Wednesday, 19 September 2018

It's Been a Long Time Since I saw One of Those

 I'm just back from a short holiday in Scotland, during which we rented a campervan (although apparently they are "motorhomes" nowadays).  I may write a piece about the relative virtues of vans and boats later, but one of the highlights of the holiday for me (if not for Hilary) was coming across one of these:

Stagecoach service 73, from Dundee to Carnoustie and Arbroath must surely be the last UK bus service, apart from the "heritage Routemasters" on service 15 in London, to employ conductors!

There's no warning. The only indication that there is anything different about the 73 is that when you go to pay the driver (English bus passes not valid abroad of course) he looks at you a little oddly and you realise he has no ticket machine!

The conductor's job has changed a little since I last did it in the 1970s. Most passengers now have some form of pass or multi-journey ticket to be checked or scanned and comparatively little cash is taken, although I was pleased to see that the individual in the photo above did have a traditional leather cash bag over his right shoulder.

I was a little disappointed, although not really surprised, to see that the equally traditional cries of "hold tight, please" and "any more fares" have now disappeared, with none of the three conductors we encountered using them, whilst passengers have got used to the idea that they need to ring the bell to stop the bus, which used to be the conductor's job.  Neither does the conductor need to ring the bell to start it away from a stop as modern bus drivers are used to checking themselves that everyone that wants to alight or board has done so and that it is safe to pull away.

The 73 is a busy route and runs every 10 minutes. The presence of the conductors means that buses spend much less time stationary at stops so presumably the reduced running time (and presumably a lower rate of pay for the driver) pay for the extra cost of employing them.  It's also an extra guard against a competitor moving in on the service, as to be really competitive they too would have to find and employ a second person on each bus.

Compensation Update:  A Victory and a Defeat!
Almost six months after my train from Carnforth to Lancaster was cancelled and three months after Northern Rail tried to fob me off with a cheque for 55p when I was entitled to a free single ticket to anywhere on their network and following two referrals to watchdog Transport Focus, I have now received an apology from Northern and a free ticket - which by way of further apology for the way the matter has been handled they have upgraded to a free RETURN.

On the other hand, I have had to admit defeat over the cancellation of the 2010 train from York to Knaresborough on 27 June. Both Northern and now Transport Focus insist that the train did operate, despite the indicator at York station declaring it to be cancelled - something confirmed by the booking clerk at the ticket office and the presence of a train to Knaresborough in the bay platform at York from before 2010 until its departure as the next service at 2110!

Arriva Trains Wales admitted their failing and paid up promptly, which just leaves Trans Pennine, who, like Northern, insist I did not arrive late at my destination and who have ignored my first email to their "Customer Assistance Team" (sic) asking them to reconsider.  I've now sent a second request and if they don't respond to that it will be Transport Focus again.

So, Latest Score:   Jim 2  Railways 1  (and 1 game gone to extra time).

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Compensation (Episode 9 - A Success!)

I have four outstanding "Delay Repay" claims with the railways.  

Two are with Northern Rail and date back to March and June respectively. The March claim has been accepted but the compensation offered was cash rather the free ticket I'd opted for.  The June claim was refused on the grounds that the train I know was cancelled did in fact run.  I've told Northern that they are wrong on both counts and have involved the transport watchdog "Passenger Focus" but so far I've got nowhere.

Passenger Focus, incidentally, despite initially being keen to get involved seem to have gone strangely quiet of late.

My third claim, from July, was with Trans Pennine. Here, despite me travelling on Advance tickets that are limited to specific trains, Trans Pennine's (automated?) response was to say that actually they thought I would have been using completely different trains and that these trains weren't delayed. (In reality the whole line between Manchester and Sheffield was blocked so NO trains ran). They have refused my claim on these grounds and we are now at the "if you are disatisfied with this response please contact. . ." stage.  I'd expected better from them because in this instance I was travelling First Class!

Congratulations therefore to Arriva Trains Wales (soon to lose their franchise for running trains in Wales). My journey on 4th August was actually the least disrupted of all - only 20 minutes delay - but it meant I missed a connection and arrived home 45 minutes late.  Arriva has owned up, offered an explanation for the delay and, crucially, promised to pay into my bank account the correct sum owing.

One down - three still to go.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Compensation (Episodes 7 and 8)

Over the last week in July I completed another stage in my bus trip Around the County Towns of England travelling from Lincoln to Chester, via Nottingham and Derby. As all bus trips tend to be it was pretty straightforward, with none of the excitement that taking a narrowboat between those cities might be (although Derby might be a bit of a challenge).

Getting to and from the start and finish was another matter.  I already have two outstanding Delay Repay claims against the railways. One from 15th March where Northern Rail has admitted it failed but has sent me my compensation is a form I hadn't asked for (which would you chose: a "free ticket to anywhere on Northern Rail" or 55 pence?!) and another from 28th June where the company insists the train I planned to use ran normally, whereas I know it was cancelled.

To these I can now add two more.  On my way to Lincoln I found that there were no direct trains between Manchester and Sheffield for some unspecified reason and I was diverted via Leeds arriving an hour later than scheduled.  And then on my way home from Chester the Arriva Trains Wales train to Warrington was delayed by 20 minutes. Not enough to trigger compensation in itself but it meant I missed my connection there and was 45 minutes late getting to Lancaster.  Both Arriva and Trans Pennine are warning that due to the volume of claims this summer they can't meet the required 20 working days deadline to process claims, so I'm not holding my breath - although I will be chasing Northern rail again soon.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Starcross is for Sale (Again)

Starcross, as advertised on Apollo Duck
When I sold Starcross in 2014 it was bought by a young couple, Chris and Jess, who wanted somewhere to live in London. Unlike many such liveaboards they had an interest in boats, with Chris being active in the Thames Sailing Barge Trust so I knew that she would be well cared for.

Starcross needed a bit of work doing to it, which was one reason why I sold her, but Chris and Jess have also done a lot more in order to create a comfortable home. Towards the end of my ownership I'd become very aware that a complete re-fit was necessary and this has been done, although the end result makes her much more of a liveaboard than a cruising boat. 

I saw the results of their efforts last year when I visited them on the Regent's Canal and I was so impressed that I asked for first refusal if they ever came to sell.  Well, that time has now come and, true to their word, they have offered me a chance to buy.  I must admit that I was tempted, but times have moved on for me as well as for Chris and Jess and I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that whilst I wouldn't entirely rule out buying another boat, taking ownership of Starcross again would be a bit too much "back to the future" for me, even though I wouldn't have to repaint her to proclaim my ownership!

Starcross is therefore now offered for sale on Apollo Duck.  I think it's fair to say that the asking price is best described as "London Pricing" but I'm sure it's negotiable and it doubtless reflects the many improvements and enhancements that have been done in the last four years.