Archive for the 'Public Transport' Category

Joined-up thinking?

Monday, July 15th, 2019

I’ve seen a press release from Transport for West Midlands detailing progress on the “Sprint” buses that I first mentioned back in 2010. Back then they were going to be ready in 5 years; nearly 9 later, they’re still vapourware, and the plans are reduced: the Walsall-Birmingham route has changed to

the A34 Sprint route from Birmingham City Centre to a proposed Park & Ride site at Junction 7 of the M6 by the end of 2021

and that, according to our old friend Adrian Andrew:

β€œIt is important we get the detail and design right and that is why we are taking more time over this section of the route in Walsall.

β€œThis means that when we come to deliver Sprint here we can build the route fully confident it will work for the people and businesses of Walsall.”

Which seems odd. In one way, it’s pragmatic that the bit of the route I wondered about all those years ago is the bit they’re not going to bother with; the rest of the route is well served by bus lanes, and I’d argue that the existing buses, using the bus lanes, have little problem with that section, so arguably the cost and hassle factor for the new ones will be reduced.

On the other hand, of course, not dealing with the biggest problem (M6 J7/Scott Arms-Walsall) is a cop out, and the wisdom of a park and ride anywhere near the already critically congested and insane M6 J7 seems like madness on two counts, one being “where”, and the other being “why”.

Where because of the density in that area, and why, because, quite frankly, if you’ve bothered to get in your car to drive to Great Barr, you’ll probably just stay in it all the way. We’ve seen that before, where a certain Dr Beeching predicted people would drive to the station and get on a train.

The route linking BHX to the city probably has more merit, especially as the bit they’re not doing is BHX to Solihull, keeping the most significant bit.

I don’t want to pour cold water on any scheme that tries to reduce congestion and give us better public transport, but it feels to me that this scheme is taking a very long time (but, of course, things like this do), and isn’t going to deliver a big improvement over existing services. Like I mentioned in 2010, we already have a rail connection to the city centre, and to their credit, National Express provide a decent bus service covering that route too.

The fact remains that for those that can afford to do so, many people will drive, despite the awful traffic and parking: the fact is that going door to door in your own car is more attractive for many, despite disadvantages. Personally, I only drive into the city if I have heavy equipment to take to an office there, but I use buses a lot an would rather give up a bit of time to avoid driving. I think it’s almost certain that providing a slightly quicker and more comfortable bus that you have to get to Great Barr to use isn’t going to change many people’s minds.

Bugger Bognor

Friday, May 24th, 2019

we went away, and having not been to that section of coast before (the closest being Worthing one way and Totton the other), and wanting to do some pier-bothering, Bognor, or more precisely Elmer it was.

So,southwards it was: M6T, M42, M40, A34, M3, M27, A27. Not too bad a drive, either, with no significant hold-ups, but Chievely Services was a bit grim- busy, and with a nightmare of a car park that was a tight fit for my not-overly-wide car.

As well as the King George V connection, Bognor Regis is supposedly the sunniest place in Britain, and it certainly seemed like it; we got sunburned and it was bright most of the time.

Elmer was small, but really just a suburb of Middleton-on-Sea, itself now really just a suburb of Bognor, but with a village feel: while the town has expanded and the gaps have closed up, the villages still feel quite villagey. Nearby Felpham was so close to Bognor itself that even I could comfortably walk it with a few rest stops, but it feels like a self-contained place.

Bognor itself is pretty typical British seaside. A few bits a bit run-down, but plenty not. The pier is a bit tired: the boarding notably bouncy in places and generally in need of some TLC (and vastly shorter than it was), but at least it is still there and open. One notable thing was a huge amount of Polish people (and some great shops catering for them): if the Brexit clusterfuck ever happens, I wonder if this will change? I strongly suspect a lot of the local lower-paid jobs might suddenly be harder to fill: this is, after all, the south, so housing isn’t cheap: a house just down form our holiday property (admittedly a large house with direct beach access) was just shy of a million quid.

Notably a bit downmarket compared to Brighton, there was still a good choice of pubs and restaurants, and happily, great public transport from just a few yards from our property. There was a decent museum, and nearby Chichester gave us some sightseeing on the canal and the magnificent cathedral.

Overall, a great place, and not too far either; we drove the entire journey back in one run and 3hr 15 min without taking the piss speed-wise.

….oh yes- the pubs.

Easter

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

For some years now, I’ve spent the Easter holiday working, but this year, as I’m still recovering from my recent surgery, work that involves more walking and standing than normal (and would involve travel) didn’t seem like a great idea, so unusually I’ve had a long weekend, and it’s been a cracker, weather-wise.

With this time, I’ve got my bike back into working order, and ridden it on a couple of very short trial local journeys, I’ve visited a couple of new pubs, got a very small amount of gardening done, and sat in he garden with my pussy cats. Beats pushing packets πŸ™‚

The pub trip introduced a new experience: heading north out of Walsall Station on the Chase Line to Hednesford. At one time, there was a direct bus service, but that went a number of years ago: given the train is fairly regular and quick, and the station is close to town unlike others on this line, there seems little need: a 25 minute trip saw us in Hednesford, which seems a bit more thriving than I remember, though the sun probably helped.

Independent Thought

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

I picked up this article on Unherd via Twatter, bemoaning the loss of bus services in rural areas, and the general loss of non-profitable bus services, especially outside the capital.

It’s a good article, and you can see the impact, even around here, with a good, sensibly priced bus service. As I’ve commented before, some close-by areas in Staffordshire are now unreachable out of peak hours, even if we have gained a service to Lichfield.

Now, my blog was kind-of focused on my restricted opportunities for going on the piss, but also mentioning less well-off workers: the people that are out working for a living but can’t afford the considerable expense of a car.

The article mentions those, and adds another category: pensioners who either can’t afford a car, or indeed can’t drive (perhaps they never learned, perhaps medical conditions prevent it) even if they can afford it.

All of these people are being hit by reduced services and increased prices as subsidies are reduced and the non-profitable routes are stopped or limited. Getting to work, the shops, the job centre, medical appointments etc, and yes, the pub, suddenly gets harder, more expensive, and more time-consuming. People are getting isolated.

All of this because a route doesn’t stack up on a balance sheet. The real social cost of poor public transport acn’t be measured in cash terms. The private-sector model has its place, but it’s not here.

Arrival

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Saturday involved, after sorting a couple of household things, a beer trip to meet Andy & JC. We’d arranged to meet at around 2pm in The Crystal Fountain in Cannock, so as that’s in the wilds of Staffordshire that means the horrors of Arriva. Andy, of course, has little choice but to use Arriva or walk, but that serves him right for living in a backwater.

So, the given meeting time means we need lunch. And the Arriva 1 or 2 connects Walsall, Cannock, and Bloxwich. The Bell is in Bloxwich. The Bell is known to serve good cobs and beer, and has a nice beer garden. It’s a sunny day. So, The Bell it is. A short hop on a NXWM 10A, a ride in the 89 through Pelsall, and we’re there. a swift couple, some lunch, and off to get the Arriva 2: it goes round the houses a bit, but stops very close to the Crystal Fountain.

It also stops, according to TfWM data as used by bus apps and, seemingly google, here:

It doesn’t. The 2E stops there, but the 2 goes around here:

So we got to watch it go round the corner.

The positive side of this is that the 1 is actually quicker, using the A34 more, and with a short walk from here (confusingly named “St Johns Road” on the bus and “Forrest Avenue” in the TfWM Data):

we were at the pub. Which sadly, didn’t give a good impression: lots of noise, blokes stood in doorways, limited beer selection, terrible music being played loud in the beer garden, and some of the decor from that lovely refurb damaged. We moved on.

Now, one thing that I’ve got very used to with NXWM is that they have very accurate, responsive GPS transponders in the vehicles. A smartphone app can , therefore, give you a countdown (or indeed a count up if a bus is very delayed) of an ETA that can be frighteningly accurate- when it goes to “DUE” the bus will literally appear with a minute.

We’ve been caught out by this before in Selkirk: other companies evidently use less accurate transponders or update the feed slower, and you can wait around longer than expected, or indeed, give up, and leave the stop, and miss it as it sails past you 2 min later. This time we waited. In the rain, as like Andy said, “Arriva can never keep to a timetable”. Eventually, the 2 arrived.

