The requirement to wear face coverings whilst travelling on buses and also whilst at the railway station and on trains has prompted bus group Transdev to launch its own, unique, face coverings. We think though that we should remind passengers wearing them that they rick blending into the seat! The face coverings carry the same design pattern as the seats on some of the buses!
Alex Hornby, Transdev UK CEO told us: “The latest government guidance is a simple ‘ask’ of our customers, so everyone can travel with peace of mind. We’ve always set out to make our buses places people want to be seen, and the same unique touch of style we’ve become famous for has gone into creating unique face coverings, which are be available to our customers from at our bus stations in Yorkshire and Lancashire”.
Recognising that the Transdev face coverings could become a much sought-after item, Transdev is also making them available through an on-line ‘pop-up shop’. Visit shop.transdevbus.co.uk.
Proceeds from the sale of the 'All the colours of Transdev' face coverings will go to NHS Charities Together.
The Transdev face coverings are washable and reusable. They cost £2.50 each from Transdev travel shops and £4.50 each from the online shop.
We do think this is a great way of promoting an important travel message so well done to Alex and his team.
The last few months have seen us all adapting to life under ‘lockdown’ and then the gradual easing of restrictions. Businesses have been hit, millions of workers placed on the Government’s Furlough scheme, high streets emptied of shoppers, hotels and holiday areas closed and the transport sector faced with the biggest loss of passengers it have ever faced.
National Express and Megabus pulled the plug on its operations. Local bus services were reduced to the bare minimum and we were told that they were for ‘essential travel’ only. The same message applied to train services.
Despite train and local bus services returning to pre-‘lockdown’ levels, Social Distancing means that carrying capacities have been drastically reduced. AS typical double deck bus can currently only seat 20. A massive reduction from the normal 70+ carrying capacity.
In England the last few weeks has seen a quickening of the easing of ‘lockdown’. From July 4th the hospitality sector can re-open providing it is COVID-secure. The ‘Staycation’ is back on the cards (in England at least). The two metre rule is being relaxed (in England at least).
There is confusion. The rules in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland differ.
Already we hear that there is the view (wrongly) amongst some groups that ‘lockdown’ is over. It is not. It has been eased - there is a difference.
We all need to play our part to enable UK plc to get back to some semblance of normal. It could be many months - even years - before we return to the pre-COVID normal according to the experts. What we do know is that we need to get used to a ‘new normal’. For public transport use that currently means essential travel only and the wearing of face coverings. We have been appalled, however, to see people discard face coverings on the ground when they get off the bus, or leave the station. Everybody needs to play their part. Remember the actions you take protects me. The actions I take protects you.
If we all play our part we will all be taking the steps towards a more accessible and inclusive public transport provision.
We should all be aware that we are perhaps entering the most dangerous part of the COVID pandemic. If we let our guard down we risk COVID-19 ‘spikes’ and the real risk of a major second wave of the virus which could lead to another total lockdown. We personally doubt that transport operators would be able to sustain another ‘lockdown’.
We do hope that the actions we are all taking will provide real barriers to the transmission of the COVID-19 virus and that bus, coach and train services will be able to apply to take the gradual steps that are needed to get back to normality.
For coach operators running tours and excursions we believe the return towards normality will be more of a struggle. Social Distancing means that coach tours may initially be unviable but there is also a big ‘confidence’ issue to overcome.
We wish all bus, coach and train operators and their staff well as they ramp their services and tour programme up over the coming months.
The effects of the ‘lockdown’ have also impacted on Steven Knight Media.
|Having announced last year that we were ‘winding down’ our book publishing we had three more Fleet Handbooks planned covering the Stagecoach East, East Midlands and Oxfordshire fleets. In normal circumstances these would have been published as soon as we had details of Stagecoach’s 2020/21 new vehicle plans. The COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ meant that generally investment in new vehicles had been slashed. Over 50% of the three fleets were delicenced or mothballed. The ‘new normal’ for these companies is only now emerging and there are many temporary arrangements in place.
