What are service numbers for?

Blured photo of bus on T5 service
Blurred Direction: TrawsCymru T5 service
Earlier this month, I criticised the TrawsCymru T5 for having a blanket service number covering at least six different routes. As I alluded to at the time, it isn’t just the T5 that makes the number on the front of the bus (often displayed on the side and rear too) seem pointless.

The TrawsCymru network is a serial offender, despite the branding on buses and the route map on the website suggesting all the services are simple one-route affairs. Of the six services, only the T9 is as straightforward as the marketing suggests (and even then it is misleading, because the T9 has a circular route through Cardiff so you can’t realistically use it from Cardiff Central to Cardiff Bay). As for the others:

  • The T1 is five routes, with the main service alternating between Pencarreg and Llanwnnen and a few of each of these omit the detour via Pencader. The fifth route has just one working per day, according to the timetable it takes the old slower route from via Cribyn (and misses out the Morrisons store in Aberystwyth)
  • The T2 has a slower journey via Groeslon and Garndolbenmaen, and Comins Coch is served or omitted seemingly at random
  • The T3 seems to be about three routes, with several villages (Cynwyd, Llandrillo, Llandderfel and Llanuwchllyn) omitted on selected workings
  • The T4 timetable shows three routes, since one trip goes via Bronllys, Talgarth and Three Cocks and some via Boughrood
  • The T5 is six routes, at least, as detailed previously

Inaccurate route banners for T1 and T5 at Aberystwyth bus station
Lies: the TrawsCymru T1 and T5 shown as single routes on bus stop branding.
Remember, I’m not suggesting that a wide range of routes is necessarily a bad thing, just the practice of giving multiple routes the same service number. In the case of the above, one route should be picked for the TrawsCymru designation to avoid cluttering the TrawsCymru numbering convention. The others should continue as ordinary local bus routes.

I don’t know the answer to the question posed by the title of this post, but I would have thought the purpose of a route number is to identify the route a bus will take to reach the final destination displayed on the front of the bus (often on the side too). A blanket service number as used by the above TrawsCymru services doesn’t do that. Examples of the confusion the blanket numbers can cause were given in the earlier post, and the practice isn’t limited to TrawsCymru.

Enviro 200 bus on 554 service in Cardigan
Messy in more ways than one: a rather mucky bus on the multi-route 554 service
A long-running First Cymru service in south Pembrokeshire is the 349 between Haverfordwest and Tenby via Neyland, Pembroke Dock, Pembroke, Manorbier, and Penally. Apart from one early-morning service omitting Neyland and Pembroke Dock (probably just a positioning move) it was a single route. However, on the 3rd January (2016) First changed all that. They cancelled another of their routes (the 355) and introduced a new route, Monkton to Haverfordwest via Pembroke and Pembroke Dock. Thus, it provides a faster service between Pembroke and Haverfordwest, by avoiding Neyland. The problem is that this new route has been given the same service number as the Tenby service (ie. 349).

I believe the 349 (and the now-cancelled 355) are commercial ventures on the part of First, and TrawsCymru services are of course specified by the Welsh Government, at least in part. Local-authority specified services aren’t immune either though, heading north out of Cardigan there is another mess.

Cardigan Finch Square with 4 buses present
Bus route maze: a range of services preparing to leave Cardigan, including the inconsistently routed 552 service.
As I may have mentioned last time, the residual ‘X50’ services between Aberaeron and Cardigan, despite making only three trips, manages to cover all three main routes (direct, via New Quay, and via New Quay and Aberporth). There’s also the 554 (to Beulah, usually) and 552 (coastal routes to New Quay) services.

The 552 varies its route depending on what day of the week it is. It used to have two trips as far as Llangrannog on Tuesdays & Fridays, one via Aberporth and the other via Bleanporth and Brynhoffnant. It ran through to New Quay just once a week, on Wednesdays. Some of the five workings each week served Llangoedmor, others didn’t etc. Now, the service is known as the Cardi Bach* and the short workings to Llangrannog (still via Brynhoffnant and Blaenporth vice Aberporth on one of the two trips) are Thursdays only.

Another 4 buses at Cardigan Finch Square
Via where, exactly? The 412 might be displaying ‘via Fishguard’ but the 412 always did that, was this particular working going via Trecwn? We can’t tell. Likewise the 554, Beulah via Aberporth yes, but via Gwbert too? Use meaningful route numbers, please.
The rest of the week** the service basically follows the old service 600 Cardi Bach timetable, travelling via Gwbert and Mwnt (the old 552 travelled via Penparc, as does the current Thursday service) and several beaches not otherwise served. Like the 552, the 554 also apparently cannot make up its mind whether to serve Penparc or Gwbert. The full length workings (Cardigan – Beulah) on the 554 go via Tresaith (another place that is served by some 552s but not all), but some short workings don’t and one of these is done in a circular manner, taking in Bleanporth. This part of Ceredigion’s bus network is such a mess that I’ve probably failed to explain it cleanly. Hopefully my suggestion of how to tidy it up (coming in a future post), will be clearer.

