Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Schoolboy Memories!

I hope my Twitter friend @lambandflag doesn't mind me using his excellent pic of a mk1 Metrobus!

This is preserved 6835 - one of 5 prototypes that led to over a 1000 of the type being built locally by Metro-Cammell for the West Midlands.

I'll never forget the first time I ever saw one - parked up in Stourbridge garage. The front of the garage doubled as a mini bus station - imagine the Health & Safety concerns of doing that now!

It looked very futuristic at the time, and - by golly - it had "coach" type seats which looked a million more times comfortable than the red practical but very boring red vinyl seating that adorned the Daimler Fleetlines - my usual mode of transport to school!

Harts Hill garage had some Metrobuses - and they became regular performers on my school route. Of course, that only added to my growing interest in public transport!

Mk2 versions later appeared, but I didn't like them so much - good buses that they were.

And it was only last year that the final mk2 was finally withdrawn from regular West Midlands service.

So when this pic of 6835 popped up on my Twitter this evening - looking resplendent in it's home at the Wythall bus museum - it brought back a whole load of memories! She's gorgeous!

picture by @lambandflag

Preaching to the "won't be budged"

Notwithstanding the albeit rare example of a waste of precious resource I talked about in my previous post, public transport - and buses in particular - remain the best option for mass transportation. That, of course, may seem blindingly obvious.
But in an age where, if you use the roads, you won't go far without encountering some form of congestion or delay, consider these words from a "leading businessman" in the West Midlands:
"People who travel in cars pay tax which subsidises those who travel by public transport. Cars are becoming more environmentally friendly with reduced emissions but Centro is still determined to get people out of them, showing it is out of touch with the lives of ordinary hard-working people".
That is a quote from Chris Kelly, who owns Keltruck, a dealership which sells lorries, in the Express & Star (27/05/11) in response to Centro plans to bid for Government money under the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.
Centro is bidding for £41.8m in total, but is pledging £12.4 of our local Council Tax as part of this.
The plan is to encourage more use of public transport by making it relevant to people who ordinarily don't use public transport. This is proposed to be achieved by such things as personalised journey planners, more awareness of public transport (and by golly, we need more of that!), the development of mobile phone technology so that people know where their bus is, and more understanding of the potential for car sharing.
All very laudable aims.
But you'd expect that from me - you've probably gathered by reading this blog that I'm passionate about good public transport and the wider role in society it plays, and has the potential to play. I welcome this initiative.
But why the hand-wringing and belly-aching from a bloke who sells trucks?
Does he not appreciate the traffic nightmare that is often the West Midlands or, lets face it, any large urban conurbation that for large chunks of the day is snarled up with traffic? What price is that traffic congestion having on our already under pressure economy?
Yes, cars are getting more environmentally friendly (as are buses - we're getting a load of new "hybrid" vehicles soon that are much cleaner than their already decent diesel cousins), and if we finally get the "dream" of electric cars, charged from power points dotted around the streets, we'll be even better.
But if we don't try to make inroads into the AMOUNT of vehicles on our roads, we'll still have ever increasing traffic congestion - however "green" it may be.
When we pay our Council Tax, we entrust it to councils and organisations to spend it wisely. That, of course, is open to debate that won't ever get resolved!
But this seems to me to be a great idea to try and make our vast public network web relevant to people - I have enough difficulty trying to do that in the pub on a Saturday night!
We all accept the argument that not everyone can use the bus or train. That is blindingly obvious. But the truth is that SOME people could - if only they understood it, felt comfortable using it, could rely on it and felt that they were experiencing something that was value for money and that they would use it more regularly.
For that to happen, we need to put the many pieces of the jigsaw together, and despite the million bus journeys made in Centro-land every day (and we should be proud of that) there is still an awfully long way to go.
We need to spend public money for the public good. Just because I didn't require the services of the fire brigade last year doesn't mean that I begrudge paying for it. Likewise Centro needs to be given money to carry out the many good things it does every year.
And certain businessmen need to look beyond their blinkers.

