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Author Topic: Looking forward - bus services into Bath from and via Melksham  (Read 524 times)
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« on: May 07, 2018, 08:03:22 am »

Prepared for possible presentation over the next weeks; comments welcome.

Four buses an hour from Melksham into Bath is a golden opportunity to nurture modal change - to have people willingly shift from car to public transport, with its environmental gains (congestion,  air pollution, resource conservation) by offering them a carrot (cheap fares, no problem finding parking, bus lane journeys) rather than by waving a stick.  And with two buses an hour (D3 from First) going via Melksham Forest, Atworth and Box, and the other one or two (x72 from Faresaver) from Devizes and via Shaw and Bathford, the service is "feathered out" to pick up and drop off very close to many people's homes.  "Park and Ride"?  Sort of - park at home and ride all the way in.  There's a commonality of routes though - from Bowerhill, Melksham Town Centre, and Atworth and we really hope that the new service does not get turned into a bus war between the services.   

The regulatory frameworks currently used on commercial routes place operators in competition with each other, to the extent that they haven't even been allowed to co-operate in many ways as that could be regarded as a cartel by the Competition and Mergers Authority. This may be in the interest of any potential further operators wishing to enter this market, but results in such outcomes as return tickets that are not interchangeable between operators, buses running close together and then with a longish gap, and separate timetables ... when what the customer wants is a bus going where he wants to go, when he wants to go, safely and comfortably, with welcome staff.  Which uniform (if any) the staff wear is of little consequence, though facilities such as WiFi and the particular routes taken in town might be.

Enhanced and Advanced Partnership schemes (2017 Bus Services Act) allow local transport authorities - that's BaNES and Wiltshire Councils in the case of the D1 and D3 - to help broker and maintain co-operation between operators within their area or part of it.  And doing this makes huge sense in areas where the true competition and future market is the private car traveller.  True, there can be easy short term business gains for one or other operator on a flow doing so well that they gain a dominant position or monopoly, but in the long term the loss is that of the community of one of the services.

On the Bath to Melksham and Devizes route, First and Faresaver overlap during the day on Monday to Saturday for passengers from Melksham Town and a couple of other places mentioned above.  Faresaver serve extra locations during these times - the key one being Devizes.  First serve other additional locations - notably the residential areas of Melksham - and also cover most of the extra Faresaver destinations in the evenings and on Sundays.  Neither is a complete service for all locations, and it's in the intreest of the communities, public transport, and indeed both companies for both to survive - and indeed both to thrive.

Faresaver and First are very different organisations - a family run business, concentrating on daytime and specific passenger flows such as seniors and some commuter flows, and the subsidiary of a large company that operates across wide parts of the UK and beyond, and in our area provides not only the high peak, specific flow journeys but also journeys which cover the far more general need.  Personally, when travelling between Melksham and Bath I find myself almost inevitably using the First Bus; I a not yet old enough to use a senior card so need to use the same company both ways, and the longer day (and Sunday) service from First means my choice is clear most times.

I would strongly support the co-operative implementation of a bus partnership for our area.  And indeed I could offer very limited assistance via TransWilts - a Community Interest Company - to the bus operators and local authoritys.  With modest funding sponsorship, TransWilts could take a far more active role in setting up and maintaining such a scheme, including partnership synchronisation and marketing.   Single timetable, regular services combed together, interchangeable tickets, joint marketing promotion for the benefit of both.  Very happy to talk in more detail at a later date; we do have the background, team, connections,  and a track record.

It is possible to travel by train from Melksham to Bath too, but this involves a change and the service is much less frequent.  We would not anticipate through services, nor a frequency increase to rival the current bus frequency, in the foreseeable future, and for this journey the train is not a competitor nor will it become one any time soon.

About Faresaver - text from Faresaver

Faresaver – All about us –in case you ever wondered?

Faresaver can trace its origins back to a day in the late 1970’s when village shopkeeper John Pickford bought a school minibus.

Over time, Mr Pickford’s fleet of school buses grew and he started operating local rural bus services.

In the late 1980’s the village shop closed and Mr Pickford concentrated on his bus business.

He was joined in the 1990’s by his two sons Justin and Daniel.

To this day Faresaver is still very much a family business.

Mr Pickford (senior) still goes out driving the buses and if you are a regular passenger you have probably been driven by the man himself!

Justin and Daniel oversee the day to day operation ably assisted by a team of experts.

The current Pickford family have approx 80 years of bus experience between them!

We are now based in Chippenham in a purpose built bus depot.

We operate 40 buses in North Wiltshire, Somerset and surrounding area.

Many of our staff have years of experience in the industry and there are a few who have been loyal for years.

Faresaver has become the largest independent bus operator in the area.

However, we have not forgotten our roots. The family members are very much hands on and whilst dealing with a multi-million pound turnover, will also get their ‘hands dirty’ when the need arises.

We make every effort to run the best buses with the best drivers that our finances will allow.

We strive to run to time. Often an impossible task. However, we do use the latest technology to assist us, with real time data on vehicle positioning and revenue fed back to the office in Chippenham.

For the safety of our passengers and drivers, we have installed CCTV on most of our buses in the recent past.

We are about to install wi-fi on most of our fleet.

We are passionate about what we do.

We are not a multinational only looking to satisfy the shareholders. We are a small, independent trying to make a living for us and our staff.

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan, but we always endeavour to answer the phone, respond to social media comments and give as much honest useful feedback as we can at any time of day and night.

When you phone the office, you may well speak to one of the owners and when you message us over social media it is nearly always one of the owners who responds.

If you have got this far - Well Done !

In summary, we are here for you, our passengers. We will always give you the best we can and all we ask in return is that you support us, your friendly local family bus company.

About First West of England - abstracted from WikiPedia

First West of England is a bus operator providing services in Bristol, Bath, Somerset, South Gloucestershire and West Wiltshire. It is a subsidiary of FirstGroup.

As at March 2016, the fleet consisted of 649 buses and coaches.

First West of England operate six depots: Bristol bus station, Lawrence Hill, Hengrove, Bath, Weston-super-Mare and Wells.  They also operate outstations at Chepstow and Westbury.

FirstGroup plc is a British transport group, registered and operating in the United Kingdom. The company also operates transport services in Ireland, Canada and the United States. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.

Coffee Shop Admin, Member of Melksham Rail User Group, on the board of TravelWatch SouthWest and some more things besides
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« Reply #1 on: May 07, 2018, 06:27:59 pm »

You say that bus operators are liable to be investigated by the CMA if they cooperate on timetables etc. Would that also be the case if First bus cooperated with (First) Great Western Railway on timetables etc. Passenger living in hope that arrangements in my youth when the bus allowed you to catch the train, and when you returned there was a bus timetabled to take you home from your train. In theory of course, current rail punctuality makes it unlikely in reality.
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« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2018, 12:47:53 pm »

You say that bus operators are liable to be investigated by the CMA if they cooperate on timetables etc. Would that also be the case if First bus cooperated with (First) Great Western Railway on timetables etc. Passenger living in hope that arrangements in my youth when the bus allowed you to catch the train, and when you returned there was a bus timetabled to take you home from your train. In theory of course, current rail punctuality makes it unlikely in reality.

I'm not a legal expert; can only comment based on what I've heard and seen on this Competiton and Mergers Authority (CMA) thing.

The CMA is designed (I believe) to stop any one company gaining a monopoly in a market (which it could then take advantage of by offering only a limited range of products at prices and with terms and conditions that are in the interest of the monolpoly holder.  They're all powerful as an organisation - the "A" for Authority is correct.  Just recently, the poorly performing Countrywide Farmers in our area was offered a takeover lifeline by Mole Valley farmers.   The CMA stepped in and said they would launch a six month investigation to see if that was to be allowed, but for a floundering buisness that was too long to wait and Countrywide is now being run by Administrators. All stock at knockdown prices and "another 5 stores close this Friday" according to my friends.  Ironically, if the Melksham store goes, the logical place for countryside suppies is - err - Mole Valley Farmers in Devizes, so the short term effect of them not being allowed the takeover is the loss of jobs and convenience of a local shop in Melksham, with Mole Valley Farmers getting the business anyway. Our MP (Michelle Donelan) has looked into it and says that there's nothing she can do, sorry staff - your jobs will go (I may be paraphrashing here).

On public tranpsort, there's a similar issue.  First Group, looking to shed their North Devon operation were prepared to sell it as a going concern to Stagecoach, but the CMA stepped in and cried "Monopoly" and "Lack of Competition".  So First shut their North Devon operation, putitng their drivers out of work.  Stagecoach added in some services, and took on more drivers - it so happened there were some available in North Devon.   And Stagecoach ended up with ... a monopoly and there is ... a lack of competition.   Furthermore, they must have been laughing all the way to the bank; no need to buy the First goodwill and operation, no expense as they trimmed it back and merged it.

The CMA also looks at Cartels - the working of public transport companies togather to carve up or control the market for the companies who are co-operating, and against the interest of any companies that are not co-operating. The fact that every current company may be involved in the "fixing" is immaterial - it must not be fixed in case someone else wants to enter the market.  CMA have some input into bus (as the exampl ein the previous paragraph suggests) and rail (they have taken an interest in First Group's interest in both GWR and SWR, with particular reference to potential fare fixing from Exeter to London.  It's an interesting situation - I would be very surprised to see any open access operator trying for an Exeter to London route - although the CMA would love it, there are no paths on the Honiton line and running via Taunton and Reading it would be abstractive and unlikely to gain ORR Open Access approval.  What the CMA can consider in this case is potential price fixing; that element being useful, except that the need is perhaps limited due to around half of the fares being regulated anyway, so the companies have little freedom in any case to put profit over franchise contract.

On bus to bus competition, the CMA was always quoted as being a reason that the companies could not work together.  But discussions prior to the bus sevices bill becoming the bus services act clearly indicated that the partnership schemes whcih the act allows are designed to allow co-operative working without involving the CMA - and that's especialy useful on thin but currenly competing routes, and in places where mucliple operators have their own little network all of which could usefully work well together with cross ticketing, common timetables, planned connections, etc.   My post above suggests this route - the big competitor in Wiltshire is the private car rather that the other bus operator - it's just that another operator's route offers low handging fruit to pick off if you happen to have a spare vehicle and driver at certain times of day.

Bus to train competition?  I've no examples of the CMA getting involved.   They might is there was a rail feeder from a company different to the train operator, and the train operator stepped in with their on buses - but then we saw the GWR franchise awarded to First in 2005 and on the Chippenham to Trowbridge run, First also ran the buses.  Next year, most of the trains were withdrawn - but different times, and indeed since then the First bus service on that route has also been withdrawn, leaving Faresaver with a monopoly.  In practise, passengers swicthceing from train to bus and vice versa are not all that many, but that could be because tickets are not interchangable, and different pubc transport access points are used for the most part, so you can't turn up an hop on a bus or train - whichever comes first.

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