* the walker’s bus for the southern part of the Ceredigion coast path, which previously had the service number 600
** all six days in summer, Friday and Saturday only in winter

Death Of Democracy?

The televised ‘debate’ featuring the leaders of seven political parties in the run up to the 2015 general election presented a stark choice. I cannot remember what view UKIP’s Nigel Farage gave on spending cuts, but Nicola Sturgeon for the Scottish National Party (SNP), Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett for the Green Party all spoke out against the austerity imposed by David Cameron’s Conservative party. Labour and the Liberal Democrats promised to balance the books without cutting as deeply as the Tories.

A few weeks later, as we now know, the SNP triumphed in Scotland at the General Election. Ironically, this support for the anti-austerity SNP has contributed to the Conservatives gaining a justification (I hesitate to call it a ‘mandate’, because in fact they received less than 37% of the vote) for implementing their extreme cuts. Essentially, the left-wing vote is now split and UKIP hasn’t managed to take enough votes from the Conservatives to break the right-wing in the same way, so we may never have a single left-wing party (Labour) able to win a majority again.

That said, as I posted at the time if you want a strong commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions across the board, including the transport sector, neither Labour nor the Conservatives are an attractive proposition. In fact, until Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour party and took his party to the left, I considered Labour and the Tories to be much-of-a-muchness. If Corbyn’s opponents get their way and the Labour party moves back to ‘the centre ground of British politics’ we’ll be back to a choice between red mud or blue mud.

illustration of 2015 UK general election results
Disproportionate result (from TheEconomist via Sophy Ridge on Twitter)
So, either we have a choice between two very similar, terrible, options or we don’t really have a choice at all because the left-wing vote is split and only the Tories can win. Either way, our democracy is broken largely because our electoral system (First Past The Post) is broken.

Who set the agenda for the TV coverage of the election? Apart from the Trident nuclear deterrent, defence hardly got a mention, and there was nothing of substance on the environment and climate change. It was frequency claimed that the economy and something else (I think it was the NHS) were the ‘key election issues’, but who decided which issues were important? How many voters felt they were being told to base their decision on who to vote for on just those issues, rather than what really mattered to them? Electoral reform was only mentioned after the Tories, probably the party of first past the post more than any other, had won. Dan Snow said on Panorama Live that the First Past The Post voting system was tearing the nation apart, fuelling Scotland’s desire to become independent, when really we want to stay united.

Blurred Direction

A year ago, I commented on the introduction of the TrawsCymru T5 service. I was very critical of the service, and promised further posts detailing the problems. However, it’s the service’s first birthday today, and I still haven’t done so. I’m not promising I’ll ever get round to completing the lot, but here’s the first part of that detailed coverage.

Blurred Direction
Completely Blurred: TrawsCymru bus
‘What are service numbers for?’ That’s a question raised by the T5 (and several local services in the area, but that’s another blog post, again if ever I get round to it). This particular problem is that the ‘T5’ is a blanket designation of a number of routes.

In my travels between Cardigan and Aberystwyth before the introduction of the ‘T5’, I witnessed at least three cases of passengers being confused as to where buses would take them. At least two of these were in 2014, when the ‘X50’ timetable between Cardigan-Aberystwyth was much the same as today’s ‘T5’. One of these was evidenced by some passengers, who obviously expected to travel to somewhere on the detour via Aberporth, jumping up from their seats in surprise as we passed the roundabout which leads to Aberporth without turning off. I seem to remember the driver let them off next to the roundabout, but they’d have had a long walk to Aberporth. Like the ‘T5’, 2014’s incarnation of the ‘X50’ was a blanket designation, covering all Cardigan-Aberystwyth services. I’ve not been travelling to/from Aberystwyth regularly since before the ‘T5’ started, so I’ve not had the chance to observe further confusion. In the more-distant past, things made more sense as there was a ‘550’ service via New Quay and Aberporth and the ‘X50’ was generally direct. However, it wasn’t perfect, some trips served only one of the two (ie. New Quay or Aberporth) and they didn’t have a special service number for those. The third of my observations was such a case, passengers for Aberporth had let an ‘X50’ which went via Aberporth but not New Quay go without them, assuming it didn’t travel via Aberporth. They would have had a wait of well over an hour for the next ‘550’.

Haverfordwest bus stop departure board
The bus stop information doesn’t help: LED sign at Haverfordwest bus station, showing no information of via points
Of course you have to draw the line somewhere, giving the very occasional detours to Aberaeron school a separate route number would only muddy the waters (the school is under 500 metres from the main Alban Square bus stop in Aberaeron), but I believe detours as major as Aberporth and New Quay need to be clearly identified.

