Friday, 23 March 2018

Does Bus Branding Work?

Window Wonderings at Wantage
The fbb's returned at lunchtime yesterday from an overnight at the Bear, Wantage. The purpose was to enjoy the performances of No 1 grandson (aged 17) and No 2 grandson (aged 14) in the school show. No 2 was in the chorus but stunned the old folks as a street enterainer doing some juggling. No 1 was one of the stars.

He is a year 12 student who, yet again, has been type cast as the star "villain", Fred Graham. Previously Gaston in 'Beauty and the Beast' and Reuben in Joseph', Caleb is currently studying English, History and Psychology, He is also working with Benedict on their band 'The Wayfarers' and is thankful to the Creative Arts Department for the opportunity.

He (and the show) were both excellent. Accommodation for the fbb's was at The Bear ...
... complete with a superb full breakfast. Out of the breakfast room window there was a reasonable view of goings on at the main Market Place bus stop. Whilst Mrs fbb handled domestic matters in the comfortable room ...
... the bountifully breakfasted big bloke was able to take a few snaps outside as well.

Firstly of note is that he routes from Oxford (Stagecoach X30 and X31) have gone Gold as S8 and S9 respectively.
No 1 son tells fbb that this is a decision of convenience rather than marketing as the timetables are unchanged ...
... but he does like the "posh buses" which he defines a "Cool". Apparently these S8 and S9 "golds" have been displaced by newer vehicles on Oxford's other "Gold" routes, so it was easier to re-band the X30 and X31 rather than unpaint the old gold buses. Indeed, for a while, the route numbers remained unchanged but with the newer old gold buses.
Sad, then, that the first X30 bus fbb saw on these Gold routes was a standard Stagecoach decker in corporate livery. Disappointingly the old man was attacking a very tasty sausage at the time and did not make it to the phone/camera in time. But it was just like this one.
More success with the Animal route to Faringdon.

fbb was able to photograph the vehicle on its return ...
... and thus spot the Go-Ahead Oxford "City" bus brand. Further research explained all!
Tuesday 1st November
All aboard as The Story Museum gets a bus full of Animals!
Oxford Bus Company and One decorate Bus in support of The Story Museum
Oxford Bus Company is celebrating its partnership with The Story Museum by decorating one of its buses with an animal menagerie. The bus, which features animals including foxes, bats, rabbits and crickets, will be used to promote the museum’s current exhibition ‘Animal!’, which explores the roles of animals in stories including War Horse, Watership Down, Animal Farm and Wallace and Gromit. The exhibition has been critically acclaimed and has delighted thousands of visitors since opening in February this year.

But hold fast, branding experts. Service 67 (recently much improved) ...
 ... is operated by fellow GoAhead company, Thames Travel - which used to be coloured blue and green.
The "Story Museum" article quoted above happened in 2016 and fbb guesses that the bus had been transferred between companies. Shouldn't the Oxford-specific branding be peeled off?

Generally buses on the 32 "complex" - (and complex it is!!) ...
... seemed to be carrying "Connector" branding. This originally applied to a 15 minutes shuttle ...
... between Didcot Parkway station and the Harwell Science Park. But it sort of spread and absorbed the local bus service between Oxford, Didcot and Wantage.

Did fbb say complex?
... with different variations and therefore different notes on the Monday to Friday service (above) and Saturday.
It is easier with a printed timetable, but you are not allowed such a thing in Wantage. For the record, here is a chunk of the Monday to Friday timetable ...
... and the different version for Saturdays.
So why was a "Connector" branded bus on the Wantage Town service, route 38.
This used to be operated by independent Whites with a distinctive yellow bus (see picture of blue/green bus above) - now you seem to get anything with a wheel at each corner, often with inappropriate branding.

But the real problem is that 38s run "through" on to parts of the 32 complex ...
... (see notes A and R above). So it becomes inevitable that buses with the wrong branding will end up on the 38.

In all these cases, wondrously watched at Wantage between 0830 and 0940 on Thursday last, the problems of using buses emblazoned with route branding become obvious.

If the branding is inconsistent because the right vehicles are not available, or inconsistent because operational factors take branded buses onto "wrong" routes, then is the whole idea of branding not fit for purpose?
Maybe just one tidy and well presented livery for ALL the buses will throw out a better corporate image. in most areas f the country, that's how it used to be.

Generally speaking Joe public cares little for the colour of his bus. He wants it to be clean, on time and driven by a friendly and helpful member of staff.

Are there any statistical studies that show that applying a brand alone brings extra passengers.

Here is one of fbb's favourite brands.
The Somerset blog planned for today has been
held over until next week. It turns out to be
more interesting than originally thought and needs
more time to produce. Worth waiting for?
 Next Cartgate blog : Saturday 24th April 


  1. Compare "Catch a Yellow Bus" said at
    Bournemouth Square
    Poole Bus Station (after 8th April)
    Reading Station

    And the period when all buses in the bus station were the same colour and all had a destination of "Service".

