Monday, 19 March 2012

Alabama May Ban Bus Drivers from Using Phones

We Brits are now more or less used to the idea that using a mobile phone when you are driving is a generally 'bad thing' and against the law.

So it might come as a considerable shock to discover that in America things are very, very different.

A story I picked up recently from US media demonstrated that in many states it is not only perfectly acceptable for a bus driver to chat to his wife on the phone whilst piloting a busload of children to school, it's perfectly legal.

But things seem to be slowly changing. The latest state to have had a long, hard think about the wisdom of letting bus drivers chat to their pals when they should be concentrating on the road ahead is Alabama. The southern state is now looking to join an increasing number of US states that prohibit school bus drivers from using mobile phones while transporting children around the state.

Alabama's House of Representatives passed a bill last Wednesday which will mean that school bus drivers can only use their phones in an emergency or if the bus is parked at the side of the road.

The bill was sponsored by Representative Joe Hubbard, who warned of accidents that could be caused by a bus driver calling his girlfriend or texting her pictures. He said the impetus for his bill was a phone he received from a constituent worried that her child's school bus driver was too distracted by talking on his cellphone to enough attention to the road.

Ironically, it would have been entirely legal for her to make that call while driving. Let's hope she didn't.

Some 19 states in America, and the District of Columbia, currently prohibit drivers of school buses from talking on their phones while transporting children. That's 19 out of 50 states, so you can see there's still some way to go.

On the face of it, a federal Department of Transportation rule seems to prevent any commercial vehicle driver from using a mobile electronic device whilst driving, but that applies only to vehicles that cross state lines or transport hazardous materials within a state, which seems a little arbitrary.

The Alabama bill still needs to be approved by the state Senate and then signed off by the Governor before it can become law.

I understand there were 260 reported accidents caused by Alabama school bus drivers during the last academic year, down from 301 the pervious school year. Of those in the most recent school year, 63 were cause by a distracted bus driver.

First Group Sell London Bus Depot

FirstGroup has sold its 130-vehicle Northumberland Park depot in north-east London.

The depot's 130 buses, 13 routes and around 400 staff will transfer to the North East-based Go Ahead.

Experts reckon that the sale should really suit Go-Ahead, whose bus operations are concentrated in London and the south-east and who should be able to use the depot to help it to increase its operating margins.

It makes economic sense to First Group, too. The £14m sale to Go-Ahead Group will go some way to meeting the £100m-£115m cash target FirstGroup has set itself for the current financial year.

However, things aren't gig as quickly as the company would like. Frst Group is concerned that regulatory concerns are slowing its disposal programme after last week's deal to sell its bus operations in north Devon to Stagecoach for £2.8m was only completed pending the approval of the Office of Fair Trading. The company reckons that previously a deal that size would probably never have come under such close scrutiny.

First Group are clearly working hard to reduce its eye-wateringly large debt of around £2bn which it built up after a series of acquisitions such as the takeover of Greyhound buses in the US. Industry insiders reckon that the company is trying to make itself more attractive in time for the next round of rail franchises after the government stated that it will be looking for companies to take longer contracts and who will therefore need to show that they can withstand difficult years.

FirstGroup currently operates the Great Western, TransPennine Express, Capital Connect and Hull train lines as well as ScotRail.

'Humanitarian' Bus Operator Secures Fare Cuts

For everyone who is presently wailing and gnashing their teeth over fare increases, and there are lots of you out there, here is evidence at last that there is somewhere in this world where bus operators seem prepared to think kindly of their passengers.

My sources in Manila tell me that despite rising fuel prices – yes, even in The Philippines – one bus operator has successfully applied to have its fares... reduced.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) – a sort of Philippino PTE, I suppose - agreed to a petition filed by Rural Transit, Inc to reduce its bus fares in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan by around a half.

And it won't just affect their own services – other operators serving the same route will also have to charge the same reduced fares. The fare reduction is effective immediately.

And the reason the bus operator asked to reduce its fares? Well, it was to provide humanitarian assistance to the residents of the two cities which were badly hit by tropical storm “Sendong” last year.

Needless to say, the LTFRB were deeply impressed by the operator’s public spirit in foregoing profit to provide humanitarian assistance to the riding public.

