Monday, 11 November 2013

The power of twitter

The importance of social media in the industry is well known. The vast majority of bus companies now have either a twitter or Facebook account, or indeed both. They’re tools that allow companies to connect with their customers instantly, to let them know of delays, changes to services or competitions. People connect with the companies to let them know of delays to their journeys and in doing so become a captive audience for promotion of offers and new and improved services.

They also offer a new channel for raising complaints, and in a public manor never seen before. People can raise grievances that are public to everybody who comes upon them, as opposed to the far more private methods such as emails or over the phone. The response to these complaints is equally as public, and a non-response, or encouragement to sort the problem via another method, away from prying eyes, can often be more telling than the complaint itself. As ever, Trent Barton, who feature in the national top 100 league table for social media use, seem to do a particularly good job with regards to complaint tweets, apologising for and explaining the issue, letting customers know what action is to be taken (where relevant) and pointing the unhappy customer to the money back guarantee. The originally unhappy customer is suddenly reassured and is more likely to travel again- the perfect outcome.
A well handled complaint on a 'on-brand' twitter page

But Trent Barton are by no means the only operator to make good use of Twitter. Their rival, Yourbus, doesn’t receive the same volume of tweets as their older competitor but the ones that they do receive are handled very well. Also in the East Midlands, Nottingham City Transport make very good use of their twitter account, as do Wellglade’s smaller subsidiary, Kinchbus. Many of these also portray themselves as friendly, personable companies with the odd anecdotal tweet, which works to good effect (which no doubt Innocent Smoothies, the ‘king’ of social media, would swear by).

Kinchbus showing that they have a humorous side!
However, I must say that this evening I have been more than impressed by East Yorkshire’s twitter service. Not only was my response thorough and particularly helpful, it also came through minutes after my question, which was made at nine thirty at night. The journey for which I enquired was one I can make with either EYMS or First York and I posed the same question to both companies regarding fares, and I must admit I got a very good response from First as well.
Two very helpful responses, showing how useful Twitter can be

That’s exactly why sites like twitter are so powerful. As a customer, or indeed potential customer, I can get the information that I need in a matter of minutes, rather than having to trawl through websites or timetable books to get the information. When something goes wrong, twitter can be there for me to find out information, or let the company know how I feel. It is a fantastic tool for the industry, and it is reassuring to see how well it is being embraced up and down the country.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A backward step

Buses are, without a doubt, crucial to the economy of the United Kingdom. Every single day, over half of all journeys made by public transport are made by bus, transporting the workforce to the workplace and the shoppers to the shops. Despite a huge increase in car ownership over the past few decades, there still remains a significant percentage who do not own a car, or who would rather eliminate the often extortionate cost of parking and end up on the bus. Without these people, the UK’s already flagging High Street would take a big hit.

A total elimination of bus users is, of course, unlikely. What is perfectly possible, however, is a significant reduction in the number of bus users hitting the High Street. It is a perfectly foreseeable result in the town of Loughborough, if council plans are to go ahead. With the road system being totally redesigned, Loughborough’s Market Place would be totally off limits to cars. The question is, however, whether or not buses should be allowed to continue to use it. These buses currently drop off passengers on the street, at stops convenient for the town centre.

The council is currently in a public consultation process, before making an ultimate decision. One of three outcomes will be decided, a total ban of buses down the road, or allowing buses to travel either in one or both directions. The notion of buses running down pedestrianized roads may seem like a bizarre concept, yet it is one that happens up and down the country. It can be seen in the East Midlands already, in both Belper and West Bridgeford.

Buses and pedestrians coexist quite happily in Belper

One of the main companies that could potentially be impacted by the change is Kinchbus. They are THE Loughborough bus company, linking the town with its suburbs and the major cities. Their customers no doubt make up a considerable percentage of the people spending their money in the town centre, and Tom Morgan, their General Manager is not happy about the notion of not being able to drop off in the current locations.
He fears that “If Loughborough is difficult to get too, people will find other places to go. Ilkeston buses were pushed outside and folk go to Derby now. It is almost ghostly.” He is firmly in favour of buses and pedestrians sharing the road, boldly stating in an Action for a Better Charnwood meeting “It’s a good, strong idea. It is not something that is new to the UK. It is proven to work.” 

We’re supposedly in an environmentally conscience time. Bus travel is capable of taking hundreds of cars off the road, and with green and hybrid technology being developed constantly, the buses themselves are becoming more eco-friendly. Surely then, our Government, at local and national level, should be encouraging people to use the bus? Yet, looking at the situation in Liverpool, where all the city’s bus lanes face closure, and now the situation in Loughborough, it does seem like a backwards step is being taken.

Bus travel is not a nostalgic thing of the past. It is crucial to our success in the future, and if helped in the right direction, it can be a thing for good. Councils really should be doing everything they can to promote bus travel, and that includes making it a more attractive option. Bus priority measures are a fantastic way of doing this, and they should be implemented wherever possible.

