17 August 2018

Above the Parapet

Hampshire County Council has said it is considering introducing a 50p fare per journey for holders of the English National Concessionary Bus Pass (ENC). Currently, ENC pass holders are entitled to free local bus travel between 0930 and 2300 on weekdays and at all times during weekends and bank holidays as a minimum.

This is backed by government legislation, and to try and impose a fee would be illegal.

However, Hampshire is citing the results of a recent consultation that point to a willingness by ENC pass holders to pay a nominal sum for their bus journey provided this is ploughed back into the local transport network. Hampshire says all the 50p fares would generate £4.7 million and that this would cover the cost of all the county's existing bus subsidies and community transport.

The ENC pass was first introduced on 1 April 2006, initially only offering free local bus travel in each authority's own area. This caused considerable limitations to those passengers who lived by a county boundary and whose bus service linked them to their nearest town which happened to be in another county.

These passengers would be entitled to free outward travel, since the ENC scheme requires the local authority in whose area the journey commences to cover the cost of the journey, but they would be forced to pay a full adult fare to return as their return journey from the shops would commence in an authority's area in which they were not resident.

This was remedied from 1 April 2008 when England-wide free local bus travel was introduced, again paid by the authority in whose area each journey begins. This is the scheme that has been running ever since. While free journeys cannot legally commence until 0930 on weekdays, the legislation allows authorities to commit their own funds to enhance this offering. Lincolnshire County Council, for example, allows free travel at all times, though only to its residents. Those visiting from elsewhere are still required to pay to travel before 0930, for example.

Hampshire, along with other authorities who are located on the coast, suffer disproporionately from most 'landlocked' authorities as they receive a large number of seasonal bus journeys. Many residents from South Yorkshire, for example, visit Cleethorpes and make use of the network of local bus services there every summer, whose bus journeys North East Lincolnshire Council is legally required to reimburse local operator Stagecoach for, yet a similar percentage of NELC residents do not head inward to Sheffield or Barnsley for their holidays and make use of the network of local bus services there.

This Isle of Wight has reputedly the lowest reimbursement rate of any local authority in the country, indicative of the high number of ENC-entitled residents and seasonal visitors making use of Southern Vectis's services.

This is another major stumbling block with the ENC bus pass. The money local authorities receive from central government is not ring fenced. There is no legal minimum they have to reimburse bus operators, either. If the Adult Single fare is £3, the local authority does not pay that £3 to the operator. No, they pay a percentage of the average fare for that specific route. It all gets rather complex, but in the main, bus operators receive under 50% of the average adult fare for every journey made.

if Hampshire is feeling the pinch, you can be sure its local bus operators will be, too. A few years ago, East Yorkshire Motor Services had a loss-making service in Hull that they were cross-subsidising from their more profitable routes. However, they situation became too strenuous and so the company requested that ENC pass holders using the route - the majority - consider a voluntary contribution towards their fare. This saw a significant up uptake, but was slapped town by the DfT who wrote to officially warn EYMS that in their eyes they were breaking the law. And so the service was withdrawn without replacement.

It's interesting that Hampshire wants to keep the 50p for itself, presumably hoping it will be allowed to retain the current reimbursement rate it has set for the local bus operators. I would imagine Stagecoach et al to contest this. The money they are legally owed by the local authorities is not subsidy, it is reimbursement for revenue foregone, something the local and national media and MPs seem to be ignorant about.

First is a major player in Hampshire and would likely have an opinion on the local authority retaining all of any additional flat fee charged per journey made on its services.

Would a government with no working majority in the House of Commons and whose traditional support is from those entitled to an ENC bus pass really consider scrapping the concept? Perhaps a political third way, so oft used by Labour under Tony Blair, could be introduced that would enable the government to save face. They could announce the ENC bus pass would continue to offer free local bus travel except if a local authority chooses to introduce a nominal flat fare of 50p per journey maximum, with the revenue generated ring fenced to protect local and community services.

The government first committed around £1 billion for the ENC bus pass in 2008. While this has remained broadly static, the costs for bus operators in the past decade have risen considerably, yet the ENC reimbursements have not. This means fare-paying passengers are bearing the brunt of operator cost rises through higher than normal increases in bus fares. While this may not change if the Hampshire model is introduced, there would at least be revenue generated so that marginal bus services do not disappear.

28 June 2018

Brexit & Rail Re-Nationalisation Synergies

Frustrations surrounding the manner in which every day life is governed by a supposed unaccountable elite in Brussels and a similar impotence over operation and accountability of Britain’s much loved and cherished national rail network have, in the opinion of the LEYTR STIG, become so heightened that the outcomes have manifested themselves in the same way.

“How many European Commissioners do you think there are?” I was once asked. Foolishly, or perhaps not, I replied tentatively in the singular. “Wrong!” came the reply, “There are five and I bet you can’t name them!” For fear of a second humiliation I chose at this point to bow out with relative dignity and admitted defeat.

“Guess how much Network Rail want to charge to re-open a seven-mile section of railway between March and Wisbech,” I was asked recently. “Around £100 million!” came the reply before I could dispatch my response, so incensed was the questioner. “Can you imagine? I’ve said I’ll arrange it all myself for £50 million – a bargain if you ask me!”

For true believers in the European Project, or even those who are more comfortable with the UK becoming a more integral partner in Europe as a whole, it matters not one jot about how many EU Commissioners there are – or their names. They are content knowing that ‘we are where we are and I’m broadly happy with that.’

There can be few who would argue that the European Union and its Commission aren’t a little top heavy; full of bureaucrats who thrive on life’s minutiae, who seem self-obsessed with loop holes and creating butter mountains and wine lakes for the sake of their unwavering quest to follow rules.

For those who recall BBC’s 1990s sitcom Brittas Empire, well-meaning but woefully inept leisure centre manager Gordon Brittas (played by Chris Barrie) was encouraged to look for promotion as he was utterly useless managing people. “You find you’ve got yourself a bit of a chocolate fireguard,” Brittas mused in one episode to his much more competent deputy. “You can’t sack people nowadays because they can’t do their job. You have to encourage them to look for promotion.”