“In this time of crisis affecting the lives of our countrymen, every form of help and assistance, how little or big it is, that can mitigate the impact of the effect of disaster should be accepted, or at least be welcomed,” the LTFRB said.

“The petitioner should be commended for taking action for fare reduction in this time of crisis for it is not financially viable on their part on the business side,” the Board added.

Is that what they call 'caring capitalism', do you think? And if so, do you think we could have some?

Let's not all hold our breaths....

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Bus Drivers Fined for Using Wrong Side of the Road

I've previously blogged about motorists using bus lanes illegally and I'm sure we've all had a nice, self-satisfied 'tut-tut-tut' about it.

Take the bus lane in Stoke-on Trent, the abuse of which resulted in 5,600 car drivers receiving penalty tickets, and which was eventually scrapped by the council. I blogged about that one on 21 February, but I've come across others, too.

Like Leeds, where they've had to roll out special CCTV cameras to encourage motorists keep their cars out of the city's bus lanes.

Now, all of this might be construed as being slightly anti-motorist and I have to admit that it certainly looks that way. So I was slightly relieved – and tickled, frankly – to come across a tiny snippet on the This Is Nottingham news website.

If nothing else, it demonstrates that bus drivers are every bit as human as other motorists.

Local police, it seems, have had to warn the city's bus drivers about travelling up the wrong side of a street in the city centre. And it's clearly not a one-off incident.

Police officers were told about this particular problem by members of the public who presumably have witnessed it ad felt compelled to complain. The police have also been speaking to local businesses.

In fact, and this will probably bring a flush of pleasure to all you Jeremy Clarkson's out there, the police have even issued fixed penalty notices on two occasions to bus drivers using Friary Lane in an incorrect fashion.

They have now warned bus companies to make sure their drivers are using the correct side of the road. As if you'd normally have to!

Quite why these drivers are using the wrong side of the road is not mentioned, so I'm now watching out for a bus driver backlash. I'll keep you posted.

Minister Criticised at Bristol Bus Improvements Launch

He was meant to be coming to Bristol to signal the completion of a £79m project to revolutionise bus transport in the city. Instead, he found himself walking straight into some difficult questions about spending cuts.

Transport Minister Norman Baker MP was in Bristol today to help launch a major project which has provided new bus priority lanes, 120 new buses and almost 1,000 new and improved bus stops, many with electronic information displays. The scheme is intended to reduce congestion and improve services for commuters and shoppers.

His department had stumped up almost half the cash with local councils providing the rest, and he might have thought that today's little photo opportunity would be a good chance to show off something positive which the coalition government was doing.

But almost from the start he was having to fend off criticism that his government's cuts were pushing up prices. To be fair, his timing wasn't brilliant.

Next month, the cost which bus companies pay for their fuel will increase dramatically, principally because the government is cutting the Bus Service Operators Grant. The practical effect of that, reckons Justin Davies, regional managing director of First Bus (South West and Wales), is that their fuel costs will rise by 27% effectively overnight.

“We have to be able to recover an element of that price rise in the prices we charge,” he said, acknowledging that fares will inevitably rise.

"We have all seen the price of petrol and diesel going up at the pumps, all we are doing is reflecting those price changes. It's an economic commodity fuel, we have to pay as much as everybody else."

Mr Baker defence sounded familiar. His government, he said, had inherited "a very difficult economic situation from the previous administration", something which government ministers seem to announce frequently and with great regularity. It may be true, but it's beginning to sound lame and a little desperate.

He also said that they'd given 18 months notice of the bus service operators' grant being reduced which he reckoned, rather bizarrely, was sufficient notice to enable bus operators to incorporate the grant cut 'without putting up fares or cutting services'.

Quite how a bus company is meant to absorb a 27% increase in fuel costs without either putting up fares or reducing services wasn't outlined by Mr Baker – but I reckon most bus companies would absolutely love to know the answer to that one.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Bus Firm To Take Legal Action Against Passenger

A bus company has decided to take legal action against a teenage passenger after he was let off with a police caution after assaulting a ticket inspector.

Local press reported yesterday that Edward Cabot (67) was left with a severe black eye and a gash to his head after being punched by a 16-year old boy. His glasses were also smashed in the incident.

