- There will be safeguards and promises of investment & innovation that generally come with the securing of preferred bidder status. Promises are all part of the mix and post-Bournemouth privatisation Go Ahead will be well aware of them.
- Go Ahead (and rival Stagecoach for that matter) has a good reputation at innovation and marketing.
- As a distinct advantage, Go Ahead runs things locally. This will perhaps offer a face-saving option to those locals who point-blank oppose any sale. It should hone local brand awareness.
- Go Ahead’s bus businesses are market-driven and successfully and that includes in competitive situations (e.g. Oxford, Bournemouth) and where there is a monopoly (e.g. Brighton, Isle of Wight). All the above have seen consistent and impressive increases in ridership.
- Go Ahead has much experience in traditional coaching and its potential acquisition of Citybus is most likely to protect Plymouth Citycoach, once doomed as unprofitable but also much respected locally.
- Go Ahead’s had to square up to poor performance across its Go South Coast subsidiaries and that’s been painful at both Wilts & Dorset and what is effectively now a W&D outpost, Bluestar. In spite of some bitterness, Bluestar is fixed—ser 1 even won this year’s UK Bus Awards marketing award. You sense that there’s more work to do at W&D.
It’s not been entirely pain-free at Southern Vectis. Recent concessionary travel-related trimming has proven unpopular but, even so, services are still stronger than or at least as strong as before SVOC rebranded recently.
- It’s true that there’ve been innovations. After its introduction, Morebus won a prestigious national marketing award though anyone could’ve made money at the expense the former municipally-owned Yellow Buses. But W&D has backtracked not only on some core services but also from some of its more frivolous excesses in Bournemouth (remember the Orange Circle?).
- Go Ahead subsidiaries aren’t actually as locally managed as we all like to think but compared to the Three, including Stagecoach, at Go Ahead there’s less head office “interference”. We should be under no illusions as to the fact that Go Ahead is a quoted PLC and, as such, will never entertain its subsidiary businesses announcing UDI.
But what’s now changed is First Devon & Cornwall’s new competition. First’s move deliberately tries to safeguard its position in what has now become an uncertain marketplace. First had little choice as, post-Preston (and at the time post-Eastbourne), buying Citybus was not an option—and this in spite of First’s previous overtures to the council. But First’s move effectively means that without a sale, Citybus may now struggle.
*Not* selling could therefore be more disastrous for Citybus than selling.
i Plymothian Transit is covering the Citybus sale