While Brittas was describing his other deputy – wart-laden hypochondriac Colin Wetherby – viewers, along with his other deputy Laura, with whom he was conversing – could spot the deliberately unintended comparison between poor Colin and himself. Brittas eventually applied for and was offered the position of European Commissioner for Sport. “Europe is made for people like you, Mr Brittas,” Laura wryly reassured him in the last episode when he was having last-minute jitters about whether to go or not.

Indeed the EU would very much suit people with Brittas’ particular skillset and the Brittas Empire writers Richard Fegan and Andrew Norriss held this view of the EU as long ago as 1993.

Brittas had a dream. A dream that one day all the peoples of the world would come together and that he, initially as a lowly leisure centre manager, would help mould the physical souls of the population. The EU has a dream too…

I feel I need to show my hand at this point. I was a massive fan of Brittas Empire and I also share the view with the majority of those who voted in the EU Referendum during 2016 that the UK should leave the European Union. In writing this, I’m not attempting to change or even challenge entrenched views; nor am I going to suggest alternative ways of doing things. 

I have spotted striking similarities between otherwise sensible, high-earning commuters who are well educated in how Capitalism works, demanding that the rail network be re-nationalised and large swathes of the population flicking the metaphorical V-sign at the Establishment over our continued membership of the EU and the potential for financial unknown should we ever leave.

Britain’s railway commuters pay a princely sum to travel to work and back by train, five days a week. The calculation for the cost of a Season Ticket varies slightly depending on distance travelled and the premium Anytime fare, but as a very general rule of thumb a weekly Season Ticket holder pays two-to-three times the Anytime return between A and B but can use their ticket for unlimited travel between A and B for seven consecutive days.

A weekly Season Ticket between Peterborough and London King’s Cross for ‘Any Permitted’ route (valid all operators between the two locations) costs £193.80 at the time of writing. An Anytime Short return (one journey in each direction though a period of one month is afforded for the return journey) costs £110.80. Therefore the weekly Season Ticket holder pays slightly less than two Anytime Returns.

Various emotionally-charged editorials and politically-motivated articles in railway magazines, penned by writers so passionate about the railway that I believe they genuinely lose some objectivity, have suggested that the railway should kindly remind its Season Ticket holders just what a great deal they’re getting. In the case of the many thousands who make the daily return trip from Peterborough to London King’s Cross, that for their £193.80 they’re not even paying for two Anytime Short Returns and so should tacitly be grateful of the astonishing value they’re getting.

Though this view could be seen as plain condescending, I feel the view is made through gentle ignorance of the ‘warts and all’ view commuters see of the railway. I’d counter that these hard-pressed long-distance travellers have a considerably better insight into the workings of the rail industry than we give them credit for.

They know the ‘dodge’ about how performance is measured (a train is only classified as running late if it gets to its ultimate destination over five or ten minutes late depending on whether it is a local/long-distance service, regardless of its punctuality at all other stations) and they’ve sussed that complaining to their train operating company (TOC) about how few coaches there are falls on deaf ears because the Department for Transport decides any train cascade.

“Nowhere in the Conditions of Carriage does it say that their ticket guarantees them a seat,” I’ve read in a railway magazine recently. The author of that particular incredulous sentence is correct. It doesn’t. But the perception is that those shelling out £193.80 per week should be able to sit down for their 90 minutes on a train every day.

Yet these switched-on commuters – who know the iron grip with which the DfT holds the industry – in the main reflect most polling results that show the country as a whole would prefer their railways fully nationalised.

“Yes, but Network Rail is nationalised and they’re responsible for tracks and signals and the upkeep of many stations. The Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern mega-franchise is a management contract let by the DfT, so in essence nationalised, and look at the mess there. And the specification for every rail franchise in the country is written by the DfT, so just how would re-nationalising the railways improve things?” is a much-vaunted response to anyone wanting to see their local train service taken back in-house.

This sort of nonsense not only paints the current set-up of Britain’s railways in the ridiculous light that many see it, but is disingenuous with the truth.

Re-nationalisation would mean the operation of all elements of the railway under the same organisation, left alone to manage with railway managers who are competent in just that, rather than the micro-management by office-based civil servants. This could result in the replication of a system used by British Railways or an arms length operation, over which the government itself has very little say. Proper re-nationalisaion would unify the operation of Britain's railways, ensuring all services operate with as few voices as possible in a much more coherent, competent manner.

Here the first big similarity between railway re-nationalisation and leaving the EU come to mind.

Of the many millions of voters who want the railways taken back in-house, a large majority would surely realise that were this to occur, Britain’s national railway network would always play second fiddle to the requirements of the NHS and the country’s schools, prisons and social care.

At the same time, despite the apocalyptical warnings by the Conservative government of what would happen if the UK electorate voted the leave the EU, the majority of voters chose to ignore what they were being told – including a very specific figure of just over £4,000 per household by the then-Chancellor – and dared to defy their government.

As I see it, the public at large are now so fed up with the service they receive from their train operator that they cannot physically envisage a scenario where this can get worse. Trains are late, overcrowded, often cancelled through the ineptitude of either the private operator or the DfT’s mandarins introducing unattainable schedules and expensive, unfathomable fares.

In exactly the same manner, over 17 million UK voters had become so bereft of their views not being heard; of their government’s inability to stand-up to the Gordon Brittases in Brussels; of not being able to get their children into their local school due to uncontrolled migrant labour in their town, that they collectively said, “Sod you!” to their government, the majority of big businesses, to celebrity naysayers and the five EU Commissioners and – rightly or wrongly – voted to leave.

MoneySavingExpert website founder Martin Lewis put it best while on the panel of a recent BBC Question Time when he said David Cameron had offered us a black and white question to which the answer was multi-layered and multi-faceted. The same applies to the re-nationalisation of Britain’s railways.