The assault happened while the former RAF Military Policeman, who is currently receiving treatment for leukaemia, was working on the Norfolk Green school service in Spalding earlier this month.

The incident started when a teacher travelling on the school service asked the teenager to stop swearing.The teenager carried on being abusive and the teacher told him to get off the bus. The boy then threw a punch which knocked Mr Cabot to the floor.

The boy has since been banned from travelling on all Norfolk Green buses.

The incident was reported to Lincolnshire Police who later decided to let the teenager off with a caution. However, this has so infuriated Norfolk Green that they say they are now planning a private prosecution against the teenager, and are also intending to contact the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Richard Pengelly, operations director for Norfolk Green, said: “We are disgusted by the police’s reaction to this.

“It seems like the boy has got off scot-free. There was 50 or 60 school children and a teacher who witnessed what happened.

“If a driver or inspector had shouted at a pupil, or assaulted someone, then they would rightly be suspended and action taken.”

“The other children on the bus were marvellous and have written cards to Mr Cabot asking him not to judge all the children like this one boy,” he added.

“When he is better we are hoping that Mr Cabot will be able to go on the school run again to see everyone who helped him.”

While normal Norfolk Green buses are fitted with CCTV cameras on board, the one used by Edward was not.

Lincolnshire Police declined to comment.

Firs Bus Manchester Hit With Massive Fine

After its mauling by traffic commissioner Beverley Bell last month, First Bus in Manchester has now been hit with a £285,000 fine because of its poor time-keeping.

I've previously blogged with the news that First Manchester was summoned to appear before the commissioner in February after an investigation by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) last year into the company's time-keeping.

It transpired that VOSA's inspectors had been monitoring more than 860 bus journeys in Eccles, Swinton, Worsley, Royton, Trafford and Stalybridge in January and February 2011, and they discovered that some 26 per cent of those buses turned up either late or early.

Bus operators are required to ensure that 95 per cent of their services are no more than one minute early or five minutes late. Under section 155 of the Transport Act 2000 a traffic commissioner is allowed to impose a fine of up to £550 per vehicle on firms that fail to hit that 95 per cent target.

Now, the region’s traffic commissioner has hit the firm with a fine of more than a quarter of a million pounds Beverley Bell after the company was a revealed to have one in five of its buses not running on time. Overall, the company's compliance rate across Greater Manchester was 82.5 per cent.

"The main reason I imposed the penalty was because the operator hadn't done enough to make sure these services ran on time," she said.

"This monitoring was over 12 months ago and yet, as at today's date, the operator was still trying to put measures in place and I didn't think that was enough done quickly enough."

The commissioner said that she could have fined First Bus up to £500,000 but had decided on £285,000 in view of the work it had already done to improve services.

She wanted First "to show over the next three to six months that it is operating properly - and if it isn't, it'll have to come back and see me again".

Clearly a lady not to be messed with....

Friday, 9 March 2012

Bristol Passengers Offered Underwhelming Promise

When is a ‘customer promise’ not really a customer promise?

Bus passengers in Bristol could soon be finding out that it is precisely the sort of customer promise which is now being offered by First Bus.

To help sweeten the pill of their latest fare increases, the company has made a promise to its customers that their bus journey will be free of charge if the bus is more than 20 minutes late. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Er, well no, not really. Look a little closer and you’ll find that the offer is not quite as generous as it first sounds.

To begin with, it is beholden on the customer to prove it was the company’s fault the bus was not on time. That might not be easy. And then First would only accept liability if their bus failed to arrive because its driver didn’t turn up for work, or the bus had suffered a mechanical breakdown.

In addition, it would not be liable for delays caused by Bristol ’s heavy traffic. Or by road works or road closures. Or bad weather. Or vandalism. Or security alerts. Or industrial action.

Oh, and it doesn’t apply to concessionary pass holders either.

Doesn’t sound quite so good now, eh?

First Bus reckon that their generous new promise “… reflects its increasing confidence in its ability to operate buses more punctually and reliably than ever before”. However, given their offer’s many and complicated limitations, ‘confidence’ is not a word that springs readily to mind. There may be good reason for this.

In January 2011, the Traffic Commissioner levied a fine of £40,000 on First Bus for running late buses. That followed a £50,000 in 2007 and a massive £100,000 in 2005. The company has an unfortunate history of running late buses, so its confidence might justifiably be fairly low.

