Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Apple of our Eye?

It’s somewhat ironic that just as Go Ahead appears to be centralising, the corporate monolith that is/was* (*delete as appropriate) First Group is moving in the opposite direction. Doubly ironic, then, that First’s latest act of localism should parody a livery made recognisable by Go Ahead. Exit First Somerset and enter something green.

Reports suggest there are few buses yet in the new livery. Here is one, branded specifically for Taunton rather than The Buses of Somerset. From their Facebook pages

The newly catchily-named The Buses of Somerset’s livery is more than a derivative of Go Ahead’s Southern Vectis, though, in spite of its emergence from the Stenning stable. And it’s much more than about a livery. It concerns re-establishing an image and making a mark. Perhaps it’s even recognition that this is a new beginning. Say The Buses of Somerset, “We’re looking to do everything better, to up our game”.

Website also has a Go Ahead feel 

The actual livery wears well. It’s a comfortable fit, like a hand in the correctly sized glove. My only nagging concern might be the two-tone green skirt, right across an area prone to accident damage. But, hey, perhaps the roads across the Somerset Levels really are long and straight with wide verges.

Here’s a thought that will surely go down well with a certain public transport blogger

First appears to be coming along. And Somerset has the possibility of seeing a major step change. Compare this to Southampton. In Southampton, First is re-sub-branding its 3s as The Threes—with buses in their new red paint redolent of Southampton City Transport. But why stop there? The Threes boast faux leather interiors √† la Caff√® Nero but such buses with upgraded interiors are not unique in Southampton. There’s already more leather in the city than in the late Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection, clothed under Barbie off-white. So why not go the whole hog and introduce something really local?

In order to read abbreviated Facebook comments you need to log in... shame 

For that’s what First appears to be doing in Somerset. Interesting that The Buses of Somerset website also says this,

“Over the coming months we’ll be giving your local First buses a bit of a makeover, with smart new colours, a stylish new look and a name that means something locally”

I can’t help recalling the decision made 30 years ago by the Cheltenham & Gloucester Omnibus Company. While nationalised, it split from parent Bristol Omnibus. I wonder what Gloustrians and Swindonians felt about “Bristol” being on the side of their buses. The new management recognised that Gloucester, Cheltenham and Swindon markets were distinct and different from both Bristol and each other. Accordingly, they branded very locally, retaining a tight back office but devolving much to its local managers. That lasted 10 years till Stagecoach took over (and Stagecoach has made a pretty good fist of things since).

Does the same apply in Somerset when compared to the region with which it has traditionally been lumped: also Bristol & Avon.

There will be those who will wonder why the privatisation name of Southern National hasn’t reappeared but it is perhaps time for a clean break from the past. Southern National was OK but it inherited some older vehicles and even older practices. There will be those who ponder whether The Buses of Somerset is nothing but a passing fad, like First Student, FTR and Overground. Plus people are already speculating that this portion of First Bus is for sale. On all these, time will of course tell but surely, here, we have something that could potentially bring back respect and patronage. Why else would you go to this trouble?


Anonymous said...

10 out of 60ish buses isn't a bad start, and with buses being painted in both Plymouth and Bristol paintshops.
The prognosis looks good. Its clearly not just a lick of paint. From some of the poorest information and marketing there is now a comprehensive timetable booklet, a clear website, and excellent information on display in Taunton Bus Station. What's more they aren't saying 'it's all done'. They have posters up saying that they have lots more to do over time.

Taunton Lad said...

The Buses of Somerset may be an awful name andthere may some issues (fares!) but this is a huge step in the right direction for First.

Almost makes me feel proud of my local bus service.

Anonymous said...

It would be good if First could do something similar with Plymouth. Maybe as their workshop is applying the new livery to some of the buses they could come up with a similar scheme for theirs. How about going back to Western National’s GWR ancestry and using some of these colours based on chocolate and cream, light and dark stone or maroon. I wonder if they could be used and applied in an updated and modern way?

Anonymous said...

And there's the rub.

Taunton Lad who I assume is a local is still *almost* proud of his bus service. Almost proud? Does this say it all?

Anonymous said...

Why go to the trouble of having a name like 'The Buses of Somerset' and then complicate things by putting just 'Taunton' on the side of buses instead? Unnecessary confusion?

Anonymous said...

Shades of what's happening with Yorkshire Tiger here.

Does need to be a sustained effort or it'll all go to ratsh*t. See East Lothian Buses for a good example of how to create a new brand - it needs investment in fresh rolling stock to maximise the impact and therefore passenger appeal.

Tim Burns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Burns said...

This is just the sort of initiative which many First onlookers have been suggesting should be done with the First empire. In fact, it probably goes further. There is no mention of First on the website that I could find, nor a link to Buses of Somerset on the First website. Somerset really is in brave new world territory, all on its own.

I understand Alex Carter has stuck his neck out on this one - and good for him. I get the feeling that whilst he is around, First will not be allowed to let its interest fade and wane (ref Overground, ftr, etc). For once, First deserve loads of praise for thinking out of the box. Indeed, one can start to see how this could be a model to apply in other places where first is having a tough time.

"Buses of East Lothian" anyone?

Anonymous said...

anon 07:53 going to take more than 19 century repaint for First Plymouth services. D&C lost £4 million last year.

Anonymous said...

Can't help feeling that this is a thinly disguised project to 'plump up' the network for sale! Gotta be worth more if the branding's already done?

Someone's been watching the Norfolk Green sale and thinking, "hmm, if Stagecoach are keeping the company's identity there, would they do the same in Somerset...??"

Anonymous said...

What 19 century?

Anonymous said...

Anon 09:35 - I rather suspect it's a last-ditch effort to try to counter Webberbus.

Webberbus has been gradually stepping up the competition on all the area's core routes for a number of years now with First seemingly just sitting back and letting them get on with it. The First network can't be making money and it's probably not worth anything. They've failed to sell it and, indeed, who on earth would want to buy it with Webberbus there breathing down First's neck?

That said, one wonders if Webberbus is making money either? They're competing on quality with new vehicles and their leasing costs must be astronomical.

First has now (finally) sent them a message of intention. Surely there's not room for both, so something's going to have to give. This was probably not what Webberbus was expecting.

Anonymous said...

anon 09:42 painting the Plymouth buses in GWR colours

Graham Richardson said...

they also point out on their Facebook page that they might just roll out similar schemes elsewhere within the company if this is successful.
There is a very noticeable lack of buses in the new livery down in Cornwall (apart from a few transfers in from Manchester recently). They also have split their Facebook pages from Devon so can start to market a separate image from Devon. They also have the new fare structure with quite hefty fare increases for some but more through ticketing and a much simpler structure and also feature the same expensive £10 day ticket for their area. Surely it cant be long before there is some sort of "Buses of Cornwall" livery?
Not so sure about Devon though...

Tim Burns said...

PS Ray Stenning's footprint is all over this - and it looks simply fab!

Anonymous said...

I do find the anti-First sentiment and suspicion rather tiresome.

Statements like "Taunton Lad who I assume is a local is still *almost* proud of his bus service. Almost proud? Does this say it all?" - surely Taunton Lad is really saying that it's a good start but it is only the start of the journey?

Or the comment "Can't help feeling that this is a thinly disguised project to 'plump up' the network for sale! Gotta be worth more if the branding's already done?
Someone's been watching the Norfolk Green sale and thinking, "hmm, if Stagecoach are keeping the company's identity there, would they do the same in Somerset...??""

In truth, what did people really expect? No point in just closing the operation down and whilst you can understand the cynicism of some, you don't find solutions from continually looking at everything that went wrong in the past. The lack of quality, investment etc? Yes, First get it, and they've been busy recruiting the right people to enable the changes to be brought in. And remember, they've categorically said that they've completed the disposal programme.

In that instance, and with Webberbus competing so heavily, what could First reasonably expect to do? Keep on doing the same, discredited approach? Of course not, so why not do something different and leave the past behind. I'm sure that Alex would've loved a fleet of brand new Streetlites but there's obviously financial constraints but shoving most of the Olympians to pasture in Cornwall is one first step. Given the ageing Darts still operating, some more modern kit will doubtless be arriving. I certainly think that Webberbus attempted a land grab thinking that First would exit, especially with the 37/38 services. With this, and the old FSA services between Wells and Street now being further bolstered, one wonders what Webberbus may do now?

Neil said...

" See East Lothian Buses for a good example of how to create a new brand"

That always struck me as pointless. Why not just merge it into Lothian Buses?

It sounds rather like one of those "the staff are paid less so we can't make it sound like the same company" issues that also applied to MK Metro for some years after the Arriva takeover (it took about 5 years to fully merge it into Arriva the Shires).


Anonymous said...

