Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Buses and Towns—2

A couple of commenters yesterday got the irony of possible on-street ‘parking deregulation’ versus the senior traffic commissioner’s revised punctuality target consultation (thus almost pre-empting today’s post).


For the two seem mutually exclusive: the tightening up on punctuality when congestion might well get even worse.

One thing that the STC wants to do is change the +1/-5 minute ‘window’ to +0/-5. This means an operator may continue to run a registered bus service journey up to six minutes late without sanction. He can no longer run a journey a minute early. More than 10 years ago, when the +1/-5 was set, all we had were wristwatches. Now, I have to confess that there really isn’t much of an excuse for being one minute early, not with modern ticket machines, telematics and two-way comms.

Of more interest will be the proposed change from operating 95 per cent of buses within the (revised) ‘window’ to 100 per cent. 100 per cent? Always assuming there’s VOSA staff available for thorough, unbiased, proportionate and properly sampled monitoring.

Might this simply load expense for operators who are already struggling to keep time in urban areas?

  • Further increases in PVR and driver costs to account for punctuality. Someone has to pay for it.

  • A further reduction in timetabled timing points to minimise the prospect of being caught out. A 30-minute service need only have three timing points: the two termini and one after 15 minutes. Will this assist passengers in judging when their services arrive?

  • Lengthening journey times, as companies work to the worst-case scenario. This will make the bus appear even less attractive when compared to the car and result in more waiting for time

  • Disjointed timetables owing to differential running times for Saturdays, schooldays and school holidays, when peak congestion differs. Will the public get the hang of it?

I see no talk of measures to assist punctuality and thereby begin to reduce costs for operators. This is out of the STC’s hands. The consultation draft does say, though,

“Delivering punctual and reliable services is a joint responsibility between operators and local authorities”

But there is little redress against local transport authorities. The STC also expects LTAs

“To use civil parking enforcement to deal with parking issues that can often obstruct buses and contribute to late running e.g. bus lane enforcement as well as using signal junction improvements, including the introduction of bus priority at traffic lights”

Does this seem slightly at odds with the thinking at the communities & local department?

36 comments:

Davethebusdriver said...

Fare rise for the passenger
Upping of pvr
Why not gear the whole britsh isles up for a quality
Contract
Fare rises operators fault
Bus running on time all the time local authority plaudits
Increase in pvr on core routes = less likely to continue non core routes = operator fault local authority try to take back the buses

fatbusbloke said...

I suppose now that Traffic Commissioners are largely nothing more than a filing cabinet for registrations, they have to think of something to justify their existence!

To punish bus operators for things outside their control is unacceptable and must be resisted vigorously at the highest level.

To introduce more inbuilt irregularity into timetables is counter productive.

Better to punish Local Authorities for bad traffic management; but they we will pay jut the same through Council Tax.

No-win all round!

fatbusbloke said...

Try again:-

But then we will pay just the same through Council Tax

Neil said...

100% within 5 minutes late seems silly - there are always reasons why running late might be justified. I think 95% is a reasonable target.

As for early running, I would say 99.9% not early at all would be right. Very occasionally there may be a traffic reason to run early from one timing point on a one off occasion, e.g. the stop being blocked, and operators being fined for this is silly. However, persistent early running is unacceptable - though where I've observed this it's been well in excess of 1 minute.

Neil

Chris said...

Regarding persistent early running, here's one for you.

My stop happens to be a timing point, and I'm always bemused when I see the bus pull up six minutes early on a ten minute headway service, so that the driver can disembark for a quick smoke.

I'm sure you'll agree that it's totally unacceptable, as I have been caught out in the past trying to board one stop before the timing point only to have the bus sail gaily past with no regard for the time it's supposed to be there.

Surely this negates the whole concept of timing points - not just so that the customer knows when the bus will leave a certain point, but can gauge when it will leave other stops as well.

plcd1 said...

A 100% target for "on time" running is stupid. As already said there are always good (and bad) reasons why buses can be early or late. I had previously though Ms Bell to be tough but level headed when she was a regional TC.

If this is what she comes up with when given the top job she needs to join Fat Eric and Uncle Norm in the public call box (as I suggested in a post a couple of days ago) for a few hours. Perhaps the three of them can work out a coherent strategy to improve buses, town parking and punctuality?

