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.

An Arriva rearrangement to arrive in June 2014

This has been Catch the Bus Week across the U.K. and I have learned that something less positive is on the way for Arriva’s bus services in Cheshire East from the start of June. It comes in the form of many services seeing curtailment of evening journeys.

There are other less notable tweaks too in the form of changes to Macclesfield town services 2, 2A and 4 with the 31 and 31A between Crewe, Winsford and Northwich also coming into the same category. Further details of what is coming have yet to become clear but let’s hope that service reductions are not in order for these.

Others are less fortunate and Monday to Saturday journeys between Macclesfield and Bollington after 21:00. There is little sign of a campaign against this at the time of writing but it really took a big push to get Arriva to provide the commercial service that it has done since council funding was withdrawn. The same sort of thing is coming to Macclesfield town service 9 after 20:45 and circular town services 5 and 6 after 19:30. Also, the 08:35 and 09:05 Monday to Friday journeys on the Macclesfield to Hurdsfield town service are set to go too. These were route 21B and routes 21 and 21A will survive untouched though it does the morning peak travel time no favours at all.

Service 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe loses out too. On Saturdays, there are to be no Arriva buses after 18:00 and that leaves a gap until the council-contracted BakerBus journeys that start at 20:35. It will be interesting to see if Cheshire East Council fills the gap here though I realise that money is tight with them. Otherwise, there is sense in pulling the short return journey between Macclesfield and Congleton that leaves Macclesfield shortly before BakerBus’s first evening journey to Crewe.

Also not escaping unscathed are services 37, 37A and 37E between Crewe and Northwich. There is set to be only journey from Crewe to Northwich after 19:00 and that leaves Crewe as the 37E at 19:34 to arrive in Northwich at 20:49. The other 19:00, 20:00 and 21:00 journeys will not operate.

Other than the above, it is the 23:00 journey from Crewe to Nantwich on service 84 that faces withdrawal. This completes a series of changes that look anything but positive. Recently, I learned that the head of Arriva Northwest is an accountant so it is tempting to lay the blame at bean counting but I reckon that is not the whole story. Of course, there is the matter of passenger patronage to be considered too and High Peak is withdrawing the the last journey of the day on service 14 between Macclesfield and Langley (a Monday to Saturday affair anyway since Arriva stopped offering a Sunday service) to leave no service after 18:00, not a good thing for any commuters though the new 109 service between Macclesfield and Leek could help to fill the gap. Maybe it’s time to support what services are running and get campaigning when we need to retain any that are threatened.

Update 2014-05-19:

BakerBus are to plug the gap left in the Saturday service 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe. Their Saturday departures from Macclesfield will start at 18:35 and continue hourly until the last bus of the day. Their equivalent Saturday departures from Crewe will commence at 19:35 and continue hourly until the end of service, so ensuring a complete service over the whole day. If only something similar could be said for soon to be withdrawn services between Macclesfield and Bollington.

Update 2014-05-27:

BakerBus are set to lose their Monday to Saturday evening journey contract to GHA from the first Monday in July (2014-07-07) so that last evening journey from Biddulph to Macclesfield is set to go at the same time. GHA are taking over service 77 between Congleton and Kidsgrove, another Cheshire East Council contract, from the same date. No timetables are changing though.

It is not all bad news for BakerBus though since they won the contract to operate the soon to be discontinued evening journeys on Macclesfield local services 9 and 10 on Friday and Saturday evenings from the first weekend in June (2014-06-06) onwards. It would be better if Monday to Thursday evenings gained the same reprieve but anything has to be better than nothing at all.

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.

Still some council support forthcoming after all

Previously, I reported the then upcoming decimation of Monday to Saturday evening services on service 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe. Now, it seems that Bakerbus have a contract to run later evening journeys on an hourly basis from 20:35 to 23:35 in either direction, albeit without having to honour tickets issued Arriva or D&G. This is promising news and makes me wonder now becomes of the planned short Arriva journeys between Macclesfield and Congleton (20:30 and 20:57 in each direction) and the 20:25 from Crewe to Sandbach. Maybe, all will become more clear in time but the continuation of something like the current is nothing but good news. Apparently, the 38 gets considered a strategic service and the 130 from Macclesfield to Manchester gets nothing like the same status, as can be seen from the severe service reductions in recent times.

This changeover is to take place on June 3rd and there is another on July 1st: the return of council funding for service 77 between Congleton and Kidsgrove. The current timetable will not be changing so the current set up of four journeys in each direction from morning into early afternoon is to remain. Though the days of the route all the way to Hanley bus station in Stoke-on-Trent, it is encouraging to see its continuation given that Astbury and Mow Cop are calling points, the latter of these being especially important for being on the Gritstone Trail.

Crewe gets its share of support for town services too with D&G’s service 9 between Crewe and Wistaston getting support for its Saturday journeys. The result is that there are more journeys over near enough the full route (Elm Drive is not served) for more of the day than was the case before. To compensate for the omission of Elm Drive from service 9, all current service 8 journeys are to follow the 8A route (with a consequent change in route number) instead as they go between Wistaston Green, Crewe and Sidney. This new arrangement comes into place from June 9th and June 3rd also sees tweaks to services 44 and 44M between Crewe and Nantwich (44M gets re-timed and Monday to Friday 08:55 from Crewe changed to start from Shavington at 09:08 instead).