There are so many ways in which this could be achieved. The Labour Party, who is the most likely party to realise rail re-nationalisation, has cottoned onto the cost of relieving these private and foreign state operators of our railway franchises and so has chosen to adopt the Christian Wolmar view, which the transport writer suggested over a decade ago. This would simply see each franchise not re-let when it expires. The problem with this is that it will take nearly two decades for all franchises to be then taken back in-house.

And to the best of my knowledge, the Labour Party has yet to offer detailed workings of how any re-nationalised railway would be run. If it’s similar to how the DfT is micro-managing things with Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, then god help us. If it is anything like how the DfT is ordering Network Rail to complete certain electrification schemes and to introduce higher-frequency timetables despite protestations from the nationalised infraco at how rushed this is having to be and therefore the knock-on effect to train operators being lack of preparedness for robust timetables – precisely what we are seeing across the North West with Northern of late, then ditto here, too.

It is clear to me that the raw impotence being felt by rail commuters and over 17 million UK voters is having the same effect. They simply do not care what the future holds. Rightly or wrongly they cannot envisage a scenario where they could be any worse off than they are now.

Quite who is at fault is considerably more complex than observing and writing about two otherwise disparate groups of people.

One thing is for sure. The government needs to listen to the electorate. This is the easy part. Its divisions – along with those in the Opposition Party – and a lack of an overall majority in the House of Commons is ultimately what is tying its hands from either satisfying the majority or screwing it over. A typical ‘third way’ fudge is almost certainly the worst of all worlds.

The LEYTR Stig has been an historic contributor to the LEYTR Blog over the years and, as with all articles, the viewpoint expressed reflect's that of the author.

26 April 2018

Gibraltar's Bus Network 2018

There has been a seemingly inexplicable period of almost five years since I last visited Gibraltar, and offered a snapshot of the bus network in operation in this British Overseas Territory. Half a decade (and two children!) later, I found myself back on 'The Rock' for a few days.

I'd been following the developments from afar of the replacement of Gibraltar Bus Company's TransBus Darts with Caetano Nimbus 'Slimbus' bodies. As long ago as 2013, HM Government of Gibraltar had been planning for their replacements. Tender requests had been sent out and the Minister for Tourism, Transport and the Ports was mulling over the candidates.

In July 2015 it was announced that CaetanoBus had won the order to body twenty MAN Lion's from the German manufacturer's City Midi range. The finished product has seating best described as B26D, as Gibraltar Bus Company specified centre doors be included, to reduce dwell times while having a negligible impact on capacity (the Darts, while only having one door, were B27F).

In keeping with the outgoing Darts, the MAN Lion's City Midis are an identical overall length of 8.8m and are 2.3m wide. They're 3.1m tall and have a shorter wheelbase, measuring 3.6m. Yet they don't seem to bounce as much as you'd expect with so much front and rear overhang. They also benefit from climate control that seems far superior than that fitted to the Darts from new. I noted all twenty during my visit: G 5900-19 D. I stumbled across a slight layout differential. On at least one new MAN Lion's City Midi (G 5912 D was such a vehicle) the two sets of double seats on each side of the aisle immediately after the centre door were facing each other, so two on either side of the aisle were facing backwards. On the vast majority of the fleet, these seats all face towards the front in a regimented fashion.

Time was that the most southerly bus service in Iberia, terminating from where Africa can be seen, was operated by vehicles built in Guildford and bodied in Waterlooville. Sadly this ended in 2015. G 9512 D waits time at Europa Point on Service 2.

The first bus was delivered during the end of Summer 2015 with the balance complete before the end of the year. At the end of February 2016, fourteen of the Darts were sold to Calypso Transport Ltd, the private bus operator in Gibraltar, for a controversial £15,000 all-in. The government was immediately lambasted in the local media for selling them so cheaply, with critics citing an equally unlikely sale figure of between £10-15,000 each. Two more Darts were used for emergency evacuation training, one of which was deliberately smashed to bits on the runway. The outstanding two were used for training.

Calypso Transport operates full-size, ex-German MAN Lion's City single-deckers on Service 5 between the Frontier and the City Centre.

The introduction of the new MAN Lion's City Midis saw the end of the City Buses fleet name given to the Gibraltar Bus Company fleet, with the operator opting to refer to itself directly. Calypso Transport continues to trade as Citibus.

New in March 2004 to the newly-formed Gibraltar Bus Company is this Calypso/Citibus TransBus Dart (badged as a Dennis) with Caetano 'Slimbus' Nimbus B27F body. G 8174 A is one of only a handful of the original batch of 18 to still be operated. It is seen here at the Market Place working Service 5 to the Frontier.

A number of the Darts have been re-trimmed, re-panelled and re-painted into Calypso's house (red) livery and continue to ply their trade in Gibraltar to date. I noted ten, though I've since been told the operator runs 11 Darts, so of the fourteen originally acquired, three have been sacrificed to maintain the remainder.

Looking a little forlorn parked adjacent to Calypso's depot and still in its original blue livery was one of the two Darts used for training. It had recently been towed following breaking down. Parked next to it each night and seen during the day being driven with L-plates displayed, was the other Dart sold for training, also in blue. This parks next to the withdrawn one each night and displays a Gibraltar General Construction Company circular white sticker on the front.

On the subject of Calypso's depot, the operator has moved from what could be described very loosely as an operating centre in the main Waterport Coach Park to a makeshift depot where the old airport terminal building used to stand, adjacent to the RAF Air Traffic Control tower. The 'new' depot, comprising a prefabricated four-lane undercover maintenance shed, is reasonably large and demonstrates how many vehicles this private operator now runs - 25 by my reckoning, with the ex-Baghdad Leyland Atlantean still visible, though currently not operation. I'd been told that this was resultant on legislation introduced to the UK, and which Gibraltar domestic law was mirroring, that spelled the end to step-entrance local service operation. This has since been disputed. It hoped the Atlantean will re-enter service.

The reason for Calypso's move of premises became clear when I passed the site of the old bus and coach park at Waterport: it is now the location of multiple blue and white tower block apartments! The coach park now boasts 40 spaces and has moved to Reclamation Road, is situated underneath a new multi-storey car park and now named the Midtown Coach & Car Park.