The last thing any one needs is more nonsense that could lead to perverse outcomes as suggested in Busing's post. No TfL contract route, with the possible exception of some schools ones, requires such high levels of punctuality / excess wait time or mileage operated. That's presumably because there is a recognition that "events" happen that are legitimately outside the control of the operator. Perhaps the STC needs to recognise this too?

RedRover said...

Moving to a 100% target is tantamount to saying to operators "however hard you try, you will fail". Is that anything other than counterproductive when it comes to encouraging service provision? Is it anything other than absurd?

Rather than bullying operators for circumstances beyond their control, why doesn't VOSA put its own house in order? Due (according to comments on this blog) to a less rigourous (i.e. lazier) process for updating the registrations database, it is no longer possible to identify (in general) a registration from a given service number. So (referring to fatbusbloke's comment above) they don't even do the filing properly anymore.

I'm sure the Soviet-style assurance that not even one in twenty of my buses will be more than five mimutes late will be fabulously useful to me as a passenger (remember them?). Far more useful than, say, getting my local authority to mend it's real-time data feed into Traveline, which used to work but has been broken for at least two years.

In fact, why don't we have a 95% (or 100% if you like) uptime requirement for RTI, including through Traveline, instead?

RW said...

This is a very big issue and it is important that people respond to the consultation. Posting here is very interesting but will not influence the issue much. Responding to the consultation will.
My view is that the TCs should require services to be properly resourced and realistic and then accept that without demand management and bus priority the buses physically cannot keep to time.
Operators will balance resources to costs and if they are late too often the passengers will stop using their buses!
On my route timekeeping is impossible even if you are allowed to use blue lights!

Anonymous said...

In Scotland TC are not filling Clark's. On top of that 5min was scrapped in Scotland years ago...

Neil said...

"My view is that the TCs should require services to be properly resourced and realistic and then accept that without demand management and bus priority the buses physically cannot keep to time."

A lot of peak-time traffic congestion is predictable. Therefore, in a lot of cases if you can't keep to time, you need to change the timetable.

This does mean that on some routes true clockface is infeasible, but it's better to have an accurate non-clockface timetable than a clockface timetable which is a complete work of fiction.

And when there are roadworks, it'd help if Councils notified bus operators, and the TCs were lenient on 56 days, such that a feasible-to-operate temporary timetable can be introduced.

Neil

Anonymous said...

Busing touches on the issue of how VOSA will observe any such failings in his text.

I have heard recently on good authority of one tatty independent south of the Thames,who is running well ahead of time simply to run ahead of a new better quality rival operator.

You can have all the rules you like,but toothless tigers don't bite.

Stevie D said...

Typical soundbites from wannabe politicos trying to justify their own inflated self-importance. And typical lack of joined up thinking (or even just 'thinking').

The war on local authorities continues. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they have parking restrictions, Piffles will denounce them as the commie-lovin' hippie lefties who are grinding the faces of the honest motorist. If they don't have parking restrictions, they will be pilloried for allowing buses to get caught in traffic jams. This isn't accidental – it's a deliberate strategy this government is using to marginalise local councils, and they are attacking on every front they can.

The war on the poor continues. Not content with councils across the country slashing socially necessary bus services that many poor and elderly people rely on, they are now going to be targeting bus companies that don't manage a 100% punctuality rate. Assuming this means more fines (I can't see any other reason for changing the target), it's going to make it unaffordable to run buses. If you allow enough time to meet 100% within 5 minutes, you're going to need so much slack in the timetable that (a) resourcing costs go through the roof, and (b) passenger numbers go through the floor because the journey takes too damn long.

Where bus operators don't manage 100% punctuality, it is mostly not their fault. Blaming them for the traffic conditions on the road that are outside their control is nothing more than spite designed to appease the Daily Mail reading rabid right and make life ever more difficult for those people who can't afford the increasing cost of owning, running and parking a car.

realist said...

I'd like to see Mrs bloody Beverly Bell set out on a car ride of fifty miles or so and predict to the minute when she's going to pass ten or a dozen timing points.