  2. Departure lists don't need my reading glasses!

  3. Ah, branding - a hot potato if ever there was!
    I guess if you have a high frequency route with sufficient PVR to mean that it justifies its own spares it can work.

    Less than that, it can get difficult.

    Although, conversely 1 bus, 1 driver, 1 route can work even at an operator with several such operations. Albeit very occasional mixing does happen and "fleet" livery spare vehicles appear too.

    A whole depot brand can work, I believe growth at Mendip Explorer (AKA First's Wells 25 bus depot) has been spectacular.

    In between it is (seems to be) too complicated to manage.

    As for Stagecoach Gold, our local route has just received new Gold rolling stock replacing coach seated "normal" buses, and to basically the same timetable. The public see the buses as an improvement, even without a better timetable; Stagecoach keep their rolling stock replacement programme running with a cascade of vehicles through the company, and the route gets a boost toward the next frequency enhancement which Stagecoach have already drafted out.
    The "old" Gold buses really have to stay "Gold" as the conversion is far more than a coat of paint - Gold interiors are quite different to Stagecoach standard ones.

    1. The point of Gold, which Stagecoach have said from the start of the concept, was to take a strong route where growth is slowing and numbers don't yet justify a frequency enhancement and give it a bit of a 'kick' to hopefully restart the growth to get to the level to justify a frequency increase which tends to lead to further passenger growth. As such most Gold schemes have come in without a major change to the timetable, though a number have seen enhancement later showing it worked to the full expectation. It may be as Stagecoach have seen the success they are also introducing it with frequency enhancements in certain cases but would not be expected.

      The quality status of Gold would predicate against keeping older buses in Gold livery for life, Stagecoach just repaint into fleet livery and leave the interior untouched, there are also spec enhancements as Gold has gone on so the older vehicles don't match the features of newer vehicles. A number of the very earliest Gold fleets (Solos at Leamington & MAN-E300s at Aldershot for instance) have been cascaded and were painted out of Gold livery when they left.

  4. I recall Travel West Midlands as stating 6-10% growth on branded routes compared to non-branded routes.
    As Anonymous@0909 states, it works better when there is a larger PVR - a good rule of thumb is branding PVR minus 1, so there are fewer instances of wrongly allocated buses (which also depends on how well the depot is laid out - the more tightly-packed, the more difficult it is to shunt buses around to get the correct run out).
    And there is the powerful message that the bus goes somewhere in particular e.g. in Norwich, blue buses go to the station and university, pink buses to the hospital; in Bristol, a green bus gets you back to Temple Meads.

    1. Not only a green bus but a "GWR green" bus - apparently its not a colour in the standard First Bus paint box.

  5. FBB misses the point. Branding does work but not in isolation (and arguably the COMS duck egg and maroon was a brand in itself). Marketing won’t save a poor product but it will help promote a good one. The Mendip Explorer (as mentioned by another) is a case in point. The Bristol service has gained a new fleet of deckers and with branding, and an extra vehicle to aid reliability, it’s growth has been superb. The Bath services even more so that deckers are now required. Branding has helped but also a recast of services so that reliability is maintained and also refurbished fleet.

    It’s a mix of factors otherwise you’d simply have vehicles in dealer white with “BUS” on it

  6. Andrew Kleissner23 March 2018 at 15:48

    I think there is something to be said for branding for special services such as P&R. For instance each route in Cambridge is branded so that drivers know to wait for the red bus (or whatever). The only fly in the ointment is that there is one branded, but grey, "spare" bus.

    Years ago, before society was as literate today, horse buses and also Glasgow (at least) trams were colour coded.

    Where things can and do go wrong is when branded buses are used on other services. For instance we often get these buses: on our local 57/58 service which goes to a quite different part of the city to the 27.

  7. Your son is not completely correct in what he has told you... As a daily user here's what happened.
    There were only 4 of the standard Stagecoach vehicles for the combined PVR of 6 for the X30/31, so there were 2, usually generic but sometimes S3 or rarely S5 branded gold Scania Enviro 400s used.
    At the start of January 2017 these were replaced by 6 of a batch of 10 Gold Enviro 400 MMCs on the same timetable, with generic tagline.
    These worked the route, with occasional substitutions by other vehicles but mainly a good vehicle allocation.
    More recently in October 2017 the timetable was revised, with the buses renumbered and the S8/31 following a different route out of Grove and the S9/X30 seeing a few more buses in the mornings. The route was then officially made Gold then, and moved from the former Harwell outstation to a new outstation in Grove.
    Now come the end of February, roadworks have made some slight difficulties with the 3 in Oxford sometimes interworking with the S9, giving slightly odd allocations. Although the seats aren't quite as nice they are still fine, and the chargers and wi-fi work so no complaints!
    Today an even newer bus made it onto the route after working for the Cheltenham Festival shuttle. I am unsure what the plan is for these buses, but I assume that they will work alongside the current new Gold fleet on the 7, S3, S8 and S9 therefore giving new Gold buses to all of these routes (7 pvr 3, S3 pvr 5, S8 pvr 2 and S9 pvr 4).

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