Calypso has also invested in some nearly-new Volvo B9TLs with Unvi Urbis 2.5DD bodies. Previously operating the Madrid City Tour for Alsa, they arrived in Gibraltar around April 2017. They've been painted all-over red and have roll-back roofs, offering the open-top experience without the need to take upper saloon windows and bodywork away using an irreversible angle grinder! I noted all five in total, registered G 7301-5 E. These vehicles have an overall seating capacity of 73 and appear a little longer than the traditional UK long wheelbase, though this may be deceptive due to the narrow turns they buses have to negotiate.

The livery hasn't changed since these Volvo B9TLs were showing people round Madrid. In fact, in the right light you can see the outline of MADRID on the sides. Calypso/Citibus needed to purchase low-floor 'deckers to continue being able to operate double-deckers into 2018 since all those they operated previously had step entrances and could not be used.

These 5 'deckers have seen off all other operational 'deckers in the fleet - mainly ex-German MAN and Neoplan Skyliners. I didn't see the unique Leyland Olympian while I was there. This interesting bus was one of a batch of six prototype Leyland B45s (Olympian); all save the Gibraltar one were right-hand drive and Calypso's - delivered nearly new in the 1980s after unsuccessful spells as a demonstrator in Baghdad and Iraq - was built as a left-hand drive.

Calypso Transport has also introduced a new Service 10, which compliments its existing Service 5. Both operate to and from the Frontier. Service 5 continues to operate via the city centre and Market Place then via Waterport Road, North Mole Road and Europort Road to St. Bernard's Hospital/Morrisons, then to what is loosely referred to in their publicity (yes, they have a timetable now!!) as 'City Centre Terminus' via Europort Avenue, Queenway Road and Reclamation Road in a one-way loop as before.

Calypso/Citibus MAN Lion's City G 8993 C is seen here at the St. Bernard's Hospital/Morrisons stop. A quirk of Service 10 in the direction of the Frontier is that this is a request stop only for those already on board as it requires the bus to circle the roundabout more than once to then continue towards the City Centre.

Service 10 leaves the Frontier and omits the Market Place but follows the same route as Service 5 to St. Barnard's Hospital/Morrisons then via Bishop Caruana Road and Queensway Road before turning left and through the old wall at Ragged Staff Gates. The bus is now in non-full-size-PSV territory and turns right into 7th Rosia Battery, then left into Boyd Street which bends 90 degrees left and terminates at the first stop on Trafalgar Road. This stop is woefully short for a full-size single-decker (the Volvo B9TL/Unvi 'deckers operate on Service 5 only) and the back of the bus overhangs the junction to Europa Road. The return journey is back to Ragged Staff Road then as per the outward route until St. Bernard's Hospital/Morrisons. Here the bus turns right and operates via Europa Avenue and Queensway Road to Ocean Village (omitting the Market Place again) and as per the outward route to the Frontier.

This is Boyd Street Terminus, which is actually located on Trafalgar Road. Prior to Service 10's commencement, this area of Gibraltar saw no full-size buses! Seen waiting time is Calypso/Citibus G 8752 D, a MAN Lion's City that spent much of its life in Germany.

As I've mentioned, Calypso Transport/Citibus - established in 1970 - has a shiny timetable leaflet now with a route map that is fairly accurate, though sadly with a number of sloppy errors. One-way sections of route are not marked as such and the terminus stops in the City Centre (Service 5) and Boyd Street (Service 10) are denoted either on the wrong side of the road or the wrong road entirely. However, its nice to see Calypso produce a timetable, which incidentally conforms to the Gibraltar norm of having one timing per route (the first).

The Gibraltar Bus Company's timetables were more difficult to find. Usually I head to the Tourist Information Centre, which has moved from Casemates Square (now the Central Police Station) to the Gibraltar Museum on John Mackintosh Square. Rather than a glossy timetable book, I was given a colour photocopied two-sided sheet of A4 paper, with microscopic timings and the limited linear (literally) route maps for each service with every bus stop shown.

The major limitation with this otherwise exemplary level of detail is that the tinted bus shelters themselves (located at over 95% of bus stops in Gibraltar) are not named so the casual visitor or tourist struggles to know exactly where they're stood. This becomes even more hit-and-miss with the timings showing the commencement point and nothing in between. This is almost acceptable for relatively linear routes such as Service 2 (Market Place to Europa Point) but not for most of the others, circuitous as they area.

Service 4, for example, operates from Both Worlds (east of the Rock) to Rosia (south west of the territory) to an hourly frequency, or so my paper timetable and bus stop timings stated. This was shown as xx45 from Both Worlds. While stood in the Market Place one has to calculate how long it will take to arrive. xx00? xx05? In the end, the bus arrived at xx02 and soon after we were off. But at what time would we arrive at the Rosia Terminus? xx19 it transpired. Perhaps, as a guide, passengers need to look at the time of the next departure from Rosia Terminus (xx15) to establish the likely arrival time? Then, upon writing this up and using the Gibraltar Bus Company's website, it transpired that Service 4 is now operating to a 45-minute frequency, with differing timings! So both the publicity distributed by the Tourist Information Centre and the timings in the bus shelters are wrong.

The less than ubiquitous Service 4 is depicted here operated by G 9500 D and seen at Rosia, where I alighted to visit the 100 Ton Gun. Service 4 is the lengthiest route operated in Gibraltar and runs to an improved 45-minute frequency with just one timing point! This despite a total duration of 40 minutes at peak times.

It's a poor state of affairs, even if the company now offers a bus tracker service. That said, Gibraltarians are by their very nature a hardy bunch and they know the basic frequencies of their local bus services, so if they're making an ad hoc trip into town, they just wander to the nearest bus stop, no doubt conversing with many fellow locals en route, and await the next bus for their free trip into town.

