Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A tale of three bus stops

Most people would think of bus stops as being fairly static items, happy to stay in one place and make their contribution to society in a steady, predictable way from one year to the next, without any great desire to travel or see the world.

However just lately one or two of ours have had a certain amount of wanderlust and today has been a day for rounding them up and bringing them back to heel!

Shortly after we rerouted the A along Passfield Avenue in Eastleigh, back in 2008, we agreed with the Borough Council to put up a new bus stop either side of the road near the junction with Nightingale Avenue. Two bus stop flags were secured to suitable poles and that was the end of that! However, just recently we noticed that one of the flags had escaped, destination unknown, leaving the public without guidance as to where to stand to wait for the bus.

We thought we had seen the last of it, but this morning a colleague at Eastleigh Borough Council reported that our errant bus flag had been rounded up in Fleming Park, and was now sitting by her desk. So we have retrieved it and (after a strong lecture about not getting any more big ideas), returned it firmly to its rightful pole.

You'd think that might be enough bus stop excitement for one day, but not in the heady world of Velvet!

We have a 'temporary bus stop' - a flag on a short pole imaginatively grounded in a painted old wheel hub, that we can move from place to place, for example when roadworks hinder access to a normal stop.

Our temporary stop has already made one previous bid for freedom, when it escaped from Henstead Road in Southampton, before mysteriously reappearing a few days later - we still don't know where it went.

However, more recently it was posted in Leigh Road, Eastleigh to stand guard over the never-ending hole-digging activities of Southern Gas Networks, while the real stop at the Good Companions pub was marooned in the middle of a long section of single line traffic.

Bored with this assignment, the temporary stop vanished within a few days of being sent there and - until today - had been missing for several weeks. We imagined that by now it was probably sunning itself on a South American beach, but not so! A tip-off earlier this afternoon from a member of the public led us to a private car park underneath a block of flats on the outskirts of Eastleigh town centre, where our temporary stop was standing in all its proud glory, nowhere near a road never mind anywhere a bus might go!

How amazing that by sheer chance, on the same day, we have managed to round up both our errant bus stops!

Indeed, we have been rather more successful at relocating bus stops that we never expected to see again, than we have at relocating one that we actually meant to move!

Today's third and final outbreak of bus stop action was meant to involve moving the outbound flag on the S2 route in Handel Road in Southampton, from its current pole (no longer served since the route changed in September), round the corner to a new pole recently erected by the City Council for our benefit.

Mikey and Simon duly set off in Vanessa, our Rapid Response International Rescue N-reg Ford Transit, armed with all the necessary tools for the job, drove all the way into Southampton City Centre, pulled up at the appropriate spot, switched on the flashing orange lights to make themselves feel important, threw open the back of the van and.... realised they'd left the ladder behind so they couldn't actually get to the flag!!!

Unplanned bus stop moves - 2, planned bus stop moves - nil, and a job for another day!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Isn't technology wonderful?

I am writing my new blog sitting in Costa Coffee in Eastleigh, enjoying wireless internet courtesy of them. Normally I'm in the office on a Sunday catching up on paperwork, but the office is too cold (the heating controls are in the next door office, which is currently unoccupied and we don't have a key). So I've come here instead and it's brilliant.

I still can't get my head round the concept of wireless internet. I can deal with conventional electricity - I have a firm belief that all electric wires and cables contain long rows of tiny little people who pass lumps of electrical charge very quickly along the line (a kind of human chain), until eventually it ends up in the device you are trying to power. I always worry about unplugging things in case the electricity falls out (or even worse, some of the tiny people might plunge six inches to their certain death), but so far my fears on this point seem to have proved unfounded.

But how does wireless work? The only way I can picture it is to imagine that the last tiny person in the line that goes from the telephone socket to the hub, has a very good throw, and simply has to hurl the little chunks of internet across the void to a waiting tiny person in my computer.

This would explain why the internet signal gets weaker as you get further from the hub, because obviously they can only throw so far and some chunks of internet will fall short!

Anyway, freaking me out to a whole new level is the fact that we can now offer you the chance to buy your bus ticket on your mobile phone, and simply show your phone to the driver when you board the bus! From registering at mymobiletickets.com, you can buy your ticket, pay for it, download it to your phone and use it to travel on the bus, without any physical money ever changing hands, or any paper being produced or printed out.

On a related issue, we pioneered the use of QR Codes on a small number of our bus stop timetables a year or two back. Fairly clunky at the time and far too big, but nevertheless effective, they are now making a comeback on the mobile tickets and hopefully will soon reappear on our roadside timetables (we are working on this). If you don't know what a QR Code is, look it up (this blog encourages readers to think for themselves!).

Indeed, I was delighted to see one in Tesco Express last night inviting you to download content promoting a particular brand of razor blade. I think QR Codes are one of the next big things, and when you start to see them all around you over the next few years, remember you read about them here first!

It's all a far cry from my first ever job in the bus industry, rekeying endless serial numbers from Setright waybills into a pirate copy of a Lotus 123 spreadsheet on a green screen Apricot PC, while sitting underneath a shelf weighed down with box files containing reams of fanfold printer paper (offering little information of any use), that would occasionally collapse under the weight and rain down on my head! Ah, the memories...

It's a new blog!

Regular readers of my old Velvet Bus Blog cannot fail to have noticed long periods of inactivity, and in several cases have passed comment on this.

To be honest, I got quite disillusioned with life on the old blog. Although it was never meant to be an official Velvet production, many people saw it as such. For me, it was only ever meant to be an occasional pastime, offering whimsical comment on things that I thought people might find interesting.

I always enjoyed blogging but to be honest life is incredibly busy for quite a lot of the time, and after spending 14-15 hours at work immersed in bus issues, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was get the computer out and spend more time writing about buses!

More seriously, it is very hard to find things to write about that do not breach commercial confidence, and in one case I pulled what I thought was quite an entertaining post shortly after publication, because the organisation about whom it was written revealed itself to have no sense of humour and chose to make ominous comments about our future business relationship if it remained on view. Given that I said nothing that would actually cause any damage to the organisation in question other than some gentle leg-pulling, I now think I should have left the post there - "publish and be damned"!

In short, the fact that people saw the old blog as an official publication meant that (a) some people took it too seriously and (b) my failure to post with sufficient regularity was seen as evidence of some kind of corporate failure. Given that the purpose was only ever to entertain (and occasionally enlighten), I pretty much gave up! But I still liked the idea of blogging and often thought of interesting things to post, just didn't feel sufficiently motivated to do anything about it!

A chance meeting with the inspirational Leon Daniels of First Group at the Euro Bus Expo in Birmingham got me to thinking again! If you don't already read his blog by the way, go and have a look now - it's excellent!

I realise that my biggest mistake was to call my old blog the Velvet Bus Blog because that clearly makes it sound official even though it was never meant to be, so that blog has officially breathed its last breath! Although it can stay there for now for historical purposes, nothing more will be added, and it will be frozen in time as at last April!

I am going to have another go at this blogging lark. Many of the issues described above still remain, so I am not promising success! However, I am going to make it clear from the outset that even though I will often be talking about Velvet and bus issues generally, this blog is my own personal ramblings and is not in any way an official publication of Velvet! That means that if I fail to post, or I fail to keep people's interest, and everyone gets bored and goes away (or starts writing sarcastic comments), that's entirely down to me and no reflection on my bus company! Hopefully that won't happen though and I'll be able to keep a sufficiently engaging blog going for a little longer!

Anyway, welcome to my new blog and let's see how it goes!