A troubled campaign?

Within the past week, Northern Rail has launched its Get a Ticket campaign to stop folk travelling without paying. However, it is at times like this that holes in the ticketing system not only emerge but are trotted out by passengers who do not take kindly to being suspected of criminality. Also, it is easy to roll out a campaign without considering what needs to be in place for such a thing to work.

In fact, it is pretty telling that Northern Rail are admitting that buying a ticket at a destination station has to be a fallback for passengers. It would be better for credibility that a few things had happened before the campaign begun. There also will be doubts in the minds of the travelling public as to how seriously to take these things, no matter how hard hitting a YouTube video campaign accompanied by a Twitter one can be.

The first is to install ticket machines at every station on their network, both staffed and unstaffed. If money is an issue, and it is bound to be one, then move machines from stations already staffed by other train operating companies such as Virgin to where they really are needed. Here’s an example: there is one Northern ticket machine in Stockport so that could be removed from there and installed in a place like Poynton where there are limited opportunities for buying tickets prior to travel.

Another development would have been to introduced ticketing via mobile phone apps. A recent update to Arriva’s bus ticketing app (they have made it very, very clunky and it sounds as if they are not keen to hear that either) shows that this needs careful execution if it is to work well. After all, if there is too little time for getting a ticket before boarding a train, that can be addressed while the train is moving because you should have time then to get things sorted.

Next up is ensuring that conductors do offer passengers opportunities to buy tickets from them and some can be lacklustre when it comes to this. On late night services, I have seen the conductor staying in his cab all the time and no one has the chance that they may need. This can cause cynicism with some thinking that a conductor is hiding away reading a newspaper instead of doing their job. The “hiding” word was mentioned in a tweet and Northern Rail didn’t take so kindly to its mention either. Nevertheless, when someone accused train staff of being lazy and used somewhat coarse language in so doing, they got asked to give an example. If I find one while out and about, I will be flagging this up to Northern. To be fair, there were opportunities to buy tickets on Northern services that I have used over the last two days (which is more than be said for an East Midlands one that I used between Stockport and Sheffield when no conductor was to be seen).

After motivating staff to do their job, there’s the matter of overcrowding and having too few folk to process ticket transactions on a busy train. The first one is the more difficult at the moment because that shortage of trains. Hopefully, electrification will allow the cascading of trains from the southeast to the north when new rolling stock down there replaces them. With Pacers (classes 142, 143 and 144) becoming obsolete from 2020, any extra trains really will be needed if a crunch is to be avoided. Getting in more staff to check tickets is another matter and those doing so at stations could be ideal for such a change in duties.

Senior management may think that there are plenty of ways of buying train tickets and there is a good list: via the web, at a train station and on a train. However, all of these can be improved by a mixture of mobile phone ticketing, greater availability of ticket machines, better motivated staff with more of them on busy trains and more train capacity. all of that takes investment so it is easy to see the attractions of an inexpensive online campaign over the web. What that does need though is credibility with a travelling perhaps weary from fare increases and there needs to be balance if there is not to be resentment at perceived heavyhandedness. Passenger patronage may be increasing now but that is never to say that things will stay that way indefinitely so goodwill always needs to be retained.

 

Still some council support forthcoming after all

Previously, I reported the then upcoming decimation of Monday to Saturday evening services on service 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe. Now, it seems that Bakerbus have a contract to run later evening journeys on an hourly basis from 20:35 to 23:35 in either direction, albeit without having to honour tickets issued Arriva or D&G. This is promising news and makes me wonder now becomes of the planned short Arriva journeys between Macclesfield and Congleton (20:30 and 20:57 in each direction) and the 20:25 from Crewe to Sandbach. Maybe, all will become more clear in time but the continuation of something like the current is nothing but good news. Apparently, the 38 gets considered a strategic service and the 130 from Macclesfield to Manchester gets nothing like the same status, as can be seen from the severe service reductions in recent times.

This changeover is to take place on June 3rd and there is another on July 1st: the return of council funding for service 77 between Congleton and Kidsgrove. The current timetable will not be changing so the current set up of four journeys in each direction from morning into early afternoon is to remain. Though the days of the route all the way to Hanley bus station in Stoke-on-Trent, it is encouraging to see its continuation given that Astbury and Mow Cop are calling points, the latter of these being especially important for being on the Gritstone Trail.

Crewe gets its share of support for town services too with D&G’s service 9 between Crewe and Wistaston getting support for its Saturday journeys. The result is that there are more journeys over near enough the full route (Elm Drive is not served) for more of the day than was the case before. To compensate for the omission of Elm Drive from service 9, all current service 8 journeys are to follow the 8A route (with a consequent change in route number) instead as they go between Wistaston Green, Crewe and Sidney. This new arrangement comes into place from June 9th and June 3rd also sees tweaks to services 44 and 44M between Crewe and Nantwich (44M gets re-timed and Monday to Friday 08:55 from Crewe changed to start from Shavington at 09:08 instead).