As a rule Gibraltarians and members of the Armed Forces travel free of charge on local buses on The Rock. Everyone else pays for single journeys or day tickets 'Hoppa'. Calypso/Citibus additionally offers day returns. Again, GBC's publicity was wrong (their website that I visited posthumously was correct) when stating prices. However £2.50 for a Hoppa (£3 on Calypso/Citibus) is exceptional value for money. Calypso/Citibus charge £2 for a day return. Discounts exist for OAPs and proof of age doesn't appear to be needed. OAPs don't qualify for a 'Hoppa' fare on Calypso/Citibus.

Since 2013, a few changes have taken place to Gibraltar Bus Company's routes.

Service 1: Market Place to Willis's Road Terminus via Morrisons & Cable Car
A third bus has been added to the operation of this intricate service, negotiating some of the most impossible gaps as it winds its way up the side of the Rock. The basic timetable is unchanged, with departures every 30 minutes from 0720 (Mon-Fri)/0845 (Sat & Sun) to 2100 except on weekdays an additional bus has been added, meaning departures from the Market Place are xx15, xx30, xx45 and from Willis's Road Terminus at xx00, xx15, xx45. Yet the additional working seems to be only when a spare bus is available. What would the Traffic Commissioner in the UK make of such an arrangement? On Friday and Saturday evenings a Service N1 operates, taking in the above route with some deviations to cover other areas not served by the N8 (see below). Gone are the Mercedes-Benz 515CDI/Unvi buses and in are some new Ford Transits (see below).

Seen at the Willis's Road Terminus on 26 April 2018 is G 4240 E, a Ford Transit 'coach' (it has seatbelts added). Its air conditioning was poor though a trip on G 4238 E thirty minutes later proved that when maintained properly it can be very cool inside.

Service 2: Market Place to Europa Point via Cable Car
Four buses are now needed to run this service that operates to the southern tip of Gibraltar, from where Africa can be seen. There is now a bus every 15 minutes (an improvement since 2013's three-bus-an-hour offering) on Mon-Fri from 0640 to 2110 and every 30 minutes (2 buses) from 0715 to 1945, 2010, 2030, 2100 Sat & Sun.

Service 3: Referendum House to South Pavillion Steps via City Centre & Rosia
Three buses are needed to operate this route to a 20-minute frequency on Mon-Fri from 0630/0640 to 2100 and every 30 minutes (2 buses) from 0800/0830 to 2100 on Sat & Sun. I believe this has seen an improvement since 2013 on weekdays from a 30-minute, 2-bus working.

Service 4: Both Worlds to Rosia via City Centre & Cable Car
Two buses continue to be needed to operate this route now the timetable has been recently increased to a bus every 45 minutes. It's probably the longest route in Gibraltar, operating east-centre-south west from 0845-1830 daily. The Both Worlds Terminus is now actually at Both Worlds; previously buses terminated immediately south of the Caleta Hotel. Now buses head almost to the entrance of Dudley Ward Tunnel, where there is a turnaround marked as a bus stop (it's not) and return to the former terminus with new stops on the coastal side of the road.

Unlike on the Darts, the financier of Gibraltar's nationalised bus operator is made clear on each and every one of the Gibraltar Bus Company's Euro6-rated MAN Lion's City Midis.

Service 7: Mount Alvernia to Fish Market Steps (circular)
This was a fledgling service in 2013, operating with a spare 8-seat minibus. The same still applies today, although the bus has increased in size. The route is a one-bus, off-peak working with departures from 1000-1430 Mon-Fri (1100-1430 Sat & Sun) then a gap until 1600 when there is a bus every half-hour until 1900 and utilises one of the company's newer Ford Transit minibuses.

Service 8: Both Worlds to Reclamation Road
In some respects this is the eastern half of Service 4. In 2013 this service received a 2-bus, 30-minute frequency and this has been increased on Mon-Fri to three buses an hour (0700 to 2100), though to an awkward timetable: departures are ostensibly every 30 minutes at xx00 and xx30 from each end with an additional departure at xx15 from Both Worlds and xx45 from Reclamation Road (this being a third vehicle working). On Sat & Sun a straightforward 30-minute frequency from 0700-2100 is employed. The additional working was noted in operation on more than one occasion. On Friday and Saturday evenings Service N8 operates. This includes a number of routes in the Both Worlds/Rosia/South Pavilion/Europa areas and utilises one MAN.

Service 9: EuroTowers to Rosia via City Centre (circular)
This is a relatively new service, introduced since 2013. Initially, the service was trialled to gauge its effectiveness and has since been adopted long-term. It's a circular service starting back from the Market Place at EuroTowers (opposite McDonald's) to Rosia via the route of Service 4, and appears to require two buses. The frequency is every 30 minutes from 0700-0830, 0910-1740, 1800-2100 Mon-Fri and 0700-2100 Sat & Sun. At weekday peak periods a third vehicle appears to be needed.

With a centre door now taking up the space of what could have been two additional seats, reduced dwell times mean more standees. The restrictions in central Gibraltar as well as in the Rosia area mean that the Gibraltar Bus Company cannot operate buses longer than 8.8m (I was told 9.1m was possible for the turn from Main Street into Governor's Lane). Despite being over 2.5 years' old, the interiors of the MAN Lion's City Midis smell fresh and new. This is the interior of G 9509 D on a busy Service 2 from Europa Point to the Market Place.

The trio of Unvi-bodied Mercedes-Benz 515CDI minibuses have been withdrawn and sold and Service 1 is now operated by a theoretical trio of Ford Transit minibuses with automatic sliding side entrance doors and laminated route numbers stuck to the roof, immediately above the nearside corner of the windscreen. Three, maybe four, have been acquired new and those I saw are registered G 4236-40 E. The buses were adapted to have their side doors automated, but these regularly fail and the bus needs to be taken out of service. They are M15 (G 4238-40 E) with one M10L (G 4236/7 E) offering wheelchair access. I also saw but didn't note down the registration of a shorter wheelbase Ford Transit, with possibly 8 seats.

