Author Topic: Not First in Essