Monday 19th April 2021
As the deregulated era of free market bus operation draws towards a close it’s not surprising head-to-head bus competition is pretty rare nowadays. Not least currently because Covid has reduced passenger numbers to (at best) less than two-thirds of normal times, and no one is making a profit in the current circumstances.
But over in Buckinghamshire the High Wycombe to Aylesbury corridor has seen intensified competition over the last few months with Arriva ditching its hourly direct route X30 between the towns in favour of increasing its alternative route 300 from a three-per-hour 15-15-30 timetable pattern to a regular 15 minute frequency throughout the route to up its defences against Redline’s incursive route 130 now running every 20 minutes on the direct route.
Route 300 takes a slightly longer route between High Wycombe and Princes Risborough to serve a cluster of linear communities (Naphill, Walter’s Ash and Lacey Green) rather than heading out on the A40 Oxford Road and then north along the more sparsely populated A4010 towards Princes Risborough.
Both Arriva’s route 300 and Redline’s 130 parallel each other from Princes Risborough north via Stoke Mandeville and its hospital to Aylesbury.
There’s definitely more passenger potential on Arriva’s route 300 through the three villages but it does come with a time penalty taking eight minutes longer (30 minutes versus 22 minutes via the direct A40/4010) between High Wycombe and Princes Risborough.
North of Princes Risborough Arriva allow 27 minutes while Redline give 23 minutes for the like for like journey to Aylesbury.
Redline are also under cutting Arriva on fares offering an end to end single for £3.50 with a £5 return while Arriva are £4.20 single and £6 return. But you’d never know, unless like me, you asked the drivers. Bus companies like to keep ticket prices secret even in a competitive environment.
You’d also be lucky to find up to date bus times from the Buckinghamshire Council controlled bus stop displays. They haven’t caught up with Arriva’s latest changes so confusingly display the old times, all the more so, at Princes Risborough where buses in both directions serve the same Market Square bus stop.
There’s a stop mounted mini so called ‘real time’ display also at Princes Risborough Market Square but sadly it wasn’t readable due to a combination of being very faint and the sun shining.
And the bus stop flag only has a faded reference to the High Wycombe direction and no reference to Aylesbury.
No wonder passengers looked confused but stoically wait in between the adjacent departure bays which routes 130 and 300 use to see which driver turns up first when both buses coincidentally leave at 30 minutes past each hour (with Redline then at 50 and 10 and Arriva at 45-00-15). In the event the Redline driver was more prompt while I was there so all six of us boarded that bus just as the Arriva driver turned up.
As well as a complete lack of any promotional collateral to support the increased competition as well as attractive and relevant pricing and timetable information there was a distinct lack of any competitive spirit with drivers showing the same disinterest the bus companies seem to extol.
Both operators use a motley collection of different vehicle types in varying liveries meaning there’s no consistent branding which would attract potential passengers.
At one time Arriva used its MAX brand for the route which at least gave it a bit of a profile, but following the central corporate diktat all such brands must go in favour of bland website branding, the vinyls are in the process of being removed. Making for a rather scruffy appearance.
Even the new bland brand is uncared for.
Redline’s fleet also come in different liveries as well as at least one ex London bus with its centre doors still in place.
Aylesbury’s subterranean bus station is best avoided even in non-Covid times, and in an effort to limit passengers wandering around, buses are stopping outside to set down passengers before proceeding into the bus station, which makes it less convenient to access the shopping centre above the bus station.
Still, at least the Portacabin which was used by control staff and used to display unfriendly notices is now closed.
As too, sadly is the Travel Shop in High Wycombe bus station which Arriva only reopened not so long ago.
Staff control obviously takes precedence over providing customer information.
Sadly the same applies at Carousel too.
Obviously it’s not a good time to make judgments on bus loadings with travel still impacted by Covid wariness but I observed about a dozen to 20 journeys on the 130/300 today from mid morning to early afternoon along the full length of both routes and never saw more than six passengers on board, and usually less.
Redline are also competing with Arriva’s route 280 (Aylesbury to Oxford) running hourly as route 120 between Aylesbury and Haddingham against Arriva’s three buses an hour.
It’s a very strange time to be competing head to head when the Government are underwriting the costs incurred by bus companies operating timetables. In effect we taxpayers are funding this set up.