Working on the assumption that low-floor access was now mandatory for all local service operation on 'The Rock' since the start of the year, as with the UK - which, incidentally, I'd been told was likely to be the case five years ago - I had pondered how the Gibraltar Bus Company was able to operate such a blatantly non-low-floor bus in passenger-carrying service. Once on board, the answer struck me: seat belts. As we revealed in the LEYTR last year, the fitment of these restraints ensures classification as a coach, which is a vehicle type not required to conform to the new accessibility regulation in the UK until 1 January 2020. As I was told Gibraltar would mirror UK domestic transport legislation I expect this to be the reason. If they've chosen not to then the fitment of seat belts is a happy coincidence.

I noted four long-wheelbase Ford Transit minibuses in operation with the Gibraltar Bus Company during my stay in April 2018. Three are allocated to Service 1, with G 4238 E seen here about to undertake a journey on that route to the narrow and hilly Willis's Road near Upper Town. The fourth is allocated to Service 7.

All buses in Gibraltar now operate in a predominantly red-based livery. This is a shame for two reasons. Firstly, it makes it more difficult to differentiate Calypso/Citibus from Gibraltar Bus Company and this is an important distinction to make as neither accepts the other's tickets. And secondly, I felt the vibrant light-blue livery adopted by the Gibraltar Bus Company since its inception in March 2004 was different, tasteful and made their fleet of TransBus Darts stand out from the crowd.

While the Gibraltar Bus Company's buses haven't got any longer, they have become a little more modern and a little less British. Seen here 'Out of Service' at the stop opposite St. Bernard's Hospital/Morrisons is G 9509 D sporting the new-look red livery since September 2015, which replaced the striking blue that adorned the Darts.

FLEET LISTS (believed to be a comprehensive list as at 25 April 2018)

Gibraltar Bus Company Ltd
G 9500-19 D MAN Lion's City Midi/CaetanoBus B26D
G 4736/7 E Ford Transit M10L
G 4738-40 E Ford Transit M15L
G 96381 Toyota Coaster M16
G 1168 B Toyota Hilux pick-up
G 2481 C Toyota Hiace staff bus
Un-ID'd Ford Transit 8-seater

Even the Gibraltar Bus Company's ancillary/reserve vehicles have lost their blue livery. Seen in the Market Place is G 1168 B a Toyotal Hilux (top) and G 96381 a Toyota Coaster (bottom).

Calypso Transport Ltd (Citibus)
G 59681 Leyland Atlantean/Willowbrook (withdrawn)**
G 77960 Leyland B45 (Olympian)/ECW (withdrawn)**
G 6995 B MAN SD202/Waggon Union (withdrawn)
G 8991-4 C MAN Lion's City Urban
G 4710 D MAN Lion's City
G 5146/7 MAN Lion's City T
G 8750-2 D MAN Lion's City++
G 7301-5 E Volvo B9TL/Unvi Urbis 2.5DD
G 8169/74/6/8/80-3 A TransBus Dart/Caetano B27F
** While G 77960 (Olympian) was not seen in service or noted on Calypso's premises for my week-long stay, I've since been informed the bus is operational and could be undergoing MOT preparation. G 59681 (Atlantean), while withdrawn, may be similarly treated in due course.
++ G 8750 D carries an all-over advert for MoneyCorp Bank.

Has it been bought? Is it set aside for a new buyer to come and collect it? Is it for sale? Could it be destined for the scrap yard? Or has it simply been withdrawn pending MOT preparation? This ex-Baghdad bus - a Leyland Atlantean with Willowbrook body - has been an iconic feature of Gibraltar for many decades.

Also to note is that ex-Gibraltar Bus Company Darts G 8170/7 A are now owned by Gibraltar General Construction Company Ltd; G8170 A was noted in regular use as a driver-training vehicle, while G 8177 A is in a withdrawn condition. Both continue to wear their original blue livery.

Blue can still be seen on The Rock!
They may not look their best today but I think it was an unwise decision to walk away from the blue livery which was the face of Gibraltar Bus Company since its inception in 2004. Seen here (l-r) are G 8170/7 A against the RAF Air Traffic Control building, directly opposite their former home. They're owned by the Gibraltar General Construction Company.

With the Tin Lids now at an age where I'm less likely to be divorced for heading back to Gibraltar more frequently, I'll aim to keep abreast of public transport developments here more closely in the future.

Update 1: Calypso are operating 11 ex-GBC TransBus Darts. It is understood the 11th Dart is G 8184 A.

Update 2: Following a report that Calypso doesn't need to operate low-floor buses in passenger-carrying service, it would appear, if true, that Gibraltar has either chosen not to link directly with the UK's domestic PSVAR legislation or has given the company special dispensation. Gibraltar Bus Company is, however, operating in a fashion that mirrors the requirements of UK domestic law.

13 April 2018

A Trip round The Smoke

It had been some time since I last visited London with the sole aim to have a ride on the Capital’s transport system. Despite today being ‘unlucky’ (Friday the thirteenth), I found time to head from Peterborough to King’s Cross with Virgin Trains East Coast before heading into the Underground system.

Having had to go searching for the iconic Tube map at King’s Cross St. Pancras station, I was a little dismayed to see that very little additional information is now presented as standard in the ticket machine areas. Knowing that I wanted to sample a ride on the new Class 345 trains that will eventually run the full length of the Crossrail route, I headed for the Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines to take me to Liverpool Street.

This is located underground the entrance to St. Pancras International station, from where I could see something new – a TfL Information Centre, painted in pink. I headed in and had a gander at the information on offer. Ideally I wanted what I refer to as the London Connections map, which shows all rail lines in the Greater London area, extending to the south coast and as far north of Peterborough, with the Underground and Tram networks interwoven, too.

This was not forthcoming, so I had to ask at the counter. The friendly assistant knew immediately the map I was seeking and then spent a minute going through leaflets on her side of the desk before finding it. Two minutes later I was descending the relative depth to the eastbound Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines platform for a newish S7 Tube train.

