Sunday 24 February 2013

Worrying Wobbles in Weston [1]

The Perils of Privatisation : The Traumas of Tendering

A reminder : Bus companies are businesses, there to make a profit for their shareholders. They are no different from Tesco, BP, BT or Bert Thrubley Builders Ltd. They have no responsibility to "provide a (loss-making) service to the public", because, if they fail to make a profit (or at least break even), they will cease to exist. So routes that don't make money are unacceptable. If the Local Authority considers that a bus service is essential for the community it may invite companies to participate in a competitive tender and thus, if successful, receive payment from the authority to boost its income. The money comes from council tax revenue, that's you and me.

Weston-Super-Mare has a very low low tide ...
... causing some jokers to refer to it as Weston-super-Mud (including fbb, shame on the grumpy old man!). The town gained much national and international publicity when the not-long-previously refurbished Grand Pier pavilion perished in a plethora of pyrotechnics in 2008.
It has been splendidly rebuilt after a successful £30 million compensation-cum-insurance claim ...
... and must now be one of the poshest piers provided anywhere in the UK.

Weston had trams; of which fbb was entirely ignorant!

The Weston-super-Mare Tramways operated a fleet of up to 16 standard gauge single and double-deck tramcars on a route totalling 2.92 miles from Birnbeck Pier (top) to The Sanatorium (bottom) with a spur via the railway station to a depot in Locking Road. This tiny "system" opened in 1902.

Competition came in the form of motor buses. Local operator Burnell was taken over by the Bristol Tramways Company in 1934, and other services in the town were operated by the GWR's road motors. An agreement was soon reached with the Bristol company to close the tramway in 1937.
Ultimately the Bristol Tramways Compnay realised that it did not run trams any more (the City network closed in 1941) and eventually renamed itself Bristol Omnibuses in 1999. It had previously been privatised and traded as Badgerline and Cityline ...
... which became First Bus after a merger with Grampian (Aberdeen Corporation) in 1995. Most local services in Weston-super-Mare have traditionally been run by First and its predecessors; indeed, First is still the major operator in and from the town.
Following the pattern of past principles, the Fearnley crowd have withdrawn from some town services which have gone out to tender. Three of these have been won by Webberbus [4/4A, 83 and 85] ...
... and one by Crosville [16].
It takes quite a few mental and omnibological gymnastics to cope with the idea that a company called Crosville runs buses in Weston. But it is not the original Crosville or anthing remotely connected with it.
The owner (and enthusiast) simply liked the name and the Tilling green vehicles and discovered that it was still available on the Companes' House List.

Bakers Dolphin ...
... runs the 121 to Bristol Airport and Bristol as previously blogged (read again) and hops happily haround nearby settlements with the 66.
Both these routes are tendered by the local authorities.

fbb has oft opined that it is short-sighted of a major operator to pull out of less/non remunerative parts of an established network because that allows competitors to gain a foothold. Similarly, Local Authorities are, effectively, obliged to accept the lowest tender which can lead to reliability problems and service failures. So the local paper ...
... reports that there is "touble at't mill" with Weston's buses.
So who is in trouble? Is Crosville castigated? Is Bakers Dolphin banished? Is Webberbus facing wipeout? Or is Mr Fearnley sent to stand in the corner?
Tomorrow may bring the answer ...

 Next Bus Blog : Monday 25th February 


  1. Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company was renamed Bristol Omnibus Company in 1957, not 1999. It was quite common for former tram companies to retain their old title, with examples in the UK, France and The Netherlands.
    Names stick with the public too.

    BTCC had a livery of dark blue and white until replaced by standard Tilling green from 1944. However, for many years afterwards the public referred to the company as Bristol Blue

  2. "Authorities" gave two widely differing dates for renaming; I found both! I think the formal company name change might for registrations have been later. Stagecoach registrations for Sheffield are/were in the name of Richardson Travel Ltd, (a company they took over some time ago) and not Yorkshire Terrier which came to them via takeover of Yorkshire Traction group!
    Thank you for your correct version nad additional information

  3. Not just tramway companies - the Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway Company hasn't run a train in 60 years!

  4. To add to the accuracy, Bristol Omnibus Co. Ltd was split into three separate identities. To the north, Cheltenham & Gloucester was set up as a separate company (in 1983 or 84) and then privatised to its management in 1986 through a holding company, Western Travel; it eventually sold to Stagecoach.

    What was initially a division trading as Bristol Country Bus became Badgerline Ltd, also sold to its management in 1986. This left BOC Ltd to trade as Cityline, with the old city service garages. Privatisation in 1987 saw this pass to the owners of Midland Red West (possibly Wyvern Holdings?) before this group was purchased by Badgerline Holdings. I can't remember what the competition authorities did about this!

    The Companies House website reveals that today's First Bristol Ltd is the renamed Badgerline Ltd; Badgerline Holdings PLC is now Firstgroup Holdings Ltd, while First Somerset & Avon Ltd was previously....Bristol Omnibus Co. Ltd!

  5. BTCC Ltd and BOC Ltd are now owned by Martin Curtis and Mike Walker who are a major part of the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection. However, unlike Crosville at Weston Super Mare, I don't believe they operate any public services.

  6. Thanks for the information and corrections. Fascinating stuff! Who said that being a bus enthusiast wasn't "interesting"?