Monday, 13 April 2015

Superb Success or Feeble Failure? [1]

How Goes Buses of Somerset?
It did seem a good idea at the time. Way, way back in 2014, the decision was taken in the hallowed towers of First Bus to do something about the Taunton area. It was "not performing up to expectations"  (i.e. losing money), it was struggling with competition from Webberbus, in short it was a basket case.

So the cunning plan was to relaunch as a "new company" and pretend that "together we are NOT part of First Bus". The new livery was a stunning improvement ...
... but it has taken ages to not get all the vehicles repainted.
The livery, web site, and timetable book were all Ray Stenning "creations" [Stunning Stenning?] and they were good. Service improvements came along and, after a long delay, stops have very slowly begun to acquire trendy Buses of Somerset flags.
The web site first made no mention of F*rst B*s but soon the corporate management could not let go and had to add a discrete little first bus logo on every page ...
... thus distancing the operation from the policy of distancing! Even Taunton's aged bus station got a make-over. It was all looking very good.
There were (and still are) some exceedingly good fares offers as well.
Realistically, £10 for a day ticket is very poor value but £15 for a week is as cheap as chips. It almost makes fbb wish he didn't have an old fogey card, so he could benefit from the bargain.

So was it all working? Were more passengers travelling with (non)First? Were Tauntonians flocking in their thousands to the Buses of Taunton town network? Were folk enthusiastically extolling the virtues of shiny new buses?
Hmmm? Here is a similar vehicle in Southern National (i.e.pre-First) livery! It was sold to First on 4th April 1999.
V835 DYD was, prsumably, ordered by Southern National but delivered to First. The V registration letter ran from 1 September 1999 to 29 February 2000. fbb understands that these buses are Dennis Darts with East Lancs Spryte bodywork.

So, surprisingly, not the newest of vehicles?

But from Sunday 12th April (technically; but from today in practice), things have been happening to the Taunton company's services.

We will look at the detail tomorrow.
Up With the Youff
Memories of the Judge who asked M' Learned Counsel, "... And who, or what are the beatles?" Back came the reply, "They are a group of young men who purport to entertain the younger generation with loud and incomprehensible sounds, called music by some, M' Lud."

Mrs fbb occasionally purchases domestic requisites from Lakeland (once Lakeland Plastics), a company which occupies a huge warehouse and retail store adjacent to Windermere Railway Station.
Their latest catalogue thumped onto the fbb doormat recently; and, on the back, these words were emblazoned.
Note the bottom headline.


Equally the tweeter who twits information for First Bus in Plymouth added this helpful note.

Apparently, young "peeps" are wont to say, like, "totes" (but they probably would not think of using quotation marks), as a word of emphasis, usually to express extremely "cool" enthusiasm, irrespective of the ambient air temperature, M'Lud.

Never mind, it won't affect fbb to much, will it "KC"?
 Next bus blog : Tuesday 14th April 



    Pronunciation: /piːps/

    Definition of peeps in English:

    plural noun

    People (often used to refer to a person’s friends or associates):
    ‘thanks for the feedback, peeps!’


  2. I thought the Beatles were described to the judge as a "popular beat combo"!

  3. The T-RYC and V-DYD SLF Darts were an honoured Cawlett order carried on by First. The only brand new buses they have acquired in their 16 years of operation are two batches of short Enviro 200s in 2008 and 2009.
    A lot of cascaded stuff has come into the fleet over the years. It is only in the last 14-15 months or so that proper attention has been paid to First's rural Somerset operations. Wells has always had new vehicles but was a Badgerline depot.
    It is now 12 years since the former Southern National operations were split in two, and 10 years of cutbacks have meant a lot of work for the new BoS identity and brand to rebuild what was acknowledged by First D&Cs Management team as a toxic identity in need of improvement.

  4. The developments in Somerset are a mixed bag and I suspect FBB will focus on the recent cuts. Those are the downside with a mix of council imposed cuts (10, 30 and 102), some reversals of competitive moves introduced only last July (54 shorts to Somerton) and some substantial reductions on local Taunton routes. Therefore, the core network hasn't fared so well, not least the 29 to Wells which sees most cut back to Glastonbury and a 90 min frequency that was upped to hourly in July being chopped back to only a bus every 3 hours.

    On the plus side, BoS have managed to secure the Taunton P&R after Webberbus had the contract removed and adding extra work after Quantock's demise and a number of EDF contracts with the Hinckley Point 3 project.

    The fleet has been modestly updated with newer Tridents to oust many Olympians and a few B7RLEs sent up from Cornwall. The cuts just effected have removed a number of vehicles, so First livery is now confined to a relatively small number of vehicles.

