Does competition work with buses?

Are there enough passengers to support long-term, sustainable competition between bus operators? I doubt it.

Even if there are enough passengers, is head to head competition beneficial for passengers?

An improvement?

I live in Southampton where First and Go Ahead have been in a bus war for decades – even their predecessors were fighting against each other. Has this bus war seen improvements for passengers? Not really.

Don’t get me wrong, things have improved – gone are the wet, cold and leaking Bristol VRs and Atlanteans* and we now have on-board features such as USB chargers and superfast free WiFi – but did these enhancements come about because of competition?¬†I doubt it.

Take a look around many towns and cities across the UK and you’ll see these types of improvements.

What has changed?

Over the past few years we have seen a contraction in the number of routes being operated by First, who have always been the biggest operator of city routes.

They have moved from a variety of routes running at various frequencies to a core network of super frequent bus routes – which have been branded as Southampton’s CITYREDS. You can see the contrast very clearly in the two network maps below.

The First network as it looked in 2009
First Southampton's bus network as of February 2017
First Southampton’s bus network as of February 2017

Bluestar’s city network, on the other hand, has grown with three new stars joining the network. Routes 16 and 17 have all been introduced in competition against parts of the First network.

Bluestar introduced route 7 after First revised the route of their 9 around Sholing – bringing Bluestar back into Woolston after they changed their route 3 to run a slightly quicker route into Bitterne – much to my annoyance as it was one of my local routes!

The simplified approach that First have opted for does seem to have worked for them – passenger numbers seem to be on the up but has it driven those on the periphery to go back to their cars?

On-board enhancements

As with buses up and down the country, especially those operating in large towns or cities, Southampton’s buses have seen major improvements.

The fleets of both operators have been renewed over the past five years – gone are First’s ancient Darts with their cramped and uncomfortable seating and in their place are a fleet of brand new leather seated Streetlites (okay, they’re not my favourite buses either, but they’re a vast improvement over the Darts).

Bluestar have steadily replaced their Cadet darts on the 18s with brand new high back seated Enviro 200 MMCs with USB chargers and free WiFi – allowing displaced Citaros to run on the 7, 16 and 17.

A big step forward and should help to get people out of their cars and on to their buses, but is it enough?

Do you think Southampton’s bus network has benefitted from competition? Has competition worked where you are? Let me know in the comments below.

On a side note, you really should try the Enviro 400 MMCs on Bluestar’s 1 (Southampton | Chandler’s Ford | Winchester) – they must be the highest spec buses in Hampshire with Esteban Relax seating, USB chargers and free WiFi.

* Okay, I know that bus enthusiasts would prefer an Atlantean over an Enviro 200 MMC or a Streetlite, but they’re an improvement for most passengers!

My Lake District trip – Glenridding & Aira Force

The village of Glenridding sits at the southern end of Ullswater, the second largest lake in the Lake District. It’s accessible by Stagecoach’s route 508; the Saturdays only route 208; and the Ullswater Steamer ferry.

I opted to travel on route 208 from Keswick, as this bus starts in Carlisle as route 73. These routes offer some of the best views I have ever witnessed – some what impressive given the route is the operated by Solos!

Seriously impressive sights

Ullswater lake is breathtakingly sublime, the best of all the lakes, in my humble opinion. Glenridding offers a unrivalled view of this beautiful location, where you can stand on the pier and immerse yourself in the sheer beauty and silence of the Cumbrian lake.

The short hike to Aira Force

After a short stroll around Glenridding (and a delicious bacon bap from the beach bar) I decided to head up to Aira Force to see the waterfalls at this National Trust attraction.

Initially I had planned on catching the 508, but the bus was running late. Over 30 minutes late, in fact, which rather caught me by surprise – as you can tell from these rather awful photographs!

After missing the bus, and not wanting another 40-odd minute wait, I decided to walk the relatively short distance to Aria Force. There’s a dedicated footpath that runs, pretty much, adjacent to the road – mostly easy trails but there were some pretty steep steps too.

The trail also hugs the lake, meaning that you get to see Ullswater in even more spectacular glory. A gentle 90 minute walk and you arrive at the Aira Force tearooms for a well earned cup of tea and slice of Victoria Sponge.

In and around Aira Force

The National Trust waterfall, Aira Force, is set in acres of stunning countryside and features many walkways enabling you to view the streams in all their glory.

The thing with waterfalls is that, by their very nature, they’re on top of a hill. So be prepared for a steep hike to the top. I wasn’t, especially after walking from Glenridding!

Another trip report from Andi.
View the rest of the articles about this trip.

Exploring the Lake District in all its beauty…

I began my 7 day extravaganza at the tail end of the hottest June week in over 30 years, hotly anticipating basking sunshine and glorious vistas. So confident of hot weather was I that I left my house wearing shorts.

Cut to the penultimate day of the trip where it’s raining so hard I had to, sadly, abandon my plans. But that’s enough about my weather woes.

My inspiration for the trip

I was inspired to begin planning the trip after spotting a photograph of Stagecoach’s 77 traversing the Honister Pass on the Stagecoach enthusiast Facebook group (worth joining if you haven’t already).

I had never been to the Lake District before and was keen to explore the area, plus I thought I would use this as an opportunity to travel with Virgin, as I had never had the pleasure before.

Highlights of the trip:

The Yorkshire Dales

A Yorkshire Coastliner Gemini waiting time in Whitby

I had previously travelled on Transdev’s Yorkshire Coastliner route 840 all the way from Leeds to Whitby – but it was dark, cold and raining. This trip turned out to be the perfect way to sample the beautiful Dales once again, but this time in the sun!

Coming soon!

Glenridding & Aira Force

A Carlisle branded Optare Solo in Glenridding

If you’re after a beautiful view of Ullswater, you need look no further than Glenridding. I enjoyed a gentle stroll around the village and then a short hike to the nearby Aira Force Waterfall.

Read more about Glenridding & Aira Force ¬Ľ


More coming soon shortly!



Exploring Southampton & North Hampshire by bus

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Enjoying Basingstoke’s rebranded bus network

A couple of Wednesday’s ago I went to visit¬†the Stagecoach empire in North Hampshire – including sampling their newly relaunched bus network in Basingstoke, the subject of today’s blog post.

Initial impressions

In a word – impressed. Having lived in Winchester¬†or¬†Southampton, all my life, I’ve kept a close eye on Basingstoke’s bus network. Stagecoach have spent years tweaking the network to find the¬†best solution¬†for Basingstoke.

They just might have cracked it this time. Stagecoach partnered with Best Impressions to rebrand¬†the network and both have done a great job –¬†the branding is beautiful, desirable and¬†balanced.

A few examples of the route specific branding used on Basingstoke’s local bus services.

Across the mediums

Best Impressions have done a great job of carrying the branding through to all of the other marketing mediums too – the timetables are a thing of pure beauty, especially considering the routes they’re advertising.

An example of the new timetable leaflets for the Basingstoke network
An example of the new timetable leaflets for the Basingstoke network

These timetable leaflets are a brillant evolution of the recently revised standard leaflets that Stagecoach South are using.

This design is also carried across into the roadside posters, as shown on this poster I found for route 2 in Basingstoke bus station.

Roadside displays in Basingstoke bus station
Roadside displays in Basingstoke bus station

In summary

The new branding for Basingstoke is a much welcomed improvement over the previous Jazz branding (shown below).¬†It’s a much more sophisticated approach that makes the vehicles feel more premium than they actually are!

An example of the old 'Jazz' route branding used in Basingstoke
An example of the old ‘Jazz’ route branding used in Basingstoke


Premium buses – it’s all about the little details now

Long gone are the days where passengers were grateful for the bus simply turning up. Passengers expect so much more from their bus journey Рand rightly so.

Throughout 2016 we saw a big increase in the number of vehicles with USB charging points and free WiFi being delivered to operators of all sizes. No longer are these¬†add-ons¬†just for the higher quality operations but they’re now a staple for¬†bus travel in the UK.

Such is the proliferation of these features, I’m now genuinely annoyed when I board a bus to find no USB chargers.

Beyond the basics

To make a bus feel luxurious we now need to look beyond the basics and towards the finer details. At the end of January I had the great pleasure of travelling across Yorkshire sampling the best views and the best buses anywhere in the UK.

I came to notice the small details during my trip Рfrom simple things like having bus timetables that are accessible even when travel shops are closed to really minute details such as wallpapers adorning staircases on double decks.

It’s these small details that have cemented in my mind that, from a passenger’s perspective, these are the best buses in the UK. It shows real passion and care for the journey¬†from the operator and really does redefine bus travel.

It all starts with a¬†friendly welcome…

We all appreciate a friendly welcome, and boarding a bus should be no different.

It’s a small thing but seeing welcome signs like these (below) help brighten a journey, it’s even better when there’s a friendly driver behind the wheel wishing you a good morning.

I also like how Transdev have taken the theme of Yorkshire’s local dialect and run with it across their other branding applications.

Local pride is very important and people appreciate having a sense of ownership over their local transport Рjust look at how many people are calling for nationalisation! Local brand names reinforce the notion of an operator caring for the community and being owned by the community.

An example of The Harrogate Bus Company's use of local dialect.
An example of The Harrogate Bus Company’s use of local dialect. Image from The Harrogate Bus Company.
An example of The Keighley Bus Company's use of local dialect.
An another example, this time from The Keighley Bus Company. Image from MW Graphics.

Up next…

There are many other ways in which we can make buses look and feel more premium.

Keighley & Worth Valley Railway

If you’re passing by Keighley, Haworth, Oakworth or Oxenhope; I strongly recommend you take a trip or two on the KWVR trains.