June 3rd also sees D&G taking over daytime journeys on Knutsford town service 300 from High Peak without a change in timetable. There is no word of council financial support for this but the sense of High Peak leaving Knutsford is not hard to see now that they no longer operate service 27 to there from Macclesfield. It still is out on a limb for D&G too and Tomlinson Travel continue with the evening ones and I have heard some complaints on the service that they provide.

For a change, this latest round of bus service announcements is good news; developments haven’t looked this harmless for a while. It also is intriguing to see council funding appearing now after what was looking like bus services being left to their own devices with some falling on such hard times that they couldn’t continue as they were. For a good while. it almost felt like the approach was a managed decline somewhat akin to that applied to the railways in Britain for a few decades and was quite ironic given that bus services were mooted as replacements for soon to be defunct railway lines in Beeching’s plans.

What makes me wonder a little though is the timing of all of this. Cheshire East Council has seen hefty staffing upheaval in recent months. Having experienced this sort of re-organisation myself a number of times during my career so far, I realise how much stasis they can cause and I find myself asking if the same thing befell Cheshire East; folk in fear of their jobs can be unable to make decisions and it looks like that was happening before what we see now. Beyond what was happening, it might be that folk can see their way ahead again.

Seeing the recognition of the 38 as a strategic service was a great development and I’d like to think that its Sunday evening journeys may be graced by the same thinking at some point in the near future. Maybe that’s being overly optimistic but I was beginning to think that Northern Rail’s service between Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent might have made services like those on routes 38 and 77 less critical in the eyes of some and hence more vulnerable to withdrawal. After all, loss of trust in bus services is a dangerous thing and seeing what was happening was making my mind veer towards the apparent safe haven of train services. Let’s hope that we have found the bottom now and that bus service news may be a bit more positive from this point forward.

Train Companies on JourneyCheck

Today has turned out to be a disruptive day to be travelling. Flooding has been the main problem and tomorrow is said to bring its share of problems too. With that in mind, I decided to see if I could find which train companies used JourneyCheck as a place to look for live travel information. The list is below, with links to the actual JourneyCheck websites, and you’ll see that not every train company has one.

The websites of course are only good as the information that’s entered into them. Regarding the Northern Rail one, I have seen complaints about the train formation information (number of carriages, mainly) not being as good as it could be. Otherwise, they could have their use on days like today when you need more information than can be provided by a Twitter feed. If you use an RSS feed reader such as Google Reader, then they could be even more useful again. After all, with engineering works and station problems listed along with train running information, these look like good places to be looking while on the move.

Public transport in Knutsford

Once, there was a comment from a young lady doing a school project on Knutsford bus services. Then, I directed her to Cheshire East Council’s website and I hope that she got what she needed from there. Yesterday saw me spend a few hours in Knutsford and the recent changes to the Macclesfield to Knutsford bus service reminded me of that question and got me thinking that saying a bit more on Knutsford’s public transport services wouldn’t go amiss. This information is intended for anyone who needs to make use of public transport for getting to and from Knutsford so I hope that I am not doing a school project for someone though that is a risk that I am taking with compiling what’s here.

Buses

The town’s bus connections do not operate on Sundays but provide a useful level of service on other days of the week. Until the start of October this year, the 27/27A/27B provided an hourly service to Chelford, Henbury and Macclesfield. Now, it’s been reduced to departures running every ninety minutes and Monday to Friday calls to Alderley Edge have been reduced considerably also. Most of the journeys taken by the current service diverts from the A537 to pass Radbroke and Over Peover. The service once was operated by Bakerbus before Bowers Coaches, now part of High Peak, took it over. Until last year, there was a summer Sunday and bank holiday service on offer too with extensions to Tatton Park and three journeys each way a day. Council funding cuts have seen to the end of that and may explain the recently curtailed frequency on other days of the week too.

The largely hourly Connect 88 service to Wilmslow to Altrincham remains though. Once the 288 operated by Arriva, this now is run by GHA’s Vale Travel mainly with Optare Versa single deckers dating from 2008. These fresh new buses were a far cry from the ageing step-entrance Dennis Darts that Arriva had been using. The service extends from around 07:00 until around 19:00 so covers a good part of the day goes by Ilford’s site at Mobberley and passes not far from Manchester Airport’s cargo handling facility either, offering something of use to anyone needing to go to work at either place.

The Connect 88 isn’t the only service going from Knutsford and Altrincham because there’s also the 289 that has Northwich as its other terminus. There are five services each way a day with the overall period of operation starting before 07:00 and finishing after 20:00, making for a long day.

After those, there’s the town service 300 to mention and it’s shared by High Peak and Tomlinson Travel with a decent spread of service from around 08:00 until after 23:00 and the frequency largely is half-hourly too so Knutsford residents cannot complain too much, especially it is escaping the planned council spending cuts unlike its counterparts in Macclesfield.

