B12 bus route Sunday service

Yes, this blog shut down nearly three years ago when I moved away from Bexley, but I have revived it to publish some interesting local transport news: TfL are consulting on the introduction of a Sunday service on the B12 bus route. (Update, 19 April 2013: the service will now go ahead as suggested, starting on 28 April.)

We are proposing to introduce a Sunday service to run every 30 minutes throughout the day on route B12. This would provide a new service on Sundays for Joydens Wood, Coldblow, and parts of Northumberland Heath with links to Bexleyheath and a number of railway stations. The route would run clockwise round the Joydens Wood loop before noon and then anticlockwise as on other days of the week.

The B12 currently runs every 20 minutes Monday to Saturday during the day, and every 30 minutes Monday to Saturday in the evening.

These proposals have been developed because of stakeholder and passenger requests for a Sunday service, including requests from Bexley Council and Kent County Council.

For a long time, that’s not a sentence I had been expecting to be able to write, particularly under a Mayor whose stated plans for the bus service are merely to preserve overall mileage (i.e. not to expand bus services in the way that was done under his predecessor).

So how did this come about? It’s a long but pleasing tale of all the right pressure being brought to bear by all the right people, with perhaps a hint of cunning in the mix.

I don’t have any inside knowledge, other than from attending the London Borough of Bexley’s quarterly public transport sub-committee as a public observer, but this is the story as I understand it.

Pushing the boundaries

For many years, under pressure from local campaigners, and indeed out of transport planners’ desire for logical public transport, Bexley had been calling on TfL to add a Sunday service to the route, which is the only one in their borough which doesn’t run on Sundays.

The small south-eastern ‘loop’ part of the B12 route is mostly just inside Kent, across the greater London boundary. This is fairly common for TfL routes at the edge of the capital, and is a sensible acknowledgement that Londoners do occasionally need to travel slightly outside (and indeed it’s nice to be able to bring people from just outside to come and spend money in London businesses etc.).

The absolute best TfL said they could do for a long time, therefore, was offer a very small amount of budget towards operating a Sunday service, but Kent County Council would need to find the remaining majority of the money needed.

This unlikely proposition wasn’t actually dismissed out of hand by Kent. The councillors there apparently have a small budget that they can use in a way they personally see fit (subject to some sort of scrutiny, I’m sure!). Councillors there agreed that his budget could be used to fund the B12 Sunday service – hooray! So it happened then, right? No.

The Kent councillors’ budget could only be guaranteed for a period of two years. (After all, which bit of any council budget can be guaranteed for much longer than that at the moment?) And two years simply wasn’t good enough for TfL.

For service changes, TfL apparently require a minimum of five years’ guaranteed budget. In the context of an organisation headed by a Mayor elected for four-year terms, this seems somewhat surprising, but there it is. With only two years’ guaranteed funding, TfL wouldn’t be able to introduce the B12 Sunday service (even rejecting a suggestion that they do it on a clearly publicised two-year ‘trial basis’), and that was the end of that.

'Enjoy' the sight of these 'Monday-Saturday' panels while they last :)

‘Enjoy’ the sight of these ‘Monday-Saturday’ panels while they last!

Bus diversion: the 429

There’s an interesting diversion from the main story here, which was, I thought, an amusingly clever response from Kent to TfL telling them their two years’ worth of money wasn’t good enough.

The part of Kent which the B12 serves – Joydens Wood – is also served by a Kentish bus which similarly didn’t operate on Sundays, the 429.

When TfL refused to use the Kent councillors’ money to provide a Sunday service connecting Joydens Wood to London, the councillors took their money and used it to fund a Sunday service on the 429 instead, essentially saying to TfL, “OK, if you don’t want our money to provide benefit to lots of your residents and businesses and a few of our residents, we’ll use it to help all those same residents on our side of the boundary but none of yours.”

Sure enough, when writing this post, I’ve found the 429 timetable now has a Sunday service for the first time, connecting Joydens Wood residents with Dartford and Swanley town centres, and Bluewater shopping centre. The route operator’s Facebook page announced this in November as follows:

Good news for all our friends on route 429; in partnership with Kent County Council we will be trialling a Sunday service from 18th November. […] Tell your friends; it’s on a use it or lose it basis.

It’ll be interesting to see how many use it, or whether they lose it – especially in light of the new TfL proposals…

Playing the shame game

Back on the subject of the B12, despite the apparently fatal setback, Bexley’s transport planners had another idea up their sleeves.

In 2011, Bexley Accessible Transport Scheme (BATS) had become the first community transport organisation to be awarded a London Service Permit by TfL, allowing them to run a special bus service, route 938.

LB Bexley worked up a proposal with BATS for the organisation to run a Sunday service on the B12. It was a full, detailed proposal, covering exactly how it would work, types of ticket accepted, and expected subsidy required. Lots of thought and development went into it, demonstrating just how serious the local community and council were about wanting a Sunday service on the B12.

The service proposed was not a full one, and only covered about half the B12 route, running just between Bexleyheath and Joydens Wood, but it was intended as a ‘better than nothing’ offering – an hourly service, which if I recall correctly would only have run during shopping hours.

It was calculated how much subsidy this community-run service would need, and the proposal was submitted to TfL for their response on the subjects of a permit and the subsidy needed.

What actually appears to have happened, though – and I am reading between the lines here – is that on seeing just what lengths the council and community were prepared to go to, just to pull together what would have undoubtedly been a substantially lower-specified Sunday service than a standard TfL offering, TfL felt shamed into stumping up the estimated £80,000-a-year cost of introducing a proper Sunday service themselves.

I’m not sure what the subsidy BATS were asking for was, but I guess a calculation was done that more value would be had from simply paying up the full amount for a full service than paying part of it for a substantially lower frequency service covering far less of the day. So, suddenly, everything changed.

No direct response by TfL to the BATS B12 proposal was forthcoming; instead, responses from TfL at (and between) Bexley’s transport sub-committee meetings changed from the previous strong negativity about a B12 Sunday service to intimations and hints that there would be very good news ‘soon’. Not in relation to the BATS proposal, but rather as a full service – exactly what had been sought all along.

Whether Bexley’s transport planners had in fact worked up the BATS proposal in the hope of ‘shaming’ TfL into doing the right thing, we may never know, but if TfL had been hoping it wasn’t a serious campaign for a Sunday service and would just go away if they kept saying the money wasn’t there, the BATS proposal certainly called their bluff very effectively.

Buses don't stop here on Sundays - but they soon will!

Buses don’t stop here on Sundays – but they soon will!

Negotiated settlement

Perhaps as a sign of the straitened times TfL now operates in, the phase in which they repeatedly hinted at an imminent good announcement lasted a very long time – something like six to nine months. From what TfL were saying, a lot of this time was spent negotiating with the bus operator, probably trying to squeeze down that estimated £80,000 (which was, after all, the response to an FOI request in the context of them not providing the service, so would presumably have been made as high an estimate as they could realistically state!).

The next Bexley transport users’ sub-committee meeting is next week, and what has finally emerged one week before that? The consultation on introducing a full Sunday service on the B12 bus route, which I’d encourage everyone reading this to respond to very positively!

I use the B12 bus route to visit my parents, who live just outside greater London, 10-15 minutes’ walk from the furthest point of the Kentish B12 loop. It’s my mum’s birthday on the proposed launch date of the new service, 28 April 2013, so I know how we’ll be arriving at her house now. Thanks to everyone involved in this for their work in bringing her this very welcome bonus birthday present!

Update: the consultation closed on 17 April. On 19 April 2013, TfL published the results as follows:

We received a total of 109 responses, 107 of which were submitted online, 1 response came via email, and 1 response was sent in the post. Of these responses 106 were in favour of the proposal, 2 responses were against the proposal, and 1 respondent did not answer.

After considering all the responses, which were overwhelmingly in favour of the proposals, we are now intending to introduce a Sunday service on route B12 to run every 30 minutes from Sunday 28 April 2013.

Their full consultation summary and response is here (PDF).