June 3rd also sees D&G taking over daytime journeys on Knutsford town service 300 from High Peak without a change in timetable. There is no word of council financial support for this but the sense of High Peak leaving Knutsford is not hard to see now that they no longer operate service 27 to there from Macclesfield. It still is out on a limb for D&G too and Tomlinson Travel continue with the evening ones and I have heard some complaints on the service that they provide.

For a change, this latest round of bus service announcements is good news; developments haven’t looked this harmless for a while. It also is intriguing to see council funding appearing now after what was looking like bus services being left to their own devices with some falling on such hard times that they couldn’t continue as they were. For a good while. it almost felt like the approach was a managed decline somewhat akin to that applied to the railways in Britain for a few decades and was quite ironic given that bus services were mooted as replacements for soon to be defunct railway lines in Beeching’s plans.

What makes me wonder a little though is the timing of all of this. Cheshire East Council has seen hefty staffing upheaval in recent months. Having experienced this sort of re-organisation myself a number of times during my career so far, I realise how much stasis they can cause and I find myself asking if the same thing befell Cheshire East; folk in fear of their jobs can be unable to make decisions and it looks like that was happening before what we see now. Beyond what was happening, it might be that folk can see their way ahead again.

Seeing the recognition of the 38 as a strategic service was a great development and I’d like to think that its Sunday evening journeys may be graced by the same thinking at some point in the near future. Maybe that’s being overly optimistic but I was beginning to think that Northern Rail’s service between Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent might have made services like those on routes 38 and 77 less critical in the eyes of some and hence more vulnerable to withdrawal. After all, loss of trust in bus services is a dangerous thing and seeing what was happening was making my mind veer towards the apparent safe haven of train services. Let’s hope that we have found the bottom now and that bus service news may be a bit more positive from this point forward.

Bus service changes continue in Cheshire East

It’s come to my attention at short notice that G.H.A. Coaches are taking over the Sunday Macclesfield to Manchester service from Arriva on next Sunday (2013-01-13). Whether that means that Arriva weekly and four-weekly tickets will be accepted remains to be seen and I wouldn’t bet on it unless I hear confirmation first. On the D & G Sunday service on the Crewe to Macclesfield route 38, I have never seen anyone proffer an Arriva saver ticket so I wouldn’t be surprised if the same applies here. Looking at Traveline, the timetable is staying the same for now though the Cheshire East Council website suggests to the contrary. Unfortunately, the change involves yet more fragmentation and that hasn’t helped the cause of some of our services recently; the lost Monday to Saturday evening 130 journeys come to mind here. Will it also further test the appetite that Arriva’s Wythenshawe depot has for running the 130 and would getting G.H.A. to run the whole thing be the sort of development that we need? Maybe now isn’t the time for such experimentation but I and others have had more revolutionary thoughts so what about it? There are more questions than answers on the topic and such is where we find ourselves in these times.

Speaking of G.H.A., they are set to operate a partial replacement for the 391 service from 4th March. The new service is called the P1 and we have yet to see details of the timetable for it. There seems to be a growing trend of G.H.A. winning more council contracts recently with the 200 Wilmslow to Manchester Airport and Connect 19 Macclesfield to Prestbury services going their way too. Given that the company is based in rural Denbighshire, this may come as a surprise but I think that they have an outstation in Macclesfield that originally started with schoolbus services before they gained the Connect 88 between Knutsford, Wilmslow and Altrincham.

The mention of Poynton allows me to relate that High Peak will be taking over the 392 and 393 services from BakerBus from the start of March too. It’s a pity to see a quality operator like BakerBus losing out like this, especially given that they brought newer buses to the route when they started on it a few years ago. Those were different times though and the the announcement of the P1 makes me wonder if the truncation at Hazel Grove still applies or if there might be through ticketing via the 199 Skyline service between Buxton and Stockport to compensate for it. It’s an interesting possibility.

High Peak are not done with tweaking the 27 service between Macclesfield and Knutsford though and there are major route alterations to come from 11th February. Some journeys were numbers 27A but no longer will be the case. Beggarman’s Lane will not be served and that’s not exactly a surprise since I saw no one living there use the service on the journeys that I used. That now means that any journeys going via Over Peover and Whipping Stocks Inn will be routed via Ollerton and Knutsford train station instead. The Monday to Friday Over Peover service level is to be cut though with only the following journeys going that way: 1000, 1130, 1300 and 1430 from Macclesfield; 1045, 1215, 1345 and 1515 from Knutsford. That makes me wonder about those going to work at the Barclays site of Radbroke Hall who used to travel by bus and how they managed now. Saturday services are unaffected but that’s little consolation to them. On the subject of workplaces, the Alderley Park loop is getting shortened only to serve only Mereside and not Alderley House. Only for the speed bumps in that place being very harsh, it would be difficult to comprehend why this is being done but bus suspension damage cannot be cheap to fix and there have been complaints from a bus company operating there in the past.

So, while I was thinking that it would be quiet on here for a while, I found the above today. There may be a big upheaval in progress following last year’s decisions on funding cuts but it seems that other changes are not excluded either. What we really need is more news like the investment being made by D & G into Crewe town service 1 but I am sceptical about that at this stage when Cheshire East bus services continue to get rough treatment and one wonders at what we could hear later in the year.