There’s life beyond the south coast of England, it would seem : ) In news pushed out by the overwhelming importance of the Gosport to Fareham busway, we now need to head way up north to catch up a little, to Epsom in fact, and then on to somewhere called Beccles.
Epsom Coaches. It joins:
- One undertaking operating wholly within the deregulated environment, Yellow Buses;
- Another wholly within the London regulated market, London United (both following the Transdev/Veolia stocks deal);
- Sightseeing tourist bus operator the Bath Bus Company, with City Sightseeing franchises in Bath, Eastbourne, Windsor and Cardiff, Wales; and
- The former Stagecoach Metrolink operation.
And, yesterday, Go Ahead added to its more straightforward and core portfolio 71-vehicle Anglian Bus. It joins nearby-ish acquisitions Konectbus in Norfolk and Hedingham Omnibuses in Essex.
Troubled times there may be, but there’s still activity in the takeover market. It does depend who you are, of course, and, in London, there’s nothing to fear from the yet-to-be fully announced government thoughts of the recent Competition Commission bus market inquiry. So, if you have that X factor, and offer a quality service (as does Epsom Coaches and Anglian), with a number of bidders still around, you can still guarantee top weight. But, if the quality’s not there, finding a bidder isn’t so easy.
Established in 1920 and once nothing other than a coach operator, Epsom Coaches diversified into buses at dereg. It wasn’t till the late 1990s that it found its niche, though, as it began successfully tendering in the London market. It was this rather than the quality coaching side that attracted RATP. These days, over ¾ of its 110-strong fleet is made up of buses. They operate under the Quality Line name though, aside from a small amount of business with Surrey council, the brand is largely hidden under the usual sea of LT red. TfL contracts, including the recently acquired X26, means its average fleet age is an impressive 3½ years.
Anglian is a more “traditional” post-deregulation start up (it actually came to being beforehand but flourished as a typical post-dereg niche provider). Like Quality Line’s fleet, it’s young and all low floor.
Both RATP and Go Ahead will be keeping local management. This is perhaps strangest with Epsom, given that RATP has its London United HQ about 10 miles distant, in Twickenham. Go Ahead’s East Anglia acquisitions are more scattered but at least Konectbus and Anglian Bus both focus on Norwich. Me, I’d’ve sought some management synergies straightaway and may be that will still be the plan for both, back office-wise, in due course.
One of Quality Line’s 14 London bus routes is the X26, a rare TfL breed indeed. It’s limited stop and it, too, has the X factor and, unsually for London, this is quite literally). It has featured widely in comments on this very blog. It was only 10 days ago that this passed to Quality Line, having previously been with Metrobus. Quality now use Citaros and though they can’t hold a candle to the B7RLE for fuel economy, they’re certainly better than Metrobus’ N94UBs. According to comments on seven posts (probably a record for an individual service?) the X26:
- Was previously Green Line 726
- Is limited stop but has no parallel stopping service (unlike the 607, which does (207) but has no X prefix)
- Can be the subject of considerable over-crowding, from long and short distance travellers, including those with much luggage (who prefer single to double decks, naturally)
- Has never been pushed in the way it probably would be had it been a provincial, deregulated service [though marketing it might overload it further…]
- Was supposed to be the first of many orbital London routes that didn’t happened (or haven’t yet). Yet, the X26 was doubled in frequency
- Was subject to the Passenger Transport journal Mystery Traveller, who considered the Metrobus service to be “below par”