Never mind the small matter of stopping to pick up passengers who have the temerity to delay things by asking questions, fumbling for their fares or daring to request the wheelchair ramp's dropped.

I suspect it's not so much a consultation paper then as a poseur's paradise.

Ross said...

In my collection of old stuff I have quite a few Corporation timetables from various locations.

Almost all share one thing in common: for each journey they only show the departure time from the starting point. No intermediate timings and no arrival time at destination, just that departure time.

I wonder if that's what we'll find in future if Ms Bell gets her way: companies registering journeys only with a departure time from origin, no other timetable data?

Anonymous said...

This is typical of the rubbish that is sent from public sector regulators that have no idea of the real world that exists around them nor the cost of this tightening of the rules and the benefits(if any). I notice there is no impact assessment which I though was mandatory for these kind of changes. The STC presumably feels she has no need to produce one, nor even a tracked set of changes to existing rules. If one adhered to all these rules on punctuality one would have little time to run buses, let alone ones 100% reliable. This has a high cost that will result in fewer services.

And it's change for change sake. Has anyone said that the current rules were inadequate or too lax. It is IMPOSSIBLE to adhere to the current guidelines , so why make them even more impossible and guarantee failures.

This might come out under the label of the STC but I bet she has never read them

Anonymous said...

What is the 'job' of the traffic commissioner except from punishing companies?

The authorities chose to privatise bus services and now they whinge when operators try to make it more profitable. Theres a difference between completely taking the mick and sometimes running late due to external circumstances. A 100% of-time window means the bus will be stopped waiting at each and every stop due to excessive contingency time.

I bet she is just trying to justify her role to stop the coalition from getting rid of her or her department.

Anonymous said...

"A lot of peak-time traffic congestion is predictable. Therefore, in a lot of cases if you can't keep to time, you need to change the timetable.

This does mean that on some routes true clockface is infeasible, but it's better to have an accurate non-clockface timetable than a clockface timetable which is a complete work of fiction.

And when there are roadworks, it'd help if Councils notified bus operators, and the TCs were lenient on 56 days, such that a feasible-to-operate temporary timetable can be introduced."

Really? Are we now to have timetables that are going to change to reflect the summer holidays and other school breaks when the school run is absent?

In truth, most companies DO look to move away from clockface timetables in peak and build in recovery time. For example, and in your local area, the Olney to CMK service has differing run times

06:53 - 42 mins
07:45 - 50 mins
08:15 - 50 mins
09:19 - 46 mins
10:23 - 42 mins

I can point your way to a lot of non-fictional timetables. However, the dreaded unplanned TTLs are what really screws up a timetable; a water main goes and that's it!

Neil said...

"Really? Are we now to have timetables that are going to change to reflect the summer holidays and other school breaks when the school run is absent?"

Erm, yes? There are services in the MK area like that - Sch and NSch are common notes in the timetable.

The reason is often diversions to serve schools rather than congestion, but there are a few where the diversion is to *avoid* the school.

But if you *don't* do that, you need to timetable for school days then wait time.

Neil

Anonymous said...

Neil

There is a difference between occasional journeys diverting to serve a school, and a wholesale change to bus times for 6 weeks across summer, half terms etc.

It becomes so complex that the customer is left bewildered and it proves counterproductive. You can imagine the letters when the passenger goes out to catch their bus, not realising that it's the half term timetable and not the regular one.

Add in the complexity (on some routes) of differing half terms in different counties (Leicestershire's summer holidays are a week different from Northamptonshire's) and you have utter confusion.

Instead, bus companies generally take a pragmatic view of building in additional time for M-F peaks. When holidays hit, they know that drivers will have to drag their heels and wait time at stops to adhere to schedules. How they enforce that is another thing!

Anonymous said...

Anon said: "It becomes so complex that the customer is left bewildered and it proves counterproductive. You can imagine the letters when the passenger goes out to catch their bus, not realising that it's the half term timetable and not the regular one.

Add in the complexity (on some routes) of differing half terms in different counties (Leicestershire's summer holidays are a week different from Northamptonshire's) and you have utter confusion."

Really? School Day Only and Not School Day variations have been normal for donkeys years. They still are IMX.