We then thought a visit to The Colliers Arms might be nice as the 2 passed through that way. We knew it did, we’d been past. On the outward journey last year, on the other half of the one-way system. Worse still, we missed out on The Star too.

This left us with The Masons (whatpub link). You can see what I thoought of that. Thankfully, The Ivy House, and a finish back at The Bell saved the day, but then NXWM must have been channeling Arriva, by seemingly not running any 89 buses for a couple of hours in the early evening, so the route back was via Walsall. Our bus mojo was not strong this day.

There Is No Cloud

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

..there is just someone else’s computer.

I’ve touched on this before, here. Devices and software we buy can give us great things: we can stream films or music rather than shipping physical media (move bits, not atoms), and deliver amazing connectivity, but when these services depend on someone else’s computer (and if you can’t touch it, it isn’t yours), you can’t rely on them being there.

A very small illustration. I have a bus time app. It is was great. I’d look at a bus stop on the map it grabbed from Google Maps, and it shows me destinations, routes, and more. The data is publicly available, and indeed, Google Maps itself uses the data built into maps- essentially, all the app does is glue together some bits of data, and present it nicely.

Suddenly it stopped working, with a typical error message for phone apps, saying it couldn’t connect and to check my data connection- which was fine. I assumed a temporary problem.

A month or so later, it’ still not working. I email support, and remove the app, re-install it. Clear the data and cache, then eventually wipe the phone. Still no good, so I install on a different phone. Still no good, and still no answer from support.

At this point I can only assume the company is no longer maintaining it, and whatever server it calls home to on the Internet is no longer operational.

For 3-4 quid of app, this is not a problem, but it might piss you off a little if you’ve bought some IoT hardware (Hive, or Ring, for example) and they decide to pull the plug. If you’ve just migrated a huge datacentre into cloud, it could be a disaster.

Remember: if you can’t touch it, you don’t own it, and even if you can touch it and do own it, unless you control every service it needs, it can be taken away from you.

Anyway, not all bad, I ended up with a better app πŸ™‚

[Edit 14/03/2018]

I’ve now had a reply from the app’s author:

Fixed about half an hour ago.
Sorry for the outage and not replying sooner. I have moved suppliers and the problem should not recur.

Which is kind of a shame, as I’ve given up and moved to something else now.

No More Beyond the Northern Wastes

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

With the reduction of subsidies from Staffordshire Council, our relatively recent discovery of Chasetown and Burntwood as places to drink and eat looks like it will end in April, when the NXWM 10 bus route stops going further than Brownhills at off-peak times.

This is a bit tedious; that’s exactly the sort of times I’d be wanting to use it, but it’s just an inconvenience: I don’t rely on that route for work. There’s changes to Arriva services too, which means a Saturday evening trip to The Crystal Fountain is out, too- and even a daytime visit would mean some clock-watching in early evening.

As I said, this is just inconvenience for me, limiting my drinking choices. I’ll live. It could be more serious for working people (let’s not forget that not everyone works 9-5, and not everyone has access to a car).

It is, of course, a direct result of council cuts, caused by government austerity measures, once again most seriously affecting the poorer people the most: those that can’t afford taxis or a car.

The other factor here, of course, is our old friend bus deregulation. The bus companies are private enterprises, with obligations to shareholders. They want t make money, so if a route isn’t profitable, and they’re not being subsidised by a council, they’ll stop running it- and who can blame them?

Why is it a surprise our roads are choked by private cars?

Good old free enterprise, working for the good of all, again. Thank $deity we’re free of the inefficient shackles of public transport run by non-profit organisations.

Breaking the System

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

I’ve been in hospital again. Less involved than last time, but another reduction in mobility that sees me off work for a short while, and reduced mobility for a while. I’m grumpy too, because I can’t get out to the pub, and that dancing program is on.

What I’m going to whinge about this time is the running of the NHS at the moment, no, in fact, the systematic disassembly of the NHS by the current government.

Something happened that I’m fundamentally opposed to. Not opposed enough to refuse treatment, obviously, but something that sticks with me.