Public meeting about power cut this Wednesday

A bit of online word of mouth reaches me that this Wednesday, 29 July, there’ll be a public meeting in St. Martin’s church, Barnehurst, about the recent major power cut affecting much of the borough (you know, the one that this entire blog has so far been about).

The event’s Facebook page reads as follows:

To discuss the recent EDF Networks Power Cuts

Host: Saint Martin’s. The Church of England Parish of Barnehurst
Type: Meetings – Informational Meeting
Date: Wednesday, 29 July 2009
Time: 19:30 – 22:30
Location: Saint Martin’s, The Parish Church of Barnehurst, Erith Road, Barnehurst, DA7 6LE

Wednesday 29th of July at 7:30pm (doors open at 6:30pm)

As you will be well aware the recent power cuts in the DA postcode areas have caused much distress to many members of the public. Saint Martin’s Church is hosting a Public Forum to debate and discuss the power cuts and the way that EDF Networks have handled them.

Confirmed members of the panel will include David Evennett MP, Local Councillors, The Head of Bexley Council, Directors and Senior Management from EDF Networks plus other politicians and several members of the press.

Tea and coffee will be served afterwards.For more details please phone The Rev’d. Gareth Bowen [Phone number ‘redacted’ since he has no control over this page]

Not sure who they mean by the ‘Head’ of the council – presumably the Chief Executive, but possibly the Leader.

Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to make this as I’m going to something else in central London that evening. I’d be interested to hear anyone’s reports back from it afterwards though.

Bridging shots

Following my power cut coverage (Powerless in Bexley, Powerful lessons), today I paid a visit to the cable bridge at the centre of the whole thing.

Troubled bridge over waters

My photos, including no fewer than eighteen puns on the word ‘bridge’ (sorry about those), can be seen in this Flickr set.

Powerful lessons

Tower Retail Park and the Crayford clock tower during the power cut
Tower Retail Park and the Crayford clock tower viewed from across the nearby roundabout at 10.20pm on the Wednesday of the power cut.

Thirty-two hours’ continuous power, and counting: it looks like the great Bexley and Dartford power cut of 2009 is over. So what lessons can we take from it?

On the one hand, there have been some particular frustrations over the past few days. Among the more irritating were the incessant burglar alarms affected by losing and regaining power. What possible benefit can there be to anyone from a burglar alarm being designed to sound for hours at a time? If a concerned neighbour hasn’t called the police after ten minutes’ screeching, it seems unlikely that they will do so after 180 (unless, perhaps, they wish to ask them to slap an ASBO on the noise-polluting alarm).

Another frustration was the inaccuracy of the power rota schedules issued by EDF. On both Tuesday and Wednesday I arrived home at what should have been the start of three hours’ electricity, but no power was forthcoming. On the other hand, though, despite an obviously major incident and the repairs being done in power rota schedules issued by EDF. On both Tuesday and Wednesday I arrived home at what should have been the start of three hours’ electricity, but no power was forthcoming.

On the other hand, though, despite an obviously major incident and the repairs being done in an awkward location, we still had power approximately as follows:

Power off Power on
13.15 Monday 23.00 Monday
09.00 Tuesday 21.00 Tuesday
03.00 Wednesday 09.00 Wednesday
12.00 Wednesday 15.00 Wednesday
18.00 Wednesday 00.00 Thursday

That’s a total of almost 37 hours without power, and 22 hours with power, between the first and last of those times. Given the circumstances, this doesn’t seem all that bad. We were in the fortunate position of having family members outside the danger zone to whom we could pass our freezer’s contents, but we haven’t had to throw anything out from the fridge (and aren’t ill from using our milk – yet).

What some may have called a cynical power rota established by EDF to avoid paying compensation to as many of us as possible, I prefer to think of as a victory for Ofgem, the energy regulator. By stipulating that people deprived of electricity for longer than 18 continuous hours would be eligible for compensation, Ofgem encouraged EDF to ensure this didn’t happen to as many affected households as possible, giving people just enough power to keep their fridges ticking over. [Incidentally, I do know that some areas were not so lucky – parts of Dartford and most of Slade Green were without power the entire time, for reasons I don’t think were ever really explained.]

