More life after Stagecoach East

Sunday 6th November 2022

When I wrote about Stagecoach East’s cuts to services back in September I mentioned two routes in Peterborough (routes 23/24) the company was withdrawing from for which I couldn’t find any timetables online.

I’m grateful to Mel Holly and Brendan Fox for explaining the services were limited to just three or four journeys in Monday to Friday peak times serving the Business Park known as Lynch Wood on the south west edge of the city (route 23) as well as one journey aimed at school children (route 24) along virtually the same corridor.

The fast expanding East Midlands based Vectare bus company took over operation of this service last Monday vastly expanded it with an all day timetable including a half hour frequency throughout the morning dropping down to hourly in the afternoon.

I caught up with the service on last week’s debut operation on Wednesday afternoon catching the 15:00 departure from Peterborough’s Queensgate bus station.

I was there to see the bus arrive from its previous journey at 14:28 and the driver parked up and had a nice rest in his cab until departure time.

He’d not long taken over from the morning driver having driven down in a company car from Vectare’s base in Loughborough where he’d take the bus back at the end of his shift. It struck me as a lot of dead mileage and staff travel time for such a small route which rounds in less than half an hour.

I’m guessing Vectare will be seeking a more local base for this bus and the other route it runs in Peterborough – the one journey a day morning and afternoon link to Uppingham on route R4 – as has happened with the DRT the company runs in Swaffham where local drivers are based.

Local public transport supporter Brendan Fox who provides an excellent website giving full details of all Peterborough’s bus routes – putting the Combined Authority to shame – was also active last week helpfully putting up timetables in the bus station for the changed services and covering up out of date displays.

Well done Brendan and if only other areas had such a community minded activist. Brendan also runs the excellent Bus Atlas website and really does an all round excellent job.

Just before 15:00 the engine kicked into life on the Novus branded minibus – Novus is the brand used in Leicester by Vectare – and much to my and the driver’s surprise another passenger boarded with me – probably the first off peak passenger of the week – to travel out to Lynch Wood where he was picking up a car. It turns out he’s one of those who travel around the country with red coloured registration plates under their arms delivering cars for dealers and customers and we had a good chat on the journey.

And yes, the logo in those seats is Arriva Click indicating the vehicle’s former life.

We had a good run to Lynch Wood arriving on time and spent a couple of minutes at the two bus stops in the circular business park ….

…. before it was time to return during which time a bus on Stagecoach’s hourly route X4 from Peterborough to Northampton came through which made me wonder why the 23/23A, as Vectare are now calling the routes, are needed at all.

Vectare has produced a leaflet for routes 23/23A with a timetable and map as shown above. It was good to see the driver had copies to distribute on board the minibus.

Over in the Cambridge and Newmarket areas Stagecoach also ceased operating routes 11 and 12 last weekend. Each route provided one journey per hour between the two locations, the former taking a much longer (72 minute) ride via a number of villages as well as a tour of Newmarket’s northern residential area before continuing on to Bury St Edmunds after a lengthy pause in Newmarket, while the latter runs more direct and used to continue from Newmarket on to Ely.

Last time I’d caught the 11 between Cambridge and Newmarket but this time I opted for the quicker route 12 which does the journey in just 37 minutes. This is now in the hands of Stephensons which has taken the route on as a commercial venture and I’m sure will make a success of it. Although the hourly Greater Anglia rail service takes just 23 minutes between Cambridge and Newmarket, Cambridge rail station is not nearly so conveniently located for the city centre compared to Drummer Street bus station making overall journey times very comparable.

Route 11 and the newly numbered 112 (which is now the isolated Newmarket to Ely section of route 12) are tendered routes and I’m told the new arrangements introduced from last weekend came in at very short notice between confirmation of the tender awards and the start date. Indeed from the standstill period after the award announcement there was less than a week to get the tendered services up and running by the new operators. This led to inevitable teething problems last week some of which I encountered on my visit on Friday.

For example, the Council’s electronic display in Drummer Street bus station hadn’t yet caught up with the new times for tendered route 11 – only displaying those for commercial route 12 which had been registered with more notice ….

…. but at least they were the updated and correct times because unfortunately Stagecoach had left up their old printed displays showing incorrect old departure times.

But at least the out of date departure listing for route 11 was covered over by an out of date Covid 19 poster.

However, the good news is Bill Hiron, Stephensons’ much admired proprietor/managing director, tells me despite the impossibly tight timescale for introduction, a poster sized timetable and network route map display designed for bay 8 at Drummer Street was delivered on Friday and will be on display early this coming week. He even sent me a photograph of it from his office yesterday, all ready to go in bubble wrap, and it even includes full timetables too. Excellent.

