Life after Arriva in Guildford

Tuesday 1st March 2022

It’s just over ten weeks since Arriva pulled out of Surrey so I took a ride over to Guildford last Wednesday to see how things were going. Bus networks in Crawley and Burton-on-Trent as well as Cannock have prospered since Arriva gave up on those towns so I wondered if the same was happenning in Guildford and the surrounding area of Surrey?

Arriva’s Guildford network had already been slimmed down after it lost the tender to operate through roads owned by the University of Surrey to Stagecoach in 2018. Arriva redeployed its buses in a foolhardy competitive strike at two circular routes serving Park Barn and the County Hospital (routes 4 and 5) operated by the much respected and long standing Safeguard Coaches which only served to damage the finances of both businesses, but hurt the interloper Arriva much more than the incumbent Safeguard.

So it didn’t come as a huge surprise last autumn when Arriva announced it was giving up on Surrey and would be closing the former London Country bus garage it owned in Leas Road from 18th December 2021.

After initial talks of a takeover by Falcon Buses broke down some fleet of footwork with registrations saw Arriva’s former bus routes snapped up by both Stagecoach and Falcon Buses as well as a couple of tender wins by Safeguard.

Inter-urban routes to Horsham, Woking and Epsom have continued very much the same but route patterns have changed on Guildford’s town network and some frequencies have reduced although this is more a reflection of a short term shortages of drivers.

Arriva’s former Guildford circular routes 36/37 ran clockwise and anticlockwise via Burpham, Merrow and Bushey Hill to the north east of the town. These have been replaced by an extension of Stagecoach route 1 to Bushey Hill and a new route 6 to Burpham and Merrow splitting Arriva’s previous circular arrangement. Both routes are currently operating to a half hour daytime frequency.

To keep a link between the three communities (there’s a large Sainsbury’s at Burpham) and serve a small residential area called Weylea Farm Safeguard won tendered route 18 on a 90 minute frequency which meanders around these areas. When the one bus on the service reaches the town centre it continues to the west of the town on another circular routing to serve Onslow ‘Village’, even though its part of Guildford. Ironically Safeguard ran buses on route 18 to Onslow Village (when it was a village) ceasing to do so as part of a deal with Aldershot & District way back on 18th December 1929 – the exact day, 92 years later, it began operating there again.

Arriva’s route 18 had been an hourly service so the new 90 minute frequency is not quite so good, but on the strength of my late morning journey on Wednesday, not many people are impacted – we carried three out from Guildford and brought one back in.

The journeys I took on Stagecoach’s routes 1 and 6 did a bit better with between six and eight passengers on each journey. Not exactly busy though.

Route 1 continues to the west and north of the town centre as it’s done since the 2018 changes to serve the Manor Park, the County Hospital and the University of Surrey returning via Stoughton direct to the town centre as a route 2 with buses running both ways around the circuit supplemented by half hourly shorts to the University.

Stagecoach also took over Arriva’s former hourly routes 53 and 63 to Cranleigh (half hourly) and Ewhurst (hourly route 53) and Horsham (hourly route 63) as well as routes 34 and 35 (both hourly to combine to half-hourly) to Woking and Camberley.

Flacon Buses gained the Monday to Saturday tendered journeys on route 479 from Guildford to Leatherhead and Epsom also running hourly (half-hourly between Bookham and Epsom) as well as the half hourly route 436 Weybridge to Woking. Stagecoach operate the tendered Sunday timetable on route 479.

Surrey County Council are generally very good at updating both bus stop flags showing route numbers as well as timetable displays and once again this was the case at all the bus stops I saw, although one display in the bus station was awaiting an up to date timetable for route 1.

But at least it was up front about that.

Another one, for route 18, included an explanation of the changes being made and why they were being made which I thought was helpful.

Stagecoach put some posters up in Guildford’s rather down-at-heel bus station a few weeks ago including replacing the Arriva signage and posters on the closed travel office. So it’s now a closed Stagecoach travel shop rather than a closed Arriva travel shop.

Great.

At least Safeguard show information about their two main routes in the town (routes 3 and 4/5) in the window of their former facility next door.

Both Safeguard and Falcon Buses were characteristically displaying the hallmarks of a quality operation during my visit last Wednesday.