    It is progress but the latest changes perhaps indicate that not all the changes have proved successful. Generally positive but some bum notes as well.

    1. What bits of massive service cuts across the board are "generally positive"? The P&R isn't positive for passengers as it won't mean more or newer buses than Webber (yes you can argue Webber reliability was dodgy but so is BoS so hardly better) and the EDF buses are a private contract so hardly a BoS improvement. So where are the positives except minor fleet updates with still VERY old buses replacing antiques...hardly a win for passengers either? If this is positive I'd hate to see negative!

    2. As I stated below, I was talking about the changes to the BoS IN THE ROUND! Read below but to save you time, let me stress (again) that at no time did I paint the cuts as positive. Again - read what was said.... - "latest changes perhaps indicate that not all the changes have proved successful" = those bum notes of competitive services and fare deals clearly haven't worked in terms of financial success.

      I fully concede the issue of the age profile of the fleet (hence my use of the phrase MODESTLY UPDATED). Remember that Somerset in Tilling, NBC and Cawlett guises has always had a very high age profile because of the thin nature of trade. It was still running 20+ Bristol LS's in 1976 when most other NBC firms were withdrawing their final MWs -

      Similarly, you can probably remember the mid 1990s when Cawlett updated the fleet with V and W reg Leyland National 2s that were 15/16 years old! However, that doesn't get away from the fact that they are relying on a fleet of nicely painted but aged vehicles (largely dating 1999-2002) and the use of dateless regs is clearly an admission that even they know they're old!

      However, the performance on the Park and Ride is considerably better under BoS than under Webberbus, indicated by the authorities' own statements and the fact that they were awarded it permanently.

      Am I saying that it's the land of milk and honey? No, I'm not. Are there some actions (last year and this) that I disagree with? Most certainly. Do I welcome service cuts of this magnitude? Absolutely not - the ones on the 30 are IMHO short termist and will lead to a withering on the vine as I think FBB alludes to. Similarly, the Taunton locals are also changes that I think will be counter productive.

      However, AS A BUSINESS, has it been a mixed bag. Well yes. Some modest fleet improvement, some fare deals, some routes (like the 21 and 22) have had frequency increases, and the refurb of Taunton bus station and depot, as well as the EDF and P&R ride. Are these plusses counterpointed by the recent swingeing cuts? Yes, but I was looking at EVERY aspect of BoS; after all, don't wish to appear blinkered!

    3. To quote your exact words you said "Generally positive" so you did say the changes were positive so try rereading your own words!

    4. To quote my EXACT words "It is progress but the latest changes perhaps indicate that not all the changes have proved successful. Generally positive but some bum notes as well."

      This means that the latest changes (i.e. April 2015) perhaps indicate that not ALL the changes (i.e. since the creation of BoS) have proved successful.

      So look at all the changes (e.g. new image and livery, securing the Quantock, EDF and Park and Ride, fare deals, new competitive services, Taunton depot upgrade, Taunton bus station refurb, modest fleet upgrades etc etc), clearly there are successes but clearly not all have delivered hence the latest cuts which are not positive and I never said they were.

      However, in respect of the aim for the First SW management in restoring some level of sustainability and long term stability to the business, then it is a generally positive.

      Can I really make it any clearer?

  5. They are not a mixed bag they are almost entirely cuts back to pre competition and pre buses of Somerset levels. awful.the 29 being the prime example. What are all the good bits I missed?

    1. What bit didn't you get? Quite clearly, I was talking about ALL developments in the last 14 months. Quite clearly, I mentioned the positives such as the Park and Ride win, the Quantock work, and the EDF contracts. Quite clearly, I detailed the MODEST fleet improvements though the age profile is still not good. Also, I quite clearly mentioned the recent cuts IN DETAIL including the 29 specifically and the reversal of some of the improvements introduced last July plus reductions to Taunton locals. As I said, the improvements in the business like the P&R win have to be viewed against the downsides of reductions in the core bus network like the 29, 30, 54 etc.

      Is that not clear enough?

  6. So in summary.Try to run the competitor off the road by upping frequency then immediately reduce frequencies to worse than ever.Add to that reductions elsewhere and passengers are screwed but hey its ok as at least they won the Park and Ride and EDF. In other words cream off the very limited good bits and tough luck to all their passengers elsewhere...or actually tough luck anywhere not on the 21.Typical First destroying bus services in a town.A change of operator on a P&R makes no difference really to passengers except probably older buses with First but service cuts elsewhere have huge effects. Your blinkered view I'd frightening.

