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May 2005 - Request Stop

Those of you poor souls out there who have become addicted to this regular, monthly rambling will be all too well aware that Nick Harvey has a very limited range of subjects on which he is likely to write at any length, or with any regularity.

Not only does this range appear to be strictly limited, but a further restriction appears to be imposed by the season of the year, or even the specific month for which an edition of Comment is being produced.

Looking back over my list of epistles for the last few years, for instance, seems to prove that May has something of a tendency to be a transport month.

I was considering this fact the other day and wondering what on earth May has to do with transport.  Apart from spring springing and the need to get out and about to take advantage of longer days and better weather, I really haven't a clue, yet this odd connection has been with us for a good few years now and appears to be continuing.

So I shall assume, correctly or otherwise, that being the totally observant viewers that you are, that you've all been waiting patiently, poised on the edges of your seats, for the first of May, so you can be enthralled once again with transportational tales of exceeding excellence.

I mean, who am I to deprive you of such delights now you've become so accustomed to them?  We appear to have had caravans, buses and somewhat inexperienced drivers as our topics for May in recent years, yet I shall make little or no apology for returning to one of those subjects for 2005.

I note from the Correspondence Column that even Mr G of Wiltshire has had transport on his mind of late, so I suppose I'd better get on with it and produce the goods, as they say.

What ever happened to the conductor climbing to the heights of the upper deck, opening the little flap at the front, winding the little handle and, at a stroke, changing the number 40 to Birchgrove into a number 24 to Whitchurch?

Additionally, what ever happened to the schoolboy who would wait for the conductor to return below, open the little flap again, wind the little handle again and change the poor, unsuspecting number 24 into a number 9 for the Pier Head?

The first of those questions shall be addressed at some length in this month's exciting edition of Comment.  The second shall be left severely alone and swept under the carpet, for fear that the June edition might fail to appear due to the writer being busy doing community service, or whatever it is you get for tampering with transport.

"Oh, those were the days" as you MIGHT just have heard Nick Harvey say, once or twice, in the past.

Buses of today have given up on the rolls of neatly printed fabric which used to be wound back and forward to show the correct details of the destination through the glass panels at the front and back.

On the rare occasions that you're not "one man operated" and actually have a conductor to pass the time of day with, I doubt he'd have as much idea of how to operate the printed fabric winder, behind the little flap, as last month's spotty youth had operating his dial telephone.

Just as an aside, by the way, after all a Comment without a digression would be about as unlikely as a bus without another one directly behind, why are buses still "one man operated" I'm forced to wonder?   Surely the politically correct brigade ought to have had them made "one person operated" by now, so the one person can thoroughly shake up all their passengers when driving over a badly fitting person hole cover.

And when did clippies stop being clippies and become conductors, I could also ponder.  In my days of using public transport you had a clippie in charge of your bus, leaving the conductor to worry about the orchestra.

Anyway, to return to the major thrust of this month's epic, before I go off at a tangent to the tangent at which I've already gone off, we were talking about transportational signage, were we not?

Yes, the roll of printed fabric and it's associated mechanism seem to have been replaced by an electronic display panel, front and back, controlled from a keyboard adjacent to the driver's position.

The driver uses the keyboard to either select one of the pre-programmed destination messages already held deep within the machine, or he can type in a "free format" message of his own, given that he has the required advanced level of typing skills.

I assume all the pre-programmed messages must have been loaded up from some master machine, back at the depot.  I say this because any spelling errors and other oddities are always exactly the same across a wide range of different buses.

All our local buses spent a couple of weeks, recently, indicating that they were going to Brickley Road.  The fact that Brickley Lane exists and Brickley Road does NOT, didn't stop it being wrong on a number of different buses for quite a long time.

The other masterpiece I've noticed in the last month or so is a number of different buses heading for somewhere called "Pewsey and Line 11 Corrupt", wherever that might be.  The wonders of technology, eh?

But don't be fooled, dear viewer, it's not just the buses which are becoming technology laden, it's the bloomin' bus stops as well.  Round this neck of the woods we're also having the twinkling little digital displays fitted at those.

Just occasionally these displays will give you useful information like the fact that the Salisbury bus will be along in three minutes and the Westbury one in seven.

Most of the time, however, the display reads "No Data" or "System Under Test", or "Refer to Timetable for Bus Times", all of which are incredibly unhelpful to the weary traveller, especially when he realises how much higher his fare is about to be to pay for all this useless technology.

Even when information IS displayed, I can't help thinking that it's not all that reliable.

As a PROPER road user, with my own motor car, I find it easiest to read the signs at the bus stops on the opposite side of the road to the one I'm using, as I drive along.

If you see the sign saying that the Salisbury bus is due in three minutes, as you drive in the opposite direction, you'd expect to cross with that Salisbury bus in something LESS than three minutes, would you not?  No way!

In my experience, whatever time is displayed at the bus stop must be doubled, and then a bit more added on for good measure.

So why do they bother, I ask myself.  They've had this sort of display on the Tube in London for years and, in the main, it's totally accurate.  So why are they foisting it on the unsuspecting rural bus user before it's working properly, I want to know.

In common with many an other Comment question over the many years, I suspect we'll never know the answer to these.

In fact, the in-depth investigation in this month's edition of Comment seems to have come up with its answers about as efficiently as the bus companies have introduced new information technology, doesn't it?

Perhaps I should retire from this writing lark and go on a bus tour of the nation instead?

No, no, NO, bus tours of the nation have been done to death over the last couple of weeks, haven't they?  I'll give that one a miss, I think.

So, by the time I'm back with the next stupendous edition on June 1st, we'll have a brand new government installed.   Well, probably.  That's unless they're still arguing over the hanging chads on the postal votes.

Now, make sure you're on time for next month's epistle, please.  That Mr G of Wiltshire was VERY late reading last month so I had to give him quite a severe reprimand.  I'd hate to have to do it to any of the rest of you.  Right, I'm off, where's me bus pass?

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