Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Superb Success or Feeble Failure? [3]

And There's More.
Today, the second phase of timetable changes from Buses of Somerset and/or Buses of Taunton

 30 : Taunton - Chard - Axminster 
This route has its origins in the historic Southern/Western National 213 and once was joined to the current X31 (then just 31) running through to Dorchester etc. The recent hourly service arrivals at Axminster connected well with trains in both directions.
Departuures for Chard and Ilminster were less happy, however; too tight for a reliable connection. In fbb's time there has never been any visible attempt to promote this link, with no mention on Axminster station except (if you are lucky) a timetable book in he rack.
This service  reduces to every 90 minutes . This, effectively, knocks any realistic chance of promoting integration on the fragile head. fbb understands that one reason for the unkindest cut of all is the withdrawal of tender money for the bit between Chard and Axminster.

fbb predicts a further cut back very soon! Not a good decision. As there is no competition on the Chard - Axminster bit, fbb wonders whether an attempt at devloping the service with tweaks in the timing and easy throught ticketing might have been a better plan.

 54 : Taunton - Somerton - Yeovil 
Not that long go, this previusly hourly service gained an increase between Taunton and Somerton. This was a valiant attempt to compete with Webber bus whose route 38 to Street goes that way.
First's short workings are now  withdrawn . This leaves the old, hourly, 54 back where it was before expansionist enthusiasm was the order of the day.

 102 : Taunton - Weston-super-Mare 
This route was a vestige of something a little grander but had been reduced to just four Monday to Friday journeys.
In a long-anticipated move by Somerset County, the tender subsidy has been cut completely, hence  service withdrawn .
A college days 21C is offered as a tentative replacement ...
... but it remains a closely guarded secret on the company web site. It isn't there, except as a well hidden news item with no timetable.

Which leaves one dramatic service improvement. The good folk of Brittons Ash ...
... have had their  service doubled . The hourly 29 has gone (to be three hourly via Creech Heathfield) but the Taunton to Bridgwater short workings on the 21 are diverted via Brittons Ash as 21A.
How long this extra wiggle lasts is a matter of some speculation, but for the time being, good news for the crowds!

Which leaves Buses of Somerset  service 10  - Service 10? You may well ask.
It linked two "normal" services ...
... 25 at Wiveliscombe and 22/22A at Wellington. It was taken on when the previous operator withdrew from tendered services (?) and has never appeared in a Buses of Somerset timetable book or map. Never mind, it is now  withdrawn   due to "low passenger numbers". You do have to wonder, however, whether the passenger numbers might have been greater if the company had told anyone about it? 

 Taunton town services  have not escaped the fury of First's ferocious flailing. Many have even had their peak service cut. Yes, that is exactly what has happened!

route 2 Priorswood | Parade
Changes to timetable to improve reliability. Peak frequency reduced to better match customer demand.

route 4 Lane Estate | Parade
Changes to timetable to better match customer demand, with morning peak and daytime frequency reduced to every 30 minutes; and evening peak frequency reduced to every 35 minutes.

route 5 Calder Crescent | Parade
Changes to timetable to better match customer demand, with peak frequency reduced.

route 6 Juniper Road | Parade
Changes to timetable to better match customer demand, with peak frequency reduced.

Additionally route 7 ...
... loses its double run to the Hospital. Presumably this, together with some re-linking of town services, saves the cost of a bus. What is more worrying, both for First and for the residents of Taunton, is here there is very little competition from Webberbus on town services, so these are purely commercial chops - to save money.

Which leaves a painful question. O.K., tender money is reduced and Webbers still competes vigorously on most routes; so has the Buses of Somerset idea paid off? It looks very much like it hasn't. The web site was strangely silent on the cut-backs with no banner headline, just details buried low in the "news" page. The once-daily Twitter panel ...

... has been silent since 8th April. From last Sunday both the main front end (home) pages of the web site and tweets have said not a word about the changes; although maps and timetables were updated from the start date.

But then an honest header page would not have been the most ideal PR exercise.

old header graphic:-
 new header graphic:-
And, yes, it should be "fewer" journeys - pedants unite! Somehow the truth is not the best PR!
To add to the company's woes (woes for the passengers more like) a tweet appeared late on Monday announcing "changes" (ha, ha! increases, surely; it didn't say what they were) to fares on routes 25 and 54.
New-look Buses of Somerset? Looks very much like old-look First Bus!

And a couple of final musings from your chubby blogger. Instead of a long-drawn out non-launch of the green apple project, might it not have been better to re-launch route by route, concentrating new livery, new(er) buses, new bus stops etc. on each route or group thereof in turn. At least there would have been a recognisable impact rather than a dribble.

Might this be a salutary lesson for Cornwall?

 Next bus blog : Thursday 16th April 


  1. At least they tried! I was surprised at the enhancements to 29 and 54; especially 29, which is a service with a "thin" hinterland (not many chimneys). 54 might have succeeded, but I suspect that the car may well have gained the upper hand already.
    I'm not surprised at the changes to the town services . . . . elsewhere "peak" loadings are now post 0900 (or 0930 depending on the OAP pass start time), unless there is a large school movement to be catered for.
    I guess what it proves is that there is really no room for two operators on the same corridors in rural Somerset.
    Nice try, but just not the right circumstances for success.

  2. How do you define success? For most businesses it is profit and not size. You will never get crowds on buses in rural Somerset except to Minehead (18), Wellington (22) and Bridgwater (21) which haven't changed much. You explained the new 21A (original 21 actually fast on the A38), but not the extra running time. The 21 has had 26 minutes added to a round trip; that is one extra bus for no service change.