In normal free market conditions such competition would soon dissipate, it being a case of far too many buses chasing far too few passengers along with no marketing effort to attract any new customers.
It will presumably get sorted as part of a Buckinghamshire Council Enhanced Partnership later this year when Bus Back Better becomes the thing.
Just as well.
So let’s work this through. Bucks CC, in its forthcoming Enhanced Partnership Scheme for the area, decides that the appropriate frequency for the route (all via Naphill) is two per hour.
If the existing competitors cannot agree how to cover that time table between them (with interchangeable tickets, of course) they will both have their right to operate on that route taken away, and and the council will put it out to tender. With a bit of luck, the bids will come in with payments to the council, as this is potentially a profitable route.
Interesting times are coming .
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Half the problem here is the bus doesn’t take much direct traffic between Wycombe/Princes Risborough and Aylesbury, as the train only takes 13 mins to PR/ 30 mins to Aylesbury and is 6.30 return/ less with certain railcards.
Arriva leave themselves open to competition like this with their knackered fleet and poor timetable info imho, I had to use their 800/850 route for many years to get between Reading and Henley and the arrival of the former Carousel route X80 paralleling the 800 from Reading to HW was a very welcome development for many passengers, Arriva subsequently redoubled their efforts and improved the timetable with Sunday services on the 850 and more frequent services all over. That got handed over to their sister company Thames Travel as an extension of the Oxford to Henley service to Reading now named the X38, the Henley to HW section being discontinued.
Before Covid hit, that was well used, but now that’s been cut back to Henley Tesco on the south side of the town towards Reading.
BTW, Bucks County Council is now Bucks Council after the government controversially abolished all the district councils in a very large and sparsely populated county, the resultant council now has 147 members as each old single-member division on the former County Council was given 3 members for the new council (!) Might explain why the transport info is poorly maintained now.
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I’m very happy to be corrected here . . . but my read of the Strategy is that an LTA, through its EP scheme, will set “minimum” service levels on corridors, be they daytime; evening or Sunday periods.
If the commercial operators decline to provide said minimum service levels, then the LTA must issue a tender to top-up to the minimum timetable.
If the commercial operators decide to provide timetables in excess of the minimum required, then they may still do so, at their commercial risk of course.
Interavailable tickets has to come with that, of course . . . although does that apply to return tickets, or just to “network” tickets? If an LTA brokers an “Explorer” type of ticket (as with Intalink) between all operators, is that sufficient?
Interesting times, certainly, but there are still detailed questions to be answered.
Many thanks for your latest journal which is of interest as it is very local. It is however only part of the story, which has had a further twist on 11th April 2021.
There has been quite intense competition in the Aylesbury area for the past two decades not only between Arriva and the “independents” but between he independents themselves. This seems to have been under the enthusiast radar despite skirmishes elsewhere attracting publicity. There are six “independent” operators based around Aylesbury – Red Rose , RedLine, Red Eagle (all associated) Star Travel, Vale Travel and Z&S transport. Most work in Aylesbury plus surrounding Counties such as Hertfordshire and Milton Keynes.
There are 8 corridors where competition takes place which can be summarized as :- color:#7030A0″>S
AArea served Routes Notes HHaydon Hill / QQuarrendon didirect via Bicester RRoad Star Travel 5 Redline 4, 4A Star 5 Resumed 20.07.20 BBedgrove Vvia Tring Road Arriva 8 Red Rose 7 8 reduced 11.04.21 WWendover / RAF HHalton Arriva 8 Red Rose 50 / 55 8 reduced 11.04.21 55 to Amersham SStoke Mandeville HHospital direct via AA4010 Arriva 300/ X30 Redline 130 X30 still suspended
SSouthcourt / Walton HCourt / Hawkslake Vivia Oxford Road Arriva 9 Red Rose 10
MMilton Keynes Arriva X60, 150 Red Rose 100 Via different routes PPrinces Risborough HHigh Wycombe Arriva 300, X30 Redline 130 X30 still suspended 321 Re/No 130 from 30.08.20 HHaddenham, Thame aand Oxford Arriva 280, X8 Redline 120
Aylesbury – Haddenham Stn only From 30.08 20
The most intense competition was to the northern suburb estates of Haydon Hill / Quarrendon / Berryfields and Meadowcroft. Pre Pandemic these gave up to 15 buses per hour on Star routes 3 and 5 /5A and Redline 2, 4 and 13. The less direct Star 3 (same as Redline 2) was suspended in March 2020 and has not resumed. So a more sensible level of 8 bph direct on Star 5 and Redline 4 (with 2 bph on indirect Redline 2) now prevails. Arriva pulled out of this skirmish several years ago
The main trust of competition dates from August 2019 This was when Red Rose started competing with the two remaining Arriva Town routes to the southern estates of Bedgrove (Arriva 8 and Red Rose 7) and Walton Court / Hawkslade (Arriva 9 and Red Rose 10). This has continued throughout the lockdowns. Arriva 8 also continues beyond Bedgrove to Wendover and RAF Halton. This extension was introduced in 2018 and replaced the direct Wendover – Aylesbury route 50 but gave a longer journey time into town for Wendover residents. Again in August 2019 Redine reintroduced the almost direct 50 route (Aylesbury – Wendover – RAF Halton) along the A413 passing it to Red Rose within a couple of months.