So, my opinion is very clear with regards to Loughborough. Complete access in both directions for buses. Agree with me? Then why not let your voice be heard. Fill in the consultation survey here.
Photos from Matt Burley

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Efficient Use of Space: Part 2

Last night I looked at how Trent Barton use the outside of their buses. The conclusion I came to was that, from a passenger perspective, it was well used, in that it promotes the products they offer in a smart, eye catching way.

Fairly common on Double Deck buses across the country is the 'T' style advert board, utilising the space between the decks and where the staircase goes.

Tonight, I'm going to look at operators who do things in a very different way. In particular, operators who ‘donate’ space on the outside of their buses to allow other companies to promote their products or services.
Providing they don't conflict with the livery, or cover up any fleet name, and are contained within a box like above, side adverts can look quite presentable...

This certainly isn’t the only occasion whereby Trent Barton and First York appear at opposite ends of the spectrum. First York certainly aren’t the only company to feature advertising, indeed it is somewhat uncommon for Trent Barton to not do so. However, seeing as both pass by my home and term time homes, they’re a fitting comparison in this instance. The fact that First York’s vehicles have, over the past year, featured the broadest range of styles of adverts also helps, of course.
...but just sticking them on the side looks awful

There certainly is an argument that having buses with third party adverts is a good thing. It means additional income for the operator, which in turn means a reduction in the price of fares. The counter argument to that is; ‘would more people travel if they weren’t travelling on moving billboards?’ Does the use of advertisements diminish the image of bus travel? Can Trent Barton attribute part of their success to not having advertisements? Contravision adverts also, in my opinion, drastically reduce the customer’s experience, by creating a darker environment and also reducing visibility out of the windows. Whilst I doubt it is high on many passengers’ priority list, many people say how they enjoy looking out of the windows of buses as they see more than at the wheel of the car. Putting an advertiser’s interests over that of passengers is a sin in my opinion and any company that does so needs to remind themselves that they exist to serve passengers and that should always be the focus.
Rear adverts are a great place to promote your service to car users, as First demonstrate here. It seems daft to waste that space promoting third parties

Advertisements are also not guaranteed to fit in with the livery of the bus itself, either. When time and effort is put into designing and applying a livery, designed to look both and appealing, it seems somewhat counterproductive to ruin this by sticking adverts over the top of this. TM Travel is a perfect example of this. Adverts were coarsely applied to the side of buses, covering up the company name and going against the curve of the livery. They looked rubbish. When adverts are applied in such a way, it diminishes the appeal of bus travel and worsens the impression people have of your product. For that reason, it seems that bus adverts do more damage than good.
Some of York's fleet is fitted with these rather unique high level advert boards

Finally, once an advert has been applied, there is the risk that it may not come off for a while. One sector that likes to advertise on buses is the film sector. New releases will promote themselves on the sides of buses up and down the country, with Derby being no exception. Some years ago now, “17 again”, starring Zac Efron was released. Some of Notts and Derby’s fleet received adverts for the release that were still there a year later. Not because the contract was a year in length, I presume, just that there wasn’t sufficient demand for those buses to get replacement adverts. When certain companies are making an active effort to show that bus travel is still a good way to travel in the 21st Century, it seems that their good work is being undone with such scenarios where it looks like buses are literally stuck in the past. The other, even more disastrous outcome, is that the adverts start to disintegrate and the buses look even worse.
Whilst Transdev offer a smart, Stenning designed livery, First have covered their bus with an advert for a legal firm. This includes covering all passenger windows with contravision

So, from a passenger perspective, adverts on buses are a big ‘no-no.’ No doubt an accountant would tell me that I was mad, and that not having adverts would not be sustainable. So, are adverts a good revenue source for the industry that it’d be mad to get rid of, or are they an eyesore that the industry should move away from? I certainly know which camp I’m in, yet I can see things carrying on the way they are for some time to come.
All photos are courtesy of Chris Nelson. His flickr photostream can be seen here

Friday, 1 November 2013

Efficient use of space

It seems that using a different browser has part-solved the issue. Apologies for the lack of updates, and the perhaps diminished relevance the post now has. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy, and please feel free to give comments and feedback!
Route branding is something that we have all become far more used to in recent years. It is something that Yourbus, NCT, Trent Barton, Arriva, Kinchbus and Notts and Derby use in Nottingham and Derby to promote their routes. But the extent to which it is utilised by Trent Barton is unparalleled across the country. Since 2003 they have ripped up the rule book, doing away with a standard livery and route numbers, with the introduction of different coloured buses and routes being known by names.