    1. Blinkered? If that wasn't so ironic, it would be genuinely funny!

      I've looked at ALL the developments IN TOTALITY. I've looked at ALL of the areas in which Buses of Somerset have changed as a business. I've mentioned the good and most certainly not attempted to paint the most recent changes to the core bus network as anything other as retrograde cuts.

      Now in response to your missive above, let me be clear. FWIW, I didn't think that the July changes made sense in many aspects; in no way did the 54 shorts make any sort of economic sense and neither did the upping of the 29.

      Likewise, I don't see the logic in some of these latest cuts. I agree with FBB regarding the 30 which I suspect will be counterproductive and similarly with some of the other changes (such as the 4 in peaks - a 35 min headway?). IMHO, a 29 routed via Creech on a 90 min headway would've made sense and I would've retained the hourly headway on the 30. I also recognise (though surprised that FBB didn't comment) that it's all well and good having glossy timetables and a refurbed waiting room but that doesn't cut much ice if you don't then have a bus service!

      Just another thing to consider. The 29 now has the same number of journeys now as in 1994 (i.e. pre First) and the 54 then consisted only 6 through journeys and a single short working to Langport. When saying worse than ever, be careful!

  7. Cawlett did invest in approx 10 new buses every year from 1991 until the sale in 1999. The first 8 SLF Darts would have been East Lancs Sprytes.
    In addition to the 10 new Mercedes 709/711/811s annually they did good business with the forerunner of Mistral and this led to 2/3 year old Mercedes 709s coming in some quantity. In addition there was new purchasing of Mercedes for sporadic tendered commitments as required.
    The older Leyland Nationals and Bristol VRTs were retained for peak hour work only, and for marginal work.
    So to suggest Cawlett didn't invest in new is not correct - the main line services were operated with young vehicles suited for the work - and they became too small on some services, hence the arrival of SLF Darts. 16 seater minibuses and 29-33 seater Mercedes were perfectly adequate for the loadings and in the case of the 16 seat vehicles they weren't replaced with similar sized vehicles.
    First on the other hand have bought 8 short Enviro 200s in 2008 and in 2009. They have updated the fleet with cascaded in vehicles in addition but have presided over decline allowing other small operators to gain market share on routes they've flung in. The token new investment speaks volumes. This is the hurdle BoS needs to overcome. The new brand is very nice, as is the new ethos but locals have had quite enough of the old toxic First approach of cut cut cut.

    1. I think I did say elsewhere that my first experience of the 21 were on NEW 811s (H-WYB) batch! I never said that Cawlett didn't spend. They did but throughout history, Somerset has always had an older fleet profile as the operating territory is thin.

      Also, you are referring to Cawlett in its entirety. By the time of sale, the Somerset ops had 3 step Darts bought new for the 28, and 2 SLFs for the 20 (which were part of the tender spec) - i.e. 5 out of 29 Darts that Cawlett bought were for Somerset, reflecting that the majority of the new vehicles were for Devon or Dorset. Appreciate that 6 were on order for the 21 - mind you, the 811s were always a bit cramped for that route.

      Also, and I'm sure you know this, is that given the nature of schools/peak working, conventional vehicles were also employed on all day working too. The X31/31/31c had VRs (my first 31 from Axminster to Taunton had a secondhand Iveco mini but returned on the celebrated and now preserved VR1122). The 54 was often worked by Nationals (esp the Mk2s bought in the mid 1990s). One of my last trips of the Cawlett era was to Minehead - a 709 from Bridgwater and returning on a very battle scarred TE type Tiger on the 28 - that was on a Saturday morning!

      However, I can't disagree with the comments about the fleet in First times. Some upgrading was necessary when the purchase was first made and some new vehicles/modern cascades were welcome. However, these quickly petered out. A trip a couple of years ago on one of the T-NUA Darts highlighted this malaise to me when working down to Wellington. That had been a decent cascade south from York when about 3-4 years old but there it was 10 years later still working the same service and without any form of refurb. Such was the malaise on investment in the mid to late noughties.

      The fleet improvements since last year have been modest. You can't say they haven't improved over the last year but neither can you say that it is anywhere where we (and the management) would like it to be. I'd love to see some genuinely newer fleet, even if it were to be some 58 plate Volvo B9TLs for the 21 (as an example plucked from thin air). Clearly, the management know the age profile is a problem hence the use of cherished plates to disguise this. However, they have an immediate issue (DDA compliance) and need to restore the financial performance of the business so that investment can begin in earnest.

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