Arriva 8 was a generally 2 bph service Mon-Sat reducing to 1 bph during lockdowns. Red Rose 7 has been at 3bph since Sept 2020 whilst the 50 is normally 2 bph (down to 1 bph in lockdown) but is augmented by 2-hrly service 55 to Amersham on M-F (the old LT/United Counties 359 route).
However from 11 April 2021 Arriva has effectively “thrown in the towel” reducing the 8 to just six irregular journeys on Mon-Fri and withdrawing the Sat service. Arriva 9 continues at 4 bph as does Red Rose 10 at 4 bph.
The direct bus station – Stoke Mandeville Hospital service was for many years just provided by the Wycombe route, although Arriva 9 also gets there via the Walton Court estate. Initially (again from Aug 2019) Redline extended their 13 and Red Rose their 7 to/from the Hospital via the direct route (see above). During lockdown this was replaced by the extension of Redline 4 on a 3bph frequency. Essentially Redline withdrew the 4 but extended their 130 right through to Wycombe in January 2021 thus giving the 3 bph frequency throughout.
I could go into much more detail but hope that the above gives an idea of the bus scene in Aylesbury which at least is never mundane. Please get in touch if you want more information
John Wood 10 Warneford Avenue Wendover 01296 625215
color:#7030A0″>Summary of competitive Aylesbury town / urban routes:- (January2021)
Area served Routes Notes Haydon Hill / Quarrendon direct via Bicester Road Star Travel 5 Redline 4, 4A Resumed 20.07.20 Bedgrove Via Tring Road Arriva 8 Red Rose 7
Wendover / RAF Halton Arriva 8 Red Rose 50 / 55 55 to Amersham Stoke Mandeville Hospital direct via A4010 Arriva 300/ X30 Redline 130 X30 still suspended
Southcourt / Walton Hall Via Oxford Road Arriva 9 Red Rose 10
Milton Keynes Arriva X60, 150 Red Rose 100 Via different routes Princes Risborough and High Wycombe Arriva 300, X30 Redline 130 X30 still suspended 321 Re/No 130 from 30.08.20 Haddenham, Thame and Oxford Arriva 280, X8 Redline 120
Aylesbury – Haddenham Stn only From 30.08 20
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Many thanks for such a comprehensive report John – I can see I must make a return visit again soon and take in all this in on the ground. Quite incredible how much competition there is. Thanks again.
I am not sure the government is funding any increased levels of service. My understanding was the government would cover any loss of revenues as of the pre Covid service levels. If companies now decided to enhance the service beyond pre Covid levels that element of the service is not government supported
Private Hire Conflict of Legislation
The government still seems to be unable to get its act together with the Covid Regulations. Toss a coin in the air and decide which of the two conflicting pieces of guidance you follow
Government guidance states that travel between with pre-arranged boarding points, as would happen with planned day trips, are technically still permitted. and guidance is not normally mandatory in any case
[The Government] though does not wish to see Private Hire journeys for leisure purposes operate before Step 3, and the guidance currently is that these trips should not operate,
Newport Transport have released their annual accounts. They make pretty grim reading. They made an operating loss of almost £1.3M and that in spite of a Welsh government grant of almost £1.3M, A fair bi of creative account in there as well
They were seeing passenger numbers decline before Covid as well and are seeing costs rise . The big unknown is how much passenger numbers will recover post Covid. I suspect they will not recover much beyond 70%
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