Of course, prior to 2003, brands were used by Trent and Barton. But these were often standard livery with a few stickers over the top, the exception being the ‘Rainbow’ routes. That’s a far cry from the situation today, where everything, from the exterior paintjob to the colour of the headrests, is in line with that route’s brand. 2003 was also the year that the standard Trent Barton livery was unveiled. This would be on show on routes that weren’t branded (of which there were far more at the time) and on the spare buses that would fill in for the ones ‘on brand.’ There was the odd exception, the migraine inducing frio livery, carried by three buses, and another livery promoting the zigzag ticket. The latter survived until very recently.

Four buses were restyled to promote the then new Mango smartcard, with a bus allocated to each depot. Between them, they travelled across almost every route, through almost every settlement, acting as free billboards for the product. What a great idea. People across the East Midlands are used to having different looking Trent Barton buses driving around the place, a few more couldn’t hurt, could it? Especially when they are promoting various aspects of the company.

Then, it appears a decision was made. Scania Wrightbus Solars had replaced a number of Excels on the Skyline 199, and a number were destined to be spares elsewhere in the fleet. Of these, two reappeared in the ‘mum bus’ livery, declaring Trent Barton’s attitude that their staff should treat their customers the same way that they’d treat their mum. It became a talking point, I heard plenty of discussion about one of them when it was allocated to the Ashbourne services, thus showing that they are great publicity, they get the message across and they get people talking.

These were later joined by a host more, with some promoting the new Trent Barton Live social media pages, some promoting the discount at Weatherspoons and others promoting the Zigzag play ticket. These were all things that set Trent Barton apart, and they were all things being well promoted across the network.

Not long after, the new style of branding was introduced. Unlike in 2003, a standard livery wasn’t the first to be revealed, it was the i4 livery. Nor was it the second, or indeed the third. In fact, 18 months later and there still isn’t a standard livery, and it’s unlikely that there will be. There’s currently 20 buses in the new style that are part of the spare fleet. Eclipse 727 was the first bus out of the paintshop in the new livery, and it was one promoting Mango. It was later joined by Solo SR 500 in the same livery. It was clear from the offset that it would be promotional liveries for the spare fleet, not a standard one.

Whilst there isn’t a standard livery, there does appear to be a standard colour and style to the new style spares. There was much anticipation about what some of the former Rainbow 4 Wrightbus Solars would look like when they came out of the paintshop, but it’s fair to say that they looked very good, both inside and out. Solars 676 and 680 were the first two out, promoting the Trent Barton live social media and the zigzag ticket respectively. They were later joined at Nottingham by a third, telling passers-by about what customers thought about their service. They said great things, so why not shout about them? Gradually, all thirteen of the Solars appeared in these liveries.

The best looking spare in the fleet has to be Volvo 724. In a unique gold livery, it really stands out as it drives around the East Midlands. Whilst being 100 years old is nothing to promote in itself, the motto of “really good, really local, really proud” says a lot. It also symbolises everything that the company has achieved over the past 100 years, not to mention the fact that it is this year supporting a very good charity, the Lewis Mighty fund.

Now, there’s a new player in the team. Following the changes on Indigo, with fewer buses required it was time for Volvo 723 to get a new look. In less than a week, it was transformed from purple to crimson red, in a new livery promoting a new product. That product was, of course, the new Trent Barton live, offering live bus departures for every stop. It’s a very smart, eye catching livery, that promotes a product that would appeal to car users, no one enjoys standing round waiting for the bus.


It’s therefore fitting that the latest addition goes back to the original point, should the spare fleet be in a uniform livery, or could the space be better utilised promoting the array of products offered? The answer to me seems simple. It’s easy to be nostalgic, and hark back to a day where all buses were in the same livery, but that’s no longer the case. Bus companies are businesses, and the more people on their buses the better. There’s no better place to advertise than on the buses themselves, so, in my opinion, Trent Barton’s rather bold and unique step to do so is commendable, and seemingly very successful.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Happy birthday!

Alas, my technical difficulties continue. I still refuse to use the iOS apps as they're not practical, I've lost numerous drafts and wasted loads of time trying to get it to work, but it suspect it might be me that's the problem, rather than the software. 

I will, however, make an exception for today. For today marks the 100th birthday of the Trent Motor Traction Comoany, known today as Trent Barton (or perhaps trentbarton). There's been a day of celebration across Trent Barton land today, with vintage buses running on the original two routes, i4 and Swift. Many customers also found envelopes containing £100 as they traveled. 

Trent Barton are a very different company now to what they were 100 years ago. What has t changed is that they're still independent, owned by a group of local families. Unlike many of other companies, they have not succumbed to the larger groups and they maintain a local, and in many ways personal focus. 

They pride themselves on being the really good bus company, which is a particularly bold statement. It is, however, one that the majority agree with, according to a poll. They put customers (not passengers) at the forefront of what they do, and the result is a product which is one of the best in the country. 

So, here's to another 100 years. I hope the company has a positive future, one where customers are the priority and one where quality is at the heart of what is delivered. Who knew what the founders envisenged for what the company would be like 100 years down the line, but I don't doubt that they'd be happy with what there is. 

