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Author Topic: First Bus withdraw 234 route - Melksham Rail Link - July 2015  (Read 7306 times)
grahame
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« on: June 05, 2015, 12:17:26 PM »

First Buses have completely deregistered some routes, including their route 234, so that they cease to run at the beginning of August.  Until now (and until that date), it provides a daily service every hour, Monday to Saturday, from Chippenham via Melksham to Trowbridge with a reduced service in the evenings.  Daytime services are extended to / from Frome.

During August, the vehicles and drivers from the ceased routes will be used to help provide rail replacement bus services which will be running from Chippenham, and from Trowbridge, to Bath while the lines from Chippenham and Trowbridge to Bath are closed for engineering works in association with engineering works.

Alternative public transport from Chippenham to Melksham, Trowbridge and Frome is offered by Faresaver during the day on Monday to Friday on their route X34.  First Great Western also offer a train service seven days a week from Chippenham to Trowbridge - running about hourly in August (alternate trains calling at Melksham) and about every two hours from September onwards.

The information about the deregistration of services has only been publicly available for a few days. As a commercial route, this deregulation is a business decision for First and did not require public consultation and the first statutory public declaration needed is the registration change with at least six weeks notice.

I am in receipt of conflicting information about the running of the evening service from different sources, and I am aware that Wiltshire Council and another operator (and in theory there could be muliple other operators) are looking at the case for filling the gap in transport being left; they write "but as things stand we have been left very little time to work this out so please bear with us".   That's good advise and I will continue to update here.
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grahame
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« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2015, 10:00:19 AM »

Personal comment ...

I'm sad to learn that First Bus have deregistered the 234 bus route from Chippenham via Melksham to Trowbridge and Frome, but not surprised. 

During much of the daytime on Monday to Friday, 3 buses per hour have been operating on the 234 and very similar x34 route from Faresaver, with competing buses running closely behind each other, both with far more seats than passengers. From general information about the cost of operating buses, the cost to First of running 3 vehicles including early and late ans Saturday services has probably been about 0.75 million pounds per annum, and the cost to Faresave of running 6 vehiceles limited to Monday to Friday daytime, and doubling up those vehicles for use on school runs, will have been about 0.9 million pounds per annum - so total operation cost of the route around ^1.65 million. 

Removing duplicated services would have little effect on passenger numbers on the route, and would save over half a million pounds in operating costs. It should actually be a good move, allowing surplus capacity to be used in providing other services and for some efficiency savings.

Unfortunately, the changes as currently specified by the removal of route 234 do rather more than remove duplicated services, and as the services are both "commercial" the reduced costs to First, and the increased income to Faresaver, goes to the shareholders and directors of those companies rather than to meeting the needs of travellers in Wiltshire, where other services / routes are crying out for improvement / retention.

It's ironic and frustrating that a sensible reduction in bus capacity on the Chippenham - Frome corridor potentially goes too far loosing; in addition to the removal of dupicates, full withdrawal of the 234 would mean:
   - No services from Rode to Trowbridge (they still have Bath buses)
   - No early morning Monday to Friday Buses (08:50 earliest into Chippenham)
   - No Services to Leap Gate, Trowbridge
   - Mid afternoon services gaps of over 90 minutes
   - No Saturday services
   - No Evening services (last service from Chippenham at 17:15)
and now that First have made public their decision to withdraw these holes can be (and are being) looked at, and it's probable that some solutions will be found.
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grahame
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« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2015, 08:40:43 AM »

On Monday of last week (8th June) I submitted a report to Wiltshire Council on the Melksham Rail Link Bus - 15 months into our 3 year trial.   They said they needed to save money, and suggestions were made to integrate with other services, use the promised (but not delivered) stops on the main road at the station, and at foundry close through the promised (but not delivered) footpath that's blocked by a fence across council owned land.

In the afternoon of 12th June, I got an email telling me all avenues have been explored and the service will cease as from 20th July.   A week is very quick work indeed for Wiltshire Council to "explore all avenues" in my view.

An email from "K" on the subject at 18:00 on Friday referred me to "F" as my main contact.  An email to "F" on Monday morning gave me "out of office until 29th" and told me to contact "R" if it was urgent.  An email to "R" tells me he's out of the office and if it's urgent I should contact "K". 

There's a full copy of the report I submitted on 8th at http://twcrp.info/lstfmelksham - pages 5 to 8.   Page 4 is the letter telling me of the cut from "F" - note that it is NOT just confirming like she says.  It's new news.

Melksham's Wiltshire Councillors meet tomorrow evening and it seems a good time to raise it with them. See http://www.twcrp.org.uk/savethebus.pdf for details.

I took the Rail Link bus this morning ... the driver already knew but the passengers didn't  Undecided ... and I counted 16 passengers.   After 15 months of a Dft funded trial service, that's not bad going and it accounts for between 6000 and 7000 rail journeys per year.   Not bad for extra runs in "marginal" time of vehicles already on the road.

Edit - see note below next post.
« Last Edit: June 17, 2015, 11:45:14 AM by grahame » Logged

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chuffed
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« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2015, 08:53:51 AM »

Would it be cynical of me to suggest that 'all avenues explored' in councilspeak really means that someone's having a 'bad hair' day at the office ? Huh
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grahame
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« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2015, 11:47:54 AM »

In the light of comments received, and also the one posted above, I have removed two phrases from my initial post which showed a frustration and disappointment on my part which I should not have shown, and would like to apologise for any implied criticism that could have been read from my post.
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wiltshirebloke
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« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2015, 11:14:58 PM »

Although nothing official or submitted to the relevant authorities as yet, It is also believed with strong rumours on other internet forums that the 234 Frome - Chippenham service run by First will be withdrawn later this year - along with local town services in Frome & Trowbridge.

I expect this obviously puts the current acceptance agreement in jeopardy for the last service from Chippenham too.
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grahame
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« Reply #6 on: June 18, 2015, 05:10:47 AM »

Although nothing official or submitted to the relevant authorities as yet, It is also believed with strong rumours on other internet forums that the 234 Frome - Chippenham service run by First will be withdrawn later this year - along with local town services in Frome & Trowbridge.

Commercial services on route 234 by First are withdrawn with final buses running on 1st August.   They have been "deregistered".   There have been parallel buses run by Faresaver competing on this route, and it's my understanding that Faresaver will be running a Saturday service which they don't at the moment, and also making other adjustments so that they'll cover (? some / many / most) of the gaps left.  Particularly mentioned here are some services via Rode, and early morning runs.  Leap Gate in Trowbridge hasn't been specifically mentioned to me in this context.

I am not as close to Trowbridge, and even less close to Frome, to make comment on those suggestions, but I can't turn around and deny your comments.

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I expect this obviously puts the current acceptance agreement in jeopardy for the last service from Chippenham too.

Contradictory information on the Wiltshire Council supported runs of the 234 - I understood that they had been deregistered too, but understand now that they remain at the moment. That may mean they are re-registered (just in with the six weeks notice for that) by First.  We'll then have a similar situation as on the 271 Bath to Devizes / Easterton bus, with Faresaver running daytime Monday to Saturday and First running the service with support in the evenings (and on this route a Sunday service too);  this arrangement has lasted, so far, for several years so whilst it may look to be interim it's anyone's guess at this stage.

If the First 234 runs in the evening, I would expect the agreement on tickets to continue.  But I'm also very much aware of the competition for limited support funding from Wiltshire Council.  You may have read calls to support the RUH Hopper (at Melksham Area Board last night, we were told to expect a "positive announcement" in the next 24 hours) and there's also calls to support certain other gaps left by First's withdrawals which no-one else picks up commercially. There are also pressures to reduce the amount paid out as support.   So the reason that much is rumour is that there's a lot up in the air, with council officers having to work against a difficult backdrop and within a competitive system which  seems more designed for high-density urban corridors than services that link market towns in places like Wiltshire.

This is a "Rail Link Bus" thread ... but I've posted a full answer here to set the backdrop; I'll post further over the weekend on that.  Improbable it will carry on in current form (not exactly high on the priority list compared to the other cases notes above), but there are innovative options which I understand have been explored, but can be explored again and in the situation of a changing backdrop, and with a deadline to hand, who knows.  This further post is likely to be a direction and not a confirmed solution, though.

Did I say "Welcome to the Forum, Wiltshirebloke" ;-) ....

My sources are largely from or via Wiltshire Council, limited comment from elsewhere.   Faresaver [mention because they are key on x34] are a registered user of this forum and are very welcome to use it (as are others) to help clarify things for passengers and potential passengers who should be very near the top of everyone's consideration.

See also http://www.firstgreatwestern.info/coffeeshop/index.php?topic=15801.0
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grahame
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« Reply #7 on: June 18, 2015, 05:13:04 AM »

Update posted at http://www.firstgreatwestern.info/coffeeshop/index.php?topic=15839.msg177656#msg177656

... rather than cross-posting, please follow that link for update as on 17th June 2015.
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grahame
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« Reply #8 on: June 19, 2015, 08:16:31 AM »

http://www.wiltshiretimes.co.uk/news/13340746.Concern_over_future_of_Trowbridge_and_Melksham_bus_services/

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BUS users in Trowbridge have expressed their concern about the future of the popular T1 service, after First West of England confirmed it will no longer operate the route.

Following a review of the company^s services in Wiltshire, First Group have announced that a number of loss-making routes will no longer be provided by the company after August 1.

The services being cut include the T1 bus, which is also known as the Trowbridge town service and serves the Hilperton, Paxcroft Mead and Upper and Lower Studley, while the daytime Melksham 234 service has also be axed.

Quote
Wiltshire Council has confirmed that an emergency tender has been issued for a replacement for the southern end of the T1, with the outcome of that process expected to be known by the end of June.

Quote
There was further disappointment for residents in Melksham this week, after it was announced that the Melksham Rail Link Bus, which is a free service run by Frome Minibuses, will cease from July 20.

The service, which was funded by Wiltshire Council through a Local Sustainable Transport Fund Grant, was run in the mornings and evenings to provide support to the TransWilts Rail Service.
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grahame
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« Reply #9 on: June 19, 2015, 04:53:30 PM »

Press release from First dated 17th June.

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First announce Wiltshire service changes

Following a review of First West of England services in Wiltshire, First have announced that a small number of loss making routes will no longer be provided by the company after 1st August. Other operators will be providing a range of replacement services.

First have liaised closely with Wiltshire Council to ensure the provision of replacement services.

Andrew Sherrington, General Manager for Bath, Wells & Weston at First West of England said: ^We have worked hard with Wiltshire Council to ensure that customers will still have access to a bus. These services are currently operated commercially and there are not enough people traveling on the services to cover the cost of running them.^

After 1st August First will no longer operate on services 30 (Frome Town Service), service T1 (Trowbridge town service) nor the daytime journeys on Service 234. We understand that service 30 will be taken over by Frome Minibuses and that Wiltshire Council have issued a tender for a replacement to the T1 in Trowbridge. 234 is covered already by a more frequent service provided by Faresaver who will be adding a Saturday service to their operation.

There will be no job losses as a result of these changes as the staff at First's Westbury outstation will be redeployed to other duties.
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Chris from Nailsea
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« Reply #10 on: June 19, 2015, 07:06:00 PM »

As these clearly unwelcome changes to local bus services have now been confirmed, I've chosen to merge two topics here - in the interests of continuity for future reference.

Chris.  Lips sealed
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« Reply #11 on: June 21, 2015, 07:35:19 AM »

An update on the Melksham Rail Link bus:

https://www.facebook.com/melkshamchamber/posts/1075688742459040:0

I am in the process of setting up and helping to seed the a Facebook page for the Melksham Chamber of Commerce and Industry - so (hands up) the writing is mine.

Quote
It the start of the 1960s, there were twice as many railways as there are today ... and some of them were considered woefully underused, or to duplicated each other. So passenger surveys and various analyses were done, and based on the data gathered many lines were closed, and lots of intermediate stations lost their trains. The process was known as "The Beeching Axe" after Dr Richard Beeching. And the last train called at Melksham on Sunday, 3rd April 1966.

It turned out that some of the passenger surveys had been taken on days that were seasonally quiet - the week before Easter, for example, when the school traffic was on a short break and many daily commuters were on holiday - or a rainy February weekday was taken as a "typical traffic" day and multiplied up to give an annual figure for a line to a seaside resort that doubles in population from May to September. And so some of the cuts had gone too far; talk to knowledgable insiders and they'll tell you that the optimum level would have been about a half of the cuts, and they point to the loss of traffic on surviving services because of it.

Melksham was a cut too far. Trains came back in 1985. Service improvements in December 2013 have helped passenger journey numbers rise from 18,000 in 2012 to 183,400 in 2014 and I'll make at educated guess that quarter of a million is possible in 2016. Compare this to other lines with services about every 2 hours - to Newquay, for example, which survived the Beeching Axe and now has a respectable 130,000 journeys per year.

The service improvements of 2013 are intentionally a three year evaluation. Three years because it really takes that long for people to find the services, to change jobs, homes and schools, and to make full use of what's now on offer.
The Melksham Rail Link Bus first ran in February 2014, to collect commuters from the more distant residntial areas of Melksham in the morning, and return them in the evening, in the absence of other public transport to the station, lack of pedestrian access to Melksham Forest, and lack of adequate car parking. By June 2014, it had built up to a running rate of around 3,000 journeys per annum, and by June 2015 that rate was up to 7,000. I have several count dates, and indeed I was asked to check the figures due to questions about the data and went out and recounted, getting exactly the same result.

So it was a bit of a shock some 3 days later (12th June) to get an email telling me that the service was to be withdrawn from 20th July. And even more of a shock to attend the Melksham Area Board on 16th June and be told that a councellor had ridden the service for a whole week and that there were no more that five passengers added up across the week on the first service. Dates weren't given, and I can't help wondering if the data used to cull the service was collected in the same way as in Dr Beeching's day - without consideration to seasonality. I would believe the figures quoted if they were collected during the last two weeks in December ...

Speaking with users, they too report a busy bus (do I dare suggest - busier than some other daytime runs by the same vehicle whichare not, I don't think, under threat).
Of the 7,000 journeys, I believe that some 6,000 are rail users - and taking an average fare of 4 pounds a head, that's an income to the railways of 24,000. Indications are that journeys might drop initially - perhaps to around 5,000 - if the town bus fare was applied (after all - it's the town bus vehicle running at times it's not otherwise needed!) - so that's an income of 5,500. Operating costs are around 20 pounds per run - so 25,000 per annum, but the core traffic is on the 06:50 and 07:20 from Bowerhill and the 18:05 from the station, and cutting back to just those would reduce the costs to 15,000. So in the wider sense, the cut is a nonsense - just over a third of a way through the trial, with numbers growing rapidly. Effective income with tuning 29,500 against expenditure of 15,000 - but in different pots (and that latter is a big problem!).

Is it a co-incidence that at the same time as the Melksham Rail Link bus is being cut, Wiltshire Council is tendering for a new subsidised twon bus service for Trowbridge, where previously the service was run commercially?

I am reminded that in Dr Beeching's day, the Looe Branch was within 2 weeks of closure when it got a reprieve. And sixty years later it's still running strong. Our councillors and council have taken their readings, made their decisons - and it's now up to ur community to see what we can do to square the circle. As Baldrick said, "I have a cunning plan" ... I expect people will pour scorn on it, but it may just turn out, indeed, to be a cunning plan that works. Meetings Monday - let's see what happens!
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grahame
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« Reply #12 on: August 02, 2015, 11:31:03 AM »

234 finished yesterday ... and I caught the last "short" service at 20:05 from Trowbridge to Melksham (returning from Weymouth - not a special morbid trip).   Six passengers on board - 1 local in Trowbridge, 1 from Hilperton to Semington, rest from Trowbridge to Melksham.   When asked "what do we do next week", driver answered "don't know". .   During the day, x34 is a reasonable alternative but last bus is around 17:30 ...



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