    Taunton town day time changes are all about Station road congestion. The 1 gets 6 mins extra round trip compensated by reduced route 4. Route 2 gets 5 more minutes compensated by the 7 missing out the hospital.

    29 and 54 are not a surprise, but using the 29 to give some service over the 26 is a new idea. The 14 is one rural minibus worth and against any competition is worthless; Webberbus can work it through to Minehead using the Blue Anchor route (which is/was a contract service). The 30 is only reduce during the day and now connects with the trains at Axminster, because it can have a longer layover. Yes alternate journeys do allow you to sample the cafe.

    The 102 is not a surprise either and Webberbus have used its route to extend their service 76 back to base. They now have a super circular from Bridgwater to Weston (76), Wells (26), Street(37) and back to Bridgwater and vv. Gives management control and might avoid further fines.

    Most comments seem quite positive about Buses of Somerset. They are regarded as reliable and for us the same fares. Webberbus do offer some route variations that suit some and annoy the majority. Webberbus's time keeping is such that they often follow the BoS bus instead of preceding it with passenger numbers to match. Webberbus can't keep running almost empty buses for ever, but they do have a more mature core around Minehead and Bridgwater. Success is about making money from the available market place - Buses of Somerset looks a lot happier.

    1. I admire your bravery.... I said it was a mixed bag earlier (on part one) and got a bit of vitriol.

      Appreciate what you say on the various aspects of the BoS story. I agree some areas (we may beg to differ on the 30 and some aspects of the Taunton locals, and the 29 is definitely a big, big cut) but undoubtedly part of the remit of the First SW management is to get what was a basket case and return it to some level of profitability and sustainability.

      They look to be on with that. Also, there's rumour of further fleet updates for the 21 - if so, I'm sure that again they'll be modest (not a fleet of new Streetdecks) but better than the 15 year old Tridents on there now. Arguably, the Tridents are still better than my first experience of the route.... admittedly brand new Mercedes 811s with the ride quality of a builders' van.

      As for Webberbus, I too am constantly amazed about their capacity to run expensive modern kit with the revenue from half a dozen ENCTS passengers.

  3. Surely 'fewer buses'?

  4. All the above comment are true. It all depends where you stand to look! I think that the implementation of Buses of Somerset was too half-hearted; we have never had a launch (free buns fo fbb!)! I also fear, in this complex world, that 15 months is barely enough time to see tangible results. Sadly the company accountants always want instant cash in the piggy bank. Whatever is buoying up "another operator" will run out eventually. It would be sad if First has just done a bit of foot-shooting.

    In Cornwall the developments are in need of a depot in the Newquay area; tis only yesterday (in business terms) that First closed theirs!

  5. Just been into Wellington with an opportunity to watch the buses go by. Result BoS and Stagecoach on time and with up to a dozen passengers per bus (more on the 20). Webberbus had 1 15 on time and 1 15 15 minutes late; 1 12 on time and 1 12 did not run, with max passengers of 5. Fairly typical I feel for a sunny afternoon.

    Fbb please note that the 22 now has full green timetables in the frames and not a departure list! There are a lot of new style BoS stop flags around too.

    This is a rural area - if you double the frequency you need double the customers - they simply do not exist. The 29 is back to Southern National frequency now the county subsidy is withdrawn - they have been trying to push it along for years to no avail. As I noted somewhere before Somerset people do not travel to Devon normally. Hence the 30 struggles between Chard and Axminster and with the traffic into Taunton. Chard has services to Taunton, Yeovil and Crewkerne station from Stagecoach too.

  6. There is an event here that FBB might like

  7. From the outside looking in it seems the Somerset operations are not in a good place.

    To be this far down the road without having repainted all the fleet is inexcusable. The proper way to have done it? Launch it with a sizeable new fleet of E200s, then use the buses they replaced as float vehicles for an accelerated repainted programme.

    Just look at Stagecoach Wigan for a good example of how to rebrand in a short space of time.

    The lack of fleet investment is probably something to do with the accountants still trying to write down the appallingly bad decision to buy Cawlett for such an overinflated price.

    The other large groups would have thrown in the towel years ago. I still think the rebranding will ultimately lead to a disposal of the operation as a going concern.

    1. Wigan was/is fundamentally good bus territory although badly neglected by First. Putting new fleet in there was logical. Putting a substantial fleet of new e200s into Taunton - it just wouldn't fly.

      To be honest, getting virtually all the fleet painted in 15 months is actually fair going. In comparison, Arriva North East and North West have vehicles in the old livery some 5 years after the new livery was introduced, and Stagecoach still had aged Olympians in the stripes in 2006!

      Where I do wholeheartedly agree is the ridiculous price that First paid for the Cawlett Group in 1999. I discussed it with friends in the industry at the time and we couldn't see how that was ever justifiable. It was just hubris and blind ambition from Blockhead

  8. Comparing BOS to Arriva and Stagey, or even the likes of Lothian or Plymouth is a bit wide of the mark - they are all established operations updating their image. BOS was a complete overhaul and it looks like they lost interest. Not completing the job because some of the fleet is due for scrap? Ain't good enough.

    A fairer comparison is against Yorkshire Tiger, not quite sure what they're playing at there. Or perhaps that Buses Excetera mob whose antics were starting to become increasingly bizarre towards the end of last year.

  9. It was more to show the length of time to relivery a fleet but fair enough. Here's Yorkshire Tiger in Dec 2014 still in Centrebus colours.

    Fact is that they repainted the newest fleet (e200s) first and the oldest fleet was never going to be painted. You don't fritter thousands away on painting a vehicle then withdraw it months later; that and the additional cost of paint floats and using external contractors as capacity is limited.

    As it is, the fleet is now largely green save the Olympians (due to go in the coming months) and the odd single deck (also on death row)