Hopefully the hiccup on route 11’s data not being shown on the Council’s electronic display will also be fixed this week too as the information flows through from the Open Data arrangements.

Having studied the out of date displays while waiting for my route 12 departure I saw Stephensons route 11 depart at 11:50 with around half a dozen on board…

…. and the 12:03 arrival on route 12 disgorge an impressive 20 passengers which augers well.

The 12 left at 12:18 with six on and picked another four up as we left the city with one making a short local journey and three alighting in Bottisham, the only village served on the route and from where it was a straight run to Newmarket for the six remaining passengers from Cambridge.

We pulled into Newmarket’s small bus station just a couple of minutes after the scheduled arrival time of 12:53, which unfortunately just misses the 112 departure for Ely as both are timed at the same 53 minutes past the hour.

Still, the upside was I enjoyed an hour’s lunch break in Newmarket and I’m guessing there are probably very few passengers making a 12 to 112 connection and more importantly the new arrangements have seen route 12 being operationally linked to Stephenson’s route 16 to and from Bury St Edmunds including a re-routing around Newmarket’s northern residential and industrial area thereby in effect providing a good through facility to Cambridge.

After a lunch stop in Newmarket I caught the 13:53 departure on route 112 which carried nine passengers with seven alighting in Soham and just two continuing to Ely.

It was good to see Suffolk County Council had updated the departure time listings in Newmarket ….

… and it’s also good to see Stephensons have an attractive timetable booklet online …

…. containing that excellent network map and timetables for all the new services clearly laid out as well as the amended route 16 between Newmarket to Bury St Edmonds, now linked to the 12.

15,000 of these booklets have been printed and are due back from the printers tomorrow when they’ll be distributed including on board the company’s buses.

Bill managed to obtain authorisation for a new Operating Centre in record short time at the already established base used by Greys of Ely for the expanded services. It has a PVR of 6 and 12-15 drivers, with Greys providing servicing support. He reckons it must be “the quickest we’ve ever set up a completely new depot from scratch and the drivers have given it their all working round the inevitable teething problems to try and make sure it all worked”.

It sounds like amazing work akin to the Go South Coast Yellow Bus replacement a few weeks ago, but just on a smaller scale.

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog, a number of other bus companies are now running Stagecoach’s former routes across the area in addition to Grant Palmer, Vectare and Stephensons and it will be interesting to see how they make out in the coming months.

I’m optimistic once the new operations have bedded in and teething problems overcome, not least due to the short notice of tender awards, these companies will provide a tailored locally based service for passengers and local communities.

A good outcome and the omens look good.

Smart bus but could do with losing the out of date face covering message.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

23 thoughts on “More life after Stagecoach East

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  1. It will be interesting to see how things settle down given that the contracts only run until the end of March next year – the CA won’t have a lot of data to base long term decisions on.

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  2. What we are seeing shows that the current Traffic Commissioners regulations are not fit for purpose
    Most bus companies just give the minimum notice that is currently required and that is simply not long enough to try to organise replacement services. I think the minimum notices they have to give should be 12 weeks

    The traffic commissioners should also require them to publicly advertise the services withdrawals and when services are proposed for withdrawal or significant changes to the timetable are made

    Bus timetables should be made available on the web site as soon as they are available and printed timetables should be made available at least a week before the service changes

    Operators should confirm before the start of the service that they have the resources to operate the services to the proposed timetable (This has not been the case with the current changes where in some case up to 40% of the journeys have not run)

    The local council or whoever are responsible for any Real Time Displays should confirm the updates have been received and that the displays will show the current departure times and route numbers etc

    As a part of the enhanced partnerships there should be a check list of all these things with the changes not permitted to take place until everything on the check list is confirmed as being in place

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  3. On a quick visit to Cambridge on Saturday all of the replacement operators had basic information in the Bus Station. But not a single Stagecoach timetable or any info about changes, nothing from the County Council . And Stagecoach still had numerous cancellations, particularly on the Busway.

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  4. Don’t under-estimate the “new broom” effect, nor the power of dialogue (not shouting or deaf-ear). No one is in this game to fail. The Mayor needs to learn fast, and be prepared to back up his words with hard cash when it’s necessary. The hard bit is that with pre-thought and working together it needn’t be that expensive. The operators (and passengers) have shown they are prepared to play their part. Over to you… Mr. Mayor.

    Otherwise, swings and roundabouts, we just kick the can down the road, and move the problems around. We don’t need more regulation, it’s hard enough already; and more of it.

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  5. Stagecoach East could have saved on printing on it former 12 Ely service and printed Monday to Saturday since their Monday to Friday and Saturday timetable was exactly the same!

