Tuesday, 30 June 2015

It Exists To Make a Profit

So we should NOT be surprised.
But we are.
It began with sales (to Stagecoach) of Wigan Depot, then Chester and the Wirral. First London went to GoAhead and the Ozzy Tower Transit. There was undefended capitulation in North Devon and between Plymouth and  Torquay, again to Stagecoach; and, of course, in fbb's birth town of Northampton.

The Buses of Somerset idea proved over-optimistic and pruning has happened recently in Taunton; the competition with Webberbus has not yet been "resolved", to coin a phrase.**
Recent announcements have presaged some "reallocation of resources" in York (of which more later) and there has been a steady stream of rumours about the future of the Plymouth business.

But industry watchers weren't expecting yesterday's announcement!

Early arrivals in the fbb blog in-box were all about "Catch the Bus Week" including a cut-price offer on York's Park and Ride, beleaguered by last Thursday's battery bus blaze.
Beaming Ben Gilligan, complete with obligatory green hands, offers £2 return instead of £2.40. 
Four chunks of happy-passenger bus news! Plus, of course, the equally obligatory PR photo, this year on Westminster Bridge. {Exciting photo awaited]. But yesterday's announcement from First Bus was something of a shocker.

First Bus has announced proposals to close three of its smaller depots; Newcastle-under-Lyme, Hereford and Bracknell later this year.

Under the proposals, which are subject to consultation, Bracknell will close on 28 August. Some routes will be retained but will operate from First’s depot in Slough, including Greenline Services to London ...

... and Legoland services. First Bus, as previously announced, has also sold Route 90, which operates between Reading and Bracknell.
... to Reading Buses.

The 90 will change on 25th July. fbb understands that all Bracknell local services will cease frrom the above August date.

First proposes to close Hereford and Newcastle-under-Lyme depots on 5 September.

In Hereford just 3,500 passengers per day travel with First and therefore the company plans to withdraw completely from the area.
In the Potteries First proposes to combine its Newcastle under Lyme and Stoke Adderley Green Depots, which are in close proximity. First said it remains committed to running a significant fleet in the Potteries in the long term and will remain a major employer, but operating two depots in such close proximity is no longer a viable option.

Presumably there will also be some service reductions?

In both Bracknell and Hereford, given the volume of other bus operators in the area ...
Courtney buses in Bracknell

DRM buses in Hereford

... First said it was confident that customers shouldn’t be left without a service.

fbb expects Courtney and DRM to pick up some or all of the local business in their areas. 

Giles Fearnley, Managing Director of First Bus, said: “In 2012 we launched our transformation plan which has seen great success in a huge number of our local businesses, as we reported at our full year results earlier in June. We continue to see passenger and revenue growth across the business and we have a wide range of actions to be implemented throughout this year to further benefit our customers and maintain growth. However, despite all the hard work, we have been unable to make the progress we were seeking in Bracknell, Hereford and in some parts of the Potteries.

“Whilst these proposals are disappointing, we simply must ensure our local businesses are on a sustainable and solid footing in order that we maintain the momentum of change toward meeting our medium term financial targets and therefore protect jobs in the long term. Regrettably, we see no alternative, but to close these depots.”

So there we have it. To maintain the profitability of the business as a whole, to keep major shareholders happy, it is necessary to prune this twigs of the First forest that are not bearing fruit.

But no more news of Plymouth?

fbb will take a look at the Bracknell and Hereford areas in later blogs.

And if we want to speculate, there is this press release from South Yorkshire PTE.

The Deal’s public transport commitments include delivering improvements to local bus services by developing an efficient, integrated bus network that meets the needs of a growing economy, and is financially sustainable for fare payers, the taxpayer and bus operators.

Plans for the city’s optimised bus network builds on the progress of the successful Sheffield Bus Partnership; a voluntary agreement between Sheffield City Council (SCC), South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) and bus operators First South Yorkshire, Stagecoach in Sheffield and Sheffield Community Transport. 

Developed by the Partnership, proposals include improved key routes into the city centre that aim to remove excess services to keep traffic flowing and aid faster bus journey times, minimising congestion and pollution. And the reinvestment of services to improve access to employment and training sites and other public transport modes.

Public consultation on the network will take place between Monday 29 June and Friday 31 July 2015 online at travelsouthyorkshire.com/sbp.

Don't bother to log on to the URL above : there is  NOTHING  about "The Deal" there! Well done PTE.

It is the phrase "remove excess services" which provokes another sobering thought.

** although more First buses are in the new green livery and Webber lost the Flyer Park and Ride contract to First.
Meanwhile in Cornwall ...
... this email also popped into fbb's inbox later yesterday.

EXCITING NEWS IN CORNWALL! Look what's coming soon ...

Click on the link, slavering with near uncontained delirium, and what do you find?
Just the above. It looks a bit like a First Impressions super-twiddly web site.

Exciting news indeed. (Yawn).

Will the timetables (e.g. 39 & 45; 1, 1A & 1B) still be incomprehensible?

Will the bus stop flags tell us which buses stop there?
 Next bus blog : Wednesday 1st July 


  1. I would be surprised if DRM are the main beneficiary of Firsts withdrawal in Hereford, they aren't actually that big a company and largely run in from the countryside to the east of the city. The Yeomans Canyon/Lugg Valley combine would be the more likely, it is much larger and runs a number of local services around Hereford already though it may be a mix of operators spreading the work around to be able to take it all on.

    Whilst Courtney are the only other operator in Bracknell currently it remains to be seen how much they can take on, to replace First is going to require a huge increase in the fleet size and there are always concerns about funding these big jumps in fleet size without compromising the long term future of the business.