The mention of Tomlinson Travel brings me to the last service on the list: the Tuesday and Friday only service 47 from Holmes Chapel to Warrington. Knutsford gains two services to Warrington from this while Holmes Chapel only has the one. Saying that, the service finishes up in the early afternoon so it looks like a weekday shopping bus for some folk.

All of these services call at the town’s bus station, an unfussy but not grotesque annex to Booth’s supermarket. It’s away from the town centre though and a busy road needs crossing to get there. Like Knutsford’s train station, you have to go uphill to reach it too so that’s another consideration. It’s just as well that there are public toilets there and I saw a bus driver making use of them yesterday too. The adjacent Booth’s also operate a cafe so that could be a handy way to spend some time while awaiting a bus so it’s far from bad.

Trains

The town sits on the mid-Cheshire line that connects Chester with the likes of Northwich, Altrincham and Stockport. Northern Rail is the sole operator here and there is a staffed ticket office at Knutsford’s none too shabby train station; it looks as if the main station building got a rebuild in the eighties or nineties but I have not been able to find anything about it so far. Service frequency is two-hourly on Sundays and that’s a vast improvement on the three services each way a day that it used to get. Apart from Monday to Friday peak times when additional services run, the frequency is hourly on other days of the week.

Other Thoughts

It’s a pity that Knutsford gets a bit more cut off from the world in terms of public transport of a Sunday since it’s a pretty place to visit and oozes plenty of character too. It started out as an estate village owned by the Egertons of Tatton Park and mercifully escaped the industrialisation of places like nearby Macclesfield. Tatton Park passed into National Trust hands in the middle of the last century with Cheshire East Council now managing it on their behalf. That was what drew me to Knutsford yesterday and I untidily tracked down a walking route around Tatton Mere; finding its source first wasn’t too bright.

What amazed me yesterday were the streams of slow moving cars in the two narrow one-way streets in the heart of the town: King Street and Princess Street. That made me wonder if it wasn’t possible to pedestrianise these but the need for car parking probably puts paid to that one. Shops were busy with folk too so those narrow footways in King Street could do with a bit more girth.

Maybe if we could persuade more folk to visit by bus, then the Sunday service situation could be sorted but council finances do not permit our testing that out again and there were a few years of half-heartedly trying too. Some of those Macclesfield Sunday services got extended as far as Manchester Airport’s viewing for some reason so there were some efforts made, as odd as they might seem now. For now though, train services are that little bit more dependable so they’ll need to be the public transport backstop until the economy and the public finances both improve enough for the bus travel option to be enhanced again.

A weekend in need of a bank holiday

The last weekend in May usually hosts what is known as the Spring Bank Holiday in the U.K. Due to the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, this didn’t happen this year and two days were added to the first weekend in June instead. My travel on the Jubilee weekend is another tale so I’ll relate experiences from the weekend before.

As it happened, we got scorching sunny weather at the end of May and it seemed to have tempted everyone out on the evidence of my travels to and from Northumberland on the Saturday of the weekend. York was hosting horse-racing too and that ensured that the Transpennine Express service on which I was travelling was crammed with folk.

That left me wondering if a bit of forward planning would have involved booking in longer trains for the extra traffic. However, when I asked them about this on Twitter, I got no answer. That was after my asking about having longer trains on the route for those races. That was answered by saying that they only have sixty trains and they all were in use. There are new trains coming with the planned electrification of the Manchester-Bolton-Preston and Manchester-Leeds-York routes. Let’s hope that they are longer and that the overall number operated by the franchise is enlarged at the same time.

The CrossCountry train that got me from York to Alnmouth too was well used though thankfully not as busy as the one taking me from Manchester to York. The Edinburgh Marathon was the cause this time and prospective runners were chatting to one another with even complete strangers conversing. Their having a common interest must have helped.

The return journey was less frenetic, especially between Alnmouth and York. Some late racegoers still were on the way home from York with some being “well oiled” by their constant refreshment throughout the day. The chatter emanating from some had me wishing that a portable music player was in my possession but it still wasn’t overly unpleasant.

The leg between Manchester and my home town of Macclesfield was the quietest of the lot though having two Northern Rail trains timed to leave at the same time from the same platform seemed a little incompetent. The Hadfield service went first and the Macclesfield train doors were locked until that departed. Though a little inconvenient, one only need imagine the mess caused by inebriated folk catching wrong trains to realise the sense in what was done. Around Congleton, someone was struck by a train earlier on the same evening so that may explain the sub-optimal platform arrangements.

Like many, I had been out and about when so many were doing the same. That so many were using public transport was encouraging and that was at the cost of a quiet getaway. Maybe a weekend first class upgrade should have been considered even with it adding to a fare that already was not inexpensive. Travelling a little earlier in the day might have been cheaper than any upgrade.