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  6. I don’t know about “Stephensons of Essex”, it seems to be “Stephensons of flipping everywhere” these days.
    It’s interesting to note that the village of Burwell is now, once again, served by an independent operator, 43 years after Burwell & District sold out to Eastern Counties. A depressing reflection on traffic congestion is that back in 1955 it took a Burwell bus 50 minutes to get to Drummer Street, now it takes a Stephenson bus 51 minutes.

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    1. I think Stephensons have been a significant Independent player in that corner of East Anglia where Cambs, Suffolk and Essex/Herts meet for much of the last decade, so I’d see it more as natural growth. With deregulation now well into its third decade, a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing is the new normal. As Stephensons have been more recently superceded by another local Independent Central Connect in the ECC funded Cross boundary services. Who knows, with current growth it might well offer better prospects than their traditional area of south Essex, which is a bit overrun, and has the Stephensons-owned NIBS anyway too.

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      1. Vectare have picked up a couple of routes from Central Connct the 505 saturday only service and the 418

        Vectare appear to operating all the North East Essex service from Chelmsford which is bit of a hike. They must be looking to set up a base nearer to where these routes operate

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  7. The first step for bus services price rise though the back door .
    End of long distance bus travel in the east.
    End of area plus tickets.
    Just short journeys at higher cost.
    They wonder why bus users are not returning to the level before pandemic look at the facts.
    The bad service cambridgeshire as had to put up with stagecoach over so many years and still not challenged.

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    1. Constant cuts to services, constant poor time keeping, constant changes to routes and constant random cancellation and fares increases for very poor services. It is not going to win passengers back. It will drive them away

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  8. Stagecoach East have not made any friends, which is what every business needs.

    Life is difficult. Isn’t it for all of us? They seem to be mirroring their neighbours in the First Essex of around ten years ago, when they completely lost the plot too. First Essex are now trying to reverse the lot. It is hard, even if it is possible at all. The jury is still out. Once public confidence is lost, it can’t be replaced “off the shelf”.

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  9. We’re well into the FOURTH decade since deregulation . . . 1986 and all that!!

    I concur with the various comments about Stephenson’s . . . not the biggest nor necessarily the best, but Bill Hiron is at least trying hard with his business; not least with printed timetables and proper bus stop publicity, but with bus-operator’s acumen . . . experience built up of many years indeed. Would that there were more like him . . .

    I also concur with the comments about Stagecoach . . . both here and elsewhere; they really do seem to have lost the plot (missing the Souter insights badly?). Their network cutbacks across the land smack of being accountant-led, and Dan Tancock’s point about maybe they could have re-evaluated the Royston route to reduce costs by 33%, whilst barely affecting the revenue base, does rather seem like a bean-counter reaction.

    One thing we’ve seem to have forgotten, though . . . Schnapps did “instruct” operators to replan their networks to become more commercially viable, and that’s what is happening here with Stagecoach . . . they do seem to be employing the axe rather too freely, though . . .

    And finally . . . I do hope the CPCA have a robust evaluation policy for all their recently awarded contracts . . . if they’re only for 6 months, they need to start looking at numbers NOW. I’ll not hold my breath, though . . .

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    1. Yep. The Combined Authority have been asleep at the wheel. When, a couple of years ago, they produced their blueprint for 6-an-hour breakfast ’til midnight Cambridge bus services to Royston, and the other neighbouring towns, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Incidentally around the same time as Stagecoach were busy, closing their range of long-established outstations. A car crash was inevitable.

      Cambridge residents aren’t stupid. Admittedly (not just) in transport policy they were badly let down by the County Council, so the Mayor hasn’t a good inheritance. (The other Eastern Region Councils aren’t anything to write home about, either).

      But the CPCA needs to do its homework, properly and giving itself enough time, this time. At the moment, it’s losing credibility with everyone.

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  10. It’s a shame the 12 and 112 do not connect. Quite a few people used to travel across Newmarket, mainly to Soham (remember the new station there does not link directly to Cambridge) and Fordham. Not sure if there is any reason for the 112 not being able to leave a bit later, but there is a long connection in the other direction, so a 20 min later shift of the entire 112 timetable might make sense. Unfortunately Stephenson’s excellent map has an error, in that it implies all 11s go via Reach, whereas it is actually only every other one, the direct route not being on the map. I notice too that Whippet have an excellent map of their new network on their web site, would be good if that could also be installed in Cambridge and Huntingdon bus stations.

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  11. Roger, I’d be interested in your thoughts on the Cambridge proposals for a “Sustainable Travel Zone” + greatly improved bus services.

    Especially in light of these cuts.

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  12. Just wondering… what proposals? Have they got to that stage yet?

    !!! Awaiting Government largesse??? Maybe time for (another) campaign to Bring Back Boris (and Buses). Mind you Schnapps seems to have found a new song.

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