  2. I think there were several registrations by Courtney in recent days on the VOSA website.

    Where First (and others) pull out of places like this does the network actually decline once another operator/s come in to replace them? Its not something I have looked at. If not or there is only minimal change one must ask why First are so less able to make it work!

  3. This looks like a nationwide tidy up exercise of no hope areas, where local operators have taken over.

    Bracknell - Courtney have taken 100% of the contract services at Bracknell from 13th July much of it from First.

    Wiltshire - First Westbury out-station closure -
    quote from First "After 1st August First will no longer operate on services 30 (Frome Town Service), service T1 (Trowbridge town service) nor the daytime journeys on Service 234. We understand that service 30 will be taken over by Frome Minibuses and that Wiltshire Council have issued a tender for a replacement to the T1 in Trowbridge. 234 is covered already by a more frequent service provided by Faresaver who will be adding a Saturday service to their operation.

    There will be no job losses as a result of these changes as the staff at First's Westbury outstation will be redeployed to other duties."

  4. Re: Clive C above. One problem than first may face is inherited terms and conditions fo employees dating back to National Bus Company days. These will almost certainly be significantly more expensive than, say, for Courtney. First also have substantial group overheads to be paid for by takings from their constituent companies. There are advantages and disadvantages of being one of the big boys.

    There are more Wiltshire "changes" to come.


  5. Which one next?
    Plymouth or Yeovil?

  6. Bracknell wasn't such a surprise to me - it only has three good routes, two of which can be run by Slough.

    The rest quite clearly is marginal at best, and with Courtney loitering with Solos in competition, I can't disagree that selling the 90 to Reading and running away isn't the best option.

    As fbb says, First will have issues with competition in having to pay higher wages etc etc than Courtney. It should also be remembered that Bracknell is pretty poor bus territory, with high car ownership and an uninspiring town centre people don't actually like visiting.

    The seemingly never ending re-tendering of the council services by Bracknell Forest Council can't help - as there's no stability. It's worth remembering of course that Go-Ahead threw in the towel on their Bracknell routes as well. You have to wonder whether the council were expecting First to abandon the town after they awarded absolutely everything to one operator, and whether they now have any regrets?

    I've not seen any Courtney registrations go through of late, other than the tendered services they're taking on and changes to their commercial, competing services.

    Courtney will have a big task on their hands now, as they've already had to expand significantly to take on the won council work.

    Their competing services are 'creaming the profit' jobs rather than rival all day services, i.e. while First run regular services, their 171/172 routes have the most unclockface timetables I've ever seen (0704, 0740, 0824, 0909, 0947, 1023, 1109, 1147, 1223... etc off the bus station on the new timetable!).

    There's a lot to cover - they're running one bus an hour on the 194 with two buses, that'll need to be at least half-hourly to avoid a backlash, so an extra two buses there.

    191 Bracknell - Windsor needs two buses I think.

    Then there's a good handful on the Bracknell town routes above what Courtney run on the 171/2.

    So it could be a real struggle to take it all on, but what other operator will? They could face a bit of a backlash if they don't manage to increase their competiting services to a satisfactory level, given it was them who caused all the aggro in the first place!

    They could face even more problems if Reading decide to run straight into Bracknell rather than going round the estates, as it will leave more coverage needing to be served.

    1. *is* the best option! D'oh

    2. "Bracknell is pretty poor bus territory, with high car ownership and an uninspiring town centre people don't actually like visiting."

      Somewhat ironic that the closure has been announced in the week that construction really gets going of the new town centre, that will cause traffic gridlock when it opens fully in 2017.

  7. Just a small point . . . . First in London was purchased by Tower Transit and Metroline, who run the operation as Metroline West.
    fbb's point about wages and conditions is germane . . . . the "West" operation in Metroline is operated on quite different conditions; First London seemed to, when in doubt, pay over the odds to avoid industrial conflict, and this legacy is causing "difficulties" in combining the two operations, even after two years.
    In Hereford . . . . First won a goodly slice of the tendered market only one year ago . . . one now surmises that the prices obtained might have been a tad low in the expectation of more buses spreading the garage overheads further. I reckon the PVR at Hereford is around 16 buses, which is a pretty big chunk for one operator to swallow. One wonders whether Hereford CC will take kindly to having to re-issue tenders again?
    In Bracknell, I believe the depot site is valuable in property terms, and certainly the town centre is remarkably uninspiring for shoppers, with many empty shops. I'd certainly drive to Reading for electrical/clothes shopping etc. Reading Buses have taken the Bracknell-Reading service (for which I believe the buses were outstationed at the RB garage already), and there is Slough Garage relatively close by, so Bracknell was perhaps inevitably in the closure list.
    Some interesting times ahead . . . . . I'd expect Yeovil to be next; only a PVR of around 10 buses, a garage in the town centre probably worth £££ for housing. What price Taunton . . . . I suspect that, between First and Webberbus, it's "who blinks first" (especially as all seems not to be well at Webberbus, with cancellations and unreliability of services seemingly the norm).

    1. I understand that the Yeovil site has been sold and that an industrial unit has been obtained as a replacement. The operation there is profitable and will be more so with a smaller modern depot, but I understand only minimal engineering functions will be retained with buses going to Weymouth for anything more.

    2. The sale of the Reckleford Depot and move to another site has been rumoured for about a year.
      All maintenance apart from minor items has been done only in Weymouth for a few months now.
      There are daily movements to and from the two locations which cannot help profitability.

  8. There are various bits of Norfolk and Suffolk where First withdrew and little suffered as a result. North from Norwich First now goes no further than Stalham but you'd never say Cromer and Sheringham had a poor bus service. In fact it's far better now than in the 1960s