Both companies turning out impressively clean buses (as were those I saw operated by White Bus and Compass Bus) and current timetable leaflets for all its routes were available on board Safeguard’s buses.

Note the rather inconsiderate car driver ahead!

Chertsey based Carlone also operate a few journeys into Guildford including town route 8 which only runs two off-peak journeys a day with an extra one at lunch times on Wednesdays to an area known as The Mount very close to the town centre, just to its south west.

Again it was a smartly presented bus, albeit a little grubby from road dirt and that Wednesday only lunch time journey was similar….

… but it did carry five people back home.

Whereas Falcon, Safeguard, White Bus, Compass Bus and Carlone were seen to be performing well I’m sorry to report I generally found Stagecoach’s operations to be lacklustre and missing that sparkle and zest which you usually expect to find in the weeks following a takeover.

In fact I’d go further to say I felt there was only a modicum of improvement from the poor image portrayed by Arriva for so many months in the lead up to their departure.

This really was disappointing and I hope doesn’t reflect the increasing corporatisation and centralised focus I’m seeing from the new regime at Stagecoach. It’s a shame to see this as it’s where Arriva went wrong, and still is going wrong.

Examples of what I’m referring to are indifferent staff attitudes – a driver arriving to take over a bus in the bus station at the departure time and then taking four or five minutes to sort the cab out so everyone is kept waiting and we end up leaving late when it was completely unnecessary. Another not pulling close to the kerb thus making a passenger with a disability struggle to get off the bus (see above photo).

Buses branded for a route to the university but being used on other routes – something Arriva were, and still are, notorious at doing, giving the impression no one really cares about presentation.

A University branded bus on route 71

Cleanliness of vehicles was nowhere near as good as Safeguard, Falcon, White Bus and Compass Bus.

Timekeeping was poor on the journeys I made.

One bus was displaying information about Christmas and New Year services on the internal display screen. Surely that shouldn’t be the case – it doesn’t even need a physical notice taking down.

And I always think it never looks good for drivers heading back to the garage to stand chatting with the driver actually doing his or her job at the wheel.

It also worries me when you see a torrent of stickers (and some annoyingly affixed crookedly) asking for ‘customer feedback’ with a text/phone/online survey that asks banal questions.

In the absence of a local presence (closed travel shop etc) and attention to detail (out of date information) it reinforces the view this is centralised corporatism that’s out of touch.

Frankly, how many passengers are going to take the time and trouble to phone a survey line, or go on line or text to make it meaningful? It would be far more illuminating for managers if they spent a bit of time travelling around on their buses as they’d soon see the issues that need addressing, and I’m sure would do so, rather than knowing say, 63% of passengers who responded to their survey expressed a satisfaction rating of 64%. So what.

Having praised Surrey’s bus stop presentation earlier I should also observe the Council’s website is displaying out of date route maps including one for Guildford dated September 2019 so erroneously showing Arriva’s former route pattern for the town which obviously no longer applies.

Even more concerning is out-of-date information on display at its Park and Ride sites around the town. I know there are temporary arrangements due to Covid and staff shortages with two of the four sites suspended and the two that are operating having a reduced service but there’s no excuse for a slapdash approach that includes displaying leaflets with out-of-date information (eg a 10-12 minute frequency instead of half hourly)….

…. as well as displaying out-of-date fares information dating back as far as nine years ago from 2013.

Nine years old fares information but an up to date departure listing.

Even more confusing is the impressive real time display inside the waiting area at the Artington car park needlessly listing the next eight departures of the modified half hourly service currently running (instead of the normal 10-12 minutes) but makes no mention of the additional journeys now calling at the site on Stagecoach routes 70, 71 and 72 every 20 minutes which call by on their longer routes to Godalming and to places beyond including Midhurst.

Motorists are being short changed by only being told of two of the five buses an hour to the site.

As well as that, concessionary pass holders have to pay £1.10 for a day ticket on the Park & Ride bus but can travel for free on routes 70, 71 and 72 which isn’t made clear or explained at all. You need a degree in bus ticketing to know all this.

All in all, bearing in mind all the hype surrounding the launch of the Glide branding on the swish electric powered buses a couple of years ago, it’s a pretty poor show to see these points of detail being ignored. Meanwhile the reduced Park & Ride services means Glide branding now appears all over the town, thus confusing its effectiveness.

I was expecting better from the post Arriva regime. Pull your socks up Stagecoach and get your act together.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu.

