That’s the title of today’s posting on the Omnibuses blog and questions whether rural bus services are a lost cause. I was going to post a comment but when I started to write it I soon realised that what I wanted to say was rather more than was suitable as a comment. So I’m responding to the post here.
My first observation is that few people who live in rural areas now consider it possible to live in these areas without a car – they need sometimes to travel to other rural areas which have no bus service at all, need sometimes to make journeys when rural bus services have ceased (typically after 6-7pm), or on Sundays etc. If you’ve already got a car and live in a rural area it’s difficult to think of why you’d ever want to use a bus!
Grocery shopping is something everyone needs to do regardless of living in town or the countryside. But most supermarkets are situated on the edge of towns and not in the centre near the bus terminus so anyone from a rural area will first have to take the ‘bus to town’ and then a second bus to the supermarket. Compare that with a direct drive to the supermarket and free parking in its edge of town location. I’m also seeing increased numbers of Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda delivery vans in rural areas. Online grocery shopping delivered to your rural door in a refrigerated van has got to beat a likely circuitous bus route with a frequency measured in hours. Plus the multiple bags needed for a weekly shop are heavy and awkward to carry on the bus with perishables such as chilled and frozen food soon getting too warm in the summer.
I mentioned in the previous paragraph a ‘likely circuitous route’ and it’s in this respect that rural routes really lose out when journey times are compared to using the car. For the bus company, or subsidising local authority, there is a need to pass through as many hamlets and villages as possible in order to offer the service to as many potential passengers as possible. But in doing so the route will twist and turn slowly weaving its way to the destination. A trip to town for 15 minutes at the Dentist can take an disproportionate amount of time on the bus and then a likely wait for a return service. A 15 minute dentist appointment can easily use up half a day.
If shopping is excluded as a reason for using the bus, as is a visit to town for a single purpose such as dentist, optician, bank etc. what’s left?
The greatest bulk of rural bus service users, in my experience are youngsters between 15 and 18. After 18 they either go away to Uni or if they don’t go to Uni they will leave home and live most likely in a town since they can’t afford rural rents.
Yahoo! wanted to “do something that makes waiting for the bus fun”. So they “put up 20 Bus Stop Derby bus stops with interactive 72-inch touch screens. We developed four addictive games that you can play right then and there while waiting for your busâ€”and since itâ€™s even more fun to play together (and especially to beat someone), you can challenge players at other Derby stops to live head-to-head games”.
Where to Play, How to Play and other information is available here.
Today’s duty was an early book on at 05:45, starting with a run to Salisbury. After I’d passed through Stockbridge an oncoming car kept flashing it’s lights as it approached and passed me. I checked, and no, I wasn’t on main beam. Then the next car flashed it’s lights and put on hazzard lights. I checked, and no, I hadn’t left an indicator on. Obviously they were trying to communicate something to me but what was it? As I drove on the only idea was that perhaps there was an accident ahead but over the next couple of miles nothing appeared except more cars flashing lights. Then as I rounded a corner the problem appeared in my headlights – a fallen tree completely blocking the road. I’m on a relatively narrow road, out in the countryside where there are no street lights, it’s pitch dark, raining and the road’s blocked. Aaargh!
Cars were able to do a 3 or 4 point turn in the road but with the bus being longer than the road was wide that was an option not open to me. I called Control and told them the problem, I explained where I was and they couldn’t think of anywhere to turn and were planning on sending a second bus out to do the journey bypassing the section where I was stuck. After the call I walked back along the road and there was a farm entrance about 100 metres behind me, could I turn it there? I returned to the bus, started it up and tried reversing, both mirrors showed me absolutely nothing, I couldn’t even make out where the road ended and the verge began. At least I could stick my head out of the driver’s window and see a little. I reversed some way and got out to see how near I was to the farm entrance which was on the nearside (my totally blind side), I did this a couple of times until the rear wheels were about7 or 8 metres from where I wanted to swing the back in. Reversed again trying to visualise in my mind how far I travelled. Got out and checked again – perfect the rear wheels were in the right spot. Returned to the drivers seat and started swinging the wheel round trying to visualise in my mind what the back was doing. I had to get out and check twice but I did it and turned the bus round! Called Control again and told them the second bus wasn’t now needed but I’d now be running 30 minutes late. No dead, no injured, no damage to the bus – a success I think!
That’s a headline in yesterday’s Sunday Times. The article is online but you need to have subscribed to the Sunday Times website to read it, or have a bought a copy of the Sunday Times.
Basically, it’s an update on a Stagecoach Press Release from 2007 which announced the launch of the “UKâ€™s first Bio-buses as part of a ground-breaking environmental initiative that will allow customers to exchange used cooking oil for discounted bus travel.” What the Press Release didn’t mention was that Argent Energy “which operates the UKâ€™s first large-scale biodiesel plant, will provide bulk fuel storage at Stagecoachâ€™s Kilmarnock depot for the duration of the six-month trial and will supply all the biodiesel” is 40% owned by Brian Souter and his sister.
“In an attempt to raise awareness, Stagecoach supplied all households on the route with a free half-litre container to recycle their cooking oil. The company has also been out to see all the local schools to give educational talks about environmental issues.”
“The charm offensive is aimed at encouraging local people to take their used chip fat to East Ayrshire councilâ€™s recycling plant and trade it in for a voucher that entitles them to a 20p discount on their next bus journey.”
What is a surprise in the article are the quotes from Sam Greer, Stagecoachâ€™s regional director for Scotland. “Despite the higher operating costs, Greer said this is more than offset by an increase in passenger numbers. In the first year after introducing the bio bus on the Kilmarnock route, passenger numbers rose 32.7%, he said. “Stagecoach also noted that a recent straw poll of its passengers showed that 8% said they used the service because it was running on biofuel.”
PS It makes me smile to read all these stories about vegetable oil being used as diesel fuel as if it were a new idea. When Otto Diesel invented the diesel engine it was powered by peanut oil – fossil fuel came later.
The first Room 101 post was about Mobility Scooters. Today I want to consign CAPTCHAs to Room 101. I’ve just about given up trying to use my Google Analytics account because I can’t make sense of the CAPTCHAs, I never get it right so it presents another, I get that wrong, another appears …… and so on …… and so on ….. Here’s the 5th or 6th one I’ve been presented with. I’m showing it in the same size as it’s presented to me. Can you work it out?
I HATE these things!
There are alternatives. Here’s one I like which requires you to drag a slider.