And when you look a little closer, you’ll find that First Bus are actually legally required by the Traffic Commissioner to ensure that their buses are no more than five minutes late without reasonable excuse anyway – which is way, way above the level of punctuality promised in their ‘customer promise’.

Perhaps it is no surprise that First Bus’ customer promise is being introduced on Sunday, April 1 – April Fool’s Day. But who is the fool?

Well, it might just be First Bus, if their ‘customer promise’ proves to be as big a public relations car crash as it looks set to be. You only have to think about the number of angry passengers who make a claim only to discover that, for any one of a dozen reasons, their claim is not valid to work out that people might feel a little let down by the company’s promise. And that’s bad for business.

Any PR consultant worth their salt will tell you that consumers who receive great service will generally sing your praises to four other people – but will report bad service to at least ten. The imperative to get it right, and rescue it quickly if it goes wrong, should be overwhelming. Again, ‘overwhelming’ is not a word that readily springsto mind. Underwhelming, perhaps…

Local councils aren’t impressed, either. First Bus’ avowed confidence ‘…in its ability to operate buses more punctually and reliably’ has got at least something to do with the £78 million which local councils have invested of bus priority measures in recent years as part of its Greater Bristol Bus Network. That money was spent to get more people onto buses by making bus services more reliable and, in return, it was hoped First would drop its fares.

Yet later this month First Bus will be putting up fares for all day, single and return fares for adults and children.

I reckon First Bus might have a tough job ahead of them. And it’s not likely to get any easier.

Hitler Alive and Well and Living in... West Fife?

Bus drivers sometimes come in for a fair amount of stick – often unfairly. And there’s no denying that nobody likes a surly or belligerent driver.

It’s not often that inspectors come in for a load of stick, though. So I was a little surprised to come across a story about a bus inspector whose demeanour has led to him being referred to either as ‘that inspector from 'On the Buses' (Blakey, I think they mean) or Hitler.

Strong stuff.

This all comes from the case of a six year old from West Fife who apparently was left in floods of tears when the bus inspector – or Hitler, as parents now apparently call him – demanded the little girl’s bus pass.

The incident happened as the kids got on to the bus and, according to one angry mum: "This inspector said to them, 'Where's your pass? If you don't have your pass tomorrow, you'll have to pay. If you don't pay, you won't get on the bus.'

"It was the manner he said it,” she said “It was a totally unacceptable way for him to behave.

"I had just persuaded Amy to start using the school bus and now she's saying she doesn't want to go back on it.

"People like that shouldn't be anywhere near kids if that's how they're going to behave. We don't need Hitlers terrorising young children.

Parents then questioned whether it was a waste of resources putting an inspectors on a bus to check six year-olds bus passes.

Now the school is involved, as well as the local council and Stagecoach, with everybody no doubt trying to take the heat out of the situation and figure out exactly what went on. Whatever happen now, there won’t be any winners.

It’s probably a minor event in the great scheme of things, and its entirely likely that the inspector was not intending to be deliberately intimidating or offensive. Parents are want to be protective of their charges and rightly so, and some can occasionally misconstrue other people’s – especially people in uniforms – intentions. I’m a parent myself – mea culpa.

But this case also underlines how quickly – and possibly unfairly - a reputation can be damaged. Stagecoach will no doubt be ensuring that this particular inspector’s duties keep him busy elsewhere for a while.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Sculptor To Put Bus On Art Gallery Roof for Olympics

One of the most memorable moments in bus-related cimematic history looks set to be celebrated this year as part of Britain's Cultural Olympiad.

"Hang On A Minute Lads, I've Got A Great Idea" is an artwork by Turner Prize-nomininated sculptor Richard Wilson inspired by the 1969 Michael Caine caper movie 'The Italian Job'.

The art installation pays homage to the movie's cliff-hanger finale - where the gang's getaway coach is left balancing on the edge of an Alpine ravine – in a very real sense.

Wilson is to put a bus on the roof of the Grade One-listed De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex - though instead of blue as in the film, this bus will be painted... (wait for it) in the British team colours of red, white and blue.

