30th September 2018
The turnaround of fortunes for First Bus in Cornwall is quite remarkable. You can’t fail to be impressed by the huge investment in new vehicles, eye catching colourful branded liveries, smartened up bus stops, shelters and bus station waiting rooms and an attractive book packed full of timetables of lovely bus routes to sample, maps to devour and tickets to buy.
It wasn’t that many years ago most bus industry observers (including me) had written off First in the county as bus routes were culled, second hand aged vehicles portraying a very down at heel image the norm, while competitor Western Greyhound had rapidly expanded at First’s expense running routes from Penzance to Plymouth.
The years of remote regional management based in Bristol did nothing but hasten First’s decline as the locally based nimble footed Western Greyhound grew relentlessly.
The sad demise of Western Greyhound and more recently First ceding its Plymouth based operations to Stagecoach have seen both Go-Ahead owned Plymouth Citybus and Stagecoach expand into east Cornwall.
Now it’s fascinating to see those operators using second hand buses, in some cases with confusing branding (Go Cornwall v Citybus v BlueFlash), while it is First Bus under a reinvigorated locally based management which undeniably has the best image as it rebuilds its reputation in Cornwall.
You only have to spend an hour or so in Truro, as I did over the weekend, and watch new bus after new bus, including many double deckers with decent loads entering and leaving the bus station, to realise the scale of this massive turnaround.
I’d like to think all this wasn’t solely in response to Cornwall Council being giving franchising powers with grand plans to link buses into the planned half hourly train service between Plymouth and Penzance as a grand whizzo modal integrated package and this is First at their innovative commercial best, taking the initiative to grow local markets and working with their partners at GWR.
Scratch beneath the shiny new surface and there’s plenty still to be done, like getting the basics right as well as better timetable coordination on common corridors (west out of Truro for example – two routes both leaving at 05).
I just hope the revenue growth can keep up with ever demanding margin expectations in Aberdeen. In the meantime bus passengers in Cornwall haven’t had it so good for a very long time.
Roger French Sunday 30th September 2018