Thursday, 31 July 2014

Sapphire Simply Saddens [2]

The first Sapphire route between Wrexham and Chester was certainly a big step forward in buxury travel. Top deck seats were 2+1 and squishy ...
... bottom deck seats, although 2+2, were "leather" with high backs.
Roll on to the launch of Sapphire 31 and 31A in Leicester and you get refurbished buses, not new, ...
... with 2+2 non squishy blue "leather" and without high backs. Disappointing.

Then there was audio-visual without audio. Although, on both fbb's Oadby Sapphires, the screens were working adequately (but not perfectly; some stops were shown after departure), there was no audible audio.
Oadby town centre is being refurbished and the main shopping street is closed. Leicestershire council has provided some "dolly stops" ...
... on the diversions and there was an explanatory screen on-bus, if you were close enough to read it.
Having read it, the next stop announced on screen and in audio silence was  The Parade , a stop not served during this phase of the road works! Presumably the programers at the Arriva depot could insert an "alert", but changing the whole route gubbins to remove the missing stops would have involved a completely new GPS satellite launch. Perhaps the local space lads could help?
Nearly forgot. there was an explanation of the rerouting on a small poster on a lower deck bulkhead.
Correct but illegible unless you were sitting in the seats directly in front of it. Poor, especially for inexperienced visitors. This was fbb's first ever visit to the suburban solubriousness of Oadby, so even after prolific pre-expedition preparation, the chubby one struggled to understand.

fbb concluded that the Leicester Sapphire experience was somewhat less jewel encrusted than that between Wrecsam and Caer.

But what was really really depressing was the appalling state of the "route equipment", bus top flags and at-stop information. Here is a selection of stop flag pictures showing a steady deterioration as the bus left the opulence of the city centre and progressed to the depressed slums of Oadby. (?)

X7 stops here; that's Stagecoach every 30 minutes to Northampton continuing every hour to Milton Keynes.
But the only "operator" label is a tired and peeling Arriva. Presumably that company has gone bust?

This flag was, at least clean; but hardly informative with possibly helpful stickers removed.

Centrebus to Fosse Park stops here or did? But doesn't? Or does?

And an attractive mixture of white sticky vinyls and older patch-ups that have deteriorated to grey.

Oh, yes indeed, truly a bus service that sparkles.
The word "Sapphire" did not appear on any stop flag from London Road (Leicester Station) to fbb's alighting point at Sainsbury's on Glen Road.

There were departure lists at the stops but, of course, no timetables. From other operators and in other localities, these lists have at least a guide as to length of journey but no such minimalistic help from sparkling Arriva. Just a list.
Some stops, like this one on the estate in Oadby had a very useful map, NOT.
It is good to know that Arriva operates buses to Shrewsbury when you are hoping to get off at Sainsbury's in Oadby. There are perfectly adequate maps in the timetable leaflets and on-line.
Even a route diagram like the ones on the buses ...
... would be more helpful, (OK, less unhelpful) that a crude and meaningless network diagram.

The 1630 trip was well-loaded and the majority of those on board had alighted by Oadby not the Parade. Voyagers braving the wiggly estate were small in number.

But before we enjoy the untold excitements of the return journey, fbb repairs to Sainsbury's for a mugga and a meal. "Fish and chips, please", requested fbb, conscious, as always, of his dietary needs and dangers.
"Sorry, we've run out of fish." came the barely apologetic reply. Now, there's a thing. Downstairs is a huge supermarket with racks and racks of frozen food including loads and loads of fish products. But the caff has run out of fish. Strange are the ways of our supermarket managers? It'll be a different line on the cumputer.

So it was cottage pie.
Hardly a gourmet experience but an ideal opportunity to wonder how the cook manages to create translucent and totally tasteless carrots. It must take years of training.
Pud was a Belgian chocolate gooey thing plus an Eccles Cake inadequately stuffed with eccles. But the repast (?) filled a gap and prepared your tireless transport investigator for the return journey to central Leicester.

To recapitulate; whilst some of the Sapphire routes are equipped with new rolling stock, Oadby was allocated refurbished buses; but not refurbished to the same Sapphire standards as, for example, the first sparkler in Wales. Apart from a visual screen showing stop names, something that is becoming universal in London town, it is hard to see much difference between this and an "ordinary" route.

What is very much below par is the quality at the roadside. No doubt there will be the usual excuses; almost certainly the bus companies have devolved stop signs, shelters and timetable provision to Leicester City and Leicestershire county but, surely ...

... if you've got it, flaunt it!

At least nip out on a dark night with a step ladder and screw some proper signs on the poles. There's a pretty good chance that the local authorities will never notice!
fbb knows of at least one company that would have never allowed such a sloppy announcement of its presence on the road.
To add to the brand confusion (dilution?) you can now have single deck Sapphires ...
... as here on the 7 between Durham and Darlington.

 Next sparkling bus blog : Friday 1st August 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Sapphire Simply Saddens [1]

We’ve spent a lot of time talking to people who use the bus regularly, those who use it occasionally and even people who seldom go by bus, to find out what’s important to them and how we can make going by bus a better experience. The result is Sapphire, an altogether better bus service from Arriva.

You told us you want:
Buses to be on time, reliable, frequent and take a direct route
Drivers to look smart and give excellent customer service
An enhanced feeling of personal safety, space and comfort
The 41 vehicles running Sapphire routes are a mixture of brand new
     and extensively refurbished buses.
They are fitted with more comfortable leather seats, with high backs,
     deeper cushions and more space; in some areas of the buses
     we’ve used the space normally taken by four seats
     to have three, more spacious places to sit
Free WiFi 
Charging points
Audio-visual announcements

fbb has previously blogged about Sapphire with a certain amount of cynicsm. Many of the company's "novelties" look like they should be part of every bus service. The provision of WiFi is increasingly becoming a standard requirement rather than a luxury extra, for example. But fbb had never travelled on a Sapphire service. This was put right on the recent visit to Leicester for the 90th anniversary of the City's motorbuses. 

