26 July 2012

The fast pace of change

Events in North Devon continue to move at a fast pace:

Stagecoach announced today (25 July 2012 ) that it is to launch an expanded bus network in Devon in September, providing new services and creating a small number of additional jobs.

The new network will provide vital bus links in North Devon and build on the company's track-record of investment and good value travel in the south-west.

Stagecoach employs around 900 people and operates more than 320 buses on around 120 routes across Devon and Somerset, and in the past three years has invested more than £13 million in new buses for the region.

The new and expanded services will be operated out of the company's depot in Barnstaple, which currently employs around 120 staff and runs around 50 buses. Around a dozen extra vehicles will be added to the fleet and Stagecoach will also be recruiting new drivers.

From Monday 24 September, the following enhancements will be introduced:

  • Service X7, an express direct service, will run hourly between South Molton and Barnstaple Bus Station
  • Service X9 will provide a link between Bude, Holswothy, Okehampton and Exeter, with services running approximately every two hours.
  • Service 21 will now operate between Westward Ho!, Bideford, Instow Quay, Fremington, Barnstaple, Braunton, and Ilfracombe.
  • Service 21A will now operate between Appledore, Bideford, East the Water, Fremington, Barnstaple and Braunton.

The expanded network will bring a boost to people in North Devon, whose services are currently under threat after First announced the closure of its Barnstaple depot. Stagecoach will provide:

  • A 20min daytime service from Westward Ho!, Bideford and Barnstaple to Ilfracombe with a 30min evening and Sunday service.
  • More links from Ilfracombe to Barnstaple Rail Station, particularly during the evening and on Sundays.
  • A 10min service between Northam, Bideford, Barnstaple and Braunton, with a 30min evening and Sunday service.
  • A 20min daytime service from Westward Ho! Bideford, Barnstaple and Ilfracombe to Instow Quay and hourly during the evening and on Sundays.
  • A 20min daytime service from Braunton, Barnstaple and Bideford to Appledore and a new hourly evening and Sunday service which extends to Ilfracombe.
  • A 20min daytime service from Ilfracombe, Barnstaple, Instow and Bideford to Westward Ho! plus an hourly evening and Sunday service.
  • A 20min daytime service from Appledore, Bideford, East the Water and Barnstaple to Braunton and West Meadow Road.

Michelle Hargreaves, Managing Director of Stagecoach South West, said: "We have a long tradition of operating high quality services for people in the south-west of England and attracting people out of their cars and on to greener, smarter bus travel.

"It has been our ambition for some time to provide a more comprehensive network for passengers across the wider Devon region to improve services and connections for the local community. To that end, we announced in March that we had reached an agreement to acquire First Group's North Devon operations. This would have allowed us to deliver a range of improvements to the wider bus network.

"However, we decided we could not justify further management time and expense on pursuing the acquisition following the decision by the Office of Fair Trading to refer what was a relatively small transaction to the Competition Commission. Instead, we have now registered new commercial Stagecoach services that will extend our network in the North Devon area and provide more journey options for our customers.

"The new services, which have been registered with the Traffic Commissioner, will start in September. We look forward to providing local people on our new routes with a high quality bus service and value-for-money fares."

You can see straight away that many First drivers are going to loose out big time. Although Stagecoach are expanding their network it wont require all the drivers currently working for First. There may be other opportunities with smaller local firms if they see any gaps in the network and register new services but its hard to see many of these springing up against the mighty Stagecoach. The CCs dream of lots of competition looks like being a forlorn hope although there will be some:

Mark Howarth, Western Greyhound’s Managing Director yesterday announced that Western Greyhound has registered additional journeys on the Bude to Exeter corridor which is currently operated by both Western Greyhound and First’s North Devon business.

He said, “Following yesterday’s announcement by First that it was to discontinue its bus services in the North Devon area, including the far flung X9 Bude – Okehampton – Exeter service, we have registered additional journeys on our common 599 Bude – Okehampton – Exeter service. Currently, Western Greyhound operates 2 round trips daily. This will increase to 4 round trips on Mondays to Saturdays and 2 on Sundays. The increase will generally cover the journeys at times currently operated by First and will enhance the broadly hourly service between Okehampton and Exeter.  This is an exciting increase and ensures that passengers on this corridor are not affected when First withdraws their service.  Western Greyhound will be recruiting a number of additional drivers at its Bude outstation to cover these additional journeys.  Passengers will also benefit as there will now be inter-availability of return tickets on all journeys between Bude, Okehampton and Exeter allowing much more flexibility in travel”

It surely wont be long before First announce when they are closing down their operations. It will be pointless to continue running once Stagecoach start their new services and the drivers will be keen to get new jobs as soon as possible, so wont be hanging around if they can help it. Of course if the planned sale had been allowed to take place then all of these changes could have been properly coordinated, We cant have that though can we?


