Why is it that when a company describes something as “better”, they all too often mean “worse”? Or “totally borked in a quite creatively deranged manner”? Is it some bizarre mental condition that affects marketing departments?
Case in point: my local bus service. In the twenty-something years I’ve lived here, this has worked reasonably well. There are two services: the 53, which goes in a clockwise loop, and the 54 which goes anti-clockwise. This has been quite handy, as if I want to get home from Gateshead, I can catch whichever one comes first. One takes a wee bit longer than the other, but not enough longer to be a problem. And when I want to go into Gateshead, if the 54 is a bit late, I can cross the road and get the 53. The only difference, apart from the slightly longer journey to Gateshead, is that the 54 continues over the river to Newcastle and the 53 terminates at Gateshead Metro station. This makes the 54 handy for when I need to get the bus into work. It even stops just around the corner from the office. That’s about the only thing that isn’t being changed.
But things are about to change. And as far as I can see, the changes are for the worse. Certainly worse for me, and quite likely worse for a lot of other people too.
The big change is that the loop (so to speak) is being stretched. The 53, rather than returning to Gateshead via Bensham Road will now go over to Newcastle via the Redheugh Bridge, then cross through the city before resuming its present route over the Tyne Bridge. The 54 does much the same thing in the opposite direction. On the website, they tell us:
Following customer research, these services will have an extra bus added to the timetables to improve frequency and reliability, and give better access to Newcastle City Centre with a new direct link via Redheugh Bridge.
Now, I can believe that some people when asked, did say that they’d like the buses to serve more parts of Newcastle City Centre. Until not that long ago, the 54 continued to Grainger Street before returning to Gateshead. This route was curtailed because traffic congestion was causing unacceptable delays to services, especially at peak times. The new route goes further: running along Neville Street, past Newcastle Central Station. Now the buses used to go that way some years ago, but this too was changed because of traffic delays. Neville Street gets very busy in the early evenings, and running the bus along that route is sure to add more delays to the service. I suspect their extensive research missed the bit where people said they’d like their buses frequent and on time. Not to mention the bit about not being keen on frequent increases in fares.
A further alteration is that the 53, instead of travelling south on Brinkburn Avenue, will divert to go south on Rectory Road. The 54 isn’t getting this change, which is a nice recipe for confusion. It’s usual for the bus for your return journey to stop across the road from where you arrived, rather than four streets uphill. As a lot of people use these services to visit Saltwell Park, this is not a very friendly move. I suspect that this has something to so with the roads being a bit narrow, and buses sometimes having trouble getting past parked cars, but I don’t like it at all. For me, it means that not only do I only have one bus service rather than two which can get me home from Gateshead, but that the one service remaining won’t even take me home any more. I’ll either have to walk down from Whitehall Road or up from Rectory Road. And as the only times I take the bus home are when I’m carrying something heavy or the weather is a bit rough, this is not a Good Thing at all.
Now all this wouldn’t be too bad if the buses were frequent enough to absorb the loss of the useful alternative (most people seem to live on parts of the route where either service gets them where they need to be) and indeed the inevitable delays caused by running through the middle of Newcastle. So, how frequent will the buses be? Well, it’s impossible to tell. They’ve had nice leaflets printed, which include maps showing the new routes and with detailed timetables. These show the same 20 minute frequency in the evenings (so that’s half as many buses, thanks…). But what about the daytime? All they’ll admit to is a “frequent service”. Which is not helpful at all. Is that every three minutes? I doubt it. Every five minutes? Naah. Every ten minutes if you’re lucky would be my guess.
This reminds me of the time a few years back when they reduced the frequency of the service. It used to be every seven or eight minutes, then reduced to every nine minutes before being taken to every ten minutes. After the last reduction, they started running adverts about the “high-frequency service”. Perhaps they count time differently in bus companies.
Now all this mangling of a reasonably functional service into what looks like a complete mess is annoying enough. But what really annoys me is the slogan on the leaflet. Over a picture of a bus with a new logo painted on it, it says
The 53 54 Saltwell Park
A Better Bus Service
Errr, better than what? Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick? Better than no bus service at all? Certainly not better than the service it’s replacing.
Go North East are inviting customer comments on the service. Now I’ve calmed down from my initial reaction, I might just let them have some.