Tuesday, 27 August 2013

On the Buses: It’s a Liberty!

Time Tables
It is now over six months since Liberty Bus took over from Connex, and they were supposed to have a hundred days period of grace for sorting out problems, but that was extended by Deputy Kevin Lewis, Minister at Transport and Technical Services – the politician responsible for accepting them as the operators, and now seems to have been discarded altogether. Here is a criticism from one of my correspondents, Adam Gardiner:
"We are still getting convoys - timetables are up the creek. It is most marked in St. Aubin where after a 30 minute hiatus (between 10.30-11pm) we got both a 15 and 12 travelling eastbound arriving together - made worse by the fact that the bus stops in St. Aubin can only accommodate 1 bus at a time. The result is the second bus just sat in the road blocking all other traffic. This was compounded by the further fact that the last 12 terminates Corbière and travels back to town - empty - passing through St. Aubin - lights out, 'NOT IN SERVICE'! If nothing else hopelessly inefficient but you can imagine the affect that has on passengers waiting at the bus stop - in the rain!"
He also noted an incident on a Friday (and not the first) when a passenger "was turfed off at Corbière as the service terminated there (X12) Yet nowhere on the graphic timetable does it indicate that and the bus in any event carries on its journey as if it were in service. Someone explain please? They were nonetheless left to walk home. Although it was not dark and raining on this occasion, it is still unacceptable. It is a PUBLIC bus service, not a service to suit either drivers or LibertyBus."
And he goes on to comment that on the Bank Holiday Monday:
"LibertyBus are just operating Sunday services which considering it's a Bank Holiday is barmy. While there is no commuter traffic, at this time of year we have our biggest influx of visitors. It's nuts! Compare that with other forms of 'public transport'. Do aeroplanes, ferries and trains run to reduced services at weekends and particularly Sundays? No. By and large they actually increase them. Why. Because it's a time of peak demand."
"The result is, we have passengers arriving at the airport, but all we can offer them is a long wait for an infrequent and limited service; and at the harbour NO buses at all - that at any time."
Now part of that may be to do with drivers, but clearly part of it has to do with management. I remember contacting the manager of Jersey Bus in the old days about the loop around Corbière, and as I wanted to pick up the bus stop near to the corner where the Prison is, and the bus was not returning, I was told that it was perfectly acceptable to be picked up there for the through journey to St Helier. Clearly commonsense was applied to the bus routes. How the buses operated around the Corbière loop should be a matter for the management to decide. Liberty bus has said it is they, rather than the bus drivers, who are in charge, so why don't they make it clear what their buses are doing.
The position with regard to bank holidays is very obvious. To put on extra services, means paying drivers overtime rates. That again means that it is a management decision, and not one the bus drivers have any control over, any more than they can decide on the time tables, even when that leads (as stated above) to buses being forced to block the road St Aubin. That's also a transport matter, and the Minister, Deputy Kevin Lewis should put pressure on the management to ensure it doesn't happen.
And the bus stop at the Harbour was also discontinued when LibertyBus took over, providing a wonderful insight for tourists as to how much they matter as they come out of the Harbour Terminus and see a sign telling them there are no bus services, and they'll have to walk to town, or incur the expense of a taxi. Deputy Kevin Lewis seems to have buried his head in the sand on this one as well.
Radio Question Time
Meanwhile, Reg Langlois gave this story on Facebook:
"A story I heard today from a couple who were travelling out west, on a bus, last Wednesday 21.8.13 They were horrified when he started using his phone as he was driving along, and when he had finished his call, he started rummaging though the cash box alongside of him...... pity they didn't take his picture."
Donna pointed out that it could be a radio message:
"But you see Reg, you repeat their story, with no evidence and this is part of the problem with the public perception of the bus drivers. I recently had an elderly lady sitting next to me on the bus complaining about the driver talking on his phone when we were driving, but he was in fact replying over his radio to a question from someone at the depot. I also had an elderly client at work who asked "Can you help me Donna, when you've finished playing on your gameboy?" and I was actually using an electronic ordering machine!! The bus drivers at the moment are public enemy number 1 due to the media hype and people doing exactly what you have done with your post and I don't think they deserve this at all."
Annette Du Heaume replied: "Did the couple bother to report this supposed incident to Liberty bus? Doesn't sound like it as there have been no disciplinaries regarding a situation like this recently ( hubby is a bus driver). Also just to point out that with the cameras and microphones monitoring everything the drivers do, there is very little chance of the driver taking the risk.
Jill asked:.."Were these passengers sure he was actually on a mobile (I suggested a phone) or not just talking 'to base' as they often do? I also doubt that one would take the risk as they are well monitored".... would it have made any difference... being on a mobile or on a phone talking to "base" ?
Darren noted that: "Actually any hand held communication device which you hold in your hand whilst driving is illegal. Hence all States vehicles having mic buttons and microphone hands free for their radio system."
Donna noted that "Perhaps Libertybus should be informed of this local law then, as the drivers have to reach up for the microphone to reply when they are called over the radio."
This seems to be getting to the core issue. How do drivers communicate when called over the radio? Do they have to reach up to the microphone to reply? Is this legal? If it is legal, is it none the less, a safety hazard? It seems very likely that it is.
Turning Points
Reg Langlois commented on the buses taking up the road:
"A friend of mine had a narrow escape the other day when she was driving down the hill towards St Brelade Church when a bus appeared around a bend over the white line causing her to take avoiding action. She pulled over and hit the bank on the side of the road, bursting a tyre as she did so."
Annette Du Heaume replied: "
I know these buses cross the white line quite a lot, saying that, the new buses are a bugger to drive, they have really bad turning issues and the driver position and mirrors that stick out too far do make it harder to drive closer to the left hand side. In fact these buses were trialled by Connex back in 2006 and found to be unsuitable then says a lot really."
Apparently, according to a friend of mine, it is all to do with how the wheels are sited on the bus. With the Connex buses, the wheels were positioned a fair way back from the front and back of the bus, but with Liberty bus vehicles, they are right at the front and back.
The wheelbase of a vehicle equals the distance between its front and rear. This affects the turning circle on the bus. The turning path boundaries are determined by the outer trace of the outer front overhang and the path of the inner rear wheel.
As a commentator noted of the buses now in use in Jersey:
"The Optaire is 8 foot wide, closer to ten across the mirrors. They also have the most bloody awful view from the drivers cab, and the mirrors are obscured by the A posts. I have the misfortune to drive the things occasionally. The wheelbase , you will note the front wheels are ahead of the doors, make the turning circle larger as an aside, has anyone got seasick on the top deck yet? That happened quite frequently when our company first got a couple. They roll like a ship in a gale. But hey they are cheap!"
The Jersey versions are apparently a slimmer version of the UK versions, at 2.3m wide which is the Jersey limit. The UK model is 2.5m wide. But the problems with wheelbase mean that when navigating bends – and there are rather a lot in Jersey – it will go over the white line much more than the older buses in use because of the wheelbase and turning circle, regardless of the driver.
When Connex were bringing over double-deckers, Mike Jackson went on the route several times to check going round bends, overhangs etc, but has Kevin Lewis done this kind of practical exercise with Liberty bus regarding turning circles? Or was this just advice relied upon. I find it notable that one observation was that the Optaire was a cheap bus. I'd be interested to know how it compared to the Darts used by Connex, or the specially built buses of Jersey Bus. Did wheelbase, turning circle feature anywhere in the bus tender? If not, for an Island with small roads, why not? Another question, I think for Deputy Lewis.
I went on a number 15 double decker from St Aubin to Red Houses sitting on the upper deck, and it did indeed "roll like a ship in a gale" as it went round bends; it also clipped branches overhanging the road which, presumably because it did not damage the roof, was considered an occupational hazard. Do bus inspectors ever go out and check whether the overhang is too low, as the driver would be unaware of it, and if the branches went just a bit lower, serious damage and possible injury could ensure? 

