A Changeover in the Scottish Borders

Over the weekend, I was in Scotland for a few days and went for a few walks through the hills around Peebles and Broughton. Because, I had based myself in Edinburgh, I was making use of the X62 between there and Peebles and checking on my options before I left home revealed a change that happened last month.

Now that First has been released from the obligations previously imposed on it, it has been retrenching in the Scottish bus market. This has seen it exiting East Lothian with Lothian Buses setting up two subsidiaries to replace the withdrawn services, Lothian Country Buses and East Coast Buses. In the coming weeks, the former is set to be merged with the latter and some service improvements are coming too.

Within the last month, First also exited the Scottish Borders with West Coast Motors taking over their operations. This has resulted in the formation of new company is called Borders Buses and has taken over all routes previously operated in the area by First. For now, timetables and fares are unchanged but Borders Buses can change things as it sees fit once it has settled into its new role. Some buses have been hired in from First until replacements are introduced though there already are some new white vehicles operating under the new fleet name. In addition, some buses from Perryman’s Buses also see service on Borders Buses routes and that is another part of the West Coast Motors group so the Campbeltown based parent company is not new to this part of Scotland.

The result of all the changes is that West Coast Motors has moved its interests from Argyll and Bute, Glasgow and the Scottish Highlands not only into the Borders but also into Northumberland. It has come quite a way from its Argyll heartland so it will be interesting to see how it goes now given that the recently reinstated Borders railway between Tweedbank and Edinburgh is having an impact.

Update on 2017-04-20:
Buses magazine reports that the operations of both Perryman’s Buses and Borders Buses are to be merged with the latter name persisting. So far, there is little sign of that apart from legal lettering on buses showing the same postal address.

Buses can and do break down

Buses are like any machine: they can and do break down. It does need to be said that they are reliable for most of the time but, people being people, having a breakdown when you are in a hurry is the last thing that you need and some can vent their frustration at this too. Of course, the same comments equally apply to car ownership and usage.

If your journey is of the leisure variety, things aren’t so bad; you just alter your plans like I did when visiting the Lake District on Saturday. I was already running late thanks to thoughtless folk on the railway in Manchester and so was encouraged by the sight of the Stagecoach bus operating the 505 to Coniston. However, it had broken down so any thoughts of heading to the Coniston fells had to be placed on hold. I instead went on an out and back walk from Windermere train station itself and had an enjoyable day. Having had a number of ideas in mind meant that a broken down bus was never going to spoil a wonderful day.

I also use buses on the daily commute and the Arriva-operated 130 Macclesfield-Manchester service is the one that mainly serves my needs but it uses buses that are between 10 and 15 years old so the occasional missing bus can be attributed to a breakdown. I saw one broken down outside my house one evening and it did take some time for mechanics to appear and set it on its way again. Thankfully, new buses are coming to Manchester so we might be getting the ones that they are displacing and they would be newer than what is now plying the 130 route. I have never been on a 130 when it broke but the same could not be said of one occasion of using the 27 Knutsford-Macclesfield service when an Iveco minibus stopped up and we needed to wait for another to come and rescue us. Those buses are long gone and the 27 seems to be a paragon of reliability these days.

Having a mechanical failure in the right place helps if your journey is to continue without too much disruption. It’s not so good when it takes an hour or like the time when a bank holiday journey from Oban ended in the early hours of the next morning because of a missing Scottish Citylink coach from Fort William to Glasgow. Another Scottish Citylink case and a near miss was my witnessing the elements of gearbox trouble on an early morning 916 Glasgow-Fort William-Uig Scottish Citylink coach service; it didn’t inspire much confidence, especially given that this was on the edge of Rannoch Moor at the time. Switching the engine on and off was enough to restore progress though. That was unlike a rail-replacement coach service from Glasgow to Carlisle when gearbox failure stopped us in our tracks on the side of the M8; we were put on another vehicle very quickly if my memory serves me correctly. Quick rescue was also assured when a Dublin Bus vehicle operating the 67 between Celbridge and Dublin malfunctioned because we were on a busy thoroughfare. Quick rescue is one thing but it can fill up a following vehicle very quickly like when a Citylink coach on which I was travelling from Oban to Glasgow picked up West Coach Motors passengers from a failed 926 Campbeltown-Glasgow coach. Luckily, there was also a Citylink coach plying the same route and that took its share too.

I may have collected up a good number of incidents here but that is because I have been a heavy user of bus and coach services for over a decade. Bus mechanical failures remain rare and, with mobile telecommunications being so pervasive, help is always easy to contact even if it takes a little while to come. Allowing a bit of slack on the time front and possessing a modicum of patience can get us all through whatever gets thrown at us.