30 November 2007

Recent Transport Developments

This is the 100th post on this, the LEYTR Transport Blog: A Transport of Delight.

  • 8 more for Stagecoach. A further order for eight additional 15-meter Volvo B12BTs with Plaxton Panther bodies has been placed by Stagecoach for use on their Megabus network of services. It is understood they are likely to replace all remaining articulated Volvo B10Ms that currently operate on that network - one of which started life as new to Stagecoach Grimsby-Cleethorpes, 51070 (WLT 720), originally registered P670 LWB, which commenced operation on service 909 (Grimsby-Hull/Sheffield) from November 1996 to January 1997.

  • Stagecoach back Merseyside report. Transport group Stagecoach has endorsed a new report that says improvements to bus services in Merseyside through partnerships between operators and transport authorities could increase bus use by 13%, cut congestion and improve the local environment. Moving Forward – New Opportunities, New Passengers, published by the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), reveals the potential for 14m extra bus passenger journeys in Merseyside per year. The growth in bus use would result in 1.8m fewer journeys by car and would see carbon dioxide emissions cut by 3,000 tonnes. According to the report, increasing the frequency of buses, decreasing bus journey times through reduced congestion, improving service punctuality and reliability and improving passenger waiting areas would increase passenger numbers by 13% in Merseyside.

  • Focus Coaches closes. Preston-based coach operator Focus Coaches of Much Hoole closed suddenly following business on 23 November. The firm blamed the current financial climate, drivers' hours regulations and the rapidly rising cost of fuel as the reason for its demise. Focus Coaches was founded 5 years ago in a 50-50 venture Mr Critchley (Focus) and Chris Reay of Reays Coaches of Wigan. The current fleet stood at 27 vehicles, of which 18 were registered as new between 1998-2007, including Scania/Irizars, Volvo/Plaxtons, Volvo & Scania/Van Hools and Bova Futuras.

  • Waste of space at Waterloo. Decommissioning redundant Eurostar platforms at Waterloo station will cost between £50,000 and £100,000, according to the government. Transport minister Tom Harris gave the figures in a Commons written reply to Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers. He said it could cost a further £500,000 a year to keep the "wider facilities" at Waterloo International safe and secure. The five former international platforms at Waterloo are currently disused following the transfer of cross-Channel train services to St Pancras International earlier this month. Passenger groups have voiced concerns that train capacity is being wasted at the heavily congested Waterloo station.

  • 'Bus Bill' progresses further. The Local Transport Bill (known within the Industry as the 'Bus Bill') has had its second reading in the House of Lords on 20 November and goes to the Lord's Committee stage on Thursday 7 December for detailed examination. After further examination by the Lords it passes to the House of Commons early next year. This procedure is now commonplace for Bills classed as 'non-controversial' and should be implemented in the summer.

  • EU provides rescue package for Metronet debacle. The European Commission has officially authorised an £897m rescue aid package granted by Transport for London to Metronet Rail BCV and Metronet Rail SSL, both of which are now in administration. Since April 2003 the Metronet companies have been responsible, under a public private partnership (PPP) arrangement, for replacing and upgrading most of the infrastructure on nine of the 12 London Underground lines. On 18 July 2007, after they ran into serious financial difficulties, both Metronet Companies were placed in administration. On the same day Transport for London made emergency funding available to ensure the continued safe running of the London Underground.

  • London Mayor announces £161 million plan. Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, has announced a raft of improvements for local transport improvements within London worth £161 million over the next 12 months. London Boroughs will receive £20.9 million to improve roads and road safety; £8 million to introduce new 20mph zones around schools and residential streets; £19.7 million to improve the Capital's cycle network; and £10.5 million to introduce more travel plans across the 33 local authorities.

  • Slashed bus fares in Brighton. It is great to see the following act of good will take place on the south coast: Brighton & Hove Bus Company has cut bus fares to and from the city by 37% in the run up to Christmas. The CitySaver ticket allowing all day travel is being reduced in price from £3.20 to £2 during every Saturday and Sunday in December. The offer will also apply throughout the week between Christmas and New Year.

  • Parrys International open day surprise. Coach operator Parrys International will hold an open day on 6 January 2008 at its Cheslyn Hay depot from 10am-3pm, at which it hopes to unveil the first of 12 new 14.4meter Van Hool T917 Astron coaches.

  • Massive bonuses promised for Edinburgh tram bosses. The man charged with delivering Edinburgh's half a billion pound tram system will receive a bonus of up to £340,000 if the project is completed on time and to budget. According to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) chairman and chief executive Willie Gallagher has also seen his salary increase from £100,000 to £170,000. The documents show that his bonus was raised from 30% to 50% a year. Gallagher, a former Scottish Power director, renegotiated his contract with Edinburgh City Council in August, 14 months after he joined TIE, the council's arms length transport delivery company and tram client.

  • Free Wi-fi on main Citylink route. Travellers and commuters on board Scottish Citylink's service M90 between Glasgow-Edinburgh, on which Stagecoach-trim Volvo B12BT/Plaxton Panther 15-meter coaches are used by both Park's of Hamilton and Stagecoach, are to benefit from free Wi-fi (wireless Internet) in a 12-month trial starting 10 December. Installation has cost Citylink £20,000, though this is seen a wise investment to retain the 5,000 daily travellers on the service from being lured away onto First Scotrail's services.

  • Quasi-emissions charge for Edinburgh motorists planned. The City of Edinburgh Council has approved a new permit scheme which will charge drivers according to the fuel efficiency of their vehicles. Drivers of the most efficient cars will pay little or nothing at all for their parking permits. The idea was put forward by Green party councillors and is modelled on similar schemes in London. Those who backed the plan said they wanted to encourage drivers to choose cars with lower carbon dioxide emissions. That means the owners of smaller, greener cars should benefit from cheaper parking permits but the owners of vehicles with higher greenhouse gas emissions, including most 4X4 vehicles, would have to pay more to park outside their homes.

  • 'Wossy' has a bus named after him. Last Saturday's BBC Radio 2 Jonathan Ross show was transmitted live from Arriva Yorkshire's Wakefield bus depot where a new Volvo B9TL/Darwen East Lancs decker had been named after him. Jonathan Ross said he would only attend the depot if all its female workers were dressed in traditional Victorian costume, something all agreed to do. The new bus is allocated to service 110 Wakefield-Leeds.

  • Rail fares to increase in January. Rail passengers face average fare rises of up to 7% from 2 January 2008, according to the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC). Regulated fares, such as season tickets, savers and standard day returns, will rise by 4.8% - an average of 0.6% above the current rate of inflation as measured by the Retail Price Index, which is currently 4.2%. Unregulated fares, including cheap day returns, long distance open and advance purchase fares, will go up by varying amounts at train operators’ discretion, with average fare rises of 5.4% - 1.2% above the current RPI. ATOC says these increases are slightly above the current rate of inflation, but rises in rail fares over recent years have fallen behind the cost of travelling by bus and car. It says since 1999/2000, train fares have risen by 5% in real terms compared to 12% for bus fares, about 20% for car fuel and 26% for the cost of car maintenance. Ticket price increases are needed to fund reduced subsidies to some train operators and premium payments by others to the Department for Transport - an increasing feature of franchise agreements. Around £148m of premium payments will be paid by train operators in 2008/9 rising to £1.28bn of premium payments in 2014/15. The government has recognised in its most recent franchise awards that unregulated fares are expected to rise by up to RPI+3%. It is worth mentioning that rail fares have always increased in January for as long as I've been born and the percentage increase has almost always been higher than the RPI.

  • UK's first bio-ethanol plant opened. Owned by British Sugar, the UK's first ever bio-ethanol plant opened on 22 November 2007, on the site of the Wissington sugar beet factory in Norfolk. Another plant is expected to open in the LEYTR area soon - Hull - in 2009 and will form a joint venture between BP and British Sugar. The opening of the plant is good news for the two operators who have placed order for ethanol-powered buses: Nottingham City Transport (3 Scania OmniLinks) and Reading Buses (14 Scania OmniCity deckers). These buses will run on bio-ethanol made from sustainable surplus in the sugar beet crop here in the UK, which quashes the food-for-fuel argument.

  • Network Rail publishes profits & best-ever train punctuality. Network Rail, the owner and operator of Britain's railway infrastructure, has published details of a 4% increase in profits and the best train punctuality for a decade. The company's interim results for the half year to 30 September 2007 show train punctuality averaged 91% for the period while pre-tax profit rose to £780m on the back of £1.7bn worth of investments in the network. The company also reduced its net debt, albeit only slightly to £18.25bn, down £148m from £18.39bn. According to the report £1.7bn, or 26%, has been taken out of the cost of operating and maintaining the railway infrastructure in the past three years.

  • East London strike off. 937 drivers of East London Buses voted to accept their latest pay offer of 4.65% pay increase per hour plus a £150 lump sum, against 563 drivers in favour of rejecting the deal. As a result of the Unite Union ballot, a series of one-day strikes has been cancelled.

  • Oyster now on your phone! Transport for London and TranSys, the consortium behind the Oyster smartcard, have joined forces with phone operator O2 to trial a mobile handset incorporating Oyster technology. Five hundred customers with '02 wallet' phones will be able to use their mobile handset to pay for travel across London. The six-month trial, which began yesterday (28 November), will gauge how customers feel about having Oyster technology embedded in their phone. It will also shape if, and how, the technology can be used across London's transport network. The 02 wallet trial is the UK's first large scale pilot of Near Field Communications technology on mobile phones. Customers taking part will also be able to use the phones for cashless payments, smart posters and ticketing management. Each participant will be given a Nokia 6131 handset installed with the O2 Wallet. They will be able to test a wide range of different services in London, such as making purchases in shops and travelling on London's public transport system. Users will be asked to provide feedback on the services featured in the O2 Wallet by evaluating its ease of use, security and overall usefulness.

  • Darlington caused a stir over tenders. Darlington Borough Council has written to all local bus and coach operators it currently has tenders with to provide home-to-school transport informing them that it plans to re-tender all services. This in the wake of some four year tenders only just commencing. Seen as a cost-cutting measure, the council is quoted as saying "We are determined that all interested suppliers, regardless of size and whether or not the Council has used them before, should be given an equal chance of obtaining business".