Who was it who speculated that during the restructure programme one of the areas New First might cut lose during was Cornwall. OK, I did. I may have been wrong.
Things in Cornwall couldn’t possibly be more opposite to developments in Dorset. In Dorset, First didn’t get through to the bidding process and was cut out from winning any contracts. Expect things to change in Dorset but not to the extent they have in Cornwall.
In Cornwall, First Devon & Cornwall (or, First West & Wales, if you prefer) has bucked the national trend for a Big Three operator and won a series of tenders. On this occasion, Western Greyhound is having to give up 12 of First’s 13 winnings to its competitor. All from 1st April.
It’s conventional wisdom that smaller operators have lower margins and fewer shareholders to please. Their resultant lower cost operations put them squarely in the frame for local transport authority work. Some—probably not Western Greyhound—don’t enhance statutory sick pay and have no, fewer or reduced benefits. LTA work has therefore tended to be one-way traffic, from larger group incumbents to smaller, independent operators. Many in larger groups accept that they cannot easily compete. Those who idly talk of establishing low cost units or specific contract wage rates tend to be daydreaming (unless you’re Damory). But in Cornwall, after decades of cuts, New First is actually making a comeback.
In the final Western National days, this service operated thrice daily on four days a week only, plus two additional days in high summerFirst refers to the tenders as “additional work”. They’re right, of course, particularly as many members of the public see the green Western Greyhound buses and not the Barbie competitors as the successors to Western National, the traditional Cornish operator. But the major changes at First from 2003 onwards (and even before that under Western National) begat a series of retrenchments. Western Greyhound saw this as an opportunity and, in inverse proportion to First’s cuts, expanded greatly. Nearly all of the April routes First has won from Western Greyhound were historically and previously at some point operated by First or Western National. I suspect that the 358, once of Trelawney Tours, was also a Western National service. Grenville operated Troon to Redruth.
A facet of Western Greyhound operation is that it has generally taken irregular timetables and made them clockface. Has Cornwall council perpetuated this practice? Also, Western Greyhound has upped some services considerably. Of note is the 537 Helston to the Lizard via Mullion that operated on a handful of occasions and by the early 1980s wasn’t even daily, other than during high summer. The current Western Greyhound 537 is hourly. Who knows what Cornwall has managed to retain during its cutbacks and free travel changes.
Western National dropped the 5xx service numbering introduced in 1967. With the introduction of the Cornwall Busways brand in 1982, WNOC preferred instead one or two digit service numbers. First has maintained this two-digit system. Western Greyhound, though, had numbered all its services back to the former Western National 500s. It will be interesting to see whether Cornwall council wants this perpetuated or whether First drops the 5xx.