Lots of goodwill towards "the green buses" in Eastern Scottish territory, even though they eventually all disappeared under First. Lothian are simply tapping into that, while recognising that the Pencaitland route badly needed a shot in the arm that was probably unaffordable under standard 'city' pay rates.

Rumours abound that it's a platform for further Lothian turning of the screw against what is increasingly becoming an isolated First outpost to the east of Edinburgh, although so far no actual indication of any impending heightened competition.

In other news, Stagecoach are going to have a crack at another former 'green' route still served by First, namely the South Queensferry corridor. If they've got any branding for that one planned, they're keeping it close to their chest for now.

Tim Burns said...

And in other, other news, First have put their Musselburgh garage site up for sale. No information whether this is a move or a pull out

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to compare the average age of the Southern National fleet at the time of purchase by First, to the average age of the fleet in the same geographical area now (but also the fleet size!)

Anonymous said...

Are Webberbus really doing well talk to drivers from first in the taunton and some locals rumors of all not being well at Webberbus seem rife

Anonymous said...

Overall First do devise praise for trying something new, and some people are suggestion this is a pilot scheme, for else where. First would be better off just expanding First Bluebird brand in Scotland.

I have to ask how much of
Webberbus is commercial?

One major complaint about this new concept is the scrapping of the much larger Day ticket for Travelling on all first buses in the area IE up to Bristol.

"D&C lost £4 million last year"

Thats nothing, Livingston and Musselburgh depots between them lost £4million. Its been said Muss depot could merge with North Berwick, but who knows!!!

Its very clear why "East Lothian Buses" branding is used, the route to Pencaaitland has different fare scheme, AND IF it expands it will continue to have different fare scheme, £1.50 to Dunbar would make nothing.

To be fair its just about the same length as Taunton to Minehead...

Anonymous said...

To Anon 13:32. I don't think anyone is suggesting Webberbus is raking it in. The opposite, in fact. Probably another incentive for First to do this relaunch.

Aardappelautomaat said...

Both operators have their fans, who will tell you that either First or WebberBus are winning the war. I think the truth is that nobody is winning anything in particular.

WebberBus operations exist on the basis of the high concessionary reimbursements for longer distance journeys which were the case in Somerset and to a modest extent still are. Meanwhile First own Taunton depot (which has considerable value as a development site) and all their fleet. It is also fair to say that on routes where they run in parallel, First tend to run earlier and later services.

I don't believe that First are currently looking to sell Taunton & Bridgwater, nor do i believe that any of their operations in Great Western territory will be disposed of as the railway franchise is worth too much to them. Disposing of significant bus operations would sour relationships with local councils where retaining them is an appetising carrot to dangle.

Local rumours have also persisited of the sale of WebberBus, pretty much solidly for the past three years. The operation has tried many things, the success of which have been highly erratic. One wouldn't expect the disasterous outstation experiment at Weston-s-Mare to have been conceived by the same company as came up some interesting new ventures such as the Bridgwater College services and 38 service (Wells - Street - Langport - Taunton). If the owners are looking to sell the company, there must be reasons why it hasn't sold thus far as it is very much a vendors market at present.

The "Buses of Somerset" rebrand has the potential to reinvest First as a company with the ability to adapt to the requirements of its market and that will be the true indicator that control has been passed from Aberdeen's Accountancy office to Taunton. A level of autonomy and independence could make the company a lot more adventurous and win substantial positive responses from the community, which is what First need to do in order to develop their market in the area.

The green buses may look like a modern take on Southern National, but this is no attempt to win over rose-tinted spectacle wearing bus anoraks. If the suggestions of investment and independent, local decision making are true, WebberBus could be facing an uphill struggle.

Anonymous said...

Let's not be churlish, this is what many have been saying previously on here that First should be doing. It looks good for a start and they've owned up to having much more to do.

"Buses of" is, I guess, an attempt to do something a bit modern with a local image, so it grates somewhat with those of us who are a bit more traditional. However, it seems doubtful whether bringing back the Southern National name would have any benefit. The origins of the name are steeped in bus and railway history of the late 20s/early 30s and it doesn't mean much today.

I say good luck to First with this venture and I hope it's successful.

Anonymous said...

If Musselburgh is unprofitable it is because they have gradually shed so much work that the overheads per vehicle are now enormous.

The depot is out on a limb and the fares they can charge on services paralleled by Lothian (which is a high percentage of the mileage) have to more or less match their rival.

The fares on the uncontested sections can't be too high or the passengers will feel ripped off due to a monopoly.

There's also the small matter of a train operating into the same territory, currently operated by.... First!!

The site next door (former Tesco car park?) looks derelict and ripe for redevelopment...

SEV 777 said...

Welcome back Mr. Busing!

A look at the accounts of FDC and Webberbus shows that the former consistently makes a loss of at least £2 million a year and the latter has made a profit for each of the last for years. There is therefore no pressing need for Webberbus to sell out.

Anonymous said...

@ SEV777. Buses of Somerset aren't FDC, they're run by FSA so the £2mil loss doesn't come into it!

SEV 777 said...

Anonymous at 1859
You are correct, it must have been the excitement of Mr. Busing returning that confused me.

Anonymous said...

This is a good and welcome move from First and well done Mr Carter for implimenting it. Hopefully he will get to do the same on his other operations in Plymouth and Cornwall. The £4 mil loss stated that FDC made is a gross exageration and it should be remembered that since the last reported loss of around £2m First have cut out a lot of routes in South Devon that were losing money...X80 for example and started new shorter distance routes in Plymouth that are doing very nicely whilst still holding on to the lions share of their customers on routes To Tavistock, Saltash and Torpoint despite predatory moves here by Go Ahead!
They have also forced Go Ahead/Citybus to reduce fares substantially in some parts of the city which will seriously dent the 4% profit Citybus made last year.

Welcome back bussing!

Anonymous said...

Glad to have you back Mr Busing!! Does this mean the £7.50 or so Day ticket for the whole southwest is gone? Also is the £10 day ticket valid on all First in the Southwest at least or at least the rest of Bath/Bristol as it doesn't suggest it is?

Anonymous said...

Just to say how very pleased I am to see this Blog back again. There really is nothing else that comes near to it.

Thank you Busing.

Anonymous said...

Southern National is/was also synonymous with Dorset (Weymouth & Bridport) & Yeovil who are now part of First Hampshire and Dorset.

Regarding bus livery, I followed an X53 into Seaton last week and from the rear the new X53 livery looked like one of Stagecoaches.

Anonymous said...

I too was thinking of what next as Wells and Yeovil are Somerset. Refreshing Yeovil by adding it back to Buses of Somerset as a next stage might be reasonable. It certainly needs it and I doubt First Hampshire and Dorset really want it.

There is also further separating out of Somerset operations from metropolitan West of England requirements (multi-operator smart cards etc). Last November Weston super Mare lost their south bound 102 and 112. These were replaced by extending Taunton's 21 northwards and revising the 102 to work out of Bridgwater. Both are now green. As of Sunday at Wells the 375 (Bridgwater) and 377 (Yeovil) are being separated from through working onto the 376 (Bristol)and losing their Sunday service in the process. It would then be easy to rebrand them as Buses of Somerset routes if the Fares review consultations starting tomorrow enhances the need for a different fare policy. Transfer of operation of the routes or Wells depot might be desirable?

The First west of England website has started to show the new Somerset maps and fares, but should it? The detail is very much work in progress.

Buses of Somerset and Webberbus will be interesting acts to watch over the summer season. First offering transfer tickets copies Webberbus, but a day ticket at £10 compared to their £4:50 is a big difference.

Anonymous said...

If there was busses of Somerset from wells depot moving one of the 29 runs to wells would work as they could cut out the stupidly early and id expect loss making early run from Taunton to Wells.

then again work does need to be done with the 29 as it does seem to be very quiet these days the flooding on the route can't help but passenger numbers are certainly dwindling.

finally also if Yeovil was a member of busses of Somerset again the timetable could be re designed again to rid dead running which surely can't carry a lot of passengers.

it will also be interesting to see what happens during the summer when the Burnham to Weston service needs to be upped will we see the every 20 mins service fully extended to Weston or will we see some shorter workings added it will be interesting to see what happens with that.

Anonymous said...

Agree that Yeovil does sit better with Taunton than Weymouth, and it would also be sensible in dealing with Somerset CC.

However, Wells depot operationally and geographically has traditionally (and still does today) have more in common with those areas further North than South; in fact the 29 was traditionally only Taunton to Glastonbury!! My observations on the 29 is that loadings are much the same as previously experienced; again it used to manage with 29 seat minibuses in SN days though competition from Webberbus and the flooding at East Lyng may have had an effect but it doesn't seem to be dwindling in my experience.

Also, whilst Yeovil might not be such a loss to FHD, I suspect that FSA wouldn't want to lose Wells depot and the contribution that it makes to the coffers!!

