F is for Faresaver

Thursday 23rd March 2023

After D for Delainie and E for Ensignbus I’m staying with the independent family owned bus company theme for my next visit in this year’s A to Z series of bus and train companies and headed over to Chippenham on Tuesday for a look at the respected bus company based in the Wiltshire town called Faresaver.

Faresaver was founded by John Pickford back in 1979 using one minibus on a school contract which John himself drove as a sideline to the village shop in Corsham which he and his wife owned and ran. Gradually the shop trade died away and the bus business grew with the expanding business moving into a purpose built bus depot eighteen years later in 1997.

John Pickford in a photo on the company’s Facebook page

The fleet has grown over ensuing years and now stands at around 60 operating a tidy network of commercial and tendered routes serving the western side of Wiltshire (Chippenham, Devizes, Melksham and Trowbridge) as well as extending to Frome and Bath.

Two of John’s three sons joined the business and play key roles. I’m guessing John lets them take more of the decisions these days with his own involvement reducing.

Justin is the eldest and joined the business in 1993. An early task was introducing the company’s first computer as well as donning overalls in the workshop. He now oversees Faresaver’s finances. Youngest son is Daniel who’s the commercial mastermind designing timetables, analysing ticket data and overseeing operations. The company is very geared up to the use of social media and there are some lovely personal profiles of the family (which the foregoing summary has been extracted from) on the Faresaver Facebook pages.

Faresaver’s core bus routes operate half hourly or hourly.

The 271/272 are the trunk routes between Devizes, Melksham and Bath which runs hourly from Devizes and half hourly from the Melksham area with the routes also splitting in the Box area. Evening journeys numbered 273 are tendered.

A former Ensignbus ADL Enviro200 at Melksham market place on route 272 to Bath.

The double deck operated X31 runs half hourly between Chippenham, Corsham and Batheaston to Bath, the X33 is hourly between Chippenham and Devizes and the X34 runs half hourly between Chippenham, Melksham and Trowbridge to Frome.


A Wright Eclipse bodied Volvo prepares to leave Bath bus station on route X31 to Chippenham.

Routes 1/1A/1C provide a half hourly town service around Devizes as do a variety of route numbers (63/66/67/68) in Trowbridge and there’s also an hourly service around Chippenham although the X31 also provides local connections too.

Other routes are less strategic but provide handy links between the main towns served and outlying villages.

An Enviro200 outside Corsham Co-op on route 636 which with the 635 links the village with other surrounding villages and Chippenham six times a day.

I was impressed to see printed timetable leaflets for the key routes on board buses as I travelled around ….

… which also have a route diagram for the X34 ….

….and all the information is available on the company’s website including, very welcome to see, maps showing the network of routes in each of the major towns served.

An overall network map would be a nice extra to highlight the extent of the area served. Just a suggestion.

The hub of the network in Chippenham sees buses arrive and depart into and from the town’s bus station which could best be described as rudimentary, which is obviously not of Faresaver’s making, but reflects on the image of its bus routes in the area.

Numbers I saw travelling were very reasonable for a Tuesday off peak in March – the X31 and 271/2 were the busiest with the X34 close behind.

Unsurprisingly for a company called Faresaver there are day tickets (£7.50) weeklies (£25) and monthlies (£92) with reductions in the latter two (£24 and £85) if purchased on a mobile. Details are available in the timetable leaflets with “more information and a full list of fares” on the website, although I couldn’t find a full list of single fares when I looked.

The fleet is well presented with a rather understated livery dominated by an attractive purple colour. Three main types of vehicle operated are (single decks) ADL Enviro 200s, Optare Solos and (double decks) Volvo B9TL Wright Ecliise Gemini 2s.

One of Faresaver’s Optare Solos with a personalised registration on the four journeys a day route 69 between Trowbridge and Corsham – not sure what the ZIG ZAG is about though?

Seat moquette and styles give a clue to previous owners but all the buses I travelled on had clean interiors and were well presented.

A former Yellow Buses Volvo Wright Eclipse but passengers wouldn’t know.

Bus stop plates varied across the patch with some looking a bit worn and others the responsibility of the local authority (particularly on the routes into Bath) but where a Faresaver branded plate was on show it was well presented together with route numbers.

Timetable displays at bus stops seem to be organised by Wiltshire Council as they all had that authority’s branding. I got the impression there’s a good working relationship between the two and I’m sure Wiltshire are pleased to have an operator like Faresaver playing such an important role in this part of the County.

Indeed the Company has definitely transformed over the last decade or so. At one time it appeared to have a somewhat maverick approach not least when First Bus was going through the era of service cuts, fare hikes, margin chasing and remote management.

The James Freeman era saw a much more mature and mutually respectful relationship – for example wasteful competition ceased on both the Melksham and Frome corridors to Bath with Faresaver being the sole operator on the former and First West of England on the latter.

Faresaver now plays the role of a responsible operator in this part of Wiltshire and gives a good service for the public. All the drivers I came across were pleasant and helpful with a high standard of driving. I hear the company is set to expand shortly having picked up tenders for two routes in Bath and another in Bristol which will extend its western reach.

Faresaver has become a well respected player in the bus industry and it was a pleasure to pay a visit and take a few rides. Another family owned bus company doing a great job.

Nice.

Roger French

Previous AtoZ blogs: Avanti West Coast, Blackpool Transport, Chiltern Railways, Delaine Buses, Ensignbus.