Next blog, Thursday 3rd March 2022: A few updates.

23 thoughts on “Life after Arriva in Guildford

Add yours

  1. Very interesting post Arriva report about Guilford and the many operators now serving the town especially given the uncertain future facing Stagecoach with the CMA. However I doubt anyone would say Cannock is booming post Arriva. Chaserider has been a total disaster since its launch. Missing buses, broken down buses, frequency cuts , route withdrawals……. I could go on, how much longer Chaserider will continue is the subject of much local speculation. As someone who uses thier network its fair to say even Arriva were better than the frankly hoplessly poor service being operated by Chaserider & that is certainly saying something!

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  2. Each to thier own. When I visited Guildford a couple of weeks ago I found the Stagecoach network profunctory. The services I used were on time. The only criticism I could find was the outside of the vehicles needed a good wash

    Safeguard on the other hand….. two broken down vehicles in the Bus Station blocking stands. Out of date information of thier own making and driving standards which would make Max Verstappen blush.

    They shouldn’t be given a “free pass” just because they are the smaller operator.

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  3. Please would John Smith provide further details of his observations of Safeguard services via buses@safeguardcoaches.co.uk so that I can look into them and resolve where appropriate? That would be helpful.

    We don’t expect a ‘free pass’ in reviews but can assure you that we try very hard to run a high quality service and the evidence in comments, reviews and most importantly patronage suggests that we achieve that. I suspect that Roger is ‘writing as he finds’.

    But we are not perfect and appreciate constructive criticism which can reveal areas needing attention, hence my encouragement for John to contact me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Did Arriva take over many ex-Arriva drivers or inspectors? Maybe it’s just the uniforms and bus liveries which have changed, rather than the whole organisation?

    As an aside, Safeguard are still operating Optare Excels. Do they belie their 21 years of age or do they look tired?

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  5. Ref MotCO: our Excel2’s belie their 21 years (19 years in a third case) as we have maintained them to our high standards inside and out, gave them a mid-life refurb and most of all wash them daily! All that said they will not last forever and we have already got people interested in them for preservation. I’m sure Roger will send you some photos but the best thing would be to ride them while you can!

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  6. Sorry to read some of your comments Roger, there’s a lot of people working incredibly hard in challenging circumstances to help more people travel by bus in Guildford and Woking.

    There have been some days where we haven’t delivered but there’s also significant improvements, with more to come – from a dedicated and local team, who do indeed ‘ride the network’ as you suggest.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Arriva still carrying advertising for jobs at their ‘busy Guildford depot’ on buses now operating in Kent – numbers 4219-4223

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  8. I think you happened to hit a “bad day” for Stagecoach, as although they are definitely no longer “Stagecoach Souter”, basic operations in this area have seemed to run well when observed. But yes, why oh why ridiculous and untidy labels slapped on seat-backs inviting comments are considered necessary I cannot imagine. If you have praise or complaint you make it anyway.

    The comment, correctly, regarding reduced services because of Driver shortages now nationwide, in most cases will be the new level of service because of the general 30% drop in patronage. Surely the time has come to bite the bullet, match driver shortages with fewer passengers and hope services can be increased if necessary. The new reality has to be accepted at some point.

    Regarding Safeguards Excels, I am always surprised so much stock is taken over vehicle age, with some Councils even laying down age limits on their contracts! What on earth is wrong with a well maintained vehicle that performs it’s task whatever the age?

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  9. New Timetable to follow is a bit ambiguous as it’ll confuse people does it mean that the one still visible is valid until then or invalid and awaiting removal?Pretty pointless writing it on there!

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  10. I went there. Services run late but electric buses on the uni meant i got to fulfill a dream and uni buses on the 70 is normal for over there.

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  11. DFT has announced that there will be a £150M of funding for buses in England(outside of London)

    The DfT described the new funding, which will be available until October, as “the final tranche of pandemic-related support to operators”.

    It is designed to support operators while they “adapt to changing travel patterns”, the department added.

    In the longer term, the bus network will need to adapt to meet passengers’ new travel patterns

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  12. I would echo the comments of Richard above regarding Cannock. After an initial flurry of positive activity, it’s largely been reversed and things are worse than ever. Arriva were poor but Chaserider are increasingly toxic.

