Wednesday, 10 February 2016

First Go In For The Kill

It has been a fairly quiet start to the new year with just the latest service cuts by Anglian, fare rises farce across Go-Ahead and a few new second hand vehicles floating around to rave about. So today when First gave the green light to announce their latest venture competing with the floundering Angian Bus it was seized upon with an almost pirhana like fervour among the enthusiast media.

From April 4th First are starting a new Service 40 from Norwich to Poringland via Framingham Earl. It will be known as the Charcoal Line. That's not quite technically accurate as really it should be called the RAF Blue Line as I'll explain. Due to Suffolk Council reducing payments on Concessionary passes even further it was decided that First's service 53 from Ipswich to Chantry should be scrapped. Don't be surprised to see the bus wars in Ipswich scaled down considerably by both sides in the coming months as traditional operating territories are ressurected. However this releases 3 Enviro200's that are used on the route. It is these vehicles that will be used on the 40, staying in Ipswich Grey, which is officially RAF Blue, but is now Charcoal!

First have a good record taking on Anglian over the last couple of years. Mind you so might the 3rd Lowestoft Brownies if they put their mind to it, such has been the staggering arrogance and mismanagement at Anglian. First easily saw off the challenge of the 164 between Saxmundham and Ipswich in 2013, the 99 in Kessingland has forced the withdrawal of the 62 and reduction of the 61 to half hourly. The X1 has swatted Anglian's 7 away like a fly, and now they are attacking Anglian's main source of revenue, the Poringland area.  And they have found an attractive option for the good people of Poringland, who at the moment have the choice of the 87 or (X)88.

The 87 goes a long way round via Stoke Holy Cross and Trowse. The X88 goes a quicker way but is normally pretty full by time it reaches Poringland meaning customers have to stand or squash up. The 88 again goes a longer way round on most journeys via Arminghall and Trowse. First's new 40 will run every 30 mins from Poringland to Norwich the same way as the X88, so it will be a fast service to Norwich which starts at Poringland meaning seats available. Good thinking. Obviously First have yet to announce full details but I fully expect financial incentives to lure passengers over as well.

I'm not surprised by this. I'm just surprised it has taken so long. I know that there has been a lot of dissatisfaction in the Poringland area recently, and on Feb 22nd when the latest Anglian service "revisions" come in there will be even less fast journeys to Poringland especially in the evening peak. It will be very interesting to see how late in the evening the 40 runs and if there is going to be a Sunday service. I will update when I know the details.

In other news the tenders for Community Transport in Suffolk have been announced, with the new contracts starting in June. I'm pleased my local operator has retained the contract, and it looks like business as usual. Again I have to see the fine print and digest any implications but I'm glad the jobs of the drivers I rely on so much, and the excellent and friendly girls on the phones have been preserved.

Sorry for lack of posts at the moment - I'm back down in Kent at the weekend for quite a few days but hopefuly after memorial services etc have been held life can start to return to normal. However rest assured if anything important happens it will be reported here!


  1. I thought when you closed the blog and came back you said you wouldn't be working the same by being the first to publish things, and would only post about your opinions etc?

    1. Mate I don't know who you are but no one forces you to read this blog. It's my blog, and if I think something is worth reporting I'll report it. If you don't like it don't read it.

      What I actually said was is that I would be concentrating on services in the main and not scrambling to be the first to get a pic of a repainted President. I believe the announcement of a new service, and giving my opinion falls into the concentrating on services. I was in a position to post tonight. If I hadn't been I wuldn't have lost sleep,and I ws 4th to post btw. But then why should I have to answer to you anyway when you can't even say who you are.

  2. Actually Mr know it all this info was broken on Twitter and Facebook earlier by "exclusive hunters"and was given to several enthusiasts by a well known face in the industry so not chased at all

  3. It's your blog Steve so report what you like and ignore us wind up merchants! Pleased to see FS&N (well the Norfolk bit at least) showing signs of life, what about your personal crusade on the 64, I gather that might have borne a few sparse fruits too?

    Down in Essex (and I mean down) I suspect not just its passengers but FEx have lost the will to live too. I know First is a hand to mouth existence having blown the bank on the USA, but I'm not sure about how they use the resources here either, getting 5ph (rather than say, 3) buses caught in a jam doesn't necessarily improve the passenger experience, as doesn't running lots of variants of the bus route, when one doesn't come (as always happens) it's no consolation there's one shortly down the end of the road; I'm here not there. It probably helps to keep the regulator and the politicians off your back, though. Perhaps the passengers are less of a concern!

    1. Hi Smurf

      I'm travelling through Essex on Saturday as I'm bussing it back down to Kent, so I'll once again have the dubious pleasure of those God awful Volvo 7600's on the 100 between Chelmsford and Lakeside (my kingdom for a B7rle!). I'll also be getting the 70 from Colchester but I understand it's more ALX400's than Presidents on there these days so not so bad.

      As for my 64 ammendments I have been assured they are still on the table but do not play a part in the forthcoming timetable changes, which I'm told are very minor. This is due to a lot of squabbling by various groups along the route as to who should have all the connections. As far as I can see Woodbridge has a 30 min serice and Saxmundham a 2 hourly service so who gets priority should be obvious, but even my protests and common sense suggestions are no match for politics. But I'll keep on nagging.

    2. You're a braver man than I! I had to travel to Basildon Hospital and that was enough: was fine when I left home and sick by the time I got there. You've double the trouble. Nothing to do with my health, those damn 7600s. Found a different route back. Yep the 70 stock has improved of late, though as far as I can tell the service hasn't. It'll be OK, or dreadful. At least the view of Stephensons might help to keep you amused!

      Politicians, don't you love 'em. I'd let them out for one week a year to fix the budget, then send them off to do something useful (well, less unhelpful, optimistically).

  4. Have you seen this Steve !!! Latest P&l for first locally

    First Essex


    First Eastern Counties:

    1. Very good, and considering the impact DDA has had on the fleet and the new buses/conversions needed any profit is to be commended. What will be even more commendable is if First publicly state that some of those profits will be used to subsidise not so much loss making routes, but sections of route that aren't profitable.

      Wonder if Go-Ahead's make such good reading.......

    2. Neither of those profit figures are really good enough for any charity acts, the Eastern Counties figure would pay for about 3 new buses to be bought the following year & while Essex looks better it still barely amounts to 10 which is not really enough to keep up a sensible fleet replacement cycle. Or to put it another way it costs over £100k per year to run a single extra bus 5 days a week (based on the daily budget figure I got from a medium sized independent a couple of years so it is probably higher now & First would be higher than that), so as you can see £420k of profit isn't going to go far in funding loss making routes, certainly not in future years where a simple small staff pay rise will wipe that profit out immediately.

      It is generally felt that a profit margin of over 10% is necessary to properly fund fleet replacement and anything under 5% is a company that needs work done (if they were independents not part of a big group you would say they are financially weak), both these appear to be coming out at well under 5% which isn't great - DDA or not and profit is there to pay for new vehicles as well as provide a return on investment for those who have put money in.

    3. Agreed. Dismal, I'd have thought. First Group profit (before charges and adjustments) for fy ending 2015 was around 5% of Gross Revenue, and that's why they needed a recovery plan. It's probably now declining with the loss of rail franchises and the USA being up and down. Even First Essex is less than half that. Never mind charitable acts, they wouldn't be good enough for a charity!

      It explains a lot, I think. But I don't find it surprising, when I see how busy the buses in surrounding counties are by comparison. With no prospects of growth and nothing left to cut, what's left for them in the East? Something, I think, has got to go. I certainly think First Essex would probably do better in anyone else's hands, perhaps a carve up between Ensign/Arriva, and even GoAhead if they could awake from their lethargy. It could provide better links from Essex to the outside world in contrast to what looks like First's bunker mentality. But First aren't known for creativity like JVs. The Chelmsford depot could make a useful housing site once, I assume, the property covenants expire, which ought to be imminent. Independent Stephensons have a nice modern underused local depot to do a Braintree job. We should shortly find out the result of ECCs tendering, which seems all that's left for First, but I can't see that helping the profits.

  5. I will find out and post :)

  6. Konectbus:
    Profit........£- 1,910,000

    Cost.........£ 3,310,000

    Weird to see konect with loss and anglian with profit. I belive konect has a loss due to the cost of park and ride and anglian have a profit due to selling buses and I presume have less assets now. Will be interesting to see the next one though

    1. I find those figures staggering, particularly bearing in mind the previous stats I've seen for Anglian. Which financial period are those figures for?

  7. Anglian Bus
    Year ended 28/06/04 / 29/06/13
    Turnover: £5.50m / £6.04m
    Net loss: £590k / £804k
    Net worth: (£390k) / £200k
    Historic losses: £1.39m / £804k

    Year ended 28/06/14 / 29/06/13
    Turnover: £5.85m / £5.07m
    Profit: £132k / Nil (break even)
    Net worth (same as historic profits): £201k / £69k

    The 2015 accounts are due by 31 March 2016 which should make for very interesting reading.

