficient market that bus privatisation gave us: fragmented, incoherent, and poorly organised.

[query] I wonder if the iPhone/Android apps use the same, incomplete, dataset?

[edit 9-4-2012]

I asked Diamond:

Hi Are you able to tell me why your services do not feature on the Centro
Hotline or the travelinemidlands journey planner? It’s very inconvenient and must be
losing you business. Thanks Chris Bartram

Form inserted: 31/03/2012 09:30:37

Form updated: 31/03/2012 09:30:37

and got back:

Unfortunately, neither traveline or transport direct who provide the information
on bus services within the West Midlands County supply information for Diamond
commercially operated services.

I replied:

Thanks. In case you didn’t get my previous email, I know that already, having found
it out the hard way! My question was “Why is that the case?”.

If you’re unable to answer for some reason, that’s OK, but please let me know either

and the reply was:

Unfortunately, I do not know the reasoning why traveline and transport direct do not
provide the information for our commercially operated services but I believe there
is an additional charge for this.


Not worth it

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

Today, we had a bit of a walk out: a bus to Walsall, and a walk to Park Hall to visit the King Arthur, and then a walk up Sutton Rd and over the Beacon to the Foley Arms, where the plan was to get a 56 bus back home.

Here, we hit on a problem. We didn’t know the bus times. No problem, I have my antique Nokia phone with me, and call up an online bus timetable. It’s around 5:30pm, and the next bus is allegedly 7:33pm. This cannot be right, so I call the Centro hotline, where the nice lady tells me that she is only allowed access to the evening service- the ones subsidised by Centro (and therefore the same one I’ve just seen online)- and not the daytime schedule, but gives me Diamond Bus‘s phone number (which just rings). I take a look at their site, but the timetable is not fully viewable on my antique phone (the scrollbars do not appear).

So, to summarise:

We have a public body who uses Network West Midlands branding and has in the past used TV adverts with that branding, whose remit is:

(to) put(s) that policy into action, developing and promoting public transport services for people and encouraging their use.

but doesn’t have access to timetables, and a private bus company who receives subsidy from said public body, but provides no access to their timetable, unless you have access to their website via a modern browser.

How does this represent a joined up network, a sensible way to operate a public service? Think about it: why does everyone go everwhere by car? Could it be because public transport is disjointed, scattered, and not a service in the real sense of the word?

As it was, we had another couple of drinks and some food, but we weren’t in a hurry and can afford to do that. This is just not good enough.

Malta buses again

Friday, June 24th, 2011

My dear better half pointed out this article from the BBC telling of the end of the loevely old Malta buses, and the rather nice model of self-employed drivers and cheap fares that goes with it. In goes Arriva.

Oh Dear.

Even without all the misty-eyed nostalgia and the smell, sound and experience of some ancient old diesel, is this really going to produce a better transport system? It’s worked so well here.

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