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 These have been replaced by an extension of Stagecoach route 1 to Bushey Hill and a new route 6 to Burpham and Merrow splitting Arriva’s previous circular arrangement.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Next blog, Thursday 3rd March 2022: A few updates.