For the record, that was First Bus, son of Leicester Corporation Transport. Arriva is successor to Midland Fox, itself a brand created for a retstructured Midland Red.

Services 31 and 31A run via London Road to Oadby ...
... a small narrow village by-passed by the A6 in 1931. The map extract above shows the new road added to an existing map, crudely passing through the village name. This ...
... is Oadby in 1912! This ...
... is Oadby in 1955. And, finally, a similar shot from Streetview today,
Ribbon development spread along the A6 by-pass in the form of housing and light industry, followed by a splurging of estates on both sides of the original village. It is those estates that are served by Arriva's Sapphrie branded 31 and 31A.
Apart from a period of silly competition, the town has been in the purview of Arriva for most of the post privatised period.
Time, then, to plan this great expedition. The aim was to do the 31 loop outwards then nip through to catch the 31A back. This meant that the full delights of Oadby would be available for the edification of your esteemed blogger.
With both routes having a 15 minute frequency, the out-and-back would be easy to schedule. A quick look on Streetview revealed a further bonus; the interchange would be at Sainsburys (on Glen Road at the junction with Ash Tree Road, see map above) ...
... with the caff supplying fbb's lavish evening meal (?).

But there is an information problem. Very few buses continue round the loop to the aforementioned Glen Road Ashtree Road. The 1720 is one example but fbb was hoping for something an hour earlier.
Remembering that this is a premium Sapphire service, we can be sure that the timetable is spot-on correct; although that is not one of the key features of the brand. Of course ... it's yet another example of the complete inability of bus companies to show loops correctly. All buses run to Glen Road Ashtree Road; the ones shown as going there on the incompetent timetable page are buses that are finishing their day's work and making their way "light" back to the depot.

Thanks all concerned for Sapphire quality.

fbb needed to look at the inbound timetable to estimate his arrival at Sainsburys.
It's the same the other way; a very few morning journeys are shown as starting at the beginning of the loop ...
... whereas, of course, they all do.

Sapphire quality rules OK!

And while the PR gurus at Arriva are contemplating the best way to arrange a change at The Grange, maybe they should also think about the "terminus", enigmatically called "The Blues".
Problem No 1 with this location ...
The Co-op has announced plans to convert a former pub into a convenience store, creating 20 jobs. The Blues, in Uplands Road, Oadby, closed six months ago. It is set to reopen as a shop in the autumn. The shop will be open seven days a week and will be able to sell alcohol between 7am and 10pm.

... it doesn't exist! Problem No 2 with this location ...

The buses don't "terminate" there - they wait for their departure time elsewhere on the estate; well, fbb's did!

Nevertheless, a quick nip out of Leicester London Road Station and there is the stop, and bang on time arrives Arriva 31 having left Charles Street at 1630.
The adventure begins.
All Electric MetroShuttle
First Bus and Transport for Greater Manchester have announced the introduction of three all electric Optare thingeys for MetroShuttle1, one of three free city centre buses.
 The three newcomers will join exisiting hybrids on the route.
Here are the Mancunian Great and Good (Vicky Tomlinson, operations manager for bus operator First, Howard Hartley, Head of Bus for TfGM, and Cllr Mark Aldred, Deputy Chair of the TfGM Committee.) doing their PR bit.
But the best bit, by far, is the slogan on the back.
Whoever composed that deserves at least a chocolate peanut!
Unlike Milton Keynes, the buses have proper pipes to fill them with the 'lectric, so they might actually work.
 Next bus blog : Thursday 31st July 

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Livery Delivery : Revisions Decisions [2]

Livery used to be simple. It never changed. A municipal bus operation had a colour plus a stripe or two, plus a coat of arms, plus the name. That was it. Southampton trams were red ...
... and the buses were a darker, more distinguished red. No name was necessary, these were the town's buses; an expression of civic pride.
Then came a trend for brighter lighter adornment which begat less red and more cream.
Privatisation brought competition, a new name, more red and routemasters. [also, in this case, a branded bus on the "wrong" route!]
All the former municipal fleet was painted a brighter red, slightly exaggerated in this shot.
But this was wiped unceremoniously away when First Bus bought the privatised city company. Boring barbie replaced tradition and the change was regretted.
There were some half-hearted attempts at route branding ...
... and some notable failures; and the First "refreshed" syle.
Then in 2013 came a minor revolution. Service 3 was rebranded as "the three" ...
... and allocated buses in an all-over red livery. They were refurbished hand-me-downs from Portsmouth, but, shhh, don't tell anyone,
Back to the future! Observers must assume that the branding was a success commercially as a recent timetable change enhanced the frequency.
But something even more dramatic is happening.
New buses for service 1 are being delivered ...
Complete with the inevitable WiFi ...
... SN14 FFH is the first of a fleet of Wright Streetlites branded "City Red"; with a further local tag at the rear.
With just a hint of First corporate identity in shadowy diagonals, the "official" font for "we" and "Southampton" and a barely visible First name plus logo, you could be forgiven for thinking that the City was back as owners. But no doubt that's the whole idea.

Thee questions. Will "The Three" disappear in favour of the city-wide brand? ...
... does Wilts and Dorset mind? And, when everything in Southampton is labelled "City Red" will the marketing gurus need a few green, orange, heliotrope, mustard, eau-de-nil or taupe buses to enhance awareness and increase revenue on selected routes? City NOT Reds? Well, you couldn't have a City where the buses were ALL all-over red, could you?
That would be really, really boring.

 Next bus blog : Wednesday 30th July