What A Waste!

It was, of course, Ian Dury and his Blockheads who coined the phrase "What A Waste" into pop music immortality.

They surely weren't to know that a bloke who writes blogs on something as mundane as bus travel would nick the famous line.

But nick it, I have. And I make no apologies for returning to the theme of a previous whinge on this here blog.

The shenanigans continue, as captured by my iphone today.

The story so far:

Black Country route 226 is one of those that meanders just about anywhere between its 2 terminal points - Merry Hill and Dudley. You'd never drive that way in the car. And for those who've collared me to tell me about how they "caught this bus that went all over the place" - well - it's just one of those curiosities of bus travel. You have fast routes, and ones that go around the houses (see earlier blog post).

The 226 effectively was three-quarters of the old 264/5 circular routes abandoned by the big boys Travel West Midlands (as they were then) back in the Dudley Network Review of 2008.

It probably explains a lot when the largest operator by far abandons it and leaves it to Hansons - a tiny operator in comparison - to have a go. Hansons themselves were running short journeys on the route at the time, so it made sense for them to extend the route to cover most of what was withdrawn. A reasonable outcome.

And so it was.

226 is one of those "around the houses" routes that will never be a huge money-spinner. Whenever I ride on it, it carries a large proportion of concessionary pass holders. But bravo to Hansons, who have managed to carve out something of a niche market in the Black Country with a small network of similar services.

So, it left me bewildered when I noticed that Diamond - who run the evenings and Sunday Centro tender on the route - had registered a commercial daytime service. And 5 minutes ahead of Hansons on what is a 30 minute frequency.

I can almost understand it when small(er) operators register on large operators high-frequency routes. They want a slice of the pie. Unseemly as that may be, the rules are thus. Everything is above board.

And thus the rules are in play in this scenario.

But it's absolute madness in this example.

The route is, I guess, comfortable with a 30 minute frequency. 4 buses an hour is unsustainable and a ridiculous waste of resources. And when you have one 5 minutes in front of the other, it becomes farcical.

Now, the game has taken another twist. For apart from both competing with £2 day returns and 70p flat fares for early bird concessionary pass holders, Hansons have registered 5 minutes back in front of Diamond.

I've been sporadically riding up and down the route over the past few weeks. Diamond has even put out branded vehicles - "The Swift 226", they call it. (Hardly, for the aforementioned occasional users who are bewildered by the route it takes!)

Hansons continue to use their well-presented Enviro 300 and Darts - there is no lack of quality from both operators.

But I'm sorry - it is silly. Plain silly.

There have been letters to the paper. It is the topic of conversation amongst the chattering classes on board. And when they run one behind the other (as in the picture), people stop and stare.

The picture I snapped just after I'd got off shows 1 passenger on the Hansons bus. I'd just got off the Diamond one behind,which had precisely none.

Fair enough, this was mid afternoon, and morning journeys can get rather busy, but you see the point?

They don't always get this close. And to be fair, I've not noted many breaches of the Traffic Commissioner guidelines from either side, but that doesn't detract from the sheer farce of what is going on.

So now we await the next twist in this saga.

Is this really what Nicholas Ridley - Thatcher's Transport Man - envisaged back in 1986? But if he didn't, he was surely being short-sighted. Whilst the industry has greatly matured over the years, and much of the deregulated world has a lot going for it, the totally free market is always susceptible to this kind of activity.

But quite why Diamond has chosen this seemingly backwater route for a battle Royale is any one's guess. Whatever, it doesn't hold the bus industry in good light.

There is much to discuss and contemplate in the Competition Commission's initial findings to their bus industry investigation - and a lot more when the final report is unveiled.