Happy birthday Trent!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Technology's great...

...when it works. 

Sorry there haven't been any updates for a while folks. I've had a post lined up and ready for a while now, but blogger is refusing to work properly on my computer. It's working fine on my phone (hence my ability to make this post) but the formatting is prohibitively complicated on this platform. 

Hopefully the issue will be soon resolved and full service shall be resumed!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

We're all easily pleased

We are, aren't we? It's the small things in life that please us, it's the simple things that make something so much better. Whilst branded by some as nothing more than 'gimmicks', small touches made by bus companies to either improve a particular service or indeed their own image can make a huge difference. It's something that the award winning companies use incredibly successfully; the introduction of free wifi, a money back guarantee, live bus times. All things that make the journey better for the customer, all things that inform their decision as to whether they travel with the company again (if they're fortunate to have another choice).

So if we can be so easily swayed by the small things, it goes to show that a large proportion of customers can be persuaded to either use or not use a company by practically anything, or indeed anyone. Last year, in York, First suffered terribly after the University's Student Union discouraged students from using their '4' service. There was also a lot of uproar about their decision to not serve the Heslington East campus. They became "public enemy number 1" and the loadings were poor. Fast forward 12 months, and they're again serving the Eastern campus. There's less discouragement and people are once again using the service, with double deckers now being a common sight. The whole image of First was significantly damaged, because of the word of others and general dissatisfaction at their decision. The result of the damage to the image was damage to one of the company's key routes.

Larger buses are now a more common sight on First York's 4 ( (c) Chris Nelson)

This concept also works both ways, Whilst decisions can lead to uproar and unhappiness from customers, noticeable gestures are likely to win some favour from both customers and potential customers. And once such favour and custom is earned, it can be easy to retain. That appears to be the motive behind Yourbus' latest venture. This week is the Ilkeston fair, taking place in the town centre. Yourbus are running a half-hourly shuttle between the town centre and Cotmanhay, the previously Trent Barton dominated estate which now forms the terminus of the Y3 service. The service is entirely free, uses one bus and runs from 6:30 to 10:30 in the evening.

This is a simple yet potentially clever move by Yourbus. It is a gesture that will be remembered, and it also gets people to try a member of Yourbus' fleet. These are buses that don't exactly live up to the stereotypes of old, tried and dirty buses, instead, the vast majority of the fleet is less than a year old. No doubt leaflets will be strategically placed inside the bus too to ensure people are aware of the Y3 service (and indeed other services in the area). Having tried the service for free, they may be more inclined to pay for the same route in the future (the Y3 vies for trade with Trent Barton's "The Two" on the way into town) or indeed even further, into Derby.

Yourbus' Y3 now extends to serve Cotmanhay after Ilkeston ( (c) Matt Burley)

Suddenly, Yourbus become the friendly, generous company amongst the good people of Ilkeston. It is a very clever piece of promotion, and one that could change the mindsets of a great few people. We shall see if anything is to come of it...

See more of Matt's and Chris' photos

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Cycle track

Back in York again, a new scheme is being tested. Bikes are very popular in the city, with the 2011 census showing that a very high number of people cycle into work. There's also two universitys so lots of students. Plenty of them cycle to their studies adding to the numbers pedalling away on a daily basis. 

Cycle lanes are just as, if not more common that bus lanes, but a lot of streets in this ancient city are narrow and as such passing them can be difficult. Admittedly cyclists often put themselves in danger, but no doubt being overtaken in narrow streets by large vehicles is a scary experience. 

                   One of the unibus fleet has a rear advert promoting the cycle alert system

Now, thanks to a partnership between Transdev and the University, a new service called cycle track is to be launched. All 9 of the 44 Unibus fleet is to be fitted with the equipment, and bikes can be fitted for £10, though students can get a subsidised package for £5. 

The technology works by alerting bus drivers to the presence, then location of bikes around them. As a bus approaches a bike, a warning appears in the drivers cab. Then, whilst the bus overtakes the bike, sensors show the bike's position on a screen. It means that the driver can be certain that they have passed the bike before pulling in, the remove the risk of them colliding with the bike.  

This is very much a positive thing for cyclists and everyone really. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, York is a city where bus and cycle use is very much encouraged, whilst those in cars have a hard time (speaking from experience!). As and when my bike finally makes the trip north toYork, I will for certain be investing in the cycle alert system.  

The three photos of the unibuses are courtesy of Chris Nelson on Flickr. (

Friday, 11 October 2013

All encompassing

Nottingham and York are two cities without an awful lot in common. Certainly they both have a significant historical context, but in a number of fields, size in particular, they are miles apart. One thing they do have in common is that they are both look at in this blog, so when, recently, the two were included in the same Government press release, I realised it would be foolish to not write about it.

Trent Barton is part of the success story that is the Nottingham bus network

Earlier this year, Sheffield became the first city to be designated a “Better Bus Area.” What this essentially involved was a shift in the control of Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) from National to Local level. In addition, further funds were allocated in order to “tackle the problems holding back local bus markets”
It must have been a success, after the pilot period, four more cities are due to gain the status. In addition to the West of England (Bath and Bristol) and the Merseyside area, York and Nottingham are set to benefit. Whilst York will receive £1.3 million in funding, Nottingham will receive a whopping £11.3 million over the next four years.

Nottingham City Transport are also frequent award winners

Local Transport Minister Baroness Kramer has said that the scheme is “designed to drive up performance and passenger numbers.” With that goal in mind, York and Nottingham seem like two ideal cities. Nottingham is regularly voted as the least car dependant provincial city in the UK, a credit to its transport system, whilst York is a city full of bus priority measures and no less than 5 park and ride sites, with several more planned. These are cities where the local authorities realise the importance of buses in reducing traffic and therefore pollution and encouragement to use the bus services can only be a good thing. Investment in bus priority schemes and passenger waiting areas will only improve bus users’ experience which will only drive up passenger numbers. A win-win all round.

York has a comprehensive Park and Ride network

One city absent from the list is Derby. That is, in my personal opinion, a city ran by an anti-bus council. The removal of key bus lanes into the city and a bus station seemingly built with lease-able leisure and retail space as a priority over a properly sized interchange is testament to this. There are bus priority measures Derby, don’t get me wrong, but the removal of any measures is very much a backwards step, and I watch on in Horror as Liverpool’s Mayor proposes the removal of all of their bus lanes. Hopefully Derby can closely monitor the effect of Nottingham’s Better Bus Area status and will hopefully bid for the status in the years to come.

Bus priority is common in York. This photo was taken by me (a rare occurrence!)

In its simplest form, the aim of the project is in the name; “better buses.” Given the money available for the project, it is certainly something that has the capability to work very well in both cities. These are two cities that trust their bus networks and the companies that provide them, as well as other organisations, both academic and industrial, that support services operating close to them. They are two examples of cities where public transport works well and efficiently and hopefully, with the help of the scheme, they can be cities that set an example to those not only across the country, but also across the world.

The two Nottingham photos are courtesy of Matt Burley, whose photostream can be seen here. The photo of York's Park and Ride buses was courtesy of Chris Nelson's photostream which can be found here. The full press release regarding the Better Bus Areas can be seen here.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Woof woof

Dogs onboard public transport is a common experience. Cost to transport them varies, with some operators charging discounted rates, others not charging. Often, from experience, drivers don't charge for them, even if their management instructs them to do so.

But should they be allowed?  It's very difficult to set blanket rules, the term 'dog' ranges from a Jack Russell to a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, clearly there's a big difference in terms of size and danger to others. Whilst a dog may not be threatening in nature, the presence of some larger dogs may intimidate some passengers, particularly the young and very vulnerable. After all, we are not all 'dog people,' some people are terrified by their very existence.

Despite not owning one, and never being in a family that has owned one, I would consider myself a ‘dog person’, I think they’re great. But that’s the dogs that I know. Dogs belonging to friends and family who I have come to know are safe and friendly. Therefore, I feel uncomfortable when strangers board a bus I know with a dog in tow. As well as the potential for the dog being dangerous (albeit unlikely), there’s also the possibility that the dog might be smelly or might not have the same bladder control as the fellow passengers. Not to mention the irritation of a barking dog in a confined space (though the same could be said for young babies). I personally think that it makes for a less enjoyable journey.

The flipside is of course that dogs do often need to go to places, the vets, for example, not accessible by foot. And of course plenty of bus passengers do not have access to cars. Preventing the dogs from taking the bus could lead to welfare issues and that’s something that no one wants.

So, yes, dogs taking the bus probably has to stay. I agree with that much. Sadly, I can’t agree with their carriage being encouraged. And that seems to be exactly what Trent Barton have attempted to do. Previously, dogs have been charged at the half fare, but as of Sunday, they will now be charged at 50p, regardless of journey length.

Buses are for carrying people, and it should be the customer that comes first, something that Trent Barton always seems to pioneer. This move does seem to go against this. Perhaps it is due to so many drivers not charging at all, and they’re hoping this promotion will reclaim earnings lost that way. Hopefully this move won’t result in a large increase in the number of dogs being carried, which, I believe, will worsen the experience for those passengers paying considerably more than 50p for their journey.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

I take it back

Another day of being needed to campus and another attempt st catching the SB1. This time, my experience was far better!

A '55' plate Coastliner branded Wrightbus Gemini, with a very smart interior (these were always a treat when they appeared on the 44) with a friendly driver and another member of the unibus team explaining the timetable, route and ticket options for not only the SB1 but also other services linking the university. 