As a result all we can say is that we will look at publishing these books in late-Summer/early Autumn 2020. The books are fully designed and ready to print but we will continue to update then right through until the day, and the hour, that the files are sent to the printers. We will even substitute photographs is we receive something more newsworthy in the intervening period.
During the main ‘lockdown’ period there we received few messages on fleet information and many of our industry contacts were either furloughed or were fully focused on the day job. That is now improving and we are able to provide regular Fleet Ramblings updates. We would like to thank all the correspondents who have continued to provide us with information and also the photographers who have supplied us with photographs which they have also allowed us to use in Fleet Ramblings.
To fill the gap, we have published a number of archive images, which we hope you have enjoyed viewing. As Fleet Ramblings is now ramping up with regular updates, we have now ceased the archive images postings.
We have continued to update the Fleet Allocation documents on a regular basis, where we have been able to confirm details. There are a few companies where information is still awaited but we hope over the coming month to have the information up-to-date for all Stagecoach companies.
Over the last twelve months we have received numerous requests to return to a single document for the Stagecoach company allocations. From July that is what we will do. We will ensure that the file size is the smallest possible to enable fact downloading.
Finally, thank you all for your support.
The West Midlands PTE's first attempt at a timetable book for Coventry issued in 1975, plus a couple of other printed items from around the same time
We have recently located a number of items from our early career in the bus industry.
Coventry Transport was taken over by the West Midlands PTE in April 1974 but it was over 12 months later when the PTE published the first timetable book for what had become the East Division of the PTE. No glossy, high value, book here though. Although the introduction pages were typeset the main timetable pages were taken straight from the master typewritten timetables that formed part of the service registration documents that were photocopied and sent to the Traffic Commissioners. Like most of Coventry Transport's and early WMPTE East Division's printing at the time it was printed by Parbury’s of Raglan Street in Coventry.
From the following year we have an East Division fare table, which again was taken from the typewritten master sheets. Our example table is for the 159 Coventry-Birmingham route which shows that the single fare in 1976 between Coventry and Birmingham was 35p with a single journey from Coventry to Meriden (Green) coating 15p.
There were few ‘filler’ adverts use in timetable books at the time but a regular one promoted the PTE’s Private Hire operation. At the time there was dedicated Private Hire section in the PTE's East Division Schedules Office in Coventry which looked after local Private Hire activity.
Our trawl of our archive material has also uncovered a couple of books of pre-paid tickets. On Monobus routes passengers would put one of the tickets from the book into a ‘cancellator’ as they boarded whilst on crew-worked routes would hand the ticket to the Conductor, who would cancel it.
As the railway network gears up for an increase in passenger numbers from next week with the opening of non-essential retail from Monday June 15th, we caught up with Avanti West Coast to find out how their train services are coping.
We are told that around 200 train services a day are operating as against the normal 312 timetabled services with average loading between 20 and 30 passengers per train. The West Coast operator is operating a reservation system and says that reservations are increasing at around 10% per week but this is from a very low base figure. Thec hange is likely to see a few more train services restored to the London-West Midlands route.
The next major uplift is likely to take place in early July when the number of Avanti West Coast departures from London’s Euston station will increase from six to eight which will see the three-trains-an-hour pattern restored to the Birmingham and Manchester routes.
An Avanti west Coast spokesman has confirmed that the branding of the Pendolino trains into the Avanti livery will ramp up in the next few weeks with Aura Graphics undertaking the work at various depots. The plan is for a minimum of two sets to be completed each week.
The company has also confirmed that Class and set numbers have now been allocated for the Hitachi IET trains that are due to be added to the fleet. The bi-mode sets will be Class 805 (805001-013) and the seven car electric sets will be Class 807 (807001-010).
The confirmation from Stagecoach that it has taken the planned investment in 34 new coaches for its Oxford Tube operation out of this year’s budget comes as no surprise.
Stagecoach says it has ‘deferred’ the investment but we suspect it will not just be added back into the investment plan in the future. More likely is that a completely new Business Case will need to be justified. Our view is that it could take many months, maybe years before business returns to pre COVID-19 levels.
