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.

Cheshire East Bus Service Changes: October 2014

All has felt rather quiet in the world of Cheshire East bus services in recent months. With the cuts that we have been seeing since 2011, that can be viewed as a good thing. There are times when no news can be good news and it has felt that bus services were in managed decline under the current government, which is how those thoughts developed in my mind.

However, we now have some good news for Knutsford too for service 27/27A/27B to and from Macclesfield is set to become hourly and service 88 to and from both Wilmslow and Altrincham is to become half-hourly in frequency. Also, the 88 service will call at Wilmslow’s train station too. While these are Monday to Saturday services with no Sunday operations, these are encouraging developments that I would like to see prospering and they come into place at the end of the month.

Improvements continue with Congleton’s town services being contracted to GHA after a turn with D&G on most of them and BakerBus having retained one from its original roster. If I remember correctly, D&G definitely was providing services on a commercial basis and I cannot speak for BakerBus. The  continuing route numbers will be 90, 91 and 92 with D&G’s 39 being dropped. The places being served include Bromley, Mossley and Buglawton. Service 42 from here to Crewe also transfers to GHA with that seeing improvements too. The extension to Crewe train station may be getting dropped but there is to be an hourly service over the whole route from Monday to Saturday so weekends see a doubling of the number of journeys starting and ending in Congleton compared to what it is now.

Some services around Crewe and Nantwich have been replaced. These include Nantwich town service 53 as well as routes 44 and 44M. Routes 6 and 6M are to be extended as far as Nantwich and Millfields with service of Rail House, Gresty Road reinstated using a new right hand turn from Nantwich Road. The latter also gets reinstated on GHA’s service 6E too. Macclesfield to Crewe service 38 gets extended as far as Nantwich on Sundays replace the current 45/45A service on that day of the week. D&G get a contract for that portion of the extended 38 too. As for the remainder of the week, service will stay as it is and service 45 and 45A will see some alterations.  Route 45 will serve Davenport Avenue in Nantwich with the last journey of the day reaching Beefeater, Marshfield Bank. The Saturday 08:12 service journey is to be replaced by a 07:50 one on service 45.

There are more Crewe-related contract wins for GHA too with the Sunday and bank holiday workings on Crewe town services 8 and 8A along with Monday to Saturday evening services commencing from Crewe bus station at 19:00, 20:00 and 2100 coming their way. Monday to Friday afternoon journeys on Crewe town service 9 have been awarded too to partially replace the withdrawn BakerBus service. Saturday journeys on service 78 between Nantwich and Scholar Green also are going here along with later Monday to Friday journeys that D&G will not operate on a commercial basis. GHA also are revising timetables for Nantwich circular services 51, 52 and 52A as well as that of service 39 between there and Crewe via Shavington and services 72 & 73 between Nantwich and Whitchurch now that the 75 contract has gone to Routemaster Buses.

The changes for D&G are not all losses though with their taking on service 32 from Sandbach to Crewe from BakerBus. There are to be four journeys each way on Saturdays and the first journey of the day towards Sandbach starting from Crewe train station and the last journey of the day from Sandbach terminating at the train station too from Monday to Friday. The current 16:45 journey from Sandbach is set to run at 16:35 too. Services 85 and 85B no longer will continue to Hanley though and will terminate at Newcastle instead.

Arriva continues its penchant for service trimming with its Crewe town service 6 losing its 06:50, 07:20, 10:50, 14:20, 17:30, 18:00, 18:30 journeys. Service of Rail House, Gresty Road get reinstated with new right hand turn from Nantwich Road. Its Crewe town service 8 also loses its 07:35, 10:05, 14:05, 17:35 and 18:05 journeys. Service 130 between Macclesfield and Manchester also sees a little trimming with the Monday to Friday 17:40 departure from Macclesfield being truncated at Wilmslow and the Saturday 18:18 departure from Manchester to Wilmslow getting withdrawn. It’s not all bad news though with route 37/37A/37E between Crewe, Sandbach and Winsford getting an improved Monday to Saturday evening service. Service 84 between Crewe and Chester also sees some timetable tweaks but I have yet to learn what those are.

Otherwise, Routemaster Buses has secured a council contract for the following Nantwich rural services:

  • Thursday and Saturday only service 56 between Tiverton to Nantwich
  • Monday to Saturday service 68 between Leighton Hospital, Church Minshull and Nantwich
  • Wednesday only service 75 between Nantwich – Market Drayton
  • Friday only service 79 between Audlem, Nantwich and Hanley
  • Tuesday only service 83 between Nantwich, Bunbury and Chester
  • Monday only service 89 between Nantwich and Wrexham

Of these, services 56, 75 and 83 are existing services while services 68, 79 and 89 are new ones. Route 83 is gaining a revised timetable too.

All in all, there are a lot of council contracts being let here and that makes me wonder where all of the money has originated and how long any such largesse might last given the predicted slowdown in economic growth. Nevertheless, having any glint of good news after what has felt like a sustained managed decline in bus services is a pleasant reprieve. Being of Irish extraction, all the spending on road resurfacing and other things by Cheshire East makes me wonder what has happened or whether it has anything to do with next year’s Westminster elections. Hopefully, we will not be back to brutal austerity after those but only time will tell.

Two losses

In the last few days, two types of services have been coming to an end. First up is the well-regarded Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway  company which stopped running services between Wrexham and London on Friday. While Virgin will continue to run one service each way from Wrexham to London and back, most will find themselves going via Chester or some other route. Sadly, I never got to try WSMR out for size so I don’t know what I’ve missed. Nevertheless, I do know what it’s like to be travelling on the last services of something that were a good thing.

My reason for saying that is that DFDS Norfolkline’s last sailing from Birkenhead to Dublin is departing in just under an hour (checking in probably has closed in by now). A day trip to Dublin and Howth had me traveling on the last sailing from Dublin to Birkenhead last night and it was a forlorn event. You could hear the captain’s voice breaking as he announced the end of something that had been going since 1995. Indeed, other members of the crew were welling up at times too. After all, this is something that could be missed. P&O do operate a ferry from Liverpool to Dublin and back but they don’t accept foot passengers like the others did. The result is that foot passengers will be losing a seven hour sailing that allowed the chance for some more sleep when travelling between Merseyside and the Irish Republic. Everyone will need to go to Holyhead or some other port now.

The service seemed busy enough on the seven hour sailing that I undertook but I don’t know how things were going during the week or on daytime sailings and the Irish economy isn’t going very well at the moment while the British one is having its troubles too; the Holyhead-Dublin sailing that I used in the middle of the day wasn’t that busy so that might be a hint. Then, there was the takeover of Norfolkline by DFDS so that might result in a change of priorities too. Still, the Birkenhead-Belfast operation continues though the days of getting evening meals and breakfast on the price of the sailing are gone after the end of the month. Fares will cost more by the looks of things and you’ll need to pay for any food as well. Was it impossible to keep the Dublin route going on this basis?

Good things sadly can come to an end and I suppose the WSMR’s demise is but another example that sounds very similar to the sea travel tail that I have related here. My only wish is that everything works out OK for the staff caught up in both of these less than positive changes. There’s something about both that makes them sound like the ends of eras.

Update 2011-01-31: There seems to be swathe of route discontinuations in train with BMI pulling its Glasgow-London service and Air Southwest doing the same with its Newquay-Gatwick and Plymouth-Gatwick runs. Interestingly, there is no mention of the news on the former’s website while it is there on the latter’s. In truth, DFDS wasn’t so communicative about the Dublin-Birkenhead route either.