Has there really been such 'bewilderment' or 'utter confusion' for decades? Please credit passengers with some degree of intellect.

Anonymous said...

"Really? School Day Only and Not School Day variations have been normal for donkeys years. They still are IMX.

Has there really been such 'bewilderment' or 'utter confusion' for decades? Please credit passengers with some degree of intellect."

I do. However, it has been proved that people do prefer clockface timings and simplicity. A myriad of codes and route variations may enthuse some people but not the vast majority of people.

Also, many of the SD/NSD times you mention often reflect diversions to schools NOT just reflecting heavier levels of congestion.

It is a fine line between reflecting the differing operating conditions and having a consistent approach to timetabling. Otherwise, you'll have the 1 in Milton Keynes with a separate timetable for Sun, Sat, SD and NSD; better still to have a M-F and manage the timings (as Arriva have) in the knowledge that drivers will wait time when the schools are off

Neil said...

"better still to have a M-F and manage the timings (as Arriva have) in the knowledge that drivers will wait time when the schools are off"

As long as they do. There was a known problem with an evening route in MK running up to 10-15 minutes early through the city centre. This, despite many complaints, was only properly "solved"...by the route's complete withdrawal.

Neil

Anonymous said...

An evening route running 15 mins early?

That's a problem of enforcement not scheduling, I'd suggest?

Stevie D said...

@Anonymous
“School Day Only and Not School Day variations have been normal for donkeys years.”

The vast majority of the time, the SD/NSD variations are for journeys that are directly affected by whether it is a schoolday or not, things like
• a journey that is diverted or extended to serve a school at the start and end of the day.
• a journey that only runs on schooldays, or runs at a different time to better meet the start/end of the school day.
• a journey that only runs during the holidays because the vehicle is needed to run a school contract service on schooldays.

Those usually only affect one or two journeys in the morning peak and mid-afternoon – whereas the reality is that traffic patterns throughout the day can vary significantly between schooldays and school holidays, and can vary between one school holiday and another (February half-term is very different to the summer holiday, for instance). Very, very few services have a complete timetable change for school holidays to take account of these different traffic patterns, which is what would be needed under the proposed level of enforcement.

Neil said...

"Very, very few services have a complete timetable change for school holidays to take account of these different traffic patterns, which is what would be needed under the proposed level of enforcement."

Why?

The only occasion on which buses should run early is if the timing point stop is blocked, and if it is they should wait time at the first safe location after that. So the 0 minutes early should not be an issue.

The late can be taken into account by setting the timetable for the worst case and waiting time.

I agree 100% is silly (100% SLAs are always silly) though.

Neil

Anonymous said...

When I was a regular bus user, I lost count of the number of times I had to help other people read the timetables at stops. Completely changing the timetables every few months for school holidays will just alienate those who have spent a fair amount of times (in the case of my local route, the past 4-5 years) knowing their bus will turn up at particular times each hour.

The less timetables are changed, the better - not everyone checks before they go out. I have been caught out by autumn timetable changes before on the railways, having downloaded and printed a PDF of the timetable two days before it changed.

Anonymous said...

""Very, very few services have a complete timetable change for school holidays to take account of these different traffic patterns, which is what would be needed under the proposed level of enforcement."

Why?

The late can be taken into account by setting the timetable for the worst case and waiting time."

That's what most bus companies do. I used to live in Bristol and, again as an example, here are the times for what was my local route from Redfield to the City Centre.

Normal time is 21 mins. Early morning (when traffic is minimal) is 18 mins, doubtless to prevent early running. However, in the peaks, it was 27 minutes, reflecting the congestion etc. And yet First Bristol were/are continually criticised for punctuality and often unjustly. Why? Because on that route, all it takes is a set of temporary lights, some scaffolding encroaching onto the road, or a badly parked vehicle and the schedule turned to fiction.

I can think of various places where, because of the archaic road network or the peculiarities of geography that similar things happen.

I'd also point out that most of the people on this site are probably really good at reading timetables. However, as anon 1334 mentions, a fair slice of the general public aren't and having a raft of codes and special timetables doesn't make things easier for them

Anonymous said...