Stagecoach has already suspended its Oxford Tube operation along with its Megabus services in England and Wales. The Cambridge-Oxford coach link now only runs between Cambridge and Milton Keynes. National Express has also suspended its coach operations.
Local bus services, not just those provided by Stagecoach but virtually all bus services, have been reduced to a minimum level to provide for ‘Key Workers’.
Bus and coach companies have mothballed huge swathes of their fleet - more than 60% in some cases and even more in an attempt to reduce costs.
What is unknown is when bus and coach services will return to ‘normal’ or even what a ‘new’ normal may look like.
How will ‘lockdown’ be eased? How long will ‘Social Distancing’ remain in an eased lockdown Britain? What other restrictions will remain?
The Country will not come out of ‘lockdown’ and the following day return to a pre COVID-19 state.
Recovery will, in our opinion, be slow. Yes, bus passengers will return but to what level? During ‘lockdown’ millions of people have been working from home. Already we are hearing of big companies suggesting that ‘working from home’ could remain post-‘lockdown’. That could mean massive reductions in commuter business.
We predict that huge numbers of buses will become surplus to requirement and confidence to order new buses will take a knock.
Coach operators may have to find solutions initially to maintain ‘Social Distancing’ on School contracts but that part of the workload will return. But what about those who would normally have busy holiday and tours programmes. It could be a long and slow rebirth. Again, what confidence will remain for fleet upgrades.
All this could spell bad news also for the bus and coach builders. They are already seeing companies scale back their planned investment this year and may find that it will be into next year at least before orders stat to be placed again.
What happens and how the industry responds and recovers will depend upon the Government’s post-‘lockdown’ strategy and also how much public confidence around bus and coach travel has been knocked.
We hope we are wrong and that industry recovery takes place at a faster pace but realistically it will be a long time before the industry fully bounces back.
It was 44 years ago that former Coventry Transport Daimler CVG 239 (VWK239) was repainted in Coventry Marshall red and cream livery rather than receiving the expected West Midlands PTE blue and cream colours. This prompted the bus to be chosen to take on the Rykneld Run in 1976. The bus was then on display at Derby Transport’s depot in Derby.
So started a busy period for the bus, which spent a period during school holidays helping out at the former Midland Red but by then WMPTE-owned Hartshill garage. Visits to Showbus at Hillingdon followed in 1977 and 1978 as well as local appearance within the West Midlands.
Upon withdrawal it was bought by a group of staff, of which I was part, from Coventry but was never fully restored. That took place when it passed to DeCourcey of Coventry, who replaced the red and cream livery with the darker original livery which was carried. 239 took part in a Reunion event for former Coventry bus staff in 2010 but had generally remained stored since then. Now it has been restored and looks resplendent. It is now up for sale with a sale price of £25,000. The sale is being handled by respected Midlands-based preservationist Roger Burdett.
In line with Government advice, train operators continue to urge people to only travel by train where their journey is essential, such as that of a Key Worker.
Avanti West Coast told us recently that loadings were in line with people complying with the Government’s advice and on some trains loadings had been in single figures.
Now it had come up with a number of retro-style posters to continue to promote the ‘Essential Travel’ and ‘Stay Home’ messages.
Railway posters have always been iconic and we must say that we do like the retro-look of these posters.
A spokesperson for Avanti West Coast said: “We’re lucky to serve beautiful destinations along our route but whilst the UK responds to COVID-19 our vital services are only here for key workers and those making essential journeys. To get across that message and keep communities safe we have created artwork depicting them, including Conwy Castle and The Lake District, to reiterate the latest government advice and support the message not to visit North Wales and Cumbria.”
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which administers the National Railcard scheme on behalf of train operators says that there will be no refunds of extensions for Railcard holders despite the current COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The RDG has not responded to a request to disclose how many Railcards are currently in use but says that Railcards are non-refundable and no extensions to expiry dates will be given.
With train companies operating reduced timetables, and the Government insisting rail travel is currently being provided for key workers, millions of people have been forced to abandon their rail travel plans. That includes those who make regular use of their Railcard(s)
Whilst refunds have been offered for tickets already purchased under a deal agreed between the Government and the rail industry, there is no such scheme to offer compensation to Railcard holders.
