17 November 2009

Thinking aloud

What is more unknown is what GA's response to the competition in Plymouth will be

Over the weekend there was an interesting, and I think, quite significant report on This is Plymouth.
UNION chiefs have reacted with relief after the bus, rail and air operator Go-Ahead was named as the top bidder to buy Plymouth Citybus.
"I'm relieved that Go-Ahead has been chosen over some of the other companies," Andy Gibbons, chairman of the Citybus branch of the union Unite, said last night. "There were a lot of bids to start with, and some of them were more scary than others. "From the very limited information I have, I would say that we may have found a way to move forward."
Mr Baskerville said: "We are still evaluating the latest news. Without knowing the details of the bid I don't know exactly where all this is heading. I have asked for an urgent meeting with the people at Go-Ahead. "Now we know who we are dealing with we can take a more objective line, but we still haven't got any information. There is no meat on the bone."

Although the Union has made it clear that they prefer the option of keeping Citybus in council ownership, and will therefore continue to fight for this, they do see Go Ahead as a company that they feel they can work with. Without knowing exactly who else bid, apart from GoAhead, Stagecoach and The John Preece consortium, it is hard to imagine any other bidder getting such a cautiously positive reaction.
The final decision in the fierce debate over whether to sell Citybus, which is 100 per cent owned by Plymouth City Council, is set to be made at a meeting of the full council on November 30. I dont know of anyone who expects the council not to sell. Unless the bid is well below expectations I cant see any other outcome from the meeting.
I did ask what other readers thought and I did get some interesting comments.In particular I thank my anonymous contributor for a very well argued two part contribution which can be seen IN FULL HERE but I will bring out a few of his (?) points...

NO SALE - this was claimed to be the preferred option from employees and management UNTIL FDC started their competing services...

I too feel that this is a crucial point. My own choice before any of this started was that Citybus should remain a council owned company. Citybus was doing ok. The system was working, First and Citybus were getting on ok. There was competition for local contracts and the council were getting a dividend. All that changed when the council announced they were thinking of selling the company. It was pretty clear to everyone (including First) that First would not be allowed to buy Citybus. Since all of this started we have seen Stagecoach being ordered to sell Preston Buses which pretty much confirms that assumption. The last thing that First would want is to see Citybus being sold to someone like Stagecoach who are already competing with First in North Devon. The extra routes registered by First in Plymouth were clearly meant as a warning that First would not just sit back and watch this happen. It is to the credit of local management that this competition has been done in a dignified manner rather than an all out 'bus war' as happened twenty years ago.

It seems highly likely that based on past experience in North Devon, and South Devon an extremely aggressive approach (by Stagecoach) would have been taken in Plymouth against FDC and to some extend Target. Whilst this would have seen cheap fares for passengers in the short term, the end result would be reduced journey opportunities and increased fares.

I am sure this is exactly what First were thinking too!

GA have a proven track record of allowing local companies autonomy to get on with it. Look at Brighton and Hove (Bus operator of the year), and Southern Vectis as a couple of examples.

For us enthusiasts the fact that Citybus wont disappear into a national brand image is always going to be seen as a good thing. GoAhead thinking is very different to all the other big groups in this respect. Transdev also seems to favour strong local identities but it seems that they are heading towards a merger with Veolia who favour the big national corporate image even on their dustcarts.
The big question is of course - what happens next?

What is more unknown is what GA's response to the competition in Plymouth will be. On that we can only guess but I believe an all out war to be unlikely.

This is a big question. I don't suppose for one minute that GA will come in all guns blazing and seek an all out fight with First. Over the last twenty years we have seen ebbs and flows in operation by both Citybus and First. Some times First seem to have the upper hand and then it changes and Citybus seem to gain. I dont think we can expect any major changes in operation by either First or GA/Citybus in the first few months of GA ownership.
Finally the contribution ends with one statement which I think everyone can agree with...
it will be interesting to revisit this page in twelve months time to compare predicted outcomes with what transpires to be the actual outcomes. . One final contributor asks a question which caught me by surprise...

why does everyone slate first all the time this blog is and has always been very pro anything other than First.

I didn't think I had been so anti-First as this? There was a time a few years ago when I felt, and indeed expressed on several occasions, that the company was poorly run. The condition and appearance of the fleet was appalling. The arrival of Marc Reddy saw a massive change in that aspect as I have mentioned on many occasions. As a passenger I also welcome the extra Ugo routes, and indeed am a regular on the 15, rarely catching the Citybus 50 these days. Nationally though, First do not have a good image, and they do seem keener to cut back operations than the other of the large groups.
Further Reading

Omnibuses SEP 09: Go South x 2
Omnibuses SEP 08: Go Ahead—Five Years On
Recommended Links

Omnibuses: Omnibuses meets Phil Stockley
PTOTPA: Cremyll Ferry
PlymTransit on Twitter


  1. Re: the last comment you pick up on, if anything I used to get annoyed by what I thought was the pro-First leaning of this blog! As someone more into trains than buses, it took a long time for me to be able to think of FDC without going into an anti-FGW rage ;-)

  2. I do hope that FDC do not withdraw their new services once GA come in. I regularly use their services 11, 15, 17 and find them very reliable, much better than Citybus services!!!


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