WOODBRIDGE RESIDENTS REALLY MISS THE BUS


Woodbridge residents are really missing the bus! On Friday they met to protest about the slow and deliberate death of Woodbridge bus services.

Bus users and would-be bus users and people representing bus-users met at Woodbridge’s ancient Seckford Almshouses to protest. The Almshouse residents have been left without any service at all since their regular bus was re-routed, to follow all other services on a single route round the edge of Woodbridge. Everyone signed a letter inviting key personnel from First Eastern Counties Bus Company and Suffolk County Council as well as the Traffic Commissioner to a meeting to discuss this and other issues.

We are asking them to meet us to work out how to improve local services. The situation is completely unacceptable,” says Woodbridge County Councillor, Caroline Page. “Do you realise that Woodbridge residents don’t have a bus service to the hospital in the evening, or on Sundays any more? So many of my constituents have complained about these yawning gaps in provision that I thought we needed to take some joint action to fix this problem. Its great that so many colleagues at Town and District Council level were prepared put aside their political differences to support residents.” Among those expressing concern were Woodbridge’s Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and eight District and Town councillors.

We are told that many local bus services are not ‘commercially viable’, yet it seems that commercial viability is not being considered when bus services are planned or provided.,” says Caroline – who uses local services regularly. “ Competition has brought no benefits, and county council subsidisation is being undertaken without regard for the services being provided. How can we aspire to be the Greenest County unless we sort this out?”

Almshouse residents now face a steep climb uphill to an unsheltered stop if they want to use the bus. This is particularly difficult for the frailer residents. Their only alternative is to take taxis, which is very expensive,” say Almshouse residents, Sue Ramsey and Gaye Bowers. “It’s simply not good enough!”

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Are Suffolk buses fit for purpose?

(This was published as a letter in the East Anglian Daily TImes 15 Feb 2010)

Passengers suffer, thanks to unreliable bus services

So it took a ‘covert investigation’ by the Department of Transport to reveal what Suffolk passengers have known all along – that First Eastern Counties bus services are frequently unreliable, with 1 in 5 buses leaving early or late – or not appearing at all (EADT 11/02/10 Bus Operator Told to Improve) We’re not surprised at that. What we do find surprising is that a commercial service should be proven to behave in such a cavalier fashion to its passengers. Its as if First Eastern don’t care whether it carries passengers or not. So much for the basis of ‘commercial viability.

In defence, their spokesman said that many First Eastern Counties routes and timetables ‘were improved’ after this report was compiled, on November 15. Now, I remember November 16 very well – it was the Monday morning I and several others waited for an hour at a Woodbridge bus stop for a First bus that had been ‘improved’ out of existence without warning the passengers. Or their County Councillor. (See http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=20) Of course, this is only one example of the generally poor information given out by the bus companies about their services. Can you think of a company that expects to sell their products without advertising? Again, the term ‘commercially viable’ seems far from appropriate!

I do hope the DfT inquiry finding will interest  the Conservative run County Council- which  is is keen to replace scheduled rural bus services with their pet ‘demand responsive transport’ – a door-to-door service that needs booking well in advance. Their rationale?

Many rural bus services are not commercially viable …. Alternative services are required to meet the needs of local people.”

But with bus services operating as described above, how can you possibly establish what services ARE commercially viable ? Back in 2005 the National Audit Office identified the most important factors that were needed to support successful country bus services. These were, not demand responsive transport, but positive action:

  • commitment to achieving growth in bus use;
  • investment in a package of measures to increase demand for bus services;
  • strategic planning, partnership working between local authorities and bus operators in a deregulated market and effective procurement of local bus services;
  • the provision and administration of concessionary fares; and
  • regulation and monitoring of bus services.

The people of Suffolk deserve a viable bus service that they can rely on. But until they are given a chance to use such a service it is impossible to define whether it might be commercially viable or not. What is currently on offer is not fit for purpose!

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Contacting my landline: apologies!

