Wednesday 9 February 2022

Part 3 : London Buses 84 ...

From Mr Potter's Bar To Mr Barnet's Fair

Pre 1986, the 84, then a London bus route, ran straight-ish down the St Albans Road to Barnet, a route now taken by Uno 614.
The 614 runs from Hatfield to Queensbury Jubilee Line Underground station every hour, with a few 644s thrown in.
The half hourly 84 calls at Potters Par station ...
... a k a Sainsburys, before looping round the northern side of the town centre to reach the traditional time point in a substantial lay-by on the High Street. 
This is not quite "opp" Metroline's bus garage ...
... but ideal for staff changeovers! Was this why the 84 was diverted? Or was it yet another attempt to drum up a few more necessitous bums on seats?

South of Potters Bar we remain on the old A1 (now A1000) and there is a stretch of real open country (open and passenger-less!) ...
... until we cross the border into London proper.
Potters Bar used to be in Middlesex, and, we might have expected it to become Greater London, but the powers that be decided to give it to Hertfordshire, thus ensuring that the 84 only dribbles into the GLC area right at the southern end of its trajectory.

Historically, Potters Bar was virtually non-existent, dwarfed in importance by our old friend South Mimms; it was Potters Bar in the parish of South Mimms!
Whatever, the 84 trundles along to New Barnet Station where it terminates ...
... with a good view of the East Coast main line from the top deck!

So how come the withdrawal of this long-standing route by the ...
... "dynamic and ambitious" Metroline.

The local press was first with the news ...

The bus company Metroline has "signalled its intention" to withdraw its 84 route in its entirety from early April. Hertfordshire County Council, who partly fund the route, said they are "still awaiting an official cancellation" from Metroline. 

HCC added they are in discussion with other bus operators to see which elements of the 84 service they could potentially take on commercially. 

A London Colney resident posted an angry reaction to the news on the neighbourhood app Nextdoor.

They said: "This is outrageous. It's the only route running from St Albans, through London Colney to Potters Bar and New Barnet."

This was followed shortly by Metroline's official on-line announcement.
The piece still does not refer to an actual cancellation but to an intention. The item also refers (ungrammatically) to "no support unavailable" so we can assume that Metroline were hoping to frighten Hertfordshire Council into finding an extra wedge of fivers in a rusty moneybox behind the fridge and give it all to Metroline.

Fat chance!!

There are no timetables of any sort on Metroline's web site. Has Metroline routinely provided printed leaflets? What printed publicity does Hertfordshire currently provide? When were the last special fare deals offered to encourage passengers to try the route out?

Have Metroline REALLY tried since 2014?
Probably not!

So don't try, don't try and don't try again, then give up!
Robert the Bruce would be choking on his heavenly porridge!

There was a poster ...
... IN 1916!

Despite the fact the this is a "simple business decision" made by a company that exists to make a profit (a decision not to run buses as a charity), the local press has unearthed some heartbreaking "human interest" stories to encourage Metroline to lose some more money.

Potters Bar local Simon Tshulak believes that cancelling the service would be devastating for the local community, especially older residents who use the Potters Bar Community Hospital. 

"There hasn’t been any proper consultation and if Metroline axe this popular route the results would be extremely disappointing. My petition is to get Metroline to reconsider axing the route and to save one of the key routes connecting Potters Bar," he said.

One petition signator, Sarah Jane Deacon, said: "I rely on the 84 to get to work every day. Also, I met my lovely fiance on this bus!"

All together now, Aaaaah!"

St Albans resident Viera Loffler, 77, is partially sighted. She has been using the 84 service for years so that she can go shopping at Sainsbury’s and M&S in London Colney.

No problem, Viera, two other routes link St Albans and Sainsburys!

Her nearest Moorfields Eye hospital is in Potters Bar ONLY on the 84 bus route ...
... and her partner, who is 92, uses the 84 and 313 buses to enjoy daytime jazz at the Botany Bay Club in Enfield. 
Sadly, a few folks going to listen to Jazz on a couple of days each month cannot sustain a bus route. Hospital visits might be a bigger problem as there is no alterative - but, again, are there enough appointment-holders to pay Metroline's bills?

"We try to do things as opposed to just sitting at home. For that we need buses," Viera said.

Carol Brown wants to save the 84 because she was nearly born on it. In January 1971, her parents travelled from Potters Bar to Barnet to go to natal appointments. Two weeks before Carol was due, they were returning from an appointment when her mum started having "twinges".  

Two stops later she got off the bus at Barnet Maternity Hospital and Carol was born 20 minutes later. 

No she didn't - the 84 does not serve Barnet Hospital!
All together now, "Aaaah ..." or maybe "Aha?"

One thing  is 100% certain - there is going to be a great deal more like the 84 thrown out the door, for sure!

Shock News From Stagecoach
It is well known that Stagecoach, like other daft operators, have given up producing any printed material, despite the fact that the majority of their customers want a leaflet and don't use "devices"! But from darkest Somerset comes one very big surprise.

Correspondent Richard, who lives in Wellington (Somerset not Salop) reports thus:-

The leaflet (above and below - a simple A5 two sided "flyer") is being distributed in Wellington by the Post Office!!!


Note that, as well as departures, it also advertises fares.


What is going on?

Could it POSSIBLY be that Stagecoach has, at last, realised the error of its "All On Line" customer reducing policy?

Of course, as part of the National Express Stagecoach takeover, the South West Falcon is being sold to ComfortDelGo, majority owners of Scottish Citylink.

So could it POSSIBLY be that Stagecoach have exaggerated the revenue of The Falcon and are desperate to boost sales, so their onward sale is boosted?

Whatever? Maybe the tide will turn and passengers can, once again, be told in print when and where their buses run and how much it will cost.

One other suggestion from fbb to Stagecoach. Get rid of that Motorway Maintenance Vehicle livery ...
... and go back to something which is a "wow" for potential passengers, something which is creating desire, as someone once said.

 Next Publicity Matters blog : Thursday 10th February 


  1. You would not expect a cancellation to have yet been submitted, we are still within the statutory consultation phase of the registration process if you are changing on 1st April (formal submission to the Licensing Office doesn't need to go off until next week I believe but we are halfway through the required consultation period with the local authorities). What needs to be remembered with the 84 is that Metroline is primarily a London Operator who is set up to run contracted bus services and that the 84 is their only remotely commercial bus service (they have a couple of other routes outside London but these are largely contracted). This means they don't have the same background, skill set ups or ethos to know how to manage such a route and they will probably have a different attitude to risk that a commercial service brings (also compared to a London contract a commercial service like the 84 is probably very small fry in the Metroline business). The 84 isn't that weak a service but it has always felt a little unloved as a small part of a large business whose focus elsewhere and it provides good opportunities for a business more suited to a deregulated mindset. The route has actually been fairly stable over the years, the only major changes coming from changes in urban developments (diverting via the main station to London in St Albans, in London Colney which has grown massively in recent years and diverting via Potters Bar, which has become a major town in the area, many years ago are all logical) - whether the links across the border into London, with all the extra hassle of two regimes and the issues of dealing with London requirements, survive is another question.

    1. I think that's a good assessment. Not so much the wrong route, as the wrong operator. Not a criticism, ethos is important.

      In a way it echoes what happened when First had the idea to transfer their redundant London management, when they withdrew, into Essex. We're still recovering; hopefully.

      It all illustrates a wider truth. The temptation to play with new toys is something we take with us from childhood, but just sometimes the old toys are better and just need that little bit of looking after.

  2. Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancs has resumed printing timetable leaflets and making them available on buses and tourist information centres etc.

  3. OK . . . I can't let that lot pass without comment.
    I'll declare an interest . . . I was responsible for the planning and scheduling for Metroline's "commercial" routes for most of the last 20 years, so I do know of what I speak!!

    Route 84 started in 1910, actually . . . it was a Sunday route from Golders Green to St Albans to allow Londoners to access the countryside.

    The route was re-routed via Potters Bar for both crew-change purposes and to search for more passengers . . . this was in the mid-1980s.

    Route 84 has been fully commercial since the 1980's . . . there is NO SUBSIDY received from anyone. Route 242 is also commercial, although it does receive de-minimus monies from Herts CC.

    Route 84 was re-routed via Cell Barnes in St Albans in order to search out more passengers, and to provide a link via the City Station . . . a double-run from Alma Road was considered, but rejected because of traffic congestion.
    The inward route via Hatfield Road was also revised to attempt to avoid traffic congestion along Victoria Street and St Peters Street.

    FBB's comments about not trying, and not producing publicity are disgraceful, and I will expect an apology from him. The route was recently extended to Luton Airport in the search for passengers . . . the rebuilding works there wrecked the reliability, so it was cut back to protect the rest of the route. The frequency has been amended several times since 2015 . . . as high as 4 BPH from Potters Bar to St Albans until 2020. An evening service has been maintained throughout . . . it carried penny numbers of passengers, but the effort was there.

    At EVERY timetable change, a new PRINTED (8,000 copies) timetable booklet has been produced WITHOUT FAIL . . . a pdf verson is available on the Metroline website, and copies are distributed to libraries and shopping centres, as well as being available on the buses.

    The timetable introduced in March 2020 was designed to reduce costs to what should be balanced by revenue. Of course, something else happened 4 days before that!!!

    Although I am now retired, I've seen the relevent numbers . . . passenger levels only returned to around 70% of those expected by last September, and then fell off again in the Autumn. Bearing in mind that (a) ENCTS reimbursement will fall to match OAP numbers travelling from April 2022 and (b) Bus Recovery Grant was expected to finish at the same date (and yes, I know that it may continue, but that is in the gift of the Treasury, and may not be funded) . . . Metroline took the decision to withdraw the route.

    Bear in mind that it is a tiny, tiny amount of the overall business (8 PVR out of something around 1250 PVR) . . . obviously it isn't high on the priority list!!

    The financials are not good, and even if I was still involved, I'd struggle to justify the route continuing. There is the prospect of a large new housing development along the route, but that's still 5 years away.

    Can it be replaced? Uno could divert their Route 614 via Potters Bar to replace the Barnet link; they already run Route 602 between London Colney and St Albans; between Potters Bar and London Colney buses run with barely a handful of passengers on board.

    IMHO . . . this is just the first of many such route withdrawals to come in the Shire Counties . . . I'm sad to see it go, but I'm not entirely surprised.

    {Oh, FBB . . . don't forget that apology . . .}

    1. As I said in my comment, no criticism of Metroline. I think they've done everything they could in the circumstances in which they found themselves.

      I just wonder how successful Unobus would be without the support of the University business. They'd have the same problems as the 84. Arriva keep chopping and changing. It's not hard to see why.
      I do think HCC need to be more careful. They need to keep an eye on the bigger picture.

  4. The timetables and individual maps for all four Hertfordshire routes are on the Metroline website. They can be found by clicking on 'Country Routes' at the top of the web site. A pdf of the timetable booklet dated July 2021 is also availible for download. I have not traveled on these buses since 2019 but copies were on the buses then.

  5. Quote: "despite the fact that the majority of their customers want a leaflet and don't use "devices"!"
    I assume you have figures to back up that claim, FBB? I ask, as with BSIP money looking to be far less than we had hoped, we are looking at whatever we can do to encourage ridership with the few pennies DfT may give us. What will give us the best "bang for our buck"? Paper? Electronic? Specific timetables or generalised publicity? Maybe bus rear adverts?

    As for the 84, it seems to have captured people's attention, probably because of its unusual London / not London location. Or maybe because the realities of English bus operation outside London come as a nasty shock to those in TfL land. As Greenline727 says "this is just the first of many such route withdrawals to come in the Shire Counties" and he's spot on from what I'm seeing from my desk at a Shire LTA.

    1. If I might chuck my four-pennorth in here . . . the 28 page timetable booklet for Metroline cost around £2,200 for 8,000 copies all in, INCLUDING a pdf of the booklet AND the individual pdf's as seen on the Metroline website.
      That includes maps and whatever text the operator wants. All done by PB bus marketing:
      Not expensive, really . . . and the web presence is included.

      I'd also look at bus rears . . . easily seen by loads of car drivers, and can be really "punchy". A slogan I've used was:
      DON'T JUST FOLLOW THE BUS . . . CATCH THE BUS!! Weekly tickets from £15.
      And it worked; a vinyl stuck on the bonnet cost around £250 for 8 buses . . . my ridership went UP!!

      Any bus company would be glad to display the rears for free . . . if they try to charge you, they're not worth helping!!

      Keep it simple . . . "sexy" and internet-savvy sounds good but doesn't always work . . .

  6. A bit more route History. The 313 used to be St Albans to Enfield via Potters Bar hourly. When that was withdrawn (early 80s?) the LT 298 was extended to South Mimms via Potters Bar. The 84 was later diverted via Potters Bar and the 298 cut back to Potters Bar station.
    When the 84 was run by London Country the St Albans terminal was their garage, one stop further north on St Peter's Street. For a while in the 80s it was extended off peak to the Marshalswick estate.

  7. Falcon - Much of its route is on the M5 and it only comes off on to a link road on the edge of town to stop. It is therefore invisible to the general public. Wellington is also a new-ish additional stop, but they do come far enough off the M5 to serve a bus shelter. The leaflet is a surprise, but for an awareness of an express service it is probably a good idea.

  8. Public funding. It appears that public transport will at least in the near future if not beyond, be unable to be run commercially at the required level of service. The railways are going back to more central planning and funding as they are no longer commercially viable. Some tickets and timetables can be simplified without the constraints of operator contracts and financials. I would expect LTAs to change too as their function necessarily expands again to meet climate change desires on transport, but whether along London lines or Cornwall lines, or something else I have no knowledge.

  9. Quote: "It is well known that Stagecoach, like other daft operators, have given up producing any printed material". WHY are you continually repeating this nonsense. I pointed out to you a week ago that Stagecoach have been producing printed material since at least last Summer(2021). in parts of England. Someone else states they are printing in comments above. About time you apologised to Stagecoach!

    1. Not here in South West they're not!!

  10. Andrew Kleissner9 February 2022 at 16:33

    It does seem to me, though, that distribution of printed material presents problems. All right, you could send them out with the post in a specific area, and put them in libraries, TICs and bus stations enquiry offices (where they exist). But - apart from the postal option - that will only reach a small sector of the public. You can put timetable leaflets on buses, together with announcements of new services, onto buses - but that only reaches existing customers. Local papers are another advertising option but they are not read anything as widely as they once were. No easy options!

    1. Railway Stations. Parish Council offices. Community hubs (where they exist). Racks in newsagents / supermarkets. Take a table at the local market (if run by the council, there shouldn't be any charge.

      All options I've used in the past. Nothing ventured . . .

  11. I fully understand your frustrations with FBB's occasionally sweeping and inaccurate generalisations, but I think you will probably wait a long time for a response. I fear that he hardly ever reads the comments.