Whilst the RDG says that the savings on just one journey can cover the cost of a Railcard, it fails to acknowledge that most Railcard holders make many journeys a year and are currently unable to do so.
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group told Steven Knight Media: “Railcards provide great value for customers as the cost of a Railcard can often be covered by the savings they offer in a single journey which is why they are normally non-refundable and cannot be extended.
“We recognise that these are exceptional times which is why we have offered fee-free refunds on almost all kinds of tickets, have extended the time to claim a ticket refund and are refunding tickets remotely without people having to travel to a ticket office.”
With the Government call for ‘Essential Travel Only’ set to continue for at least another two weeks and possibly longer we hope that the Rail Delivery Group will reconsider its position and at least offer extensions when Railcards come up for renewal. But, given that Railcard extensions would affect the revenue stream for train operators is it a case that the Government would have to make the decision?
The recent extension of National Express Coventry's services through from Bedworth to Nuneaton reminded me that almost 50 years ago Coventry Transport was working with the National Bus Company's Midland Red subsidiary to operate a joint service between Stoke Aldermoor-Coventry-Ash Green-Bedworth and Nuneaton.
The local Government re-organisation of 1974 saw the scheme abandoned but not before much work had been done on the planning, including production of timetables and fare tables.
Back in 2012 we produced a Research Paper on the proposal but never finished it through to publication. We can now share it with you. It has been uploaded in four parts as we have to limit our uploaded documents to under 1MB. All the pages are there, but to save file space we have deleted the blank pages.
The transport sector is having to come to terms with unprecedented challenges through the current crisis situation. However, COVID-19 seems to have achieved the transfer back into (temporary) Public Ownership of the rail franchise system.
Train operators are running a much reduced timetable, some are mothballing trains, and passenger numbers have significantly reduced as the Government pushes its essential travel only message.
So what is the position now and what is the Government’s exit strategy to return train operations to the private sector.
Rail franchises are effectively now Government controlled and operated by the private companies under a Management Contract. I understand that the arrangement gives the private companies a ‘commission’ of 2% which was based on a complex set of calculations based on franchise cost base at March 1st.
There was no option given for the private companies to remain as commercial operators. The Government apparently dictated that those that did not sign up to the Management Contract would be replaced by the Government’s own Operator of Last Resort (OLR). All signed up and the only franchises which are under the OLR are LNER and Northern.
So how long will these arrangements apply?
Initially for six months says the Government. During that time we may get to see the contents of the Williams Report which is likely to suggest radical changes to the rail franchising system.
Couple with that the fact that whatever the date is that the Management Contracts end, se it after six months or even longer, the railway that the private companies have will bear no relation to the railway they had at the start of 2020.
Passenger numbers will no recover to pre COVID-19 levels overnight. It will take months if indeed passenger levels do return. Sure, leisure business will see a boost at people make visits to family and friends. But these are generally price-sensitive passengers who will travel at off-peak times.
What the COVID-19 restrictions have demonstrated is the ease that people can work from home given the technology that is now available. The unknown is how many companies will allow staff to work from home in the future allowing them to downsize offices and other infrastructure.
I suspect that the private companies will all want to re-negotiate their franchise going forward. Their Business Plans on which the franchise finances were based are now not worth the paper they are printed on. The difficulty for the private rail franchises is how can they prepare a new Business Case for the post COVID-19 railway when neither they, nor Government, know what the post COVID-19 railway will look like.
Will we see a queue at the Secretary of State for Transport’s door asking, nay demanding, that the Management Contract terms continue until the railway has returned to some kind of normality. Mind you, that could take years.
We salute all key workers and that includes everyone keeping the railway running at this difficult time but is it really necessary for a train operator running a massively reduced train service with relatively few passengers to keep telling us it is achieving 100% performance. But there again it is one of the train companies operated directly by the Government’s Operator of Last Resort so it must be Government policy to push performance figures at this time….
Steven Knight is a Transport Specialist who has over 40 years experience in the bus and rail industries as well as in specialist transport journalism. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists.