RATP Dev has made a momentous announcement. Not yet the passing of Transdev Yellow Buses into the RATP fold though a small number of TYB’s buses already have the Transdev logo removed in readiness for a second RATP announcement.
No, it’s the acquisition by RATP Dev UK of the little known and slightly obscure Bath Bus Company.
Who? This is a niche provider specialising in Routemasters and open top sightseeing. Obviously, Bath is its base but it also operates the City Sightseeing franchises elsewhere, in Cardiff, Eastbourne and Windsor. Between 2004 and the end of February 2011, it was part of Ensignbus, itself part-owners of City Sightseeing.
We know that RATP Dev joins a growing list of acquisitive groups but what does this large transnational want with a modest, unknown, scattered, 30-vehicle specialist operator such as BBC? That’s a very good question. It hardly fits with soon-to-be RATP Dev London United & RATP Dev Yellow Buses. Perhaps it’s because:
- It forms a bridgehead in the west country, to compete on commercial or more likely tendered services. Here, its managing director Martin Curtis’s experience may come in handy in deregulated England, not just here but more widely within RATP Dev.
- There’s a growing recognition that open top buses actually make a deal of money, especially in prosperous inland resorts such as Bath and Windsor. More so, these days, than on the coast. City sightseeing is fashionable with the Germans, Japanese & Americans, together a rich vein to be exploited.
(And what will happen in 2017, when open top registered services on less profitable sightseeing tours will need to be DDA compliant?)
Curtis fronts the BBC. During his National Bus days, Curtis will be remembered for his youthful looks on the dust covers of some of his books on Bristol Commercial Vehicles. And for some of his occasional slightly unclear photos within (not that I can criticise at all—see above). Time at Bristol Omnibus, Western & Southern National and back to Badgerline, IIRC where he succeeded one Keith Ahlers after his departure to the ill-conceived Badger Vectis project. Curtis set up the BBC in 1997, the same year Transdev bought London United. I am sure I recall early BBC competition with his former employer, including for the student market. Articulated buses featured at that time. Latterly, though, he has settled into his niche.
It’s time to recall some controversies in Bath. The good residents of the city’s famed Georgian Royal Crescent have oft complained about a continual stream of open tops passing their premises. Who’s to blame them. Yet, if you will live in a row almost as famous as Coronation Street what might you they expect?
At one point, there were four competitors vying for open top custom: Badgerline, Ryan’s, Roman City and BBC. Roman City sold to Badgerline in the early days of deregulation. Ryan’s and Badgerline successor First pulled out. That left BBC, which branded as the acceptable face of City Sightseeing. And, who know, perhaps RATP Dev will reintroduce open tops in Bournemouth. There is an existing City Sightseeing operation about to start its second year in the town. TYB, however, is steadfast in its need to put its orridnary network first.