Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Good Bye Old Friend

As the Optare chapter begins there is the closing of another chapter. H843 NOC has finally been taken away for its final trip to Barnsley (bus Valhalla).

H843 NOC was the last of our first generation Dennis Darts and was there at the beginning of Cotswold Green. It was also previously at the spearhead of Ebley Bus as their expansion of local bus services in the Stroud area gathered pace. It was acquired directly from Warrington Transport by Ebley Bus (one of four purchased from this source).

Despite pressure to send it to the scrapyard a couple of years ago, I had it sent to a farm a couple of miles away with the intention of bringing it back when the time was right!

I had driven many miles in it and it had carried many passengers during its lifetime. I am concious that I appear to have drifted into writing an obituary for an old friend but perhaps that just sums up how attached to it I have been!

I had hoped to restore it to its former glory as a preservation project but funds and time conspired against me so it was not to be. I even tried to give it away as a preservation project but to no avail.


Going Solo

I have been resisting the temptation to follow the crowd and use the Optare Solo to start the low-floor conversion of the smaller vehicles in the fleet. I had taken some pride in the fact that we were possibly the only local bus operator in Gloucestershire not to have one!

I lived in hope that an alternative would appear on the market but as the deadline for full conversion of the fleet to fully accessible vehicles looms ever nearer, no such practical alternative has appeared.

And so the opportunity to acquire two of these machines presented itself at a convenient moment and so now they have arrived. All thanks to the continuing effect of the Veolia collapse on the second hand bus market!

And so CN06 BXB and CN06 BXG have joined the fleet. They will be painted this week and should be on the road in a few days time!

Friday, 30 March 2012

Diesel Dilemma!

And the fuel crisis continues!

Our regular petrol station is out of fuel again and has been for 36 hours now! It all started with a foolish remark from a politician, who clearly has no experience of living in the real world, to try and undermine a trade union's threat of strike action. Did he not understand that a majority of drivers seem to treasure the freedom that the ownership of a car can offer more than life itself! These people then immediately headed for the nearest petrol station with a boot full of jerry cans like a swarm of locusts decimating a field of crops!

Once a petrol station runs out of fuel, a real sense of panic grips the nation as people hunt for an available supply. Ironically using more fuel to find more fuel!

Any petrol station with a supply is then decended upon, thanks in part to social media and mobile phones, leading to lengthy queues and eventual exhaustion of the supply. The delivery network just cannot keep pace and so re-supply takes hours or even days longer than usual.

So how did this effect us? Well, fortunately we had a spell without the use of our usual fuelling location due to a faulty computer system that had been installed. This took a week to sort out and we had to find alternative supplies. All bus workings have the ability to call at alternative sites without travelling out of their way. Not my prefered scenario but effective none the less.

Some drivers have been able to use their Tesco Clubcards for a change instead of their Shell points cards!

And now it has been announced that there will be no strike this Easter! How long will it take to return to normality...

Sunday, 25 March 2012

New Routes - Old Routes

Gloucestershire County Council has recently put a number of routes out to tender. Some were ours, some operated by others and some new!

The results are in and I am pleased to say that we won more work than we lost!

We will cease operating the following routes from this date: -

  • 11 - Gloucester to Podsmead (To be combined with route 241 and passing to Swanbrook)
  • 205 - Berkeley to Cam & Dursley Station (Combined with new route 207, see below)
  • 206 - Dursley to Berkeley (Combined with new route 207, see below)
  • 241 - Gloucester to Sandhurst (To be combined with route 11 and passing to Swanbrook)
  • 242 - Arlingham to Stroud (Not yet awarded to a new operator)
  • 278 - Tetbury to Malmesbury (Passing to a community transport operator)
  • 288 - The Wotton Hopper (Passing to a community transport operator)

We will start operating the following routes: -
  • 40 - Stroud to Wotton Under Edge
  • 207 - Dursley to Thornbury
  • 210 - Dursley to Cam & Dursley Station

Less route numbers but more work!!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

How Much Information?

How did we live without the internet years ago? Now rapidly approaching my fourth decade I can still remember life without it but I never remember feeling short of information! Maybe everybody talked more or perhaps our interests were not so far reaching!

I occasionally put "cotswold green" into google just to see what has been put online. The internet seems to have a version of everything that is talked about in the world today and this can give me an idea of the general public's perception of how we are doing.

Today just made me think just how much information is out there! My search, narrowed to the past week only, gave me the following sites in less than a second: -

  • Youtube - A 9 minute film following one of our vehicles on route 28 (the section between Amberley and Minchinhampton)
  • Flickr - Photos of several Cotswold Green vehicles (past and present)
  • This is Gloucestershire - A news article about a missing bus shelter on route 36
  • Wikipedia - Although an article about a different bus company there was a link to our own page.

A broader search would have revealed hundreds of items, once I had filtered out references to paint colours and property pages refering to a road named Cotswold Green!

Because there is so much information relating to just one small bus company in Gloucestershire it makes me think about the sheer volume of information available at my fingertips. Perhaps this is the main difference since the internet has come of age, I can literally find information about anything that pops into my head without leaving the comfort of my sofa! But what did we lose?

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Financial MOTives

Following the closure of our local VOSA Testing Station in Gloucester, we have been forced to find an alternative location for our MOT tests.