I was treated in a very nice Spire private hospital, just up the road in La-di-dah Little Aston. I hadn’t suddenly discovered untold riches, and got private insurance that would actually cover my fucked-up body, or tested the limit on my credit card by paying for it myself- the NHS paid. Very nice it was too, pleasant, seemingly unstressed staff, a comfortable private room, decent food after the op. Free parking for my other half to collect me (though there’s a question over if that’s a good thing or not at a large site).

This annoys me in two ways:

Firstly, I would imagine that Spire made some cash out of NHS budgets.

Secondly, NHS hospitals could be more like this. Where it really counts. When I was last in, and the time before, my care was great. Staff were really good, but stressed, and overworked. I didn’t get that feeling in Little Aston- when I was in a bed that I’d bled over, it was changed with little fuss in about 10 minutes flat, simply because the staff had time to do it.

Despite what many would have you believe there’s no reason why the NHS couldn’t be like this. Much of the stuff we’re told about our “failing NHS” is manufactured, precisely to allow the privatisation-by-stealth I’ve played a reluctant part in, and it’s just plain fucking wrong.

If we didn’t have an NHS, I would not be here today. The circumstances of my birth not far off (not far enough!) 50 years ago meant that without the NHS I’d have died, simple as that: my family were not wealthy (not that poor, but not wealthy). I have family and friends who have been saved more recently than that. These same people would, like me, be told to go and fuck off by private health insurance.

Let’s not split hairs here: the objective here is to make money for the rich, and price anyone who isn’t rich out. Stop funding it properly, farm bits out to the private sector (because they’re always more efficient, huh?), preparing the ground to privatise the whole fucking lot. After all, it worked a fucking treat with the railways, buses, and energy, didn’t it- they’re all perfect examples of a well-run private-enterprise system working cohesively and efficiently for everyone’s benefit. The increased competition keeps prices down and efficiency up so well, and there’s no cases whatsoever of near-monopoly funded by the taxpayer to line the pockets of wealthy fucking twats.

If you think you’ll be fine because you’re healthy, you’re young, or you have a good job, take a good hard think: Life can have a good go at fucking all that up and showing you up to be a fool. If you have a hint of a prior health problem, the insurance companies will be off into the sunset before you know it. If you become ill, and lose that job, you’ll be unable to pay the premiums anyway.

Our NHS is one of the genius strokes of government policy (a decidedly rare thing), and we’re allowing it to be wrecked.

I do have a fairly decent job. I pay a reasonably large amount of income tax each month. You know what? I’ll willingly pay more if that is what it takes to fund the NHS properly, and if you don’t agree, you’re a fucking short-sighted idiot.

Bracing

Saturday, November 4th, 2017

We’ve been away to Llandudno (again). In November. Traditionally, we’ve headed to sunnier climes at this time of year, but with a reluctance to be in a metal cylinder of bastards (run by airlines that may go bust) and an expensive roofing bill, we economised a little.

We might not have had the weather, but the travel is much easier when you’re in control: a leisurely drive up the A41/A55 saw us in Pensarn for lunch at 1:30, then in Llandudno and our rather nice holiday cottage by 3pm, and on the pier with a drink by 4. Given our timing (Saturday November 4), there were fireworks, too- and while the promenade was crowded, the pier was a great place to watch:

Fireworks from Llandudno pier

So what of the rest of the week? Unsurprisingly, pubs were involved. We went and checked out the highlights of Rhyl (nowhere near as bad as memory told me it was- in fact, for a cold day in Novenber not bad at all) and the lowlights of Towyn (seemingly endless caravan parks and “fun” pubs) on the way. We went to Colwyn Bay to see the ongoing dismantling of the pier, and discovered that my memories of the town as being a little grim were unfounded and unreasonable, and that, on foot, the seperation of town from promenade by the A55 isn’t anything like as bad as you’d think. The local bus service made all this easy: I know Arriva come in for stick from Andy, but the service between the North Wales coastal towns was reliable, frequent, and reasonably priced.

We wandered up and down Llandudno’s pier a few times, managed to get on the Orme Tramway for its last day of running (apparently, it is steep. Also apparently, the station labelled “Halfway Station” is approximately half way up. I only know this thanks to fellow passengers remarking upon that several times).

We also had the joy of a Holiday Cat.

Holiday Cat

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.