That’s not to ignore the achievements of EDF in the past few days – whether cajoled into them by Ofgem or not, they’ve managed to do what, er, they themselves described as the work of three weeks in three days, with 240 people working in shifts around the clock on repairs and temporary supplies. As in my own (somewhat less high-profile) financial systems office, where my manager came into her element in the crisis, helping ensure as near as possible to a normal service was provided, it looks like workers at EDF really pulled together to dig the area out of its black(ed out) hole.

Crayford station during the power cut
Crayford station, running off a generator, was an island of light amid the darkness at 10.30pm on the Wednesday of the power cut.

All that said, there are serious questions to be asked about how this happened in the first place.

Some News Shopper commenters may be quick to blame the widely reported ‘vandalism’ (which has incidentally long stopped being ‘suspected’ or ‘alleged’ apparently without any new evidence coming to light) on local ‘youths’, but it’s hard to imagine this was some amateur gang of hoodies playing with matches – I think there might’ve been one or two fried, hooded cadavers amid the wires if so. It seems far more likely to have been deliberate sabotage by people who knew what they were doing, or at least people trying to steal metal for resale.

But even putting aside the fact that such people were able to get into the cable bridge – despite its doors, which EDF have been at great pains to emphasise the heaviness and well-lockedness of – the question most troubling me is why there exists such a big, exposed, single point of failure for such a big area of south-east London and Dartford in the first place.

Last night I loaded up Google Earth, stuck a pin in the cable bridge and zoomed out until I could see the whole affected area. By that point the entire bridge was well obscured by the little pin icon and it just seemed astonishing that something so apparently insignificant could cut off all power to such swaths of the suburbs in one fell swoop. Power companies perhaps need to pay more attention to their supplies’ resilience – which perhaps means Ofgem need to start specifying standards for this, too!

One final lesson from all this, though, is perhaps that of the value of microgeneration. If we all had solar panels and/or wind turbines powering our homes’ basic demands, perhaps even feeding back into the grid (earning us the new feed-in tariff while we did so), there would then be no single point of failure any more. If the grid goes down, sure, you might not be able to power three PCs, a plasma screen, an air-conditioner, a vacuum cleaner and a hair-dryer at once, but you could certainly keep your water hot and your freezer cold. I’m hoping to see some nicely targeted leaflets, offering discounted solar and wind powered installations and making reference to the ability to keep going during a power cut, dropping through local letterboxes in the coming weeks – as soon as the local print firms have finished powering up their equipment.

Powerless in Bexley

At 13.15 today, I was enjoying my lunch break in Bexleyheath, watching live footage from the fourth plinth and reading the newspaper, when suddenly the screen went blank and the room went darker – and eerily quiet. There’d been a power cut.

Ten hours later, we’re still suffering the same power cut. This was no localised, temporary blip: I wandered the length of the Broadway to take in the unusual sight of nearly all the shops closed at 5pm and, even more unusually all the lights being switched off; not even administration and failure had managed to dim those of the Woolworths sign.

I walked home to Crayford, carefully negotiating the various road junctions with powered-down traffic light systems, and all the way there was no sign of electricity. It seems the power cut extends the full width of the borough, from Welling to Crayford, plus beyond, into Dartford and perhaps even Orpington. Not only that, but it could take EDF Energy “at least 24-36 hours, maybe longer” to restore power to all those affected.

The total loss of power across almost an entire London borough for even a whole afternoon (let alone over a day, as it now looks like being) would, you might expect, warrant fairly excitable coverage from the capital’s media. BBC London dispatched a reporter live to the scene – well, up the road from the actual scene – of the Soho fire recently, and that hadn’t actually directly affected all that many people. And the fire and vandalism angle (did I mention that? EDF did) adds a nice bit of intrigue and crime for, say, the Evening Standard to get its teeth into.

But what did lucky, electricity-enjoying viewers of BBC London’s 18.30 TV bulletin see about this incident? Nothing at all. Not a mention. And a search on the Standard’s web site for ‘power cut’ still yields no results dated today. It appears it’s not just the national grid we’re cut off from: as far as the London-wide media are concerned, Bexley’s just not worth the train fare from Charing Cross.