I think some passengers find waiting for time at stops just as bad as a late running bus. They don't see the traffic and can't understand why the bus isn't progressing. It takes excellent communication by the driver to explain the reason. I fully agree though that it's better to have a consistent unchanging timetable than to keep changing every school holiday.

Stagecoach have a reasonable approach to this problem on the 700 into Chichester - they flag up certain journeys as arriving into Chichester "up to x minutes earlier on school holidays" and they then wait time at the bus station. This isn't so good for passengers at the stops on the congested bit but I guess regulars are used to it.

Anonymous said...

100% compliance means that operators will have to schedule their whole timetable to sit within the -5min window.
It doesn't mean that they will be penalised for operating later than that if there is a delay outside of their control.
Those who have been monitored and invited to explain to the traffic commissioner their late running understand the current and unchanged process, which is that you have to demonstrate that your scheduling was robust to cope with known running times, and that your late running was due to un for-seen circumstances. This is not changing.
What is changing is that those operators who have cleverly worked out that they can get away with scheduling a number of journeys (5%) outside of the window so that they will always run late, will now have to reschedule and resource them properly.
I can't see that that is unreasonable.
there is a whole protocol in place for dealing with road-works etc, and for covering ones backside by notifying the Traffic Commissioners' offices of unplanned or unmanageable delays and disruptions.
Typical storm in a teacup reaction!

Neil said...

"What is changing is that those operators who have cleverly worked out that they can get away with scheduling a number of journeys (5%) outside of the window so that they will always run late, will now have to reschedule and resource them properly."

In which case I misunderstood the situation a bit. Deliberately scheduling journeys to run other than by the timetable is utterly unacceptable. If the timetable doesn't work - change it!

Neil

Anonymous said...

And who are these operators?

I can only think of one who doesn't seem to make any allowance for peak hour traffic (and so accepts that late running will occur).

Neil said...

"I can only think of one who doesn't seem to make any allowance for peak hour traffic (and so accepts that late running will occur)."

Don't know about operators, but a good many Milton Keynes Council contracted services are pure-clockface, which can't possibly take into account peak hour traffic.

Neil

Eric said...

Neil, regarding allowances for peak hour traffic.

Stagecoach in South Wales operate many services in and out of Cardiff. Between 8-9am, virtually all services are given extra time to allow for delays on the A470. Unfortunately there isn't the same generosity for peak traffic around 4-5pm, when it becomes a case of getting on the next bus that turns up, only to satisfy a clockface timetable.

I also have a slightly unusual problem with clockface timetables. My local Stagecoach route, which was dreadful for punctuality and has taken two years to reschedule, is the 60/60a from Aberdare to Pontypridd and Cardiff, two average sized towns in the South Wales valleys with one bus an hour extended to the capital. From Aberdare, the service runs alternately through the village of Aberaman and via a supermarket. All direct services to Cardiff run through Aberaman, which makes more sense than a supermarket, bar one. The first trip to Cardiff runs via ASDA, not Aberaman, where in 2 years I'd be amazed if it has picked up a single passenger (I knew a driver who said he had broken down there more often in a year than he had stopped to pick up passengers!). A glance at the timetable shows that it only runs through ASDA to keep a clockface timetable and that an earlier run is needed to give more time to get to Cardiff. Common sense should suggest that the 0720 service should run through Aberaman where it is likely to pick up passengers, but Stagecoach are having none of it. Utterly daft.

Timetable

Anonymous said...

Eric

That is a strange one as, looking at it, it isn't clockface anyway as the 07:25 is the one in question yet all the Cardiff ones run **:40 from Aberdare.

However, at least they did add in another 10 mins into Cardiff for that peak journey!

David said...

Really? Are we now to have timetables that are going to change to reflect the summer holidays and other school breaks when the school run is absent?

When I lived in Newcastle, the X82 bus operated a Sch/NSch timetable because of traffic delays on the West Road. The NSCh timetable ran up to ten minutes later.

If the contemptuous Stagecoach Busways can manage to put a footnote in the timetable, I'm sure a decent bus company can too.

Anonymous said...

Busways? Contemptuous?

You need to take more water with it!

My old routes 38/39/40 also headed down the West Road yet have only a little additional time in peaks and no odd Sch/NSch changes, so even Busways aren't consistent!