Returning to the present, the days of services via Aberporth but not New Quay are gone, perhaps because nearly every service has gone via New Quay since December 23rd 2013. On the other hand, whereas the 2014 ‘X50’ was only a blanket north of Cardigan, the T5 has extended the blanket numbering to Pembrokeshire. As a result, there are now no less than six significantly different routes under the ‘T5’ umbrella.

  1. Cardigan – Fishguard – Haverfordwest
  2. Aberystwyth – Cardigan – Fishguard – Mathry Road – Haverfordwest
  3. Aberystwyth – New Quay – Cardigan – Fishguard – Mathry Road – Haverfordwest
  4. Aberystwyth – New Quay – Aberporth – Cardigan – Fishguard – Mathry Road – Haverfordwest
  5. Aberystwyth – New Quay – Aberporth – Cardigan – Fishguard – Trecwn – Mathry Road – Haverfordwest
  6. Aberystwyth – New Quay – Cardigan – Fishguard – Goodwick – Trecwn – Mathry Road – Haverfordwest

Of course, there are also short workings of most of these routes. In a sane world short workings wouldn’t be a problem, since the destination sign on the front of the bus would show how far the bus is going. If you want something past there you would either don’t get on or, more likely, ask the driver if there will be a connection for wherever you want to go. But this isn’t a sane world, bus operators have to abide by more-stringent regulations for working longer-distance services, so services like the T5 are registered in sections as shorter services to avoid these regulations. The result is a T5 departing Haverfordwest will probably say Fishguard on the front even if the bus continues to Cardigan. Cue more asking the driver if the bus goes to Cardigan.

Aberystwyth bus station T5 branding
Misleading branding: T5 banner at Aberystwyth bus station suggesting a single route (including New Quay)
Going back to the list of six routes, some of these are only once a day, for example the one that doesn’t go via New Quay (that’s one in each direction). New Quay is even included in the route branding for the service, so perhaps there’s an even higher risk somebody will turn up for that one expecting to go to New Quay. They’d be in for a shock, and that trip (in my opinion) is the only part of the service which deserves a TrawsCymru tag. That’s yet another story though.

Single-Line Solitaire

Welcome to 2016, let’s hope this will be a happy new year.

Windows Patience Screenshot
Computerised Patience – The Card Game
Windows PCs have, for some time, featured a number of fairly basic games, such as ‘Minesweeper’ and ‘Solitaire’. The latter is a card game which appears to be the same as one my parents referred to as ‘Patience’. The object of this game is to organise the whole pack of cards into four piles, one for each of the four suits. The cards in each pile also have to be in the correct order (Ace at the bottom, then 2, 3 etc. through to King). There are rules about how to set up the cards and where they can be moved, which means that depending on how the deck is shuffled it may not be possible to complete the game. You can also make a poor move which ‘snookers yourself’, the game in the screenshot looked like it was going well but I eventually got stuck. Unlike real-life though, in the computer version there is an undo feature, and I was able to complete the game after undoing a good number of moves and trying a different approach. If you find you can’t complete the game, you give-up, re-shuffle the cards and start all over again (hence the name Patience, I suspect).

What has this to do with public transport in Wales, you ask? Well, I have been trying to produce a timetable to illustrate my aspirations for rail services from Carmarthen and it is trying my patience. Unlike the game Patience though, I am not sure whether it is possible to deal the cards in such a way that everything will work the way I want it to. There may have to be compromises, but how can I prove whether that is the case?

Spreadsheet timetable development
Computerised Patience – Yet Another Timetable Attempt
My problem, or one of them at least, is the single-line sections on Pembrokeshire’s three branches. The ‘main line’ from Swansea to Carmarthen, and from Carmarthen to Clarbeston Road, is double track apart from short stretches in and out of Carmarthen station. It therefore isn’t too difficult to plot an hourly train between Swansea and Clarbeston Road, with extras between Swansea and Carmarthen to boost that section to a broadly half-hourly service. However, the Pembroke & Tenby branch (from Whitland to Pembroke Dock) is single track with just one passing loop (at Tenby) and the Milford Haven branch (from Clarbeston Road) is similar; just the one loop (at Haverfordwest). The Fishguard branch is perhaps the easiest since, despite the sole double-track section (at the Trecwn RNAD junction, where there is no station) being impractical for passing passenger trains, it is relatively short and I’m only trying to path a 2-hourly service (Milford I’m trying to make roughly hourly). The challenge with Fishguard is making connections with TrawsCymru bus services to/from Aberystwyth at Fishguard Harbour. These currently don’t exist, but I’ve worked them out independently and they need to arrive at xx:32 (32 minutes past the hour) and depart at xx:41. This means the trains must arrive between xx:21 and xx:26, and depart between xx:42 and xx:52. This makes the ‘Fishguard Flyer’ boat train, which needs to be about 10 minutes earlier (westbound) and 10 minutes later (eastbound) than the regular pattern (due to signalling headways on the double-track sections), rather difficult.

Anyone got any tips?