Monday 19 May 2014

Minor Kommotion in Milton Keynes [2]

See "Minor Kommotion in Milton Keynes [1]" (read again)

Our hard-working Northampton correspondent was visiting Milton Keynes a few days ago when, in Newport Pagnell, he spotted this notice:-
The pull-out came barely one week after the service started.

Buckinghamshire Council had also removed the timetable from its web site.
The full 321 timetable remained on the Milton Keynes service list when fbb prepared this blog last Friday,
Meridian's site, however, confirmed their continued operation of the Sunday service with a tear jerking note of public-spiritedness.
Please note that this is a temporary timetable for Sunday service until further notice.  We have operated a Sunday service on this route for over a year [Sunday 2nd June 2013 to late April 2014??? - fbb] as a good will social service at some considerable cost to the company, something no other company has done, to provide transport when the previous operator left the people on this route abandoned, early in 2013.  

Our trail now leads us to Redline buses of Aylesbury ...
... operators of, amongst others, Aylesbury town routes.
Their web aite proudly announced:-

It's all change for Redline services in Milton Keynes from 28th April 2014. We start running service 21 from Milton Keynes Rail Station via Central Milton Keynes, Great Linford to Newport Pagnell, Sherington, Emberton & Olney to Lavendon. This runs Mondays to Saturdays every hour during the day.

Two darts, ex Imperial of Essex, were acquired and branded for the service ...
... whilst retaining the green paint job they wore before.

The route did not get off to an auspicious start with a minor problem with one of the buses.
Oh dear!

Now here is a speculative and uncorroborated thought. When did Redline start their service 21, allegedly on tender from Milton Keynes Council? Correct : Monday 28th April. When did Meridian/Briatannia Bus start its wonderful commercial route 321? Correct : Monday 28th April. Now, might it be just conceivable that Meridian put in a tender for the route, did not get the award, so started the service commercially to spite the Council and rattle Redline? The technique has been known elsewhere!

According to Meridian, then, it is all right to play the competition game and "attack" Redline but ...

Due to the anti-competitive actions of a larger rival, Redline (under contract to MK Council) operating a free bus on the route this week, we have suspended the Mon-Sat service. We are sorry for any inconvenience. This was not a decision taken lightly but it is just not reasonable for us to compete with a substantially larger company that has chosen to operate a free service, whilst it is subsidised by Milton Keynes Council. The various aspects of competition law are most clear that such mal-practice is not permitted. Additionally, the contract between Redline and Milton Keynes Council specifically prohibit this. Nevertheless, Redline appears to have taken a calculated risk that any consequences to them from Milton Keynes Council would be minor and a price worth paying to gain sole operation of the route.

Milton Keynes Council has received assurances that this practice has now ceased. We do not share their optimism as this operator had previously provided this assurance on Monday and then totally disregarded it. We find it a bizarre situation whereby taxpayers' money is being used by a Council contractor to operate aggressively against a commercial operation that was offering lower fares which would have cost the tax payer nothing. We are unable to comment further at this stage as we are taking legal advice on how best to proceed, and any further comment may be prejudicial.

And. talking of laws, shouldn't Meridian have given eight week's notice of withdrawing a registered bus service? Somethings about pots and black kettles comes to mind.

Meridian's "dirty washing" is being thorough aired on their Facebook pages ...
... with hints of a possible return when Redline are "sorted".
See you in court, then.

And a supportive Facebook comment ...
... see Redline's little problem above! Does Tom Walker work for Meridian?
It is good to have reasoned intellectual debate!

But the situation becomes more farcical. IF Meridian continues to operate the service commercially, then Milton Keynes is obliged (legally) to withdraw the tendered service. This would leave Meridian as a clear winner. But if (again "if") Meridian hasn't done its sums correctly and the route continues to be unviable, then it will have to withdraw later and the Council will have to re-issue the tender. Will Meridian then put in a "silly" low tender and fail; will Redline put in a silly low tender and fail? The "silly" game can continue for months leaving the passengers bus-less or confused or both. Such are the benefits of the UK's public transport model.

There is, of course, another possibility. According to Meridian's main web site they only operate three services ...
... but their subsidiary mobile phone version lists five. It's good to see this example of a quality on-line service to the hard-done-by travelling publuic of Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire.
At the moment the 20 and 321 are therefore Sunday only and the W4 runs from Wellingborough station to the town centre. Are these services simply too widespread for a small company to manage? Has Meridian realised that it has bitten of more than it can financially chew?

Yet again - watch this space!

 Next bus blog : Tuesday 20th May 


  1. The requirement for subsidised services not to compete with commercial routes is not as clear cut as that. Section 88 of the Transport Act 1985 states that councils should use their powers to subsidise "only where the service in question would not be provided without subsidy" - but it also says that they "shall have power to secure the provision of such public passenger transport services as they consider it appropriate to secure to meet any public transport requirements within their area which would not in their view be met apart from any action taken by them for that purpose".
    The 321 would appear to follow at least partly a different route to the 21 (or is it just that the latter's timetable is more detailed?) but Meridian/Britannia's commercial skills are questionable - why use 4 buses, with inefficient layovers, to compete with 2-bus route 21?
    Traveline reveals W4 is registered to start in June.

  2. They do run different routes, the 21 being diverted to serve a section of route in Great Linford which has long had a service of some kind but is unserved by anything else. It also continues on to Lavendon which the 321 doesn't.

    Notably, MK Council has in better financial times been very much known to tender frequency increases, e.g. a commercial route running hourly has been augmented to half-hourly with half the journeys being tendered.

    And I do wonder myself the financial basis of what Meridian are doing - they seem to be doing stuff nobody else thinks is economic, and I have no idea how! Nonetheless they seem to be doing it successfully.