But if there is a suggestion that something can be put in place to address such woeful, pointless competition, I'll be scanning it with interest!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Letters of Confusion

Back in the days of Birmingham City Transport (before my time - but I've seen the pictures), there were all sorts of letters added to route numbers to distinguish small diversions or short runnings, etc. Whether the travelling public ever fully understood them is of course open to debate.
But public transport - and buses in particular - needs to be as simple to use and understand as it can possibly be to attract new users.
That's why I sometimes despair when I see displays on the front of buses that appear to be a code that forms part of some puzzle book challenge.
Over the last couple of weeks here in the West Midlands, I've seen the following:
96_X, E222, A297 and a 257E with no destination blinds at all.
What does this all mean?
"96_X" should be "X96". Despite the fact that whoever wound the numbers up was looking back to front (or was too idle to correct it), "X" gives the impression that it's some sort of express service. Except that for much of it's journey, the X96 actually observes every stop.
"E222" should also be the other way around as "222E". But what does "E" mean? Actually, I'm told it means "exception" and usually is a short working of the full route. But does anyone really understand this? "222E" operates from Dudley to Halesowen, but "E" journeys terminate half way along at Merry Hill. So why not differentiate with "221"? And with buses operating different journeys along different lengths of route throughout the day, the side and back displays are often opposite to what is on the front.
"A297" should be "297A" - but what does the "A" do apart from potentially confuse intending passengers? "A" sometimes means "anti-clockwise" (in the case of the famous Outer Circle route) - but in this case means that it goes slightly off-route on a Saturday. The users of the 297 also have to contend with a 297B on Sundays - extending to Stourbridge on one end of the route, but missing out Dudley and instead serving Sedgley on the other! Are you still with me?
And what about "257E"? Well, if you're lucky enough to know that "E" means "exception" and will be terminating somewhere short of its destination, you won't be able to see where, as the bus had no blinds.
Of course, as buses gain digital displays, this will become less of an issue, although the use of some letters in some areas will still exist. In Birmingham, on the 50 route, the digital destinations now show "short journey", which is probably more understandable, but there are still an awful lot of traditional roller blinds in operation in the Black Country.
Why does all of this matter?
It's a bit like my other rant - branded buses on the wrong route.
You might think that as long as passengers get to where they want to go, what's the problem?
On the face of it, fair enough. But to me it gives the impression of an industry that doesn't care.
Invariably on my Saturday nights in the pub over my cheese cob and pint, people will tell me that they don't understand buses and that the car on their drive is there to be used.
I'm going to have a job convincing them to try using the bus, but it isn't made any easier by the sight of jumbled up letters and numbers on the front of buses, nor having a bright orange bus telling me I can go to Birmingham Markets on it, when quite plainly I can't.
Some bus operators have great networks that are easy to understand and are simplicity itself. But here in the Black Country, we still have a long way to go if our drivers can't even get the numbers and letters 2,9,7 & A in the correct order......

Friday, 27 May 2011

Bank Holiday Service!

How many Bank Holidays are we having this year? OK, because of THE wedding, we've only had one more, but it does seem like loads....
And we have another one looming on Monday.
But despite the inevitable news report that will show gridlock on the roads as us Brits up sticks for yet another "getaway", why are the vast majority of our bus services on Sunday service?
There may be the usual engineering work on the rail network, but at least they're running a mainly Saturday timetable.
Locally, I'm thinking of places like the Severn Valley Railway over the border (but less than 10 miles away) in Worcestershire, the Safari Park, the quaint town of Bewdley, the South Staffs village of Kinver....the list goes on. These are places that on Mon-Sat, can be reached by one direct bus. "Sunday service" decrees them out of bounds, unless you have a car and want to add to your blood pressure levels as well as the CO2 levels.
It used to be that Boxing Day buses were a no-no in the West Midlands, until some brave soul at Centro decided a few years ago to try experimenting with a limited service. They are now well-established.
So how have we got to a default position whereby Bank Holiday bus services are "Sunday" levels, but trains are much more "as normal"? "Tradition"? Premium payments to driving staff that wouldn't be recouped in fares?
In the meantime, cue letters to local papers letters pages all over the country which will make the point that "the Governmet wants us out of our cars and onto buses - but we tried on Bank Holiday Monday and failed miserably"......

