Monthly Archives: March 2007

National be nice day.

I didn’t hear it mentioned on the radio, tv or in the press but it must have been ‘national be nice day’ yesterday. It started as I left Winchester depot and drove up the slip road onto the M3, the slip road is uphill so it’s difficult to reach the speed of the traffic on the motorway before you need to join it. Normally it’s indicator on and fight your way into the flow. Not yesterday, as soon as my indicator was on, a car flashed it’s lights and throttled back so that I could get in. Thanks, mate (quick left and right flash to show appreciation). And so it went on all day! Whenever I needed to overtake I simply indicated and the first vehicle behind me said ‘after you’! It wasn’t only cars, or trucks, it was everybody and everything.

Whilst I was thinking how good the day was my mind wandered back to something which happened over a year ago before I joined the Megabus rota. At that time I was driving local service buses in Winchester and was standing by my bus in the bus station waiting for my depature time in a couple of minutes. Winchester bus station is a one way system, buses enter then park on stands (nose to platform). The stands are both on the right and left in a herring bone pattern. When it’s time to leave you reverse off the stand and head for the exit. Back to that day – suddenly a Lamborghini came into the bus station stopping right in the middle of it! A gull wing door swung up, a guy rushed out and ran at a bus which had arrived seconds before. It transpired that the Lamborghini driver had been weaving in and out of the traffic on the Wicnchester one way system (low gear, lots of engine revs and noise etc) and thought he had time to cut in front of the bus. He didn’t have time and lost a door mirror. Whilst he was ranting, raving and shouting in the bus station his car continued to block buses in which should have left. He was asked by a couple of drivers to move it but he wanted to see the Managing Director of the bus station before doing so! Then I heard it – the beep ….. beep ….. beep …… beep of a reversing horn. This reversing horn was fitted to a B10 which then reversed over the Lamborghini! Lamborghini’s are very low at the front and the tail of a B10 quite high in comparison. I could get my bus out but didn’t, this was street theatre not to be missed. I did of course have to leave and it was at the point where the Lamborghini driver was being shown the big signs on the bus station wall saying that it was private property and no liability was accepted for anything.

Megabus South Coast service changes

I’ve made several postings about the continuing uncertainty of these services and whether I would continue to have a job driving a megabus. I also made rather scathing mention of how employees learn of changes by tracking things on the internet whilst being kept in the dark by their employers. At last we have official confirmation of the changes and what it means for the drivers. The good news, for my depot, is that everyone currently driving these routes will continue to have a line on the new megabus rota. Sadly, our colleagues at the Portsmouth depot who shared megabus duties with us, will all lose their megabus duties as the Portsmouth depot will no longer provide any megabus service.

The fudamental shift behind all this is the joining of forces between Megabus and Megatrain. Previously the two were totally seperate with a megatrain booking site and a megabus booking site. No reference to the other was made on either site. It doesn’t matter now whether you type www.megabus.com or www.megatrain.com into your browser, you end up at the same website which offers both bus and train journeys for the input dates. It’s important at this point to understand who megabus and megatrain previously saw as their target customers.

For megabus it’s very definitely been those on the tightest of budgets, primarily university students. In all the major towns and cities megabus serve they always have a stop at the local university. In Bournemouth we stop at the Talbot Campus, in Southampton at the Portswood campus plus, the new Solent University campus. In Portsmouth we stop at the University even though it’s only 3 minutes after the first departure point! Megabus have always made it simple for students to use them. So successfully that National Express who previously didn’t have stops at most of the campuses I listed now do! Never having been involved with megatrain I can’t so definately spell out who their target traveller is, it’s also difficult to try and deduce! The trouble with Megatrain was that it was difficult to have a day out in London using them – the first service left well into the morning and the return had to be done before the evening rush hour or left until much later. It just wasn’t possible to have a ‘sensible’ day out in London. Pricing showed that whilst megatrain tickets were good value compared to regular rail fares (astronomic!) they didn’t come anywhere near as cheap as coach travel from either megabus or National Express.

The new combined megabus/megatrain website offers, from 25 March, one megabus a day from Bournemouth to London and three megatrain services – Monday to Saturday. On a Sunday no megatrain services are offered but the megabus runs three times. I haven’t the tiniest on inklings as to why Stagecoach see this as the way to go! It seems to me that it will kill off megabus use in this area whilst doing nothing to increase megatrain use. Here’s why I think this.

Six days a week the only megabus from Bournemouth leaves at 06:00, the one from Portsmouth at 05:50 This is half an hour earlier than the first of three alternatives previously. It’s very definitely a student unfriendly time!! If students don’t want that they have two choices, take a National Express later in the day from the Uni or, go to the rail station and pay two or three times more for a megatrain ticket. Both megabus and megatrain are modelled on ‘the earlier you book the cheaper it will be’. The first ‘x’ seats cost a £1 in the case of megabus, the next ‘y’ a slightly higher price and so on.

A few moments ago I priced a Bournemouth to London journey for 20 April (over 1 month in advance):-

06:00 Megabus £4.00
06:10 National Express £6.00

10:59 Megatrain £12.00
11:40 National Express £1.00

Have I missed something important here in thinking Stagecoach will lose more customers than they gain by substituting previously cheap megabus fares with much higher megatrain fares?

What tree is that?

A couple of days ago when driving back from Brighton, along the M23, my eye caught sight of what I thought was a Californian Redwood tree. I know they do grow in the UK but can’t ever recall seing one before. This specimen looked as if it had once been magnificent, despite appearing to have had the top snapped off in a gale, it still stood taller than the surrounding trees. The trunk had a good size diameter at the base tapering upwards, but somehow unaturally, which made me think it had been snapped. The branches were all at the top of the trunk and there didn’t seem to be enough of them on such a substantial trunk. Then it dawned on me ……. it was a mobile phone mast disguised as a tree! A quick google has led me to the very tree itself, made in South Africa by this company.

Bus-o-matic

I came across this when searching for something quite different!

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“… I waited for ages for a bus and then two turned up at once!”

Anyone who uses buses anything like frequently will have had this experience. (And those who choose not to use buses probably use this kind of occurence as one of the reasons.)

But how does it happen? – Is it due to evil bus companies or tardy drivers messing up the schedule? Or is it more complicated than that? Does anyone care?

Well now these questions can be answered (apart from the last one) by the

“Bus-o-matic”

This astonishing piece of ground-breaking* software shows how and why buses travel in pairs. Yes! – all the fun of riding around on buses for days armed with a stopwatch and a clipboard has been crammed into a simple web utility. And they said it couldn’t happen!

Here are a few less-than-interesting facts that this program has revealed:

(1) Buses frequently cluster into pairs due to a variety of causes.
(2) If a bus leaves the depot only a couple of minutes late it is likely to cause pairing. (i.e. Their fault)
(3) Three buses arriving together is almost certainly a result of a cock-up at the bus depot. It usually requires two or more buses to leave the depot late. (i.e. Very definitely their fault)
(4) Small random fluctuations in departure time or traffic conditions can also cause pairing of buses (i.e. No one’s fault)
(5) If one set of buses pairs up, there is a greater tendency for the following two buses to pair up.
(6) The whole bus pairing phenomenon is not rocket science.

* maybe

Website changes

Today is a rest day, I’ve got a stinking cold and a throat like the bottom of a parrot’s cage, so I’ve done nothing other than sit at the computer and fiddle with this website whilst sipping Lemsip. You’ll notice that the time and current weather is now shown for both Hampshire and Zimbabwe. I’ve also added my rota which is a google calender. I set up the calender some time ago in order that family and friends could look it up and know when I’d be around. I gave them the URL but now anyone can see what I’m doing. As it stands it’s only correct up to 25 March, after that the rota changes. If they didn’t change the rota I could tell you what I’d be doing on Monday 11 October 2010 – M3 actually! The calender was very easy to set up requiring just 28 entries, one for each day of the revolving 28 day rota, with each entry repeating itself every 4 weeks. As soon as I have the new rota I’ll update the calender.

Learning to drive a bus

Yesterday I drove to Romsey to buy some bedding straw for my chickens. Leaving Romsey there is a mini-roundabout (the raised hump in the road type) I stopped to allow traffic from my right to pass, and was about to move forward, when a bus appeared trying to do a complete circumnavigation of the roundabout! The turning circle of any bus is much greater than the diameter of this mini-roundabout so disaster loomed. Although I had stopped completely before the white line the bus ended up heading for the front wing on my car stopping in a very jerky manner about 24 inches away from me. The bus was a Solent Blueline training bus with several students on board and a petrified looking instructor. The bus was unable to complete the circumnavigation without my moving so I pulled forward and as I did so the bus took another lunge at me stopping even closer this time. I don’t know what was going on but I have two scenarios in mind – firstly, the student had ignored/not understood a possible instruction to take the second exit from the mini-roundabout which would have been OK and what service buses do. Second possibility is that the instructor had told him to do a 360 at the next roundabout forgetting that this mini-roundabout existed! If the student had gone straight over the mini-roundabout there is a great big roundabout about 150′ in front and ideal for turning back on yourself!