1 comment:

James said...

When Connex were bringing over double-deckers, Mike Jackson went on the route several times to check going round bends, overhangs etc, but has Kevin Lewis done this kind of practical exercise with Liberty bus regarding turning circles? Or was this just advice relied upon. I find it notable that one observation was that the Optaire was a cheap bus. I'd be interested to know how it compared to the Darts used by Connex, or the specially built buses of Jersey Bus. Did wheelbase, turning circle feature anywhere in the bus tender? If not, for an Island with small roads, why not?

It's a fair question. But let's take it apart piece by piece. Be aware this is going to be a bit geeky.

The double deckers should be OK - they are exactly the same make of bus (Alexander Dennis Enviro 400) as Connex put on the 15.

The problem with the Optares is not their price, but the unavailability of an alternative. The buses purchased by Connex (Dennis Dart chassis with Caetano Slimbus bodies) went out of production years ago. I think that Connex scraped up the very last of them in 2007. Bus builders now have to build in accordance with British and European Disability Regulations in mind, and to provide a workable body they have decided that they have to build the chassis that much wider.

Consequently the choice of buses that come remotely close to fitting the Jersey loading gauge is very small. The other Optare ranges, and those of their main competitors ADL and Wrightbus are another 10cm wider, and that takes them outside the legal limit to operate in Jersey.

I know that there are some routes where a wider bus could be operated (Connex used their white ADL Enviro 200s on the 1 on a derogation agreed by TTS), but I don't think there are many others.

I can confirm that that the Solo SRs are pigs on the road (I've seen a driver have to take two bites at going round an ordinary 90-degree corner at Pot du Rocher to get onto the road to the Zoo), and the bloody-minded attitude of the company about scratches means that bus drivers are having to take a bit more of the road than they used to with the Slimbus Darts.

The real answer - and it's likely to be expensive - is to get an expert in from England to remodel the roads; as General Don did 200 years ago.