Much better!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Transdev SB1

You may recall that the first post on this blog was a review of a new route; Trent Barton’s ‘Zoom’. Having returned to York, and with a  new service having started at the bottom of my term-time road, now seemed like a good opportunity to review that too. Plus, this week is the University’s fresher’s week, and as a second year helping them to settle in, I get a free bus pass. Even better.

My pass entitles me to travel on a number of services, including the new SB1

The service I refer to is Transdev’s SB1. This service links both of the University’s campuses with Hull Road and the Foss Islands retail park every half hour. I can only presume that the service is partly funded by the university, certainly those living in ‘The Boulevard’ have been given free bus passes by the University to compensate for the position they’ve been put in so there is an element of funding there.

With a million and one things to think about, after a busy day I arrived home and realised that I had forgotten to visit my department. So, I decided to head for the SB1. After a lot of waiting and ringing Transdev York’s office several times (without any answer) I decided to give up and walk. Not a great first impression at all!
I’d love to say I had more luck on the journey home but this was not to be. Having picked up a timetable for the 44, which includes the SB1 timetable, it read that a bus was due to leave the stop closest to me at 15:32, ten minutes time.

I arrived at the stop and saw a Transdev Harrogate (bit lost?) branded Plaxton President with the display reading “private charter” with “SB1” written on a piece of A4 on the window- not much use for a new service! From what I could tell the bus was neatly presented, it had clearly been reupholstered more recently than its sisters on the 44 and didn’t look like a 13 year old bus.

Sadly, I didn’t get a much closer look. The driver could clearly see me waiting for the service but didn’t let me on and as the departure time approached I tried Transdev’s office again. This time, thankfully, they did pick me up, only to tell me that there was a typo on the timetable (which will have been handed out to thousands of students over the past few days) and that there was a gap in the service and as such there was no service at 15:32.

The timetable makes no mention of a 1 hour gap in service

So, not a very flattering review of this service at all. Whilst, granted, having not been able to travel on it, I cannot fully evaluate it; it does seem to have a number of serious flaws. Hopefully Transdev will be able to improve this service in the future, as if it is reliable then it would be a very useful service for me. Here’s hoping for some real improvement on the SB1.

Sunday, 29 September 2013


It’s a well known fact that Indigo is one of Trent Barton’s most successful and thus profitable routes. With a historic frequency of every 6-7 minutes it’s also their most frequent. A staggering 9 travel between Nottingham, Beeston and Long Eaton, from where buses continue to Briar Gate and Derby every 20 minutes. Old and New Sawley are served hourly and half-hourly respectively. Very few people would use it to travel from Derby to Nottingham, there are much quicker options, but it is a route that connects a lot of places and that is no doubt where its successes lie.

It’s only been known as Indigo since 2008. Prior to that, it was known as Rainbow 5. The flyer below shows a somewhat different approach to branding to what is currently applied, but shows a somewhat different route. The Rainbow 5 itself was a three-bus-an-hour affair, what is currently the Derby leg. It was supplemented by the 5A (the Briar Gate leg) and 5B (extensions to New Sawley, Old Sawley and Loughborough) to form a ‘super-route’ into Nottingham. These were operated at the time by a mix of ‘S’ and ‘X’ plate Optare Excels, the last of which (234) has only just been withdrawn from the fleet.

From the archives, this 2002 promotional material

Rainbow 5 was the first route to gain Scania/Wrightbus Solars and was also the first route to gain the new Stenning designed Trent Barton identity in 2003. The ‘A’ and ‘B’ were done away with, with buses simply displaying ‘5’ and their destination. In 2008, the route was the first to receive Volvo Wirghtbus Eclipses. After much delay, resulting in the fleet being re-registered as ‘58’ plates, they entered service, giving the new route and a touch of class; featuring leather seats, air conditioning and wood laminate flooring. After a successful trial on Rainbow 4 (now i4) and Commuter Xprss (now Club Class), Indigo was the first to receive technology to allow the use of the Mango smartcard.

A total of 25 Eclipses were delivered for Indigo, making it the route with the biggest number of allocated buses. In 2011, Indigo became the first commercial route in the East Midlands to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Eclipses were given subtle branding changes, with orange “24/7” stickers being applied.
The biggest change for quite some time came in early 2012. Trent Barton took over the Nottingham Skylink, previously ran by Nottingham City Transport. Rather than via the previous route, it would run fast to Long Eaton before heading to the airport and onto Loughborough every other journey. This essentially consolidated the two Nottingham to East Midlands Airport services into one, and as such would replace the Loughborough leg of Indigo. As a result, New Sawley saw their service doubled and two vehicles were taken off Indigo. One of these is now the famous centenary bus seen around ‘Trent Barton land.’

This former Indigo bus is now the pride of the fleet

From today, the biggest change to Indigo will take place. The whole timetable has been torn apart, travel trends have been examined and a whole new offering is about to be unleashed. Buses will now run every five minutes between Nottingham, the QMC, the University and Beeston. Offering a £1 cash fare, Indigo is now a particularly attractive service to students and a real contender in the heavily fought corridor.
Buses will continue to Long Eaton every 10 minutes during the day, with there being a 5 minute frequency at peak times. Of these, half will continue to Derby (alongside the new Zoom) and the other half will continue to Briar Gate.

Just in case there was any doubt as to the new frequency...

With the exception of a few peak time journeys, Indigo will no longer serve Sawley. Instead, a new Sawley Xprss service will run, every hour, from Nottingham fast to Long Eaton, before serving both Old and New Sawley. This service will be ran by Optare Solos, the dedicated two having been painted into the newest incarnation of the Mango livery.

One of the buses said to be heading for service on the Sawley Xprss

These are massive changes and aren't ones made without a lot of thought and investigation. Indigo always has and no doubt will continue to be a fantastic and popular product and a complete re-think will no doubt result in the service being even stronger into the future. I wish Barry, as Indigo manager, and all the team all the best of luck with the new and improved Indigo.

All photos are once again courtesy of Matt Burley

Friday, 27 September 2013

Whilst certainly not of the same magnitude as the one in the East Midlands, there is something of a ‘bus war’ happening in York. Several years ago, the University of York opened up its new campus, some two miles away from the old one. The University offered to subsidise an extension of First York’s route 4 from the old campus to the new, however, given the cost of a new Wright Streetcar (used on the route at the time) they declined. As such, the University turned to York Pullman, who introduced their 'Unibus’ 44 service. This route largely followed the 4 from the train station, but due to the use of ‘normal’ buses, they could serve Merchangate, a street closer to the major shops. Of course, there was also the extension to Heslington East.

The broader range of destinations, the cheaper fares and encouragement from the University quickly made the 44 many students’ route of choice. First retaliated by extending their route to Heslington East, but without the subsidy and without the use of the University’s campus road. Both services offered free campus hops, but without a subsidy, First were at a distinct disadvantage. The 44 was clearly winning the fight.

Last September, First decided to put their cards on the table, and ran the 4 every 7/8 minutes, in the hope that they would offer a better product than the 44. By doing so, however, they withdrew from Heslington East, at the same time as a 1,200 halls of residence opened there. The 44 struggled with capacity to the point where it went to a 7/8 minute frequency from Christmas. First’s plan had quite simply failed.

The new corporate livery is starting to find its way onto route 4

During this ordeal, First not only lost a lot of custom but also fell out of favour with the University. Trandsdev (Pullman’s successor) are the University’s “preferred transport provider.” Fortunately it seems they may have been given the opportunity for a reprieve.

This year, the University has been overwhelmed with incoming first year students, and the University guarantees all of them accommodation. Demand has outstripped supply and this has resulted in some private sector accommodation being hired by the university and let out as their own. The University is obliged to get these students from their homes, in various estates around York, to the University.  Given First’s comprehensive network, it was inevitable that they would be approached. As such, their service 4 once again returns to Heslington East, to allow connections from Acomb to the south of the city. Furthermore, for the first time, their service 6 will be extended to Heslington East interchange, allowing a direct bus to Osbaldwick, Tang Hall, the Hospital and Clifton Moor. Great new links for students and minimal expenditure for First. This improved network could also prove to be a lifesaver for the 4, which does seem to struggle due to the competition.

Route 6 will extend to the University for the first time this October

They haven’t been involved as Transdev of course. Their 44 continues to run every 7/8 minutes with the support of the University and Student’s Union. That's alongside an improved 'CB2 clubber's bus" service, which runs during the small hours of the morning, 3 days a week.

The 44 uses a varied fleet, from midi-buses to double deckers

But that isn’t the only route they run through the University. The UB1 is a free campus shuttle, paid for by the University. For the next term, this is to be run by an MPD, sourced from elsewhere within the Blazefield group which replaces a Plaxton Primo that was inherited from Pullman. The Primo is said to have been exported to New Zealand. The MPD advertises its successor, an Optare Solo EV, purchased with the help of the Green Bus Fund, which is due in service after Christmas.

This MPD is the temporary traction on the UB1, until Christmas

Also run by Transdev, The 20 shopper service links the University’s two campuses with Monks Cross and Clifton Moor, two popular shopping parks. The service is part funded by York City Council but also part funded by the University, allowing students to get discounted tickets.

This bright pink Versa is branded for route 20

Transdev York’s older sister, Coastliner, also run a service to the University. The half-hourly 844 was set up in retaliation of First’s attempts to run a Leeds to York service, in competition with Coastliner. The extension to the University isn't especially popular so maybe Transdev are hoping the latest intake may show some interest.

The introduction of the 844 led to there being 4 buses an hour between Leeds and York

Finally, Transdev will be running a new service to the University this year. The University has housed a number of students in “The Boulevard”, private sector accommodation designed in the same way as halls of residence. This facility is fairly close to the University, but sadly not quite on the Unibus route. As such, a new ‘SB1’ service will link the University’s two campuses with the Foss Islands retail park (which includes a Morrisons supermarket) via “The Boulevard.”

It's not known what will run the SB1, but York branded Solos would be an educated guess

One service not to be operated by Transdev this year is the 27. This service, operated under contract to York City Council, ran from the City Centre to the University via Fulford. This, along with a number of services interworked with it passed to Arriva Selby from Transdev a few months ago, thus massively increasing their presence in York.

An Arriva 27 leads a queue of buses at the University

Alongside this, whilst out and about over the past few days, I have noticed, on several occasions, an Arriva double decker driving not in service through the University, with a number of drivers on board. Could the competition for the University be about to see another player? Or will yet another destination be available to the students of York?

All the pictures included are (c) Nelboy MazeTeam on flickr. To see his interesting and up to date photostream, click here.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Developments in the East Midlands

Yourbus’ attack on trent barton is somewhat high profile. For those unfamiliar with the situation, I will give a brief summary:

  •          After years of focussing their efforts on building up a portfolio of contract work and competitive services against Nottingham City Transport (NCT), in February Yourbus decided that they would attempt to take on Trent Barton’s flagship Red Arrow coach service, between Derby and Nottingham. Using a fleet of branded Mercedes Citaro buses, they would match Trent Barton’s 10 minute frequency.
  •          This approach failed, with a lot of empty Citaros running up and down the A52. Yourbus decided to continue running the service but at half the frequency, buses now run every 20 minutes.
  •          The buses that were taken off the Citylink service were redeployed onto a service, the Y5. This copied Trent Barton’s Indigo service between Beeston and Derby, running at the same 20 minute frequency as its competitor. This prompted the launch of ‘Zoom’ by Trent Barton, which was discussed in yesterday’s post.
  •          Brand new Mercedes Citaros were also deployed onto new routes. The Y1 was a copy of Trent Barton’s H1 and the Y3 was a carbon copy of the Ilkeston Flyer. Both ran at the same frequency of every 20 minutes. Trent Barton’s response to this was to increase the frequency of both routes to four buses an hour.
  •          It appears that a consortium involving Trent Barton and Nottingham City Transport has won the contract to run the University of Nottingham’s hopper buses off Yourbus. This contract is rumoured to be worth a lot of money and the fact that the two companies are working together suggests an attempt to reduce Yourbus’ guaranteed income.

Y5 is the second route Yourbus introduced in direct competition with Trent Barton.

So, as you can tell, the whole affair is getting a little nasty. And it doesn't show any signs of stopping. A number of developments are imminent.

·         Yourbus are taking over the running of the 109, which they will renumber the 114. This links Derby and Ashbourne via an indirect route but, along with the 113 which they have also won, will nicely compliment their Ashbourne network, with them already running the 110 and 111 services. The 114 contract involves a journey along the Swift route first thing in the morning and you have to question whether this is all part of a plan to launch an attack on Trent’s first route. Swift is becoming somewhat notorious for overcrowding and a detour around an estate upon leaving Ashbourne could be avoided by Yourbus but Trent Barton would no doubt face a PR backlash if they did the same.

·         The Y5 will be ran through to Nottingham (Friar Lane) from the 27th October. During peak hours, this will be a continuation of the current service from Beeston, following the Indigo route. Outside of the morning and evening rush hour, the service will follow the faster Skylink route into town. This comes not long after Trent Barton have reduced their service along the corridor from Skylink buses every 15 minutes to 3 irregularly timed buses, two on skylink (running 30 minutes apart) and one on the new Sawley Xprss.

Zoom provides faster journeys along the corridor served by Y5

·         The Y3 will extend from Ilkeston to Cotmanhay. This is a large estate currently served by a number of Trent Barton routes, principally the Two and the 23. There isn’t, however a direct link to Derby and I’ve often seen people transferring from the 23 onto the Ilkeston flyer.  This could be a niche that works for Yourbus, but from what I saw yesterday, loadings weren’t great and I doubt that custom from that estate alone can keep the service going, particularly when there is a link to Nottingham, a bigger and arguably better, shopping destination, every 12 minutes. Furthermore, I noticed a 21 branded tempo advertising a £3.40 Ilkeston all day ticket yesterday.


635 has been drafted in to allow a 4 bus an hour frequency on the Ilkeston flyer, 
following the introduction of the Y3

Yourbus certainly don’t seem to be throwing in the towel just yet then. They are a very fierce competitor who has had both success and failure in the past. Those that are benefiting are the passengers, many of whom have received faster, cheaper or more frequent buses, even if they’ve stayed with Trent Barton.  Only time will tell if these latest ventures pay off for them.

The photos included in this post are all (c) Matt Burley. Find his photos online here.