On Trains & Buses

Travel news, views & information from Europe & North America by an independent public transport user

School's out...

Posted on July 27, 2009

and buses start running on time. This is nothing that I especially notice with the 130 running between Macclesfield and Manchester but quieter traffic during the school holidays has been something that I have known since I lived in Edinburgh. Then, I put it down to people not driving their kids to school but I have come to realise that there is more to it than that. Parents time their annual leave to coincide with the holidays and that makes it more apparent again. Then, there’s the current economic downturn and I noticed how much quieter the traffic was in the first few weeks of the year. It must have allowed Bowers to re-time their buses more tightly but there remain days when the 130 can be hit and miss, to say the least.

Only those almost incessant roadworks seek to spoil the bus timing idyll and this could be a very tempting time to set them in motion. Some, however, will not fit the available time with a three-month disruption hitting Chester Road between Broken Cross roundabout and the fire station. Then, there’s Buxton Road and Fence Avenue too. A recent look on Cheshire’s roadworks map reveals that Macclesfield is besieged by the blighters but Wilmslow doesn’t escape either so the 130 gets diverted while going around there.

Even with all of the ongoing work, it’s best to enjoy the quietness before the school year recommences in September. Then, those pesky road works can only have their effects amplified and I only wonder how many complaints will get made.

A day ticket wouldn't have cost much more...

Posted on July 26, 2009

Yesterday, I got out for a walk that took me from Kidsgrove to Wheelock near Sandbach. To get home, I caught the 38 and the single fare was £3.60. Arriva operate the Macclesfield-Crewe service both commercially and with council support, depending on the day of the week and the time of day. Gratifyingly, it was being well used when I was travelling yesterday evening with a healthy mixture of fare-paying and pass-wielding patrons. It was well driven too, not an experience that I can always about my experiences of using this service, particularly for occasions when travelling on the last one of a Sunday; Crewe bus drivers apparently have a reputation for being a bit mad in the driving, justified, so I may have had one. To return to the issue of the cost of travel, I don’t begrudge the fare that I was charged but the price of an Arriva day ticket is £4 and that makes me wonder if there are single fares of more than the price of a day ticket. Perhaps, asking for a day ticket when travelling from Crewe to Macclesfield or vice versa might be an idea even when embarking on a one way trip. It’s a thought that I’ll keep in mind.

Change isn't always available

Posted on July 14, 2009

For as long as I have known them, Lothian Buses has been an exact fare only operation with the machines to match. More recently, Dublin Bus has gone the same way. However, the usual norm is that most bus operators give change and even Scottish Citylink fit into this group; for the record, I am aware that they encourage you to book ahead on the web and prefer you to use e-Tickets and m-Tickets in place of the old fashioned method. Arriva also gives change on its buses but there have been occasions when the float isn’t up to the job and I met up with one of those yesterday morning on the 130. A vague memory of the same happening to me on a Sunday morning 38 to Crewe also resides in my mind and I have also seen a letter complaining about a similar situation with the same company in Buses magazine. While I accept that change is less plentiful on quieter services and you need to ensure that you aren’t tendering something ridiculous; Arriva perhaps reasonably does not accept £20 notes (in principle, it might be possible for weekly tickets and the like but I have never been brave enough to find out if this is the case) and I am sure that a £50 denomination is completely out of the question too. Returning to my experience, the driver looked forlornly at my tenner and we had to work it out another way. Thinking about it now, I am left wondering if there is an attempt of control operating costs by reducing the available float in these financially constrained times but there can always be a run on the amount of change available too, even with busier services and the 130 could be seen as one of them.

Why reserve a seat if unsure of your time of travel?

Posted on May 5, 2009

Sadly, those insulting thetrainline.com ads have reappeared. Personally, I like the flexibility of just turning up at a train station, buying a ticket for my journey and going on my way. In fact, I like that idea so much that I am willing to pay for it most of the time (saying that, when the cost passes £60, savings are often sought). Being called an idiot for wanting to things in this way is certainly not something that I appreciate and I can next to guarantee that the said company will not be getting my custom, at least not directly.

Apart from those appalling posters, another thing that brings the whole matter of Internet bookings to mind is my travelling on a train south from Aviemore a few weeks back. Many seats were reserved but most of these weren’t occupied. That may have been just as well for sake of travelling comfort but it prompted the thought in my mind as to whether those reservations were a “just in case” measure. The next step in musings has me wondering if a world where there was more more frugality in the booking of seats might be a better one. However, there is also the possibility that a decline in seat booking would result in less frequent services and shorter trains, something that could increase seat reservations and pop things back where they were before anyway. It all makes a seat reservation less useful than it ought to be. In reality, it is probably no bad thing to sit in such a spot until disturbed by the rightful occupant. After all, you only need to move away when asked. It may not make things user friendly for those reserving seats or be the sort of practice that is encouraged but it might be a minor irritation in the broad scheme of things.

While the railways still cut some slack and that is good when it comes to convenience, other modes of travel are far from being like this and I hope that the railways don’t follow suit. For one thing, they already compensate for a less than comprehensive express coach network in England that makes seat bookings a necessity. Wales now has its Trawscambria long distance bus network with Ireland and Scotland having none too shabby networks provided by Citylink, Ulsterbus and Bus Éireann. Airlines are run on a far tighter footing and you only need to note Ryanair’s closure of airport check in desks in favour of the online option and Aer Lingus' passenger operated baggage check in facilities to see what I mean. They also overbook their aircraft which is not so nice but the expectation is that not everyone will make a flight. If the same sort of thinking started to pervade the railways, then that would be a very disappointing development.

Saying all of that, I don’t object to there being a need for bookings on services running at busy times. In fact, if you are tied to a train by an advance purchase ticket, then reserving a seat makes sense. For more flexible tickets (Off Peak and Anytime returns come to mind), the logic of that argument may not be so strong, hence my appeal to only reserve your place when you are absolutely certain of travelling. Yes, I realise that stuff happens but there’s no need to devalue the seat booking by not turning up because it was only done just in case.

A spot of bother with coupling

Posted on May 3, 2009

Yesterday saw me head out for a spot of walking in the countryside around Appleby, or Appleby-in-Westmorland. These days the place in the eastern end of Cumbria. My way there and away was by train, something that went off hunky dory apart from a spot of trouble on the Leeds-Appleby leg. There was nothing unusual in the coupling together of two twin carriage units and its something that happens routinely in several parts of the British railway network (the Cambrian and West Highland lines come to mind). However, as with anything, it can occasionally go awry and it just happened that this was one of them. There seemed to have been a problem with the coupling and it was slowing the train down, a major concern considering the heights it was to overcome on its passage over the Settle-Carlisle railway line. The slowdown was easily noticeable after Shipley. Decoupling and re-coupling at Bingley didn’t set things to rights so both sets were decoupled at Keighley and everyone put on the front train. It looked that it was going to be a two carriage unit for the rest of the way but the back set turned up in Skipton and coupled to the front of the one on which I was travelling. Apart from a certain reduction in the functionality of the lighting that had been the case since Leeds anyway, all went swimmingly from there north. A delay of more than thirty minutes might have been accumulated but I could cope with that and tailor my plans to fit the time that I had available. I am sure that what was encountered is rare but, as they say, stuff happens.

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