Archive for the 'Public Transport' Category

Bristol City

Monday, March 7th, 2016

We went away for a few days, and my better half suggested Bristol. We’d never been, so it seemed like a good idea; pubs, restaurants, thibngs to see, and not too far to go. Given that parking was going to be expensive, and driving has certainly lost its allure these days, we chose to go by train. A lift to Walsall from a friend one Saturday morning saw us experience the joy of Walsall station, a structure seemingly designed to suck the joy of life from you (and no BOAK building as a comforting sight any more), but it is at least functional, and with a simple layout; something you can’t level at the glitter-rolled turd that is New Street and Grand Central now.

[note: at this point I split off my whining about New St to a separate post]

Anyway, enough whining. On to our train, and the bliss of first class (and without costing the earth, thanks to pre-booking), and around 90 mins later we’re at Temple Meads: a very different matter: Victorian, magnificent, easy to navigate, and within a few minutes, we’re in a cab. Our appartment wasn’t ready, so there’s only one place to go:

The Bag of Nails. Beer, cats, pie, music.

The Bag of Nails. Beer, cats, pie, music.

The Bag of Nails. A few pints in the company of kitties, and a half-mile walk across town past the stunning cathedral to the apartment, before heading out.

Bristol’s a nice city: architecture, pubs, restaurants, and things to see and do, and not remotely up itself, which suits me. We took an open-top bus tour (always a good way to orientate yourself), looked around the amazing ss Great Britain in its dehumidified dry dock, walked over the Clifton suspension bridge and wandered around Clifton, and looked around the Aquarium and cathedral after we’d tired ourselves out walking back and didn’t want to walk too far. Obviously, between those activities, we visited a few pubs too. There’s the usual suspects in chain pubs, chain restaurants, and chain stores, but look about and there’s independent places everywhere.

Coming back was a pain-free experience too: a bus to Temple Meads, train to New St (ugh), and on to Walsall, and a bus saw us home in great time (TM to home in under 3 hours), stress-free.


Monday, March 7th, 2016

Our trip to Bristol saw us head through Birmingham New St.

BrownhillsBob has been fairly vocal about it before now, as he’s a frequent user. I use it very rarely (if I visit Birmingham I usually travel by bus), so I was reserving judgement until I’d had a decent look at the finished item.

It was better before.

Before, New Street was, it has to be said, dark, dismal, and tatty. Now, it’s shiny in places (even if the shiny surfaces are badly fitted), but there’s lots of unfinished and tatty edges: doors with knocked, damaged or poorly applied paint, boards cable-tied to stair-rails. The whole place is a freezing cold (at least, it is in February) shrine to consumerism: modern cafes and “restaurants” intended to appear small, independent and funky, while actually being part of a huge chain, and having 1990-era exposed duct and cable-tray decor.

I remember the last time this was called good design.

I remember the last time this was called good design. It was the nineties.

The internal paving looks like it belongs outdoors, the “lounges” are quite possibly the least lounge-like thing ever described thus, and you have to pass out through a ticket barrier in order to buy or collect another ticket (like we were, as we had prebooked tickets from here to Temple Meads, but bought local tickets on the day). Some platforms have escalators, and some seem not to, so it’s wait in a lift or walk down stairs with luggage. The layout isn’t cohesive, and the signage is poor, so really, the huge amount of money and time seems to have created a shopping centre that still has echoes of the old one, and a station that’s harder to use, colder, and doesn’t look that much better.

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.


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