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

More seats?

I'm probably being very naive here, and I'm sure someone will explain it to me, but how can Virgin Trains magic an extra 3500 seats for some London/Birmingham - Glasgow services in response to the ash cloud difficulties?
Why can't we have an extra 3500 seats every day?

The Romance of the Railways

There's nothing I like better than a slow tootle down the Severn Valley Railway.
Much as HS2 excites me, or the impending new rolling stock on the Stourbridge line, or the future potential for reopening old rail lines using Parry People Movers, appreciation of the past is good for the soul.
In the current edition of Classic Bus magazine, editor Ray Stenning writes a very thoughtful column about enthusiasm for buses themselves within the industry.
"It's as if enjoying the history and culture of the very business you make your living from means you're inferior to someone who simply does it as a job", says Ray.
And he's right!
Ever since I can remember I've been a bus & rail enthusiast. And I've lived with the strange looks for a lifetime.
Ray goes on to observe "Why is it fine to be an absolute petrolhead and brag about your unbridled passion for cars and motoring - braying in the pub or around a dinner table about how tumultuously excited you get about the burble from an Aston Martin V8 engine? Yet mention the thrum of a Gardner 6LW, or anything else about a bus, and you will run the risk of total ostracism by your colleagues and people thinking you're a suitable case for a visit by a social worker".
Of course it's OK not to love buses and trains if you work with them. I never really got emotionally attached to hospital trolleys when I worked in the NHS. But Ray picks up on something I've noticed before in the transport world.
Of course it's important to keep things in perspective. Buses, trains, trams and coaches have jobs to do every hour of every day. They are part of the fabric of our daily lives.
But in many ways, this is the point! There are many of us who celebrate this, and the history of how we got to where we are today.
The phrase "The Romance of the Railways" evokes many images. Many of which are brought back to life in places such as the Severn Valley Railway. Back in the halcyon days of the 30s when train travel represented a great adventure for many,owning a car was not an option for many. Trips to the seaside, to London, and to other far away places were great life experiences, and the train and bus were integral parts of these experiences.
Of course, life moves on, and in our faster, more hectic lifestyles of today, the train and bus maybe mean different things to different people, although an essential part of life they remain.
But remembering, appreciating and preserving our transport heritage is so important.
Whilst of course, the efforts of the volunteers at the Severn Valley Railway and other similar undertakings are without question priceless, celebrating our transport heritage in a modern-day setting is something that particularly pleases me to see.
Today, Chiltern Railways have celebrated their restoration of Leamington Spa station. In doing so, they have recreated the experience of travel in the 30s, but in a functional setting that is used by commuters and travellers every day. It is a wonderfully tasteful way of celebrating our heritage and history, and follows the theme they have applied to London Marylebone and Birmingham Moor Street stations. The magnificent restoration of St. Pancras in London is another example of celebrating our transport heritage in a modern, functional setting.
Modern is good and the future may be bright, but lets raise a glass to the transport pioneers of the past who got us to where we are today, and to those who have the vision to be able to recreate elements of that past into a useable setting today.
We can be both proud of our transport past, appreciative of our transport "current" and optimisitic of our transport future!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Transport Under The Microscope - Good News For Users?

