Friday 7th February 2020
Public transport provision in Epsom is somewhat anomalous. Along with neighbouring Ewell it was keen to stay on the Surrey side of the new Greater London boundary back in 1965 and TfL’s Zone 6 boundary is tantalisingly close to the town running between the previous stations to the north at Ewell West/Ewell East and Epsom itself.
Even more anomalous are the buses with the ‘no-cash so Oyster or Contactless only’ £1.50 fare applying on half the bus routes serving the town (the TfL ones that stray north over the boundary) while the other half charge much higher cash fares and don’t take Oyster.
You have to know your buses if you’re a passenger in Epsom, especially if heading across the boundary into London on Surrey route E16 which heads to Worcester Park Station in Zone 4 rather than Collier’s Wood Station in Zone 3 served by TfL route 470.
I wandered over to Epsom this morning to take a look at the local bus routes operated by RATP owned Quality Line Ltd which also trades as Epsom Buses, and sometimes ‘Silver Service’, and once renowned as the highly respected independently owned Epsom Coaches.
I’d seen that Epsom Buses had given notice to terminate the contracts with Surrey County Council for town routes E5, E9 and E10 as well as the aforementioned E16 to Worcester Park and the 408 to Effingham and Cobham from 4th April.
I’m sure Surrey County Council will be tendering for replacement operators to take over the contracts but it will certainly be the end of an era to see these routes change hands.
I hope those considering bids are cautious about likely revenue potential if they’re net cost contracts as today’s observations showed rather slim pickings.
I took a ride on the 11:20 Epsom to Effingham journey on route 408. This is one of seven off peak journeys that run approximately hourly to Leatherhead where three journeys continue either via Bookham to Effingham with the rest via Oxshott to Cobham.
It’s one of those routes that tries to serve a few objectives along the way; so we divert off the Epsom to Leatherhead road for a circuit around a residential area called Wells (also served by the E5) and pick no one up and drop no one off (there are only three of us on board) and when we get to Leatherhead we head north towards a large Tesco at Woodbridge (instead of south west towards Effingham) and then do another circuit of another residential area (Levett Road); but at least we pick someone up on that tour.
I bailed out at Tesco as that’s the northern terminus of my next bus route, the five journey a day route 478 operated by Reptons Coaches running from Leatherhead to Guildford via the 408 route as far as Effingham then via Effingham Junction, Horsley and West Horsley to Guildford.
I was the only one on board as we left Tesco at 12:15 but we picked four up in Leatherhead’s North Street two of whom only travelled as far as Great Bookham, one went to Effingham Common and one to Horsley then it was just me on board for the next fifteen minutes until we passed through Merrow and took three passengers locally into Guildford.
From Guildford I continued my Surrey circuit on Compass Bus operated route 25 which runs five journeys two-hourly to Cranleigh via Merrow, Shere, Gomshall, Peaslake and Ewhurst supplemented by four short journeys numbered 23 as far as Merrow giving that large residential Guildford suburb an hourly frequency on the combined routes – the area is also served by Arriva routes 36/37.
Six passengers left Guildford with me on the 13:30 departure; one rode right through to Peaslake but the other five got off as we wandered all over the Merrow residential area …
…where we also picked three passengers up who travelled to Gomshall.
After half an hour into the journey at Peaslake it was again just me on board for the remaining twenty minutes to Cranleigh – and what a lovely ride it is through Hurt Wood – part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
My fourth and final journey was taking Arriva’s route 63 from Cranleigh over to Horsham which had the highest number of passengers I’d seen of twelve on board. Arriva tried running a fast direct bus route on the A281 between Guildford and Horsham a couple of years ago (the X1) but it didn’t generate enough business and was withdrawn, so now the two towns rely on the hourly 63 which does a few double runs (Broadbridge Heath Tesco and in Cranleigh itself) as well as operating via Slinfold so takes 44 minutes from Cranleigh to Horsham.
It’s not easy to run bus routes which are commercial and sustainable in Surrey. I travelled through some very prosperous areas today where hopping on a bus will be the last thing on residents’ minds. The County Council do a good job in maintaining a network and I always find bus stop displays are excellent including route numbers on flags and up to date timetables.
It’s a pity the County’s excellent network map online is now over two years out of date but at least the Council updates local maps and produces an excellent series of printed area timetable books.
It will be interesting to see who takes over the routes currently run by Epsom Buses. Abellio’s withdrawal from running bus contracts in Surrey was handled well with other operates taking over contracts in a smooth handover as was the fall out from last year’s sudden demise of Buses Excetera, so there’s optimism there’ll be an orderly transition on 6th April in Epsom.
Have Epsom Buses said that they would not bid for the contracts?
I’ve also always thought that would-be passengers are put off buses by some of the meandering routes they take, and as you note, few passengers are picked up on the diversions around housing estates. One option would be to run the route along the main direct road,and arrange for voluntary organisations to provide minibus services to pick up passengers in these estates to meet up with the main bus on the trunk route. Maybe this would be a better option than Slide Ealing and similar dial-a-rides. But probably easier said than done.
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Yes; it might be Epsom Buses bid and retain the contracts at more sustainable tender prices. Be interesting to see.
There is a 479 which takes a bit more of a direct route between Epsom and Leatherhead but I agree meandering bus routes can be very off putting for through passengers.
There are a number of connecting routes along the lines you suggest in Scottish islands which work well.
Do we know whether Quality Line are actually throwing these services in permanently as now very non-standard and thus a nuisance to their London operations, or just hoping to get a better tender price as a result of poor loadings not covering costs? Although no longer the respected “Epsom Buses” which started so many local services in the area after deregulation, and giving London Country a hard time in the process, even sharing the 166 to Croydon with London Buses at one stage. The point of asking this is that it may prove quite difficult to find an Operator happy to take these services on now. Epsom Buses are at least based in the Town, but with Metrobus at Crawley, Arriva at Guildford and the few remaining small concerns who may be prepared to take on this work such as Carlone, Falcon and Reptons based some distance away, all may prove costly. And there is little scope for further reductions. Perhaps new government largess about to be bestowed on buses will have already been spent in Surrey after this?
I agree one likely outcome is Epsom Buses being successful at higher more sustainable tender prices. Be interesting to see what happens.
The Quality Line/RATP Group Silver Service buses in the Epsom area you mentioned have been put out to tender by SCC. Bids had to be put in by the end of January and the results will be know in the last week of February. The new operator will take over running the services from early April.
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The results are in! The E5, E16 and 408 are going to Falcon Coaches with Euro VI vehicles (assuming timetables remain similar, I make that a PVR of 4), with Metrobus taking on the E9/E10 (interworked PVR of 2).
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Does anyone know if these changes include the h1 Epsom – st helier hospital bus
I think that carries on unchanged Mike.
That service is for the Epsom/St Helier hospitals trust, and is run under contract to them. So it is not connected with the SCC re-tender of services.
It looks like the rest of the Quality Line operation will remain with RATP, but run under the London United name. Surrey County Council are reporting on their Upcoming Service Changes page that the routes entering their area are all to be operated by London United from 25th April.
408,E5,E10 have been won by Falcon Coaches,so expect to see a fair bit of inter working on the 3 routes.The E9 & E16 have been won by Metrobus,so I would expect to see inter working with the 318 on weekdays.The last route to be won under the Quality Line name will be the 404.New contract for that starts next month.404 requires more buses and drivers because of the extension to Cane Hill,doubling of frequency to x30 from x 60,and Sunday service.The April contracts for the 406,418,& 465 are under the London United name.
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Thanks for the update.