Neither checking the train’s destination nor the service it was working, once aboard the first S7 to arrive, I was momentarily confused since I found myself studying a linear route map for the District Line, which doesn’t call at Liverpool Street (or King's Cross). Soon after, once I realised my embarrassing mistake (these S7s work District and Circle Line services and show both route maps side by side), I became orientated once again and headed to the surface at Liverpool Street.

A quick check online showed that currently thirteen Class 345s are in service between Liverpool Street and Shenfield, operated by TfL Rail, which is the preliminary name for the Crossrail concession, which was awarded to MTR to operate. The Elizabeth Line name will be introduced in full when Shenfield/Abbey Wood–central London–Heathrow/Reading from December 2019.

Built in Derby by Bombardier, the Class 345 is an electric multiple unit (EMU) formed of seven coaches, with the intention to extend them to 9 in due course. The deal, signed by the DfT in February 2014, is worth £1 billion.

The first, most striking thing, to notice about the ‘345’ is the lack of yellow paint anywhere on its front/end. The requirement for a yellow end was dropped with the introduction of new accessibility legislation, which comes into effect on 1 January 2020. A requirement of new EU legislation, the PRM-TSI (persons of reduced mobility – technical specifications for interoperability) requires greater emphasis on accessibility for those with mobility issues and improved wheelchair spaces and accessible toilets. It also rightly spells the end of toilets that flush their waste onto the tracks, while dispensing with the need to paint the ends of trains yellow.

With Bombardier’s Aventra (Class 345) conforming from new, these impressive people carriers became one of the first trains to operate on the national rail network devoid of yellow at each end.

TfL has specified a black and purple colour scheme, matching the main elements of the specific roundel which is to be applied to all stations along the Crossrail route. Inside the seating trim is the standard TfL railway design, though coloured in differing shades of purple and while with black. The trains do look quite smart.

I'm a secret fan of the moquette used by TfL on its Underground and Overground services. This 'exclusive' application to items such as wallets or purses is something I'd consider buying if the price didn't feel so exorbitant that it was being done purely to fleece tourists

Unlike the Class 378s that operate the London Overground network and only have longitudinal seating, the ‘345s’ have got some traditional forward/rearward facing seats, though this is in relative short supply. Fortuitously, since I’d boarded at the first station, I was able to sit in one of these for the journey to Shenfield.

Having taken the obligatory first photos of each end of my first ‘345’ (345010), we were off at 1230. Interestingly, once opened fully, Crossrail won’t be using these platforms at Liverpool Street station, so photo opportunities of these trains at the main national rail platforms will become very short-lived, once trains start calling at the newly constructed subterranean platforms en route to/from the West End and Heathrow/Reading.

345010 stands ready to depart London Liverpool Street at 1230 bound for Shenfield. This view will become a thing of the past once the Crossrail service under central London begins operation

I was travelling using pay as you go contactless, touching in and out with a contactless card. Having travelled from King’s Cross St. Pancras to Liverpool Street I was still in Zone 1. Shenfield is outside the main Underground zones, where ‘special fares apply’, according to the linear route map inside the ‘345s’. Brentwood was the furthest station to be in a traditional zone (9).

The journey was very enjoyable. Large numbers boarded at Stratford and many alighted at Ilford and Romford. We thinned out towards the end of the route. We arrived in Shenfield at 1311, two minutes early. On the adjacent platform, I saw a Class 315 ready to work the 1314 return journey. I thought I’d not make this, so dashed across and, following a photo, sat awaiting departure.

The Class 315 is very much a railway stalwart. Built between 1980-1981, a total of 61 trains are in operation, generally running in pairs, forming 8-coach trains. They seat 318 per 4 coaches, so 636 as an 8-coach train, compared with the ‘345’ and its 450 seats. The ‘345’, however, can accommodate an additional 1,050 standees, which is where they come into their own. While the ‘315s’ have very obvious individual coaches, where doors have to be opened to move between the them (with signage discouraging this) and when coupled together passengers are unable to walk from the front 4 coaches into the rear four. Bombardier’s ‘345s’ are open and relatively spacious and where passengers can see both extremities of the train from any point.

Wearing its relatively new TfL Rail livery is BREL-built 315018 at Shenfield working the 1314 service to London Liverpool Street

Having departed Shenfield it dawned on me that I’d not touched out and back in again as I was in too much of a rush not to miss a return trip aboard a Class 315. I headed hastily to the excellent www.oyster-rail.org.uk that offers very detailed information on using Oyster, far and away more comprehensive and forthcoming than TfL’s website.

It showed that if I were to return to Liverpool Street and touch out, I “could be” charged two maximum single fares if I exceeded the limit of 90 minutes from having first touched in. A return trip to Shenfield exceeds this (just), so I left my ‘315’ at Ilford (zone 4), where a 110-minute maximum journey time is allowed from zone 1, and touched out.

A trip to Costa later, I touched in and headed into central London aboard 345010 again, alighting at Stratford.

I wanted to sample the relatively new trams introduced to Tramlink, operating between Wimbledon–Croydon–Beckenham Junction/Elmers End/New Addington. Travelling to Elmers End seemed quickest via the DLR to Canary Wharf thence another DLR to Lewisham then a Southeastern train bound for Hayes.

Gaining access to the DLR platforms at Stratford for anyone leaving a TfL Rail service bound for London is incredibly straightforward. I walked along the same platform to the end and turned left up some steps. Two autonomous DLR trains were at the platform and I chose not to catch the train ready to leave in favour of boarding the other train, where I could bagsy the front seat for a driver’s eye view of the route.

I’ve travelled the full length of the DLR on many occasions, but occupying the front seat is always very enjoyable. We had a very informative passenger service assistant who announced additional information for certain stations that was seemingly omitted by the automatic announcements.

It was a shame to leave at Canary Wharf since I knew I’d not be fortunate to occupy the same seat on the next DLR service, which arrived two minutes later from central London. As I expected, the train was very busy, with families making the most of the final week of the Easter holidays. Once on board and sat in a sideways-facing seat, we were off.

I’ve often wanted to leave at stations such as Mudchute and Cutty Sark (for Maritime Grenwich), but never have. While today’s plan was very much spontaneous, I’d still planned to head for a ride on London’s trams, so maybe next time?

I’d never undertaken a connection at Lewisham before. The DLR terminus is next to the national rail station. Once on the platform there was the usual high standard of information for all modes of transport. I noted that there was a direct bus to Elmers End, though many buses depart not from the DLR/rail interchange, but a walk a little further into town which, while stood on platform 2, put me off a little.

An all-electric Class 465 arrived punctually, and we soon departed. All the windows were open in my coach, which I thought would mean I’d have to endure wind tunnel-like conditions, though the reason soon became clear; the radiators were stuck on hot and were belching out a significant amount of heat. So much so that the excessive cool air from outside felt nice and I even started to nod off.

Upon arrival at Elmers End, it was over the footbridge to the platform opposite, from where on the opposing side, the Tramlink service to Wimbledon departs. There was an old-style tram waiting time, so I jumped on.

Earlier this year the ‘stopping pattern’ changed. I think this sounds a little too simplified – the routes were changed, so that trams from Wimbledon, after passing through the centre of Croydon, bifurcate for either Elmers End or Beckenham Junction. The New Addington service, upon arrival in Croydon, undertakes the town loop before returning from whence it came.

While a previous blog post criticised modern trams and their lack of decent seating capacity, the ability to take a seat with a view on Tramlink is quite high. Longitudinal seating is not in fashion here. 2+2 seating in most areas with large areas by certain doors for wheelchairs or buggies/prams is the order of the day!

Looking at the next tram screens located at each stop, the destination of the next three services is shown. Heading in the opposite direction was “1st Elmers End. 2nd Beckenham Jn. 3rd See front of tram.” Oh dear.

Upon arrival at East Croydon there was a driver change. We then continued. A little further on, while on the one-way loop system, I overheard a few passengers a little disgruntled that the tram was no longer destined for Wimbledon. I looked behind me at the nearest next stop screen and saw we were now bound to return to Elmers End via the town centre loop.

There was no announcement by the driver to explain why this was the case. He was happy to allow the automated system to rather clinically state the new destination for the tram without so much as a by your leave.

Not wanting to return to Elmers End, I left at this stop (Church Street) and soon after the tram departed. I always raise a sly grin when I hear someone with a broad London accent exclaim the F-word, and there was plenty of that in evidence as around 50 people were stood on the platform having been forcibly disgorged.

The next tram indicator then showed the next Wimbledon service would be in 21 minutes. A scrolling message followed that stated the service between Croydon and Wimbledon was suspended due to a failed tram. Cue more unintentionally humorous expletives. Using the excellent Google Maps app on my phone showed that to reach Wimbledon station by bus would take over 1:20! No wonder Tramlink is so popular between Croydon and Wimbledon.

A newer tram arrived, destined for New Addington. I thought that I’d jump on it to go round the town centre loop to reach West Croydon station and leave for a main line rail service to central London. Yet as soon as I boarded the driver was announcing that we were now destined for Wimbledon! Hooray!

Church Street is the location for this shot of Stadler tram 2559 originally designed for Beckenham Junction, but once on board the driver told us we would now be heading to Wimbledon

Most of the tram then left to be replaced by many of those on the platform outside. Soon after we left. Now, by accident, I found myself on one of the new trams, I had a look around to spot any differences to the original ones that commenced the service back in 2000.

Following a tram hiatus since 1952, twenty-four low-floor, articulated Bombardier Flexity Swift CR4000s were introduced in a red-based livery during 2000. From 2006 the green-based livery that is used today was introduced. The tram fleet numbers start at 2530, with the last tram to operate in 1950s London was numbered 2529. Stadler Rail was awarded a contract in 2011 to supply a further six new trams, which entered service the following year. These are from the company’s Variobahn range and a further six were added during 2015 and 2016.

A total of 36 trams are now operated by Tramlink, with the newest 12 being supplied by Stadler and the original trams built by Bombardier. Originally four different route numbers were used, though recently these have been dropped and the change to 'stopping pattern' earlier in the year has seen a greater simplification of the network, making events such as failed trams, easier to react to. First is the current operator of the Tramlink concession.

En route to Wimbledon now we were held for the single-track section after Reeves Corner while a whopping six trams heading towards Croydon were allowed through. Clearly the ‘blockage’ had been dislodged.

The alignment hereafter ostensibly follows the former BR trackbed, which saw heavy rail services cease in 1997 to make way for Tramlink.

Upon arrival at the Tramlink terminus at Wimbledon station, signage wasn’t clear at all for how to reach the District Line platforms. Instinctively following the crowd, I found myself crossing over the main national railway line where signage for the District Line presented itself.

Once aboard one of the new S7 stock again, the driver announced the train wouldn’t be departing for 10 minutes and since no other Tube was present, we all deduced that this was more a public information announcement rather than a tacit request to move onto another service.

A dwell time in excess of 10 minutes at an Underground station is not something Londoners are used to

Soon after departure, and by now it was after 1600 on a Friday afternoon, the train became very busy, with standees from the first stop. Whether this was due to a train missing in front or normal practice for this time of day – or both – we were soon headed into central London. I left at Victoria and once at the surface started a long, meandering walk to King’s Cross station, something I’ve done a few times over the years, which takes in the various squares offering wildlife while at the same time a section of Oxford Street to see the absolute opposite.

Fed and watered at The Melt Room on Noel Street (which claims to be the cheesiest place in London – I’d suggest it’s more a toasted sandwich shop in which all its menu contains average amounts of cheese), I found myself heading to platform 0 for the 1906 Virgin Trains HST bound for Lincoln, which I left at Peterborough at precisely 45 minutes after departure from London.

It was a great day and saw a couple of items ticked off my metaphorical bucket list. The Class 345s were the stand-out element of the day. I hope they’ll be well suited to their planned Crossrail role once fully operational in 2019. Even while typing this up, the possible connection improvements as a consequence of Crossrail (after having seen similar with just two through Peterborough–Horsham trains on the Thameslink route) seem quite impressive.