    1. Now they are more like I expected, thanks Stuart. I wonder how come there are conflicting figures.

  8. If these figures are right it begs the more interesting questions, why?

    In Konnect's case things may be influenced by Park and Ride, and we know from the recent experience of Cambridge (and Ipswich) the margin between success and failure is a small one, and often not in the control of the operator but rather in the perception of the intended market. The competition is directly with the car. Bus has to turn out better, and once you add up cost, convenience and time, that can be a cruel equation.

    Both Anglian and Konnect may lack enough scale in the urban market to balance out the loss of subsidy, both route and general, which I suspect hits the rural market hardest with both mileage and an older profile of customers.

    FEC seem to me to have a good urban market in Norwich and the coastal towns, though often badly affected by traffic, and with resources stretched out to provide weekend and evening services which would often be subsidised elsewhere. So perhaps I don't find it surprising and they seem to me to already be doing what Steve suggests. Good on them.

    FEx are what I find the most interesting case. They seem to have less excuse with a relatively generous local authority. But they seem to me to be a commercial oddity providing often double the level of service for half the number of passengers compared to their comparables in the Home Counties. Now maybe I'm missing something, but that's not the route I'd take to profits. Not it seems would the rest of the industry. So they too have stretched resources and abysmal reliability. It's not, I suspect, easier to manage the more buses you have on the network. I'm not sure that having four or five buses caught in a jam is better for instance for the remaining passengers than 3; or easier to manage.

    Any ideas why?

    I'm left to suspect that oldest reason in the book for stupidity: fear. Of what?

    Well, one way of avoiding the further interest of the TC after their scalding a year or so back is I believe to run more 5 (or more) buses per hour on a route. They seem to have an unusual number of services at that level, when it does not appear to be necessary to accommodate passenger demand. And increasing the frequency even below that level keeps the politicians quiet, who rarely ride them but only look at the timetables.

    And perhaps it puts off the competition too. Strange, since it seems to me that competition encourages passengers, to the benefit of everybody. After all what gives you greater confidence to use the bus than to know if one company has a problem, you can turn to another? But perhaps they remember what happened to neighbours Sovereign with Arriva. Google it. That was then, this is now. But I suppose memory plays funny tricks. At any rate to me they seem to me to waste resources hand over fist, and cause themselves (and more importantly the passengers) more problems in the process. And I suspect it all hits the bottom line. Now we know how hard, apparently.

    1. Blinding comment, Smurf. too tied up with things down here at the moment to give considered reply or do any research, but that was great reading.

    2. Dunno, but I fear for FEx it may be a sign of a near breakdown in working relationships between management and drivers with the result that drivers are left to do their own thing, often the sign of an ineffectual management. And who can blame them? I've worked for an employer like that in the past. So take note Anglian. (And an unsurprising ironic legacy to the "who runs this company?" strike of twenty years ago). I suspect that you can achieve almost anything with the support of your driving force, and virtually nothing without. (Dare I say a lesson that was never learned in the rail industry?) So maybe all that's left is to swamp routes with buses and keep your fingers crossed?

      I see though tat the dumbed down First version of real time info has finally, and quietly, emerged for the East, in some rare good news for the passengers.

  9. Thanks Steve. It's someting I've been ruminating on for some time, when I had to use buses for the first time in decades. When I was saving energy on the body perhaps too much of it was going to the brain!!

    But just for a bit of brain fodder when you get over the present concerns, and I appreciate the stress, as I've been there having lost both parents (at different times) after painful illnesses, but decades ago, and time really does heal.

    Perhaps I should say what I'd be looking at if I were FEx (heaven forbid!). Where's the growth? The place they like to call Greater Cambridge and the Herts-A1 to Harlow-Stortford corridor. That's where the jobs are going to be, the research and the Unis. So their flagship X30 stops at Stansted, in the middle of no-where.

    Chelmsford is a growing City, so I'm told. But its public transport largely stops at the western boundary. Of course we know they haven't got the resources; so find a partner, Stansted Airport perhaps, who has. Stagecoach have the X3/X5 etc. Even FEC have the X1. It's a market that FEx ignore. Swamp the housing estates with buses if you like, but you need something to attract the punters and subsidise the rest. I am, as you can tell, rather a fan of the semi-fast regional services where you have the population to support them. (The trouble for Suffolk and Norfolk is they just don't, as FEC found in a past life. But with a possible future exception of south Suffolk and north Essex, not yet but watch this space). If it's about getting people out of their cars and bums on seats . . . And as for us more rural dwellers, they have to find a way to make the money to spend it.

  10. I think the post about Sovereign and Arriva sums up First.First dont look at the bigger picture.When they started Greyhound they handed in National Express contracts.Look at Stagecoach they have Megabus but still do Natex work.If Stagecoach were to move into Essex Fex would be on the ropes.