Is someone having a joke? Well, probably not - even though comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, who just happens to be Honorary Patron of DLWP, is the exhibit's principal sponsor.

“2012 is the year the Olympics & Paralympic Games return to the United Kingdom and I think this is a perfect time to hang a large bus off the edge of a building in a seaside town,” says Eddie.

“As a huge fan of the classic film “The Italian Job”, I am proud to be the Principal Sponsor of artist Richard Wilson’s 'Hang On A Minute Lads….'.

“By the end of 2012 I would hope that the word goes out from our country that not only do we run excellent world events, but also we balance coaches on the edges of buildings like no one else ever could”.

'Hang On A Minute Lads, I’ve Got A Great Idea…' opens to the public on 7 July 2012 as part of the London 2012 Festival, a 12-week nationwide celebration bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK.

And you know you're going to want to see it...!

Friday, 2 March 2012

NE Funeral Firm Embraces 'Death by Routemaster'

When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go – so you might as well go in style.

For people living in South East Northumberland – or, more exactly, dying in South East Northumberland – that could now mean making your last ever journey in this world aboard a preserved Routemaster bus.

North East-based Go As You Please Funerals – which has bases in Wallsend, Cramlington and Ashington – are offering what is perhaps the most unusual hearse currently in use in the UK today.

Unusual, yes, but oddly practical. As the company happily points out on its website, the Routemaster “…seats 55 people and is a fantastic way of keeping all the family and friends together and creates a more celebratory atmosphere.” This rather assumes the funeral you are organising might be cause for celebration, but you can sort of understand what they are getting at.

“The coffin can also travel on the bus,” adds the website, somewhat cautiously.

Now I know this might sound like rather an strange idea, but I happen to know that it has excellent precedents. George Shillibeer, the man credited with introducing the omnibus to England in 1829, apparently employed the self-same idea in Essex after he retired from the omnibus business a few years later to become an undertaker.

George’s revolutionary idea – basically, a van with lots of seats carrying passengers along a fixed route at certain times of the day for a fixed price - had become so popular that he was eventually driven out of business by his competitors. So he retired to Chigwell in Essex to become a funeral director, taking his horse-drawn omnibuses with him.

The story goes that he converted his erstwhile buses into hearses, creating at least one hybrid vehicle which was part hearse, part bus - a sort of passenger-carrying hearse – specifically to enable mourners to accompany their dear departed on their last journey to the churchyard.

Now, almost 200 years later, the idea seems to have returned, only this time in the form of a London Routemaster bus.

There’s no evidence that Shillibeer’s hybrid hearse ever really caught on, and its unlikely that Go As You Please will be leading a revolution of their own with their hearse-bus concept. But you can’t deny it has a certain bizarre appeal.

When London Transport first sat down to design the Routemaster, they had a clear purpose in mind but the design they eventually settled on has certainly evolved over the years – there were coach versions, extended body lengths, front-entrance versions and in later years open-toppers.

They probably never envisaged their bus ever being used as a hearse, though….

You can book the funeral bus at

They also offer a motorcycle sidecar hearse, wicker coffins and conventional coffins in a variety of decorative styles – including Newcastle United stripes!

Anger as East Anglians Confront Reality of Bus Cuts

There seems to be no end to the angst in East Anglia .

After blogging earlier in the year about First’s decision to withdraw entirely from Bury St Edmunds due to subsidy cuts, it now seems the cuts are having an impact on other operators, too.

The latest people to confront the reality of cuts to subsidised bus services are local councillors in Thetford. They have realised that subsidy cuts by Norfolk County Council would leave them without a subsidised bus link to the county capital, Norwich .

The main effect of this will be that people with concessionary bus passes will no longer be able to travel to Norwich free of charge on National Express services because the council has decided to cut its subsidy.

This means, says Thetford town councillors, that their town is now one of only three in Norfolk not to have a subsidised service running to Norwich. One councillor described the move as ‘absolutely disgusting’.

“ Norwich is our county city and the people who use bus passes are at a time in life where they need that service,” said Cllr John Harding.

“We are a part of Norfolk and they should start paying for bus services for those people,” he said.

Their local county councillor Mike Brindle says the Conservative-controlled council had to prioritise which services it funded, and there is, he says, a very small demand for the Thetford to Norwich service anyway.

But another local councillor suggested, rather pertinently, that if so few people were using the service, then surely it wouldn’t cost much to subsidise?

Norfolk County Council is having to find savings of half a million pounds on local bus services in the county. Despite the cuts in Thetford, they say they are still spending £200,000 on bus services in and around Thetford.

Olympic-sized Trouble Brewing on London Buses

Public sector union Unite’s attempts to drive bus operators to the negotiating table ahead of the London Olympic Games seems to have failed – so now they are getting a bit shirty.

Neatly following the recent dispute between Underground workers and their bosses over extra pay during the Olympics, the union is alleging that the capital’s bus operators are forcing a confrontation with their bus drivers.

Unite, which represents around 28,000 London bus workers, is seeking a £500 Olympic payment to reward workers for all the extra work they say will be required of them. But the deadline for negotiations has been missed, says Unite, leading union officials to claim that the bus operators are seeking a confrontation.

Transport for London has predicted an extra 800,000 passengers on the London bus network during the London Olympics and Unite believes that its members ought to have a share of all that extra income as it will mean a lot of extra work for them.

The union has pointed out that other transport workers in London have already been offered extra pay for working during the Olympics, and all they want is parity with workers at Network Rail, Virgin Trains and London Overground.

Their colleagues underground are also in the mood for a fight, too. The RMT has now declared its dispute with Transport for London over its claim for extra pay for Tube staff official, leaving the way clear for the union to ballot its members on strike action… which would almost certainly be during the Games.

The chaos that would ensure from a Tube strike during the Olympic Games is almost unimaginable – but add a bus strike into the mix and the government would probably have to mobilise the military (for all the good that would do).

Peter Kavanagh, Unite regional secretary for London, believes that the bus operators are doing their staff, passengers and the capital ‘a huge disservice’ by refusing to meet with Unite to discuss an Olympic payment.

“By burying their heads in the sand for the last three months, London ’s bus operators are forcing a confrontation with 28,000 bus workers,” he says

“Unite is preparing to hold a consultative ballot at the end of March. We are ready and willing to sit down for talks at any time but unfortunately, the dismissive attitude of the employers suggests they are more inclined towards confrontation.”

The union’s leader Len McCluskey came under considerable fire in the media earlier this week when he floated the possibility of agonisingly high-profile public sector strikes during the Olympic Games. Well, he would, wouldn't he?

Looks like it might be a long, hot difficult summer…

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Biggest Fall in Passengers for a Decade

As the north of the country continues to feel the effects of the UK's climate of austerity more noticeably than the south, there was further bad news today for people living in Scotland - and for the bus companies who rely on them for income.

The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency has announced that bus journeys in Scotland have slumped to their lowest level in more than a decade, with passenger numbers falling by 6 per cent in 2009-10 to 438 million.

Get beyond the most heavily-populated central belt between Glasgow and Edinburgh, however, and the effects are even more noticeable, with the number of people taking the bus falling by as much as a quarter last year. In fact, the only area to show any growth was around Edinburgh.

That means that the number of people making bus journeys north of the border is at its lowest since at least 1999, and follows a peak of 498 million journeys as recently as 2007.

This is the third consecutive fall in ridership and most people believe it to be principally due to increased unemployment and an austerity-driven reduction in the number of shopping and leisure trips. Most experts believe the situation will get worse quite soon once the effects of fare increases and service cuts caused by falls in government and local authority spending start to be felt.

Free bus travel by the over-60s and disabled people also fell for a third year, to 146 million journeys.

Respected transport spokesman Gavin Booth of Bus Users UK believes that the north of Scotland had endured the biggest fall in passengers because services were less frequent and more vulnerable to cuts in local authority funding. Meanwhile, the bus companies were struggling not only with falling subsidies and fewer passengers but with higher fuel prices and other operating costs, too.

On 13 January I blogged about the growing north-south divide that was troubling Aberdeen-based First Group. Scotland is where 60% of the company's non-London revenue comes from. They were blaming the weak economy and lower consumer spending in the north for falling revenues, but the company was being doubly hampered because poor market conditions were making the sale of major assets such as bus depot sites much more difficult, robbing them of income there, too.

Going forward, there seems depressingly little to feel optimistic about.