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  13. Amazing that an area moves from Arriva decline into Stagecoach shire managed decline territory.
    The lack of focus that Stagecoach show in their non-city operations has accelerated post-Souter. So much local management seems to be focused on cost cutting which was what led First to contract.

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  14. You did not mention the new Surrey timetable book, which is very creditable . But you have to know where to find it.-, in the tourist office in High Street or from a Compass driver in my case. Stagecoach drivers could carry a few – why not? Essentially Stagecoach must reopen their offices if they want to get passengers back.

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  15. It’s amazing how lucky we are across Brum & The Black Country to have such a professional and quality operator like Diamond Bus operating here. They are head and shoulders above any operator in the West Midlands with a 364 day a year service & very low fares from £2.85 all day together with 70 plate Streetlites compared to Guildford. It will interesting to see what the future for Stagecoach in Guilford if they cease to exist at the end of the year and National Express PLC arrive instead living in the land of West Midlands Travel Limited?

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  16. Nothing directly but after Rodgers excellent article and brilliant analysis of the life after Arriva I made a comment after his analysis of Stagecoach that it is a shame that Guilford doesn’t have an operator of the quality of Diamond Bus after they similarly took over most of Arrivas services in Birmingham & The Black Country after one of DBs first operations sales. Other contributors made comments about Diamond Bus West Midlands which I was happy to correct.

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  17. Given the somewhat rocky time Surrey has had with a succession of operators things do seem to bit more stable now. Falcon and White Bus both seem to try and operate a quality service, the clean vehicles Roger observes aren’t a one off as they’re always well turned out. Even Diamond seem to be slowly improving after the rebrand from Hallmark. Kudos also to Surrey CC for doing the best with limited resources.

    However living in the crossover area with Tfl services it’s very noticeable the difference in loadings between the two. Surrey sponsored buses rarely have more than 10 people on, the Tfl routes frequently suffer from over crowding. Proof that if you want people to see buses as a serious option they need to be frequent, reasonably priced and have a stable route network.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Some interesting comparisons by Richard J and Surfblue here, and Surfblue makes a good point about the difference between London and Surrey offerings . . . in Watford the London routes 142 and 258 are relatively well used . . . the “competition” in Bushey withdrew many years ago; they couldn’t compete with the London frequencies or London fares (or free for the under 18s!!).

    What IS also interesting is a fares comparison between TfL and NXWM . . . effectively both monopolies (although I accept that there are pockets of competition in the West Midlands):
    London: single £1.65; daily cap £4.95 (so three trips) and with a hopper fare of two buses within 60 minutes.
    NXWM: single £2.40; daily ticket £4.00.
    {{Big subsidy in London; (effectively) no subsidy in NXWM . . . so a decent single fare in London COULD massively reduce subsidy!!}}.
    So, a cheaper single in London, but a cheaper day ticket on NXWM. Both can major on volume (discount the fare because they have an expectation of reselling the seat on each journey). Frequency also begats frequency . . . but then we knew that already!!

    The really big difference is surely population density . . . NW Surrey cannot by any stretch be classified as having a high density of population . . . so it gets the bus service it requires. Perhaps a statistical study should be undertaken to correlate population density with bus service frequency . . . but then we know the answer already!!

    I don’t know how to answer the obvious question . . . other than by increased subsidy . . . but that’ll never work in the long term.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with all those points except ‘so it gets the bus service it requires’. Actually people have differing travel needs, but those needs don’t vary in proportion to whether they live in a village or a high-density suburb or town centre; which explains why large numbers of people in country areas have given up trying to use buses, as frequencies and evening services were cut under the ‘cost-cutting’ regime since the 1970s.

      One way out of the ‘nobody uses our buses, so we cut them’ syndrome might be to evaluate bus routes not by takings per route, but by the effect they have on the overall network. Of course, that implies timetables being designed for an integrated network. But perhaps it would be better to allocate smaller buses to ‘under-performing’ routes, rather than cut frequency.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. When I worked for Stagecoach your unpaid meal break began at arrival time and remained unpaid until departure time, which meant if you went to the bus to set it up and welcome passengers aboard ready to leave on time this was unpaid. If this is still the case this could explain why the driver didn’t arrive at the bus until departure time.

    It was a great relief to be transferred in 2005 to work for you, Roger, at Brighton & Hove.

    Liked by 1 person

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