Petras409 said...

I never dropped you off my Favourites list, but have just discovered your welcome return, Mr Busing.

Good to have you back, as others have said. You will be up there with the best of the others for my breakfast reading.

But 'Ignore the pretty girl and concentrate on the apple'. That was a really difficult challenge to set! ;o))

Steve said...

Anon @1949 You should check your facts. The published accounts for FDC for 2012-13 show a loss of over £4m. I don't know how you can claim this fact is an exaggeration.

Busing - welcome back!

Anonymous said...

Webberbus operate a largely leased fleet and are dependent on revenue to pay for their costs, First's fleet is paid for and lower value. Changing services here and there contains some of the cost whilst depriving WB of much needed revenue. If they don't sell out they will go bust due to cash flow issues. Witness how fast Countryliner unravelled once their financial backers pulled out.

An operator with driver shortage in a recession is noteworthy - are drivers being paid on time?

First, has nothing to lose here, and in introducing a new identity for what have been some badly under invested and remotely run operations is a massive game changer locally.

I've seen a few of the new liveried buses and in their full branding look very attractive. Here is hoping the interiors get the same treatment, then First will have a business to be very proud of.

Are they realising what Stagecoach discovered 10-14 years ago and are they now going to make something from what they have instead of continual cutbacks?

It would be a big shot in the arm to add Wells depot to the 'Somerset' operation and logical from a geographical perspective.

From such a low point First can only improve in Somerset with this new offering.

Anonymous said...

Re: Anon 30 January, 2014 13:19
Not sure of figures at First takeover but the 1998 South West Bus Handbook lists the following totals for Cawlett:
Operational = 435
Split by:
Barnstaple: 61
Exeter: 13
Tiverton: 14
All from the 'North Devon' business - closed in 2012.....
Bridgwater: 25
Bridport: 21
Dorchester: 47
Martock: 14
Minehead: 3
Taunton: 92
Tintinhull: 15
Weymouth: 65
Yeovil: 66
In store: 56

The 'Dorset' part today has around 80 vehicles, spread between Bridport, Weymouth and Yeovil and 70 vehicles at Taunton & Bridgwater transferred to FDC
control in June 2013. The totals now are somewhere around the NBC fleet totals, but the remainder left today points to something, somewhere, going badly wrong with the Cawlett operations.

Admittedly the fleet was old, but it was covering a low annual mileage on schools work, the front line service buses were either Dennis Darts, Mercedes 709s/811s and a number of Transit minibuses which were being replaced with 709s sourced secondhand.

Cawlett were buying between 10-15 new buses annually, and sourcing suitable mid life buses for schools work. Whether it was sustainable in the long term was another matter but the work generated income overall making the depots larger.

Webberbus has been a major beneficiary of First's continual cutbacks - they gained schools contracts around Bridgwater discarded by First and gained a tendered bus service then found commercial gaps to fill - would they have been able to with a locally managed First operation?

Anonymous said...

The Cawlett figures at takeover included a lot of minibuses and coaches, the latter from various failing local coach businesses that Cawlett tended to buy, rejuvenate and look to sell on. First has generally got rid of the majority of the minibus operations and wound down the coaching activities.

To be frank, though, First had no need to buy the business in the first place and probably shouldn't have done so. It was part of Moir Lockhead's nonsensical desire to be seen to have a bigger bus business than Brian Souter.

That said, it has been badly managed ever since First took control - it's suffered from being pulled from pillar to post in terms of management structure and reporting lines and continual cutbacks to try to meet unrealistic margins. They let Webberbus get a foot in the door and then failed to react and take the competition seriously.

Hopefully this bold experiment will be a turnaround point. I just hope that there will be sufficient management on the ground locally to react quickly when necessary and ensure that consistency of delivery and attention to detail is maintained.

It would be nice to see this scheme succeed and similar ones rolled out elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Buses of Somerset new livery website etc remind me on a lesser extant of the failed ugobus in plymouth, they adapted the livery (nothing like BOS) created a separate website new timetables etc and that look where that went, let's hope they have learnt from there mistakes, however it's well known Alex carter was brought in to turn the failing operations around, so really we have to be pessimistic!

Anonymous said...

UGOBUS in Plymouth only failed because the then management at First Devon lost interest before it had time to grow. Several of the new services then were picking up as they were cut. First are starting to grow in Plymouth again now at a slower rate with new services against Citybus...lets hope the new management hang on in there this time.