Posted on November 29, 2022
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In the end, the merger of Stagecoach with National Express did not happen at all. The attentions of the Competition Commission meant that an overseas investment fund takeover by DWS could happen. Thus, Stagecoach Group continues to exist largely as it was but what the change means for its flair and competence remains to be seen.
What we do know is that its last rail working in the U.K., Sheffield’s Supertram, is to go into public sector operation next year. There are also moves around the U.K. to move into public transport franchising, particularly in Manchester but also in Wales. This is usually not Stagecoach’s preference, but it will need to adapt. In addition, enhanced transport partnerships are developing too. Stagecoach did increase its stake in Scottish Citylink by adding Megabus operations to the company, which means that ComfortDelGro has a say in those operations too. Acquisitions continue too in the form of an increase to its presence in London.
Go Ahead was another operator to undergo a change of ownership. That was the result of a joint bid by Australia’s Kinetic Group and Spain’s Globalvia. The first of these already operates bus concessions across Australia and New Zealand, while the second is a transport infrastructure company. Given Go Ahead’s moves into Asia, Australasia and other parts of Europe, the fit makes some sense, and what likely is coming in the U.K. is not incompatible either. After all, mistakes like what caused the loss of the Southeastern franchise need to be avoided at any time, especially these.
Scotland’s McGill Group is expanding too with its acquisition of First’s eastern Scottish operations. There already has been rebranding using the older names of Eastern Scottish and Midland Bluebird. The first of these includes Edinburgh and West Lothian, while the second is centred around Stirling. When I was around Stirling during August and September, the changeover was in progress behind the scenes. Investment in new vehicles has been promised, but it remains to be seen what can happen to what was a tired if efficient operation in the testing times in which we now find ourselves.
The current economic and budgetary conditions mean that the sort of expansiveness that some of us may recall will not be extensive for a while to come. It is as if we have gone from the optimistic zenith at the turn of the century to the current nadir. That will mean many more changes like those described above and that entrepreneurial experimentation and innovation will not pervade until things improve. We need to be patient in the meantime.