Friday 30 December 2011

A Bit of Bother at Bury [2]

Two Cheers for the Competition Commission
Committed readers may recall that, on December 9th, fbb introduced what would be a short series about the outbreak of competition in Bury St Edmunds (read again). This was followed by an unexpected outbreak of bloggable interest in Leicester, and so Bury got buried.

So let's take a meander round the Mildenhall Road estate and see what has happened there. We set off northbound past the station ...
... along Mildenhall Road itself. We pass the Co-op (forrmerly Somerfield) ...
... and then turn left into the estate proper.
In typical bus un-friendly style, this largely post WW2 development has lots of narrow roads and sharp courners. There is a reasonably local shopping centre in the nearby Howard estate ...
... but most folk will go into the centre of town for their main shop. Or they might try out the recently opened ASDA, seen here under construction.
Most buses return to City via Newmarket Road.
This fbb diagram shows the main circular services to the area. First Bus 80 and 81 continue cross-town to other estates whereas newcomer Mulleys M44 ...
... advertises a true circular which runs every 20 minutes.
First's hourly 82, however, does a circuit of the estates and then returns via the station to the centre by the outward route. 80, 81 and 82 provide three buses an hour. Upstart newcomer, Stephensons (trading as Breeze), provides a service 1 or 2 every 15 minutes, similar to First's 82, but via a slightly different route in the estate.
So the estates have 10 buses an hour giving the bemused passenger a bewildering array of options, with a number of niggles.

Getting FROM the estate to ASDA, or the council offices on Newmarket Road is easy with First's 80 or 81 and Mulleys 44. But getting back involves a change of bus in Bury with First or, probably, a continuation of the circle with Mulley.

FROM the station to estates there are the 10 buses and hour, but returning direct with First is only hourly, with Breeze is every 15 minutes and Mulley's circular is "the long way round" at every 20 minutes, assuming that the fares structure allows it..

Clearly there are simply too many buses to Mildenhall Road and Howard Estates and such a level of service is unsustainable in the long term. Something, as they say, has got to go. But who gives way? Even, who goes bust?
There is, however, a further problem. The note "O" on all First's Bury local routes means that they are partly supported by Suffolk County Council. So, daft as it may seem, the Competition Commission's aim of bringing new entrants into the market** means that two companies are running commercial services against a council subsidised network.

In these straitened times, it is hard to image that Suffolk Council will happily shell out its rapidly evaporating money to support s service if another operator is running something similar with no call on the Civic purse.

It has to be daft.

Watch this space for who cracks first. (And that's not a hint!)

** See also fbb's earlier blog "Competition Report" (read again)

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  1. Don't forget that there's a large Tesco just to the north east of the station (on the northern side of the railway) which is probably a key destination in this area too.

  2. Thanks, Man of Kent. Another possible confusion for the unwary and probably why Stephensons Breeze is routed out and back via the Mildenhall Road.

  3. This has come about because of the very poor service and reliability by First Eastern Counties (not helped by having four MDs in five years). This prompted Mulleys to start competing some time ago. Bill Hiron (Stephensons MD) stated at a recent meeting that it is not normally his policy to directly compete against existing operators but he felt that it was justified in this case. Presumably he hopes that Eastern Counties will abandon Bury St. Edmunds altogether as they have already given up all their rural routes there.

  4. It would be inappropriate to speculate, but from an outsider's point of view the upstart newcomer appears to be doing a better job. A third "Bury" blog will look at services to the other estates.

  5. Just to update you, First are pulling out of Bury St Edmunds:

  6. My previous comment wasn't far out, was it?