Monday, 24 January 2011

Ferry Interesting - but Stoopid!

With Acknowledgement to Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.   (The character was Wolfgang, played by Arte Johnson)
2011 will mark the 25th anniversary of the deregulation of the bus industry.   There'll be plenty of reminscences about that in due course!   But occasionally silly and ultimately destructive spats break out in other parts of the public transport world.
Apart from a brief incursion by British Rail Seaspeed in the 60s, Red Funnel has enjoyed a so-called monopoly of the ferry crossing from Southampton to Cowes.   The Island "movers and shakers" have always berated the ferry companies for their high prices and poor service and "what we need is a good dose of healthy competition".   So when an alternative to the "noisy, smelly, expensive and uncomfortable" Red Jet Hydrofoils arrived there was much rejoicing.
It was 20 years ago (in 1991) when along came Cowes Express with a huge, comfortable and luxurious vessel called "Wight King", formerly "Sant' Agata", operating every hour to Southampton from a somewhat improvised terminal at Thetis Wharf in Cowes.  Clients were even promised a free shuttle bus linking the terminal with the Island's capital, Newport. 
 And so it was, at the beginning.   To succeed in the business, the company would need to "pinch" all of Red Funnel's existing passengers and double the numbers.

And then the problems began.   Wight King suffered from  mangled motors from the mud of the Medina river and a second big vessel (followed by a third smaller craft, the "Wight Prince") were all in operation at various times.
 Things deteriorated.   The free bus (no more than a demonstration vehicle which overstayed its welcome!) soon went.   Then Wight Prince disappeared without warning and finally, one fine day, expectant passengers were ordered off the big boat at Southampton as the bailiffs came to recover their property.   The competition "so essential to serve the Island well" was gone and has never returned.

A little less fat bus bloke enjoyed a trip in the early days; here recording his three boys walking past the shuttle bus into the lavish terminal.
 Competing against an existing operator isn't easy - especially if the business is not there to be had.   As fbb's dad used to say in the fruit and veg wholesale trade, "there's a living for one but nothing for two." The Cowes Express project was, indeed, "very interesting, but stupid."

And, talking of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In; fbb's dad used to deliver fruit and veg to Joyce Botterill's dad's shop in Northampton.   Joyce Botterill?   She was better known as Judy "sock it to me" Carne!

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