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.

Why reserve a seat if unsure of your time of travel?

Sadly, those insulting thetrainline.com ads have reappeared. Personally, I like the flexibility of just turning up at a train station, buying a ticket for my journey and going on my way. In fact, I like that idea so much that I am willing to pay for it most of the time (saying that, when the cost passes £60, savings are often sought). Being called an idiot for wanting to things in this way is certainly not something that I appreciate and I can next to guarantee that the said company will not be getting my custom, at least not directly.

Apart from those appalling posters, another thing that brings the whole matter of Internet bookings to mind is my travelling on a train south from Aviemore a few weeks back. Many seats were reserved but most of these weren’t occupied. That may have been just as well for sake of travelling comfort but it prompted the thought in my mind as to whether those reservations were a “just in case” measure. The next step in musings has me wondering if a world where there was more more frugality in the booking of seats might be a better one. However, there is also the possibility that a decline in seat booking would result in less frequent services and shorter trains, something that could increase seat reservations and pop things back where they were before anyway. It all makes a seat reservation less useful than it ought to be. In reality, it is probably no bad thing to sit in such a spot until disturbed by the rightful occupant. After all, you only need to move away when asked. It may not make things user friendly for those reserving seats or be the sort of practice that is encouraged but it might be a minor irritation in the broad scheme of things.

While the railways still cut some slack and that is good when it comes to convenience, other modes of travel are far from being like this and I hope that the railways don’t follow suit. For one thing, they already compensate for a less than comprehensive express coach network in England that makes seat bookings a necessity. Wales now has its Trawscambria long distance bus network with Ireland and Scotland having none too shabby networks provided by Citylink, Ulsterbus and Bus Éireann. Airlines are run on a far tighter footing and you only need to note Ryanair’s closure of airport check in desks in favour of the online option and Aer Lingus’ passenger operated baggage check in facilities to see what I mean. They also overbook their aircraft which is not so nice but the expectation is that not everyone will make a flight. If the same sort of thinking started to pervade the railways, then that would be a very disappointing development.

Saying all of that, I don’t object to there being a need for bookings on services running at busy times. In fact, if you are tied to a train by an advance purchase ticket, then reserving a seat makes sense. For more flexible tickets (Off Peak and Anytime returns come to mind), the logic of that argument may not be so strong, hence my appeal to only reserve your place when you are absolutely certain of travelling. Yes, I realise that stuff happens but there’s no need to devalue the seat booking by not turning up because it was only done just in case.