Saturday 31 December 2022

Here We Go Again? (Part 2)

Sometimes fbb Is A Bit Thick!

Back in October, fbb dutifully read Roger French's excellent blog (Bus and Train User) about a new Routemaster tourist service in the Big Smoke. Clearly fbb's leedle grey cells were only in standby mode as your old codger-blogger completely missed the point. Sorry Rog!

This new operation was yet another company in the hands of the redoubtable Philip Higgs of Bristol and of Coastliner Buses fame.
Those unschooled in the ways of limited liability company operation may be befuddled to note that Mr Higgs was appointed as director in 2012, yet the new service started over 10 years later in 2022.

That is because, to save setting up a new company, he simply renamed an old one!
It existed under three previous identities. And there is nothing wrong in that. There is no requirement for a company name to be relevant to its business (viz "Musterphantom Ltd" a k a Solent Blu Line) so Mr Higgs could have called himself "Higgs Happy Hexcursions Ltd"!

It took some time to get the appropriate licences from various authorities in London, notably because of a "requirement" that all buses should be fully accessible; which Routemasters palpably are not.

Eventually "they" realised that a "heritage" bus would never be accessible and grudgingly agreed, conveniently forgetting that Transport for London had run two Routemaster heritage routes of its own.

London's efforts differed radically from Mr Higgs'. 
Neither of these "official" routes had any meaningful printed publicity. They were just strange buses on parts of routes 9 and 15,
They were "not successful".

So Londoner Buses ...
... has an excellent leaflet.
There is an equally excellent map of the route from Waterloo ...
... via the London Eye (at a distance) ...
... Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and so to Piccadilly Circus. It is the same route back with a round trip time of 40 minutes but an effective sightseeing time of only 20 minutes. There are plenty of sights NOT seen, so you do wonder whether it is worth doing.

Are there enough lovers of Routemasters and enough tourists intrigued by a real London bus to make a viable business. It "costs" three buses and six staff (plus cover for breaks) and runs 7 days a week. That is a lot of cost.

The fare is cheaper than the usual mega London tours, but still more expensive than buying a couple of ordinary bus tickets on your bank card, or even walking!

Would you really want to ride this route more than twice; i.e. out and back?

And it is a tough time to start such a business in the depths of winter. Things were very quiet on its first day as per this video.
There is plenty of Facebook publicity ...
... all very jolly and well done ...
... including non-operating days over the "festive season".
But will tourists be trawling through possible Facebook pages for inspiration? There is a Londoner Buses web site as well. Same question?

At least one video reviewer bemoans the total lack of roadside publicity as the service started.

Is it sorted yet?

Will Mr Higgs succeed?

Only time will tell.
And there's more ...

The indefatigable Philip Karl Higgs appears as a recently appointed director of Altonian Coaches; it's in Hampshire!
Altonian had been around for a good many years with a distinctive orange livery ...
... but Hampshire's bus watchers report only spotting a couple of minibuses in blue and white.
Blog readers may await 2023 developments with interest.

But there is another twist to the story ...

... which will investigate on Tuesday of next week.

 Next Sunday Snippets blog : 1st January 2023 

Friday 30 December 2022

Here We Go Again? (Part 1)

What's Going On?

High Court Judge finds Beverley Bell committed Serious Misconduct

Ex-Senior Traffic Commissioner Mrs Beverley Bell committed serious misconduct in public office, was wholly unsuited to the role of presiding over a Public Inquiry, was hectoring and bullying in her approach and should not be enabled to work as a Traffic Commissioner.

Those were the findings of retired High Court Judge Sir Alistair MacDuff following a Judicial Inquiry triggered by a complaint from Mr Philip Higgs of Catch22Bus Company...
... concerning Mrs Bell’s conduct during a Public Inquiry into Mr Higgs’ suitability to hold a PSV operators licence.
Sir Alistair also found that throughout the course of the hearings, information about the nature and source of allegations had been withheld from Mr Higgs. She considered written evidence from persons whose identity had not been disclosed; in so doing, she denied Mr Higgs a fair hearing.

In a July 2018 letter to the Department for Transport responding to Sir Alistair’s conclusions, Mrs Bell acknowledged that his report was fair and that she accepted his findings. She wrote that she regretted that she “did not always display the high standards of conduct that are required” and said she would apologise to Mr Higgs. However, she was advised by a DfT Official not to apologise and, following a meeting at the DfT, she changed her mind. She has not apologised and now denies that she was at fault.

The detail of the kerfuffle is complex and beyond the wit of normal man to follow. But for those who want to read more or refresh their memory, fbb has re-published a blog wot he wrote nearer the events described above.

Mt Higgs was banned from operating buss because he had lost hus "good repute". His case was reheard by another Traffic Commissioner but the ban was upheld. So his Catch22 operation ceased.

No! It kept going.

It is perfectly possible to close a company down, start a new one with a different person now "of good repute", buy the assets of the closed operation and continue trading. As long as the licence holder is now "of good repute" things can continue. In simple terms "bad repute" usually entails legal, financial and/or operational failures.

fbb has no "legal" knowledge of this case, but it looks as if Sur Alistair (retired) was acting in an "advisory" capacity, not a judgemental capacity.

But Mr Higgs is still running his buses, apparently successfully, in Blackpool/ Since 2007 the company is Coastliner Buses ...

Mr Higgs and one other are currently directors and all the necessary accounts and returns due to companies house are up to date. So, legally, Mr Higgs is now a good boy and his past demeanors are long gone and forgotten.


Coastliner had three routes on its current on-line map, much the sme as before.

The 21 is a competitor for the tram and Blackpool's own seafront bus routes ...
... and appears open topped when the sun shines.
The 24 (tendered?) wiggles round Poulton le Fylde ...
... and usually warrants only a single decker.
Its Saturday and Sunday timetables are, unfortunately, shown combined on one table ...

A new arrival for the company is tendered route 72 ...
... but, try as he might, fbb could not prise a timetable out of the web site. Only this appeared ...
... with a little bus trundling about, but a note telling us that it did not run in this direction" or, indeed, in any direction!

Never mind - 'it's all on line!

Straightforward so far, but then comes a batch of Sightseeing tours which no longer operate. (Have they ever?)

And similar for Leeds.
And it's the tram's fault in Birmingham!
But, hooray, we have a service in Manchester ...
... running every day.
Only ot doesn't!
It currently offers three round trips on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
As with the operation in Blackpool, the on-line presence shows a good professional branding style even if the service is a bit thin at this time of year.
Manchester is, after all, renowned for its weather
As we shall see tomorrow, Mr Higgs' aspirations are spreading even further afield!

Incidentally, fbb did come across a Routemaster with blinds set for a Chester Tour, but cannot confirm whether this was an actual run or just a PR set up.

 Next Here We Go Again blog : Satrday 31st December 


Past blog repeated from 2nd Dec 2016

Broken in Blackpool (5)
The Chess Game Explained!
It is easy to start a "Limited Company". You simply buy one (fbb's cost £100). It will have a silly same (Solent Blue Line's was Musterphantom Limited) which you change; you choose wide ranging articles of association which say that you will be a Transport Operator but you might do almost anything else as well. Directors are appointed and have to pay cash for the company's shares. (fbb had two directors, putting £250 each into the pot for 500 shares of £1 each).

In the box, you get a company seal.
And you are in business. You must send an annual return and lodge annual accounts with Companies House. For a small company, you do not even need auditors.

To run buses you then need an operators licence which involves ensuring that the Directors are "of good repute" (have some cash, and have not been banned) and that you have a Transport Manager who is qualified. Back in fbb's day this Certificate of Personal Competence was not difficult to obtain although all the regulations have been tightened up subsequently. You need an operating base. Oh yes, and a bus or two.

These must be properly maintained and, effectively, be given an "MOT" test every four to six weeks (depending on mileage operated).  Repeated test failures are a no-no and you risk being shut down. Your buses can also be inspected at any time whilst on the road and impounded without warning.

If you want to run a public service you need to register the route and timetable with the Traffic Commissioners. 

Although the company's responsibilities to the outside world are "Limited", its officers are personally and financially liable for abiding by the rules.

A Blackpool bus operator is facing a seven year ban after a transport inspector ruled it did not comply with the terms of its licence. Oakwood Travel, now operating under the name Catch 22 Bus Ltd, has been involved in a long running series of hearings with the Traffic Commissioner over its licence. Alongside the appeal application, she was asked to consider a stay of her decisions regarding the company, its director Philip Higgs, and transport manager Frank Steele, pending the outcome of any appeal hearing. Its owner Philip Higgs was also linked to Classic Bus North West and Totally Transport as well as Red Rocket buses.
The Commissioner, Beverley Bell, ruled that licences for Classic Bus and Totally Transport be revoked and then after a complex series of hearings ruled that Oakwood Travel and Catch 22’s licence should end on July 31 2015 and that Mr Higgs be banned.

The wrangle began in July 2014 when licences were revoked for Classic Bus and Totally Transport due to having no financial standing.

We know (from previous blogs) that Classic Bus North West went bust in December 2013 after closing down its route 80 and the contract with Lancashire without the requisite periods of notice.
Going bust due to "financial difficulties" suggests questions of management competence and might make the Commissioner consider that Mr Higgs "good repute" wasn't, But we haven't hearts of the Community Interest Company "Totally Transport". This was tied in with the Lancashire Transport Trust and, according to local sources, undertook vehicle refurbishment.
The Commissioner heard how Classic Bus had been sold in a pre-pack deal to Oakwood which was based at the same base in Brinwell Road in December 2013. In the inspector’s report she stated that Oakwood had been operating nine vehicles when it only had authority for eight and that its then transport manager Frank Steele was based at a haulage yard at Huyton in Merseyside and he did not know how many vehicles were needed to operate service 12 or service 22 in Blackpool.

Not the best way forward!

She also said that Mr Higgs had not notified them that he was the director of Oakwood. The hearing was adjourned until 25 July 2014 when Frank Steele did not turn up. The hearing was adjourned again and reconvened on September 3 2014 when all parties were present.

Not an ideal response!

The Commissioner was told of a complaint by Blackpool Council about about Oakwood advertising a Blackpool illuminations tour for 10 weeks without it being registered with the Traffic Commissioners. 

The council also complained about anti-competitive practices on service 22 and apparently unachievable running times on service 12 which was investigated by Traffic Examiner Brian Newton who said the company’s 22 service was using the Tesco stand and not Langdale Road as it was contracted and not hitting the frequency rate for services.

The Commissioner was also concerned that it was not clear whether Classic Bus or Oakwood Travel was the operator of certain services. The hearings resumed on September 10 2014 and again on April 27 2015 but Mr Higgs asked for the investigation to be started all over again with a new inspector and made a formal complaint.

On May 22 2015 Mrs Bell rejected his request for her to step down and instead made the ruling to ban him from operating a bus company and to end the licence of Oakwood Travel from July 31 2015. 

She stated: “I therefore conclude that I would be failing in my duty if I did not make an order for the revocation of the licence for Oakwood and the disqualification of the company and of Philip Higgs as a director due to loss of repute and loss of professional competence.” Frank Steele was also banned as a transport manager for five years.

After a long and complicated investigation he has lodged an appeal with the Upper Tribunal against the Traffic Commissioner’s orders, saying the hearings were unfair.

A statement from the inspectors’ office said: “Alongside the appeal application, the Traffic Commissioner was asked to consider a stay of her decisions regarding the company, its director Philip Higgs, and transport manager Frank Steele, pending the outcome of any appeal hearing. “After considering that request, Mrs Bell decided to stay her decision to revoke the company’s licence and disqualify the company, its director and the transport manager. She did so due to the complexity of the case and the delay in the decision being issued.

“Accordingly, this means the orders will not now come into effect on July 31 2015, pending the outcome of any appeal hearing.”
A stay pf execution for Mr HiggsNow; if you were in trouble with the authorities you might consider it a wide counsel to keep your hands clean, lie low and run you bus company absolutely according to the rules.

But a video had appeared on YouTube which purported to show Mrs Bell breaking the law as she drove her motor car via the M58 and M6.
Police investigations revealed that although the video was pseudonymously headed, the perpetrator was Mr Higgs.

It would appear that Mr Higgs' relationship with the Traffic Commissioners was terminal.

Which is where we came in!
A ban from 18th January 2017. But the company is defiant and has lodged another appeal. Pending that (protracted) process the expansion of the network later this month will continue and there would be no January capitulation.

On-line opinions are mixed, ranging from "It is good to get these cowboys off the road" to "This is one of the better companies and it should not disappear."

Meanwhile Mrs Bell has announced her resignation from April 2017.

In a shock announcement Beverley Bell - Britain’s most senior transport regulator - has resigned from both her posts. Beverley Bell will leave her STC and TC jobs in spring 2017.

Mrs Bell, 55, will leave her post of Traffic Commissioner (TC) for the North West of England in Spring 2017. The date coincides with the end of her term as Senior Traffic Commissioner (STC), for which she is not seeking re-appointment.

Where do we go from here?