17 thoughts on “F is for Faresaver

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  1. I was most interested to read your Faresaver blog. The operator has certainly improved a great deal since I worked in the public transport team of Wiltshire County Council in 2003. At that time Faresaver had been banned from Council tendered work because of a number of maintenance issues, including an infamous incident when a wheel fell off one of their buses. It is good to hear them now referred to as a ‘respected’ operator. I am sure their relationship with the County Council has improved as they have stepped in to fill the gap left by First Group who’s once comprehensive West Wiltshire network has been reduced to just one remaining service in the county between Bath and Warminster.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a good map of Chippenham.

      But how do you produce such maps? An easy to use package? Is it easy to add locations such as supermarkets etc.? And adding route numbers and choosing colours?

      Is such a package costly? I guess it must be cheap and such a map can be produced quickly, less than one day.

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      1. That map and the Faresaver publicity are our handiwork (PBBM), all produce using Adobe Illustrator / Indesign / Photoshop. A couple of our recent maps for D&G have also featured on the “Life after Arriva in Cheshire” post.

        Thanks for the nice comment, always lovely to hear 🙂

        James

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  2. Thanks to Roger for picking out an operator that I know very well. Appreciate that for reasons of brevity, not every detail can be included but a few additions/clarifications:

    ZigZag was a route that was crafted from a number of separate routes that were merged into a single tender viz 37 Bradford on Avon to Melksham and 237 Melksham to Trowbridge, and the former 72/73 (latterly 235/6) from Melksham to Corsham. Owing to the odd route, it was christened ZigZag by the then Wiltshire County Council but is now prosaically now the 69.

    The Pickford empire was indeed formed as Fosseway Coaches and did operate tendered services for WCC, and fell foul of maintenance issues. Even on its return, as Faresaver, there were still some incidents with a serious one in 2008 that, whilst not the fault of the operator, did expose some shortcomings in their procedures. That said, they are much improved and are now a very good and competent operator who have now begun to add new vehicles to their judicious secondhand purchases.

    Before people indulge in too much criticism of First, or praise for Faresaver or James Freeman, a couple of clarifications. Faresaver was the perpetrator of the competition with First, running a few peak journeys but then employing minibuses between school runs to swamp First especially on the Chippenham to Frome route. Note that when First finally withdrew from that route, the evening tendered route that comprised Chippenham to Trowbridge and a local loop in the latter town disappeared, never to return.

    Badgerline (before First) had regarded the Wiltshire area as a bit of a dumping ground where older vehicles operated trunk routes, and whilst that may have continued into the early 2000s, First did put new vehicles onto some of those routes in 2005/6 (albeit that some were spirited away as pressures on capital spending became clear). Also, JF was in charge when First exited the Chippenham to Frome route (it was a loss maker then) and then in 2020 when First left Melksham and Faresaver dropped the Bath to Frome services. However, he was also in charge when First doubled their frequency in 2018 on both the Bath to Melksham/Frome routes with the Discover relaunch. Perhaps part of the thinking was to pressure Faresaver to leave both routes or at least encourage them to broker a peace? Who knows?

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    1. A similar approach was taken on the Chippenham to Bath corridor. Faresaver X31 buses always ran a few minutes ahead of First’s 231/232. Whenever First changed their timetable the order of the two companies buses stayed the same. During the height of this competition, First Badgerline got caught out running unregistered extras between Corsham and Bath, resulting in a Traffic Commissioner ban from the route. No problems though, First simply registered the service under its Wessex subsidiary and carried on!

      When First abandoned the Chippenham to Bath corridor Faresaver increased the frequency to every 20 minutes Mon to Fri and introduced double deckers. This service level continued until the pandemic. Post pandemic, the frequency has reduced to half hourly, reflecting the nationwide loss of passengers.

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  3. Is there any link between Faresaver and Coachstyle? They both use purple and white colours although the layout is different (see your fourth picture).

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    1. There is no link between Faresaver and Coachstyle despite the colour schemes. Libra Travel, another independent to the south of our patch also have a similar livery.

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  4. Thank you for choosing to travel with us Tuesday Roger, I hope you enjoyed your day. I’m sure Chippenham Bus Station will live long in the memory, perhaps not for the right reasons! We are just finishing updates on our Trowbridge map and then we’ll get onto the network map!
    You are right insofar that the JF era saw a far more respectful relationship and communication which hadn’t existed previously. The 234 was the First (excuse the pun) to go followed by the 231. There then followed the launch of the Discover brand against our x67 and x72 which we were a little surprised about given the increases in frequency but we were confident in the offer we were providing passengers. Sure enough before long the D3 was cancelled and we decided to cancel our X67 at the same time to move resources to enhance the Bath – Devizes corridor.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Really nice to see my local operator covered. When I read the dire stories from other parts of the country it makes me realise how lucky we are to have a good bus service in this part of Wiltshire.

    One note, Corsham is very much a town, not a village. It has a town hall and a population of c13,000. And Faresaver run a town service number 10.

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  6. BSIP News

    A new hourly service route number 907 is to operate between Stevenage and Cheshunt
    It will be operated by Centre Bus and starts on the 16th April

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    1. I dont rate its chances of success as very high. There is nothing much between Stevenage and Hertford other than Watton at Stone
      and between Hertford and Cheshunt it is competing against various route

      The more sensible option would have been to extend the 390 but the BSIP rules would not permit that

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  7. There’s currently a public consultation on a transformation of Chippenham town centre. In my response I mentioned that the bus station needs a thorough revamp, as it is an embarrassment in its current condition. It should be as important a gateway to the town as the railway station. Given that other proposals include removing on street parking and reducing the dominance of cars in the town centre , I said that improving the bus station compliments the reduction of space allocated to cars, and signals that other modes are improving.

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