Lost Welsh Independent Bus Companies

It was before Christmas 2017 when the idea for this post entered my head after learning about more Welsh bus company collapses. Though I might have had the motivation to write it up then, the topic felt unseasonal so I left it to one side for a while.

There are plenty of reasons why the subject is too sober for what was supposed to be a joyful time of year. In the companies listed below, there seems to be a repeating story of hardship and subsequent collapse. In some cases, business management was not what it should and the Welsh traffic commissioner never takes too kindly to sudden closure of any bus company and there has been too much cause for hearings to take place in Welshpool.

Most of the affected concerns operated rural bus routes under council contracts, an easier revenue earner during the years of Labour government in London but much tougher now in more austere times. Such is the geography of Wales, that many firms prospered once more funding was on offer from the late nineties until the end of the next decade. One bus industry professional commented that he was involved in setting up a business in the nineties because public subsidy was about to increase and the Cheshire bus network was much stronger back then so the same might have been possible for Wales.

That is not how it is now and bus patronage cannot be helped by service cuts either so a vicious circle comes into being. Then, smaller firms suffer and the hilly nature of Wales makes it hard too for large operators with Arriva and Veolia pulling out of mid Wales. It all makes for a troubled network so the presence of the Welsh Government support TrawsCambria network is invaluable because we cannot say that all is well yet.

When you see the list below, it is easy to see how instability can rein so anything that helps has to be good. After all, bus passengers need to sure that services will operate as advertised and the last thing that councils need is repeated re-tendering of services. Hopefully, the decline can be halted and we see a reduced number of failures over time. You only can hope for better.

D & J Jones and Son

In the wake of the collapse of GHA Coaches, this Wrexham based operator took on a lot of extra work before it too collapsed immediately before Christmas 2017. It was said that staffing issues were the cause rather than financial pressures but it left Wrexham Council with the task of replacing many services in order to keep transport services going in the borough.

Express Motors

2018 started with much change in the bus network in northwest Wales (Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy) because of this operator’s loss of its licence. The cause was a coach crash in France that revealed discrepancies in vehicle maintenance records. There were two family owned companies on site with similar names, one offering private and the other providing local bus services. Both were closed and a replacement company appears not to have been set up to continue in the bus service business. The result is that all council contracted routes were retendered.

GHA Coaches

GHA Coaches rose very quickly across North and Mid Wales as well as Cheshire and Shropshire. It now looks as if the expansion may have been too rapid for service quality declined and cashflow problems meant that taxes were unpaid and service quality suffered too. In the end, the company was wound up by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The company’s directors tried starting another company but were disqualified from continuing with such operations by the traffic commissioner, an understandable action given how quickly GHA Coaches had collapsed and the chaos that resulted.

Padarn Bus

Llanberis’ Padarn Bus was another bus company that failed in northwest Wales and there was a fraud investigation mounted after that happened. That happened in 2014 and so comes before others on this list. It was a sign of what was to come.

Silcox Coaches

This Pembrokeshire operator failed for financial reasons not long before GHA Coaches. The business had been sold in order to gain added investment that never materialised. It then was bought back by the family that owned for much of its long history but it never recovered.

Up to usual tricks yet again…

Cheshire East Council have launched yet another consultation to see if they can cut bus services even more. We probably should have had on whether it is appropriate to try to save £1.5m on this in the first place. Things already are close to a situation where nothing runs after 18:00 and I am trying to see if Arriva will give us a better service on route 130 between 16:00 and 19:00.

Again, it is evening and Sunday services that are at the centre of attempted savings though the Little Bus network does not escape either. Trunk routes like services 38 and 130 fall into the scope for cuts with the former potentially losing all of its evening services and the latter its Sunday ones. A number of services face withdrawal like service 200 between Wilmslow and Manchester Airport or service P1 between Middlewood, Poynton and Hazel Grove. Otherwise, there is some pointless renumbering of otherwise unaffected services.

