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.

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.

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.

A contract change and its wider effects

High Peak is to take over Monday to Saturday bus service 11 between Macclesfield and Kerridge from February 24th. This means that BakerBus, who currently run the service for Cheshire East Council and have done so for a number of years now, will be handing it over in less than three weeks time.

When BakerBus scaled back the number of Biddulph to Macclesfield journeys on services 99 and 99A last autumn, they left a 07:25 from Biddulph to Macclesfield that arrives at 08:24 and an 18:41 from Macclesfield that reaches Biddulph at 19:36. These were positioning journeys for their Kerridge service and will be withdrawn in less than three weeks time. This leaves the 18:37 from Biddulph to Macclesfield as the only relic of what once was a fairly regular service that now largely is a Biddulph to Congleton route these days, a trend that is set to continue. The remaining evening journey is a positioning one for the Monday to Saturday evening contract for Macclesfield to Crewe (and return) service 38.

However, GHA’s Monday to Friday commercial service 39 is to gain an extra morning journey from Congleton at 07:50 that arrives in Macclesfield at 08:10. That is ten minutes ahead of the first bus to Kerridge and the new timetable for service 11 has all its timings shifted thirty minutes earlier in comparison with the old one. That could come as a big surprise to anyone inattentive who is a regular user of the service.

Less dramatically, Arriva’s Crewe town service 6 is set to operate ten minutes earlier from March 23rd. Then, February 17th sees the withdrawal of Routemaster Buses’ less frequent services 828 and 884 between Crewe and Nantwich. These were peak time services and I hope that their demise will not affect too many folk.

While all this is a mixed bag, it is nothing compared to proposals in other local authority areas and I do hope that we will be spared more tough choices after what we got during 2011, 2012 and 2013. Many services that were supported are now commercial so its up to increased patronage to get them sustained and hopefully improved.

Chestergate Road Closure, Macclesfield

Since yesterday, Chestergate in Macclesfield closed until 2014-02-09 to allow the demolition and rebuilding of number 123 on the road. The obstruction blocks the end of Catherine Street as well as Chestergate itself so a number of bus services are having to be diverted.

Service 130 between Macclesfield and Manchester is going the full length of Churchill Way before turning onto Cumberland Street before returning to its route at the roundabout where it meets Prestbury Road. Stops on Chestergate, King Edward Street and Chester Road are not being served while the road closure is in place.

From the seeing where the last bus of the day went, it looks as if service 27 between Macclesfield and Knutsford is diverting by the same route as the 130. What I do not know is how service 19 from Macclesfield to Prestbury via Whirley Barn is going. Looking at the placement on Cheshire East Council’s map, that too must be affected but I do not know how that is being diverted. If anyone has anything to add, then please let me know.