Tuesday, 31 May 2011

What A Waste!

It was, of course, Ian Dury and his Blockheads who coined the phrase "What A Waste" into pop music immortality.

They surely weren't to know that a bloke who writes blogs on something as mundane as bus travel would nick the famous line.

But nick it, I have. And I make no apologies for returning to the theme of a previous whinge on this here blog.

The shenanigans continue, as captured by my iphone today.

The story so far:

Black Country route 226 is one of those that meanders just about anywhere between its 2 terminal points - Merry Hill and Dudley. You'd never drive that way in the car. And for those who've collared me to tell me about how they "caught this bus that went all over the place" - well - it's just one of those curiosities of bus travel. You have fast routes, and ones that go around the houses (see earlier blog post).

The 226 effectively was three-quarters of the old 264/5 circular routes abandoned by the big boys Travel West Midlands (as they were then) back in the Dudley Network Review of 2008.

It probably explains a lot when the largest operator by far abandons it and leaves it to Hansons - a tiny operator in comparison - to have a go. Hansons themselves were running short journeys on the route at the time, so it made sense for them to extend the route to cover most of what was withdrawn. A reasonable outcome.

And so it was.

226 is one of those "around the houses" routes that will never be a huge money-spinner. Whenever I ride on it, it carries a large proportion of concessionary pass holders. But bravo to Hansons, who have managed to carve out something of a niche market in the Black Country with a small network of similar services.

So, it left me bewildered when I noticed that Diamond - who run the evenings and Sunday Centro tender on the route - had registered a commercial daytime service. And 5 minutes ahead of Hansons on what is a 30 minute frequency.

I can almost understand it when small(er) operators register on large operators high-frequency routes. They want a slice of the pie. Unseemly as that may be, the rules are thus. Everything is above board.

And thus the rules are in play in this scenario.

But it's absolute madness in this example.

The route is, I guess, comfortable with a 30 minute frequency. 4 buses an hour is unsustainable and a ridiculous waste of resources. And when you have one 5 minutes in front of the other, it becomes farcical.

Now, the game has taken another twist. For apart from both competing with £2 day returns and 70p flat fares for early bird concessionary pass holders, Hansons have registered 5 minutes back in front of Diamond.

I've been sporadically riding up and down the route over the past few weeks. Diamond has even put out branded vehicles - "The Swift 226", they call it. (Hardly, for the aforementioned occasional users who are bewildered by the route it takes!)

Hansons continue to use their well-presented Enviro 300 and Darts - there is no lack of quality from both operators.

But I'm sorry - it is silly. Plain silly.

There have been letters to the paper. It is the topic of conversation amongst the chattering classes on board. And when they run one behind the other (as in the picture), people stop and stare.

The picture I snapped just after I'd got off shows 1 passenger on the Hansons bus. I'd just got off the Diamond one behind,which had precisely none.

Fair enough, this was mid afternoon, and morning journeys can get rather busy, but you see the point?

They don't always get this close. And to be fair, I've not noted many breaches of the Traffic Commissioner guidelines from either side, but that doesn't detract from the sheer farce of what is going on.

So now we await the next twist in this saga.

Is this really what Nicholas Ridley - Thatcher's Transport Man - envisaged back in 1986? But if he didn't, he was surely being short-sighted. Whilst the industry has greatly matured over the years, and much of the deregulated world has a lot going for it, the totally free market is always susceptible to this kind of activity.

But quite why Diamond has chosen this seemingly backwater route for a battle Royale is any one's guess. Whatever, it doesn't hold the bus industry in good light.

There is much to discuss and contemplate in the Competition Commission's initial findings to their bus industry investigation - and a lot more when the final report is unveiled.

But if there is a suggestion that something can be put in place to address such woeful, pointless competition, I'll be scanning it with interest!


  1. Agreed - this shows the bus industry in a bad light. But it also shows the folly of de-regulation, and the failures of Centro's Network Review programme.

    Like many secondary routes I suspect what pays its way is the revenue generated from "Twirlys" with their concessionary passes (for those not au fait with the bus industry the operators get a fee from Centro for each journey made with a concessionary pass). Hansons have managed to make a go of this and I suspect Diamond have moved in to try and cream some of this revenue away. This will then affect the viability of Hansons operation. End result, Hansons end up being forced off the road, Diamond mop up until their accountants conclude that the service is loss making and the route ends up being withdrawn for good.

    Centro's Network Reviews are a waste of space as there is nothing to stop operators moving in to try and grab custom from the partners - which is what Diamond have done to Hansons.

    It is a huge waste of resources, as bad as the near empty Diamond buses plying up and down the 50 route in Birmingham while the NXWM vehicles are full. Meanwhile passengers in other parts of the conurbation are crying out for improved services, for example those travelling to the Q.E. Hospital from Central Birmingham. What a farce de-regulation is when there are streams of empty buses travelling up and down the main roads, yet the major hospital in the region has such an appalling service to the City Centre.

  2. i have tbh i prefer hansons to diamond thier drivers are much more friendly as to u saying thers not a lot of passengers i fail 2 agree i have caught htis bus at different times in the day & has always had a decent amount of passengers on it is much more benificial 2 get this bus 2 dudley as opossed 2 the 257 long may hansons run this service thats what i say