Yesterday saw the demise of another bus company name from the Harlow area. EOS Buses packed up and withdrew four routes, one of which had only been introduced eight weeks ago.
To mark the occasion the Company borrowed an open-top Routemaster from Ensignbus running it over the four routes for one final fling: the 66 Waltham Cross to Loughton and Debden; 86 Harlow to Waltham Cross; 87 Harlow to Loughton and the new S1 Harlow to Stratford via the M11 and Redbridge.
It was all a jolly occasion as these things usually are. Camera wielding enthusiasts bagging the top deck while rushing around at every photo opportunity as passengers waiting for their normal hand-me-down ex-London single deck bus were taken aback to see a veteran open-top Routemaster turn up, complete with authentic looking destination blind, before an embarrassed smile as they climb aboard for a nostalgic shopping trip into town.
Except all was not what it seemed. EOS had deregistered their routes with the required notice expiring on 31 August, not 31 July. They’d been reassuring passengers it would be a seamless transition with Arriva taking over the routes, even posting a helpful link to Arriva’s like-for-like timetables on their website.
But a notice posted on Arriva’s website late yesterday implied the Traffic Commissioner had not accepted an earlier start date from the original 31 August handover. Perhaps not surprising in view of the competitive environment in this area where Trustybus run on parts of the routes affected.
A tweet from EOS last night suggested a skeleton service will run on part of one route today, and a further tweet explained “EOS have put in a short notice to finish on 31 July, two weeks ago and Arriva had agreed to register short notices to replace these from the same date”. This morning in response to suggestions EOS should run until the original notice expires on 31 August a tweet advises “EOS does not have the manpower to do so. Our staff have been employed by Arriva as of today. Arriva have sourced extra buses and staff in readiness for this to happen”.
Further tweets this morning are providing updates about more limited journeys operating on the 66, 86 and 87. It’s like a snowline update without the snow.
You’ve got to feel sorry for the good bus travelling folk living in this south western corner of Essex, especially the bits inside the M25 (Loughton and Debden) that feel as though they’re in London. Not only do they look enviously at their neighbours just over the boundary in the Boroughs of Waltham Forest and Redbridge with their Oyster and Contactless £1.50 flat/hopper fare, frequent TfL bus routes and generous concessionary travel arrangements, but it’s fair to say they’ve also had to put up with constantly changing unstable bus routes criss-crossing the Harlow, Epping, Loughton, Upshire, Waltham Abbey and Waltham Cross area for many years.
This part of the Home Counties is challenging to serve with viable vibrant bus services as it is, yet for some reason it’s attracted one competitor after another, and often more than one at the same time fighting over a diminishing number of passengers.
Whereas Crawley and Grays in the former London Country empire have experienced long term stable bus routes leading to passenger growth with Metrobus and Ensignbus providing quality services, Harlow and its environs seem to have attracted a plethora of bus operators intent on competing down to the lowest standards. Arriva have struggled against this tirade of competition, not helped by the area being managed remotely from its Maidstone base.
Ironically I reckon the new S1 service (Harlow to Stratford) introduced only on 4 June, and now withdrawn, had potential to attract commuters from the southern residential areas of Harlow (some distance from Harlow’s two train stations) to the Central Line at Redbridge in around 30 minutes journey time while shoppers for the popular Westfield shopping centre at Stratford could be whisked down the M11 in around 45 minutes. I reckon with sustained marketing this had the makings of a good service.
As well as the low fare regime which comes with the odd TfL red bus route crossing the boundary into Loughton and Debden (routes 20 and 397 run Debden and Loughton to Walthamstow via different routes and two other routes terminate at Loughton including the infrequent 549 to South Woodford) the problem bus operators also face is competition from the Central Line which runs frequently between Loughton and Epping.
For example, the peak fare on the Tube is just £1.70; and off peak only £1.50 yet my fare on Trustybus’s route 418 which hitherto was in competition with EOS between Loughton and Epping was an eye watering £4.90. Ouch.
So it’s a tough bus operating market. Let’s hope this short term legal blip can soon be resolved and perhaps there really is a chance Arriva can stablise the network and give passengers the long desired quality bus service they deserve.
Roger French 1st August 2018
Update – 3rd August 2018 …….
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.