The consultation takes the form of a route by route interrogation that causes some like me to question the need to bother about it when so much is cut already. It certainly is not as user friendly as that run by Derbyshire County Council and that leads to its own share of cynical rebuke. It is one thing to try collecting too much information but that is made worse if it puts off those who depend on more than one service from commenting at all.

Still, there is some cause for optimism with all the consultation fatigue that I am suffering. Local newspapers like the Macclesfield Express and the Wilmslow Guardian have featured the consultation on their front pages with comments from local councillors. One does have to wonder when it all is going to stop but the cuts actually made in the end may step back from the full extent that is described in the proposal document. The consultation itself runs until July 26th so we will learn what happens after that. One has to ask if it all is false economy and we saw the collapse of GHA last year as they fell foul of an ever more challenging operating environment.

Pennine Motor Services to cease trading

It has come as a surprise for me to hear that Pennine Motor Services of Skipton in North Yorkshire is to cease trading in the middle of May, 2014-05-16 in fact. The business has been in existence since 1925 and its demise looks more of a shame given how long it has been around. In fact, they bought another bus in the last few months. Next year would have seen it reach ninety years of trading but that sadly is not to be.

It is tempting to wonder if the most recent round of bus funding cuts being implemented by North Yorkshire County Council has led to the decision. Looking through the actual cuts themselves, it does seem that Pennine did not get out too badly from these. That leaves reductions in reimbursement for those passengers who are entitled to free travel and that has caused trouble elsewhere. Without knowing more though, nothing else can be added but both of these have to be making the bus business that much harder for many operators.

Things probably were more rosy when I first saw their distinctive black and orange buses in 2000 while I spent six weeks around Skipton being trained ahead of placement with a client of the company for which I had started worked at the time. In fact, I used their Burnley service to get to my then new place of work on my first morning there. It was only a few years afterwards when I travelled on a service from Settle to Skipton after a February day spent walking through that part of the Yorkshire Dales. It was a certain amount of impatience that had me using a bus instead of awaiting a train and the cold of the evening might have added further persuasion as to the merits of the idea.

Here are the services that will be affected by Pennine’s demise:

210: Skipton – Malham

212: Skipton – Carleton-in-Craven

214: Skipton – Embsay

215: Skipton – Burnley

216: Skipton town service

580: Skipton – Settle

Off all of these, it was the 215 that I used on that April morning in 2000 when they ran exclusively ran Leyland Nationals. By the time that I used the 580 from Settle, Dennis Darts had superseded the Leylands and it was another of the Darts that had been bought most recently.

Apart from the Monday to Friday service 210 and the seven day service 215, all the services they offered ran from Monday to Saturday. That is not to say that Saturdays did not have less journeys running than on other days of the week since that was the case anyway. For instance, the Settle service is around two hourly on Saturdays when it was nearly hourly on other days of the week. As it happens, the additional journeys between Barnoldswick and Burnley are Monday to Friday only too.

So far, there is little word on possible replacements apart from Transdev Lancashire United stating that their own services between Burnley and Skipton will see extra journeys being offered on them from 2014-05-19. For places like Settle and Malham, only time will reveal what is to be offered to their residents.

Update 2014-05-12: North Yorkshire County Council has been forced to put in place a stopgap service between Skipton and Settle using its own 16-seater buses. The new route number is 58 and it offers no Saturday service like the 580 used to do. It also stops up in the early afternoon though there are three return journeys between Skipton and Settle as well as three return journeys between Skipton and Hellifield. There has been an attempt to interest local bus companies but that could need a council contract and there is not a lot of money around for those in these austere times. That especially is the case after NYCC forced through dramatic cuts to council supported services anyway.

More trimming of evening bus services in Cheshire East from June 2013

Previously, it was my understanding that D&G were interested in running Monday to Saturday evening journeys on bus service 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe from the start of June. However, that interest has waned and these are left to Arriva now. D&G were to operate them on a commercial basis and I am left to wonder if Arriva are having to do likewise.

My reasoning for this is that there are significant reductions to the journeys that will be available. What will survive are the 18:20 and 19:20 departures from Macclesfield with an additional 20:30 going as far as Congleton that returns from there at 20:57. From Crewe, we will be left with departures at 18:20 and 19:20 for Macclesfield and a 20:25 one going as far as Sandbach.

The above mean that a once stalwart and dependable service now is even more hobbled than it was after the withdrawal of Sunday evening services. It also has had another consequence: the withdrawal of all Arriva operated journeys on service 14 between Macclesfield and Langley. This makes it just a Monday to Saturday daytime service being provided by High Peak. What had facilitated the provision of Monday to Saturday evening services were the buses used to go between Macclesfield and Crewe that otherwise would have had an unused layover.

One only can surmise from this that bus service cuts are not done yet and the first Sunday in June is set to see the above come into place. For the 38, train services are going to have to act as a partial substitute yet again as they have needed to do at other times. Of course,they do nothing for places like Langley or Gawsworth whose residents don’t have a nearby train station at all. Folk wanting to get from Congleton to and from Macclesfield or vice versa are more fortunate, though.

The evening service reductions between Macclesfield and Crewe have me recalling the times when the 38 was very handy when returning from walking trips to Wales. Also, the same service often got me to Crewe for Caledonian Sleeper train services to the Scottish Highlands too. Those days will be past from the start of June and it makes me wonder if we ever will see an end to austerity or see bus service levels increase again. One only can hope for the best…

The Rise of GHA?

In recent years, GHA Coaches and its subsidiary Vale Travel have started to make inroads to Cheshire East that the North Wales operation hadn’t done until then. It all started with school bus contracts using mid-life double decker buses seemingly based in Macclesfield and that still is their base in the area.

Next, they won the contract for the Connect 88 service between Knutsford, Wilmslow and Altrincham from Arriva who had operated it using the route number of 288. New buses were acquired for the Monday to Saturday service, which must have come as a welcome surprise to those who were regular users of Arriva’s ageing and step entrance Dennis Darts. Low floor Optare Versas have been the mainstay since then although other older buses appear from time to time.

The 289 between Northwich, Knutsford and Altrincham was another service that GHA gained and I am not sure when that happened; my first sighting of it was of a sunny Friday evening in May 2012 when I glimpse the bus to Northwich passing through Knutsford. It again is a Monday to Saturday service and has something like five departures each way a day.

In recent months, the number of services coming under their custodianship has increased with the 200 between Wilmslow, Styal and Manchester Airport being the first that I noticed. That is a seven day hourly daytime service that always seems to escape the cuts that blighted others. Is it because it only needs one bus and one driver all day? They possibly are the most cost effective so that wouldn’t surprise me.

The Connect 19 service between Macclesfield, Whirley Barn and Prestbury is yet another hourly Monday to Saturday daytime service that they operate after taking over from High Peak, who had run it for a number of years. Sunday services between Macclesfield, Alderley Edge, Wilmslow and Manchester on the 130 route became yet another contract that they won, also from Arriva, and commenced in the middle of January and I got to seeing one of the Optare Versas for the Connect 88 running on it.

That wasn’t all because the P1 between Middlewood, Poynton and Hazel Grove became yet another entry on their roster of services and fitted the Monday to Friday hourly daytime service too. Thankfully, its institution meant the 392 and 393 services still run from Macclesfield into Stockport and don’t terminate in Hazel Grove as may have been feared.

Their most recent activity has involved a little risk taking on their part since they have applied to register a service along route 27 between Macclesfield and Knutsford. There is a little confusion about this since the council were in the throes of issuing a tender for contract when GHA appear to have looked at the ridership figures and decided to go running it commercially, albeit on a largely two hourly timetable as opposed to High Peak’s 90 minute one. It again is a Monday to Saturday daytime affair with the first and last services of a Saturday being dropped. Cheshire East Council are waiting for the actual registration to go to completion before telling anyone what is happening even if GHA already have a timetable on their website. Though the risk taking is to be welcomed, it all looks confused and I hope things work out for the new service and that it gets the patronage that it needs. There have been many lost bus services in our area already and more aren’t needed.