Buses require a class 6 MOT test and so for us it has always been nessecary to go to a VOSA facility. However, in response to the closure of our nearest VOSA facility, we have the option of two private facilities that are actually closer! Both of these testing facilities are on the premises of large haulage firms and are only a couple of miles apart!

We have now sent three of our vehicles to the C M Downton's facility at Moreton Valence and, I am very glad to say, that all three have passed with flying colours!

The closure of our local VOSA facility has left us with additional costs as there is a lane fee to pay in addition to the MOT test fee. Another way of reducing the odds of actually making a profit! We have no real choice in this matter as the nearest official VOSA sites are now at either Calne or Avonmouth and so the additional fuel cost exceeds the difference in fees.

On the up side, when booking a new test you actually get to speak to a real person who actually works at the site not a call centre miles away!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Before And After - R448 LGH

I do like a bargain! After a trip to UK Bus Dismantlers at Bromyard to see one bus that was for sale, I found another one that I liked more. The original viewing was a run of the mill ex Veolia 1996 Dennis Dart which, on first inspection looked quite tidy. A closer look revealed some issues around the rear windows and so I quickly decided that this was not worth the bother and anyway its MOT was shortly due to expire.
We needed an engine for L310PSC and a suitable donor was about to face the cutting torch so a quick deal was done (yet another Veolia vehicle). Whilst briefly inspecting this engine in situ, something caught my eye!
Hidden at the back of the yard was this little gem! I admit that on the outside it looks like a bit of a wreck, but it was easily restorable and Low Floor! An offer was made and so job done.
UK Bus Dismantlers has recently purchased a large number of vehicles from Veolia, who have been either closing down or selling off their bus operations in recent times. There are many operators both large and small who have benifited from such a large supply of vehicles, mostly Low Floor, being available.
Our new dart had some new panels and a repaint and is somewhat transformed into the vehicle pictured below: -
The seats have now been retrimmed and she is off for an MOT test on Tuesday. If all goes well, and after a couple of days of local testing, this shiny bus will find itself on the 881 route between Cirencester and Tetbury.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Rail Replacement

Not an emergency arrangement to replace a failed train or blocked line, as maybe suggested in the title, but an accurate description of our recently acquired route 881!

As a bit of a transport history anorak, I am very much aware of where railway lines used to run and two branch lines that have always fascinated me are those that used to run from Kemble to both Cirencester and Tetbury.

The 881 service acts as an effective replacement for both! It runs from Tetbury to Cirencester via Kemble station, serving the towns and villages that both lines were perported to serve. The obvious advantage of the bus is that it can actually serve these locations whereas the stations and halts on these lines could be some distance away (especially noticable in the case of Rodmarton where the halt was well over a mile away from the village!).

If only the passenger numbers were comparable to the final days of the rail services in 1964!

I have now driven this route a few times and find it to be one of the most enjoyable routes that we currently operate. The only down side is that whilst travelling into and out of Kemble Station, we are forced to travel the length of a huge car park that during the week is always filled to capacity! After all, the car is our biggest competitor and whilst I fully understand that most of these drivers have no realistic alternative to car use due to the rural nature of the territory, I am sure that a small percentage might find using the bus a convenient and less stressful option! What a difference a few extra regular passengers could make!

Doing what we can to right the wrongs of the Beeching era!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Photo Number 11 - Another Yard View

I am again tempted to illustrate how fortunate we are to have an operating centre in such a nice part of the world! This view shows vehicles poised for their next days work and facing the exit. Our yard is on the edge of a small industrial estate, but contained within a valley, on the outskirts of Nailsworth.

Just for the sake of completeness, the vehicles shown are N411 MBW, L118 HHV, N806 DNE and R976 XVM.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Cotswold Lament

After posting and commenting on the photo of N951 NAP at Bibury, I have been reflecting on the group of routes that this bus regularly used to operate. These routes all passed through what most would consider the touristy parts of the Cotswolds.

I have already alluded to the 860 between Cirencester and Bibury (extending to Aldsworth at peak times) but this route was attached to route 864 (Yanworth to Cirencester) and route 866 (Southrop to Cirencester).

All three routes made a full weeks work for one vehicle and one driver and all were lost in November 2011. We were not so careless as to lose the bus or driver, both of which have been redeployed!

The tender for these routes was the first won by the recently formed Cotswold Green Ltd in January 2007 (not the first operated as most of our work was acquired with the business of Ebley Bus Ltd), they were also the first routes that I had won for Ebley Bus! I had also managed these routes for Stagecoach during my stint as Operations Manager at Stagecoach in the Cotswolds! Just to add to to the above, I also drove the predecessors to these routes in the early 1990's in the very early stages of my career!

During the early days, operating the route for Ebley Bus, I would drive these routes at least once per week. You get to know all of your regular passengers by name and they, in turn, get to know you. In a not so rare moment of reflection, I remember those regular passengers who passed away during my association with these routes and how especially on the 864 and 866, where the same people travelled most days, you really could feel the sense of loss. It also could really change the feel of the service when it was one of the more dominant characters that had passed on.

These services acted not only as a means of transport but as a mobile social centres allowing people who, as it seemed to me, would not normally associate with each other to meet! The advent of free travel for the elderly broadened the circle a little but thankfully did not change the atmosphere.

It may be a cliche, but you really can feel a part of the communities that you serve!

In the last weeks of our operation of these routes I made sure that I would have one last opportunity to drive them and it was comforting that I was not only recognised but that many still remembered my name!