To us regular riders of all things public transport, the organisation and regulation of it is rarely fully understood (apart from the more "enthusiastic" amongst us, who actually spend our evenings reading things like the Competition Commission Inquiry into Bus Services - little wonder I'm not married....)
Most aren't really interested - after all, public transport is a means to getting somewhere else (again, apart from the more enthusiastic amongst us who know our Routemasters from our Enviro 400s...)
However, 2 recent heavy tomes have been published which take a detailed look into how our buses and trains operate - and could have long-term implications on those of us at the bus stop and/or station platform.
Britain's deregulated buses and privatised (but still heavily regulated) trains have been under the microscope - but what's in it for us?
First, the buses.
The Competition Commission has published its initial findings into how our mostly private bus operators carry on. One industry pundit proclaimed that all the report really does is "state the bleeding obvious" - and I can't really disagree with that sentiment.
But nevertheless, it lays bare some of the shortcomings of the industry - such as wasteful anti-competitive head-to-head competition (something I was moaning about in a previous blog post) - whilst not mentioning at all the biggest issue facing bus passengers - traffic congestion. Never mind competition (or lack of it) between bus operators - what about acknowledging the true competitor to the bus: the private car?
Yes, the report is correct to highlight the need for more multi-operator ticketing - and the need for that ticketing to be competitively priced. And if we finally get some action on reckless operators registering 5 minutes ahead of another, it'll be worth it.
It's interesting how the report highlights the dominance of the 5 major bus operating groups. Again, stating "the bleeding obvious", but this isn't always a default "bad" situation. Large, or semi-large operators in an area can bring stability and a decent network, although the report acknowledges that complacency can set in given these scenarios.
But what, eventually, will all this mean for us passengers?
We notice when the bus is late. This investigation does nothing to address that. We notice when the bus is untidy and dirty. But if we had more competition from different bus operators on a route, would we really wait for a more tidy bus?
There are many within the industry who didn't want this investigation. And in many ways, the jury on that is out until the final recommendations come through in quite a few months time. Ultimately, we'll have to wait and see if Transport Secretary Philip Hammond accepts and implements the final offering to see if our lot at the bus stop really is improved.
For rail users, McNulty is the man on people's lips. Well, within the rail industry anyway.
His investigation into Britain's railways has certainly got the unions into a lather for various reasons. But Beeching he is thankfully not.
For all sorts of strange reasons, rail is enjoying a boom time the bus industry could only dream of. Strange in that the whole collective of UK rail commuters appears to be united in getting hot under the collar about "eye-watering" fare prices, overcrowding and ridiculously complicated ticketing. And yet we're using more trains more times than ever since the halcyon days of the 20s.
McNulty proposes all sorts of remedies to arrest the cost of running the railways - which is apparently far higher than our European neighbours and much more than when it used to be good old British Railways. Curiously, he also didn't even consider any form of renationalisation - even on a hypothetical basis.
Instead, there are proposals to get more of us using the dreaded automated ticket machines and reduce human beings in ticket offices - something London Midland recently proposed - and was met with a barrage of opposition.
Some ideas seem decent - longer franchises mean that train operators will have more incentive to invest - but plans to raise some off-peak fares even more?
We must avoid at all costs a scenario where the railway at certain times becomes entirely pre-booked. Cheap Internet fares can be good, but the whole fare structure needs simplifying once and for all. How have we got to a situation whereby I can ask the ticket clerk for a Wolverhampton to Manchester return in peak hours and by asking for it to be split at Stoke on Trent, I can save over £20 simply because I'm "in the know"?
Scrutiny of our transport systems can be a good thing if it leads to genuine improvements for the millions of people who use it every day. Let's hope we do see better public transport as a result of these reports and that it's not a box-ticking exercise.....

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

You Gotta (Bacon) Roll With It! Creating Public Transport Desire....

Excuse the (nearly) Oasis lyrics - I was looking for a title for my new ramble - why the humble bacon roll means so much more to rail commuters.
Well, Chiltern commuters, to be more specific.
My Facebook friends and Twitter followers know only too well when I'm on the Chiltern train to London. I've no doubt there is a collective sigh at my impending excitement of the appearance of the refreshment trolley, somewhere south of Solihull, which appears on my little bit of cyber-space. Indeed it has become a little bit of fun with the innovative peeps of Chiltern Railway's Twitter team - who have foisted upon me the title of "Bacon Roll Ambassador"! I even got to meet 2 of them recently at Marylebone - a great experience!
Why am I jabbering on about the humble Chiltern bacon roll? (Actually, it's a ciabatta, to be precise....)
Because it's an incredibly simple but deadly effective example of an organisation winning - and keeping - my loyalty.
Some sectors are well-versed in this. Supermarkets are forever trying new ways to keep us coming through their doors. Public transport is, however, in the main, somewhat different.
If I didn't like Asda, for whatever minuscule reason, I could easily go to Tesco. Or Sainsburys. Or any other number of outlets. They have to try hard to keep my loyalty. Creating that desire to "revisit" with public transport is somewhat different.
And yet public transport so desperately collectively needs to do this. It needs to say to people "come back - use us again and again. And feel satisfied doing this". Not "come onto what we offer or lump it", which all too often is still the case.
Wasn't this Thatcher & Ridley's dream in the 80s when they cooked up de-regulated bus services? Did it turn out that way? Not really.
Choice is often a good thing. But in the world of buses in particular it often hasn't turned out this way. One of my previous blog posts about the infamous "5 minutes in front of the other bus" gives "choice" as an example I guess, but do the public really decide to show loyalty to the 2nd bus company which is 5 minutes down the road? Not unless they've got an operator-specific ticket. And then, when the service is only, say, every half-hour, they'll probably resent the bus industry in general for making them stand in the cold and let a bus that's going their way pass by in order to use the next one because their ticket is only valid on the second one. Hardly an industry "creating desire", in that type of example.
But sometimes the reverse is true. No competition creates slackness. It says "come on my bus, because it's your only choice if you don't drive".
That's a pretty downbeat analysis, I know, and I can give you plenty of examples of superb public transport that really is setting the benchmark. Indeed, bus livery designer Ray Stenning really has "created desire" as his Best Impressions design company uses as its strapline. It makes public transport look good from the outside, which is half the battle to start with.
So what does this all have to do with a bacon roll?
It's all part of a jigsaw that subconsciously lures my loyalty to a product - in this case that of a train company.
Where I live in the Black Country gives me something of a rarity in public transport terms - a genuine choice when I need to travel to London regularly for meetings.
I can choose the relatively fast option of Virgin, the slower but cheaper London Midland, the possibly more convenient Chiltern or the even cheaper but less frequent National Express coach service.
So why do I more often than not end up on a Chiltern train down to the smoke?
It's really not just the lure of the bacon rasher all dressed up in its Italian covering.
But it's the combination of a little bit of good customer service, convenience, price and that je ne sais quoi.....
Yes, I do use the other options from time to time - Chiltern don't get it their own way all of the time. But I consider journey time, do I have to change, (public transport users don't like to change!), price and, ultimately, how do I feel about my journey experience, given that I make it fairly regularly.
Add all of these up and I tend to travel with Chiltern.
But add on the now semi-legendary tweetings about the bacon, and it creates a feel-good bookmark inside my sub-conscious - here's a product I'm happy with: I'll use it again.
For all it's foibles, the rail industry doesn't do too badly. Passenger Focus research ranks the majority of people reasonably content with what they get. The bus industry also - maybe surprisingly to some - gets decent marks.
But as I travel around, I see the very best of what public transport has to offer and wonder just why it really can't be all like that.
Simplistic I know, and I'm sure many within the respective industries could wax lyrical as to why their company isn't up there with the best on offer.
The best simply have a "can do" attitude" and have stakeholders and partnerships that don't always need formal agreements to achieve that special gold dust.
If only we could have some more of that special gold dust.
And more bacon ciabattas.

The Green Red Bus!

Everyone knows that travelling by bus is better for the environment. I tell them in the pub every Saturday night.

But seriously (!), there are the doubters who still claim that buses are big dirty, smelly things that ooze black smoke and ought to be banned from the roads (in order for even more cars to fill their places - that's an environmentally sound vision, don't you think?!)

Currently gathering momentum is the Government's "Green Bus Fund". Over £45m worth of funding has been made available to the bus industry so far to buy significantly "greener" buses - and by this, the Government means vehicles that produce at least 30% lss co2 emissions than standard ones. Over 540 buses are either in service or on order - the vast majority being an electric/diesel hybrid.

Add these to the many 1000s of Euro 4/5 type diesel engines running around our country and the picture is a lot less "dirty" than the doom-mongers would have us think.

I had a go on one of these "hybrids" in London yesterday (pic above). It looks like a "normal" bus, rides like a "normal" bus and by golly, was it nippy in the London traffic!

It's perhaps a good fit that the most numbers of this type of hybrid technology are running in London. Despite the Congestion Charge, the Capital's streets remain choked with traffic,and air quality may not be great. It's great to see the bus industry, with Government support, rising to this challenge.

I'm no technological expert, but I hope that this is technologyn we can build on. I recall attending the launch of Gas-powered buses in the West Midlands back in 1996. That didn't seem to catch on, and the vehicles themselves were quietly re-engined to normal diesel ones. I also wonder how Stagecoach's (and others) chip-fat powered buses are getting on?

It' a relatively exciting time for alternative power - especially in the bus world.

And if it gives us such a gorgeous livery like the one in the picture (although I understand that TfL's latest hybrid vehicles make less of a play on their importance via a livery), so much the better!

Monday, 2 May 2011

You Dirty RATP

Whilst for us single blokes, the lasting legacy of the Royal Wedding is our acquaintance (at least via TV) and future relationship-status-checking with Pippa Middleton, for us transporty-types the build up to the big day allowed those of us perusing the rolling news channels to look a bit further than the news-hound (or hound-ess) presenter to the passing red buses outside Westminster Abbey. Yes, one knows one does take ones enthusiasm for public transport a tad too far.....(indeed I ended up tweeting the fact that I'd seen a Norwood Garage Trident on Route 2 held up whilst the Bride's Mother left for the nuptials - a fact also not missed amongst the anorak Twitter followers I have......)

So why the title?

Well, amongst the 24s "going green" outside the Abbey, we regularly witnessed something that maybe wasn't so quintessentially British amongst the proceedings.

Daily Mail readers have already seen the splutterings of one of their journos - the very brass-necked-ness of the French! For those who aren't aware, the French state organisation RATP - Regie Autonome des Transports Parisiens - which in English translates into Autonomous Operator of Parisian Transports, now operates what used to be Transdev's London United operation in TfL land. Ironically, Transdev were French, and equally ironic has been the return of the "London United" name, which disappeared off the sides of their buses.

But this hasn't stopped the cries of "le fowl" amongst the "disgusted of TfL land".

The logo even attempts to show the River Seine flowing through France's Capital.

It's all a far cry from when the anonymous suits in 55 Broadway ran everything.

But is all of this a large Gaelic hullabaloo about nowt?

The descendants of the 55 Broadway lot still specify the service. The vehicles themselves may not be British. And anyway - London is such a cosmopolitan City, what's the big deal with a bunch of Parisians claiming a little bit of their national onions on our famous red buses? We're all European now......

The Germans run some of my local trains. The 2 largest bus groups in Britain have their roots in Scotland. 10 miles down the road from me in Kidderminster, the green buses of Whittles are ultimately controlled by a Yorkshireman. Is Calais any further away from me than Aberdeen?

And yet buses are local creatures. Who amongst us (in our anoraks at least) doesn't miss Midland Red, Ribble and Southdown? I nearly got mowed down by a Land Rover sprinting across the road like an excited child in Llandudno the other week to take a picture of an Arriva bus painted in the colours of the erstwhile Crosville (to celebrate what would have been that company's centenary).

For the rest of us who don't see buses in an enthusiast light, "localness" may be all fine and dandy (The Go Ahead Group have demonstrated how local branding can really add value and customer-loyalty to proceedings) - but ultimately, whether it's one of Brian's Stagecoachs, Gilles's Barbie pink corporates or Peter's Worcestershire-cum-Yorkshire Whittle buses, all us passengers want is for it to arrive on time, get to where we want on time, and for it to be clean, comfortable and reasonably-priced.

And if our French friends can provide that in Central London can do that - vive la France!

As one of their footballers - a certain Mr Ginola once proclaimed for some hair product or other - "I am worth it".........