Who else has had major problems with spam faxes? I’ve been having a horrible time with them.  When you link this nuisance with  a line which only accepts incoming calls (so you can’t ring back and find who was calling)  and these TWO factors with an answerphone  that gets filled up with beeping noises and so can’t accept peoples’ messages you get total chaos and a major democratic deficit. Your constituents just can’t reach you…

Sincere apologies for any one who has tried and  failed to contact me via my council landline over the last few months. An extract of an email I had to write to the officers at Suffolk County Council might help explain:

This is in back-up to a call I made to your office last Friday, asking your urgent assistance in eliminating the problems with my council line – eg the stream of unwanted spam fax calls that arrive at all hours and block up my answer phone and which have not abated in 18 months.

My issue is:

  • First and foremost – it must be stopped! I may be a publicly elected individual but I deserve my sleep and my constituents deserve to be able to leave messages. At the moment, I generally have my answerphone switched off because it gets filled up with fax calls and it is hard to identify the one genuine caller that might be on it. My suggestion is that BT change my number. In a business context I have done this with total success with personal phones which received fax spam in the past
  • CSD (to whom I was pointed) tell me that they cannot do much about it because changing the number may involve the council in potential expense (because they might be charged for two lines!!!!!)  I am puzzled by this as a response
  • Instead they suggested that the unwanted calls can be dealt with by ringing 1471. This fails to recognise 2 simple facts:

a          Its impossible to phone up 1471 – or indeed any number – on a phone that is blocked for outside calls as mine is.

b          If I were to contct all the nuisance callers who ring I may have to ring 1471 several times a night.

  • CSD  has very cleverly identified that my number was previously associated with a local company . As they say it would be removed from their website in future weeks CSD felt that this would resolve the problem.
  • However if you google this (my) number you will see it is also listed on a range of other websites – and who knows in what other offline reference manuals, cold calling and contact lists it is in! I have lived in my house for ten years and I am still getting junk mail for the residents who lived there as much as 20 years ago.
  • CSD  also pointed out that after a fax failed the faxer would be unlikelty to call again. In which case there will be an extraordinarily large number of places where this number must be listed, because people have not stopped using it over 18 months
  • Additionally, I’m finding that having a number that can only accept incoming calls causes an additional nuisance because my home is in a mobile black spot, As with all councillors, I can’t call out on my council line,  only on my blackberry, but when doing so I have to roam the house finding a place where the signal works (hanging out of my bedroom window is best – it is difficult to refer to paperwork in such a situation!) In effect this means I often use my home line for convenience, or ask callers to phone me back on it. This means I have no protection for my private versus public life!

I recognise CSD has to consider expense, but my view is that my constituents are paying their council tax for these services; they elected me to represent them and deserve to be able to contact me efficiently.

I’ll keep you all informed

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“One in five journeys unreliable”: Suffolk bus service damned

Bus Firm is in Court

(p5, Evening Star, 10 Feb 2010)

EAST ANGLIA:  A bus operator was called before a court after an investigation found one in five journeys in Ipswich left early, arrived late or did not turn up at all.

A covert survey into these services by First Eastern Counties was undertaken last year by the Department for Transport after complaints over punctuality.  Of 454 journeys studied in between March 16th and July 16th, eight never arrived, 19 left more than a minute early and 83 were more than five minutes late.

As well as this, in 18 cases the front of the bus displayed the incorrect destination.

This mean that almost a quarter of journeys fell outside the strict limits imposed by the traffic commissioners office, which oversees bus licensing, forcing it to arrange yesterdays hearing with representatives from the firm.

Despite the damning report, First Eastern Counties Buses claimed at the inquiry to have “reasonable excuses” for many of the problems highlighted, including unannounced road-works which delayed drivers and several breakdowns.

Many routes and timetables in Ipswich were updated an improved on November 15th last year, including all but one of the ones investigated, after the report was compiled.

The public inquiry was heard by Sarah Bell, the deputy traffic commissioner for the eastern area.  Although commissioner has the power to remove an operator’s license, or reduce the number of services it can run, she chose to adjourn the matter for review later in the year, following further covert tests to be arranged this summer.

But she made clear that further improvements would need to be made before then, despite the firm’s ongoing efforts.

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Caroline Page, County Councillor for Woodbridge