  • The Leyland Society held their annual 'Gathering of Leylands', appropriately enough in Leyland, Lancashire earlier this month. With the original venue of the town's Worden Park being waterlogged the rally was moved to the car park of the British Commercial Vehicle Museum Transport Illustrated
  • Furthermore, according to informed sources, this little bit of track will cost a modest £81 million. If you were a Birmingham Councillor, what else could you do with £81 million? Public Transport Experience
  • And, lo, First this week declared that it’s to shut down its North Devon operation, effectively handing Stagecoach the very same monopoly that the OFT wanted to avoid. D’oh. Omnibuses
  • I thought it didn't seem right that when under common ownership an industry stalwart like Wallace Arnold should be absorbed into what was by comparison a bit of an 'upstart' Busworld Photography


  1. Please please please First leave Plymouth as well!! I vote for a Network of Western Greyhound running all First serviecs West of Plymouth and Stagecoach running the X80 and any other services East of Plymouth. Leaving Citybus to run on city routes. Yes less competition but the sheer poor quality of First is driving passengers into their cars. Also given the inter-availability of Explorers on WG and Stagecoach such changes would almost reinstate the much missed Key West and actually would result in one ticket for almost all buses in Devon and Cornwall which has to be a good thing.

  2. Less competition will equal higher fares. Where GoAhead have a monopoly of services on the Isle of Wight the level of fares are eye watering. £2.50 minimum adult single fare for like 1 stop. Most fares are like £3.50 single fare (Newport to Cowes a distance of about 5 miles) or £4.50 (Newport to Sandown). No day returns. A day rover well that's £10.

    If there is no competition amongst operators to drive down fares and fuel innovation in networks there is no point in having a deregulated bus market.

    Essentially as tax payers we are asked to subsidise the provision of bus services in those areas where operators choose not to operate commercially (either because this is impossible or because they choose not to try). Yet we are expected to accept that they act as businesses and that the profit they make from services is passed back to shareholders and not distributed into maintaining a network free of subsidy or of more limited subsidy than at present.

    Long term bus operators will not see huge financial gains from operating a bus network. The concessionary pass scheme is squeezing them badly as will the cuts in grants and subsidies. Passengers will lose out as more and more of the country lose vital bus links. The operators will hang on only where they see a worthwhile return.

    Eventually it will be decided with a lack of a coordinated and efficient bus service to bring them all under the control and ownership of local authorities or some other such public body or bodies.

    Although we may live in times where we are told that the private sector knows best and that it can run things better than the public sector this is clearly not proving to be the case in the bus industry for so many passengers and employees.

  3. I have to agree with anon 19:13, competition is needed in Plymouth.. I for one would like to see First use some of the spare capacity they might have from pulling out of north devon in beefing up their network in Plymouth and giving Go ahead some real competition!!! Failing that First sell up Plymouth to Stagecoach to take on Go ahead. Anon at 16:43 must be mad to want to give Go Ahead monopoly in Plymouth they have already become the most expensive operator in the city and it would end up over £4 to get on bus other than short hop in no time!!!

  4. short hop in no time!!!
    The trouble with First though is that they offer few routes with decent evening services. For example their No’ 7 to Elburton finishes around 18.00 Monday to Saturday, so after that it is the Citybus 5 and 5A

  5. I agree with the comment at 19:45 on 26 July above. First need to ensure that their Plymouth city routes have evening service provision. When people are choosing which operator to buy their season ticket with the availability of buses for any trips they may wish to make out of the regular commutting time does have a bearing on their decision. Also for those who work shifts or unsociable hours buses late into the evening and early Sunday mornings are important.

    I know that evening services don't have great loads especially earlier in the week but ensuring a good and reliable service should bring more people out after dark.

    First should look to target evenings for growth. Bring in a special First Plymouth Evening Ticket at half the price of a day ticket valid after 6:30pm. It should encourage people to come out for the evening.

  6. Ever since stagecoach took over the x9 route they have shown what they truely are. A very arrogant care free company with rude miserable drivers and rubbish quality of buses. First were much better than the pile of rubbish the poor people of bude holsworthy and oakhampton have to endure now.

    1. Which is why we in Plymouth want to hold on to First here... you should try Go Ahead for miserable staff and unreliable services if you think Stagecoach are bad. First are defo best of the 3 by a mile.


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