Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Which Bus Do I Want?

One of the things I found strange when I moved to Ipswich was the number of bus companies.

Any web search will reveal Ipswich Buses, one of the few bus companies in the country in which the local council still have a stake! A quick trip to the office at Tower Ramparts will even furbish you with paper copies of the route map, various timetables and multi-ride tickets.

However, depending on your route across Ipswich, you'll also spot the bus garage at the Cattle Market. Here one finds the office for First buses and, once again, it's possible to collect maps and timetables, and to buy tickets.

But it doesn't take long before one notices that each office supplies only information about their 'own' buses. So, if you want to catch an Ipswich Bus into the town centre and then catch a First bus to the coast, you will need to visit both offices (or both websites) to collect all the relevant information.

While waiting for a bus at the Cattle Market, it quickly becomes apparent that even this isn't the end of the story. There is now a direct link to the airport, supplied by Airport by Coach. Plus there is the Park and Ride service, Carters Coach Services, Beestons, Simonds and Galloway. All with their own offices, websites, timetables and ticketing systems. The fact that Far East Travel ceased trading in March 2012 has reduced the problem slightly! (A Soames & Sons may also have joined them, or they may just not have a website.)

Suffolk County Council, with their Suffolk On Board website has tried to address the problem of finding out about the local buses, but their maps are colourful but not very useful and, without access to a PC, the information is not easily obtained. I did, once, pick up a copy of their route map when I was at the Ipswich Music Day, but they didn't have any maps available at last year's Music Day.

If you want information about how to get from Point A to Point B then you have to resort to the traveline website, and it's unclear which buses this covers.

Bus deregulation was brought in, by the Tories, in 1985. In the intervening years, any number of people have written about how it doesn't work (as any search engine will quickly reveal). Until I moved out of London, and away from regulated buses, I hadn't realised just how difficult it could be to even find out which bus goes to the place you wish to visit. If the Government is serious about getting people out of their cars then, in my view, they have to address the lack of integrated information about local bus services. If it's easier to put a destination into a sat-nav and jump into a car, who is going to bother trying to catch a bus?

Sunday, 22 April 2012


I'm currently enrolled on the SAVO (Suffolk Association of Voluntary Organisations) 'Community Volunteering' course. One of the tasks I have to complete, to show I know my own volunteering role, is to write a short blog or email to a friend, describing the role I do. So here goes....

I actually have two volunteering roles I do, one with the Ipswich Film Theatre (IFT), and one with the Colne Valley Railway (CVR). For more information about either organisation, please follow the links. Otherwise, to find out what I do, read on.

Ipswich Film Theatre

Normally, when I volunteer with the IFT, I am the Front of House person. This role involves supervising the three (or, occasionally, if there is something on in the Corn Exchange, four) ushers. So my first task is to sort out who wants to staff the kiosk. Generally, one usher will be keen to take on this role, and will already know what is required, so this is just a case of allocating the role. On some occasions, a person will be keen to do the role, but will be unclear on what is required. At this point, I offer them help and advice and, if they are very new to the role, so 'on the job training'.

While the first usher is sorting out the kiosk, and getting the coffee started, I send the other two ushers on the fire walk. This involves walking round the cinema part of the Corn Exchange, checking the fire exits are clear, there is no litter in any of the public areas, no problems (like water leaking through the ceiling) in either cinema and, if required, switching the heaters on. At this time either I or one of the ushers will collect the torches from the projection room.

When the ushers have completed the fire walk, we gather by the kiosk and decide who will be in which cinema. There needs to be two ushers in screen one, and one in screen two. Normally, the ushers happily agree about who will be in which screen. However, as I am qualified as an usher, I can make up the numbers if necessary, or if it means everybody can see the film they want to see.

Just before the IFT opens to the public, I check that the ushers are all clear about what they are doing. I then go upstairs to the 'meet and greet' the public. If there is an event on in the Corn Exchange, the lobby can become crowded, with people needing to be directed to one of the entrances to the Corn Exchange or to the Film Theatre. However, if there is noting on in the Corn Exchange, the lobby is much quieter, and it is just a case of speaking to people as they arrive and, if a new leaflet is out, making sure everybody takes one.

At 7:30, as the film starts, it's time for me to go back downstairs, ensure the ushers have gone into the relevant screens and help to shut up the kiosk. If the person who has staffed the kiosk is the only usher in screen two, I will send them into the screen while I shut up the kiosk. Otherwise, I check they are happy to close up before going into the screen I've previously agreed to be in.

While watching the film, I keep an eye out for any problems. Generally these involve the film in some way - e.g. the sound is not right, or the subtitles are off the bottom of the screen. In these instances, I ensure that either I or one of the ushers goes and speaks to the projectionist, to get the problem corrected. If there is a major problem that can't be corrected (e.g. the individual reels of film having been assembled in the wrong order) I will explain what went wrong, and apologise to the customers, as they leave at the end of the film.

At the end of the film, I wait for all the customers to leave. I then pick up any litter that has been left lying around, check the heaters are switched off and ensure the torches are put back in the projection room.

Colne Valley Railway

I am a member of the P/way Team (P/way = permanent way, i.e. the actual track). Our main role is to maintain the mainline track in a suitable condition for passenger-carrying trains travelling at up to 25mph. But this role is harder to explain in detail as the work carried out during any one session can be totally different to that done at another session. Therefore, this is only an over-view of the work done by the team.

Tasks carried out include:
    1) inspecting the track, and replacing any keys that have fallen out.
    2) replacing rotten sleepers.
    3) jacking and packing the track (i.e. lifting the track to the correct level with a jack, and then packing ballast under the sleepers so that the track remains at that level when the jack is removed).
    4) replacing worn track.
The team is also responsible for any changes or extensions to the mainline, and we are currently installing a new set of points which will allow the run-round loop at one end of the line to be extended. But this is a major piece of work and, as it is beyond where the trains currently run, it is being carried out over several months during the Summer.

The work is all carried out under the supervision of the Head of Department, Paul, who decides what work will be tackled during each session. He will also ensure the work is carried out to a satisfactory standard and that the track is left in a safe condition for trains to use it. Larger tasks on the running track are tackled in the Winter, when the railway is not open to the public, as this means no trains are running and the track will not be used between P/way team sessions.

All training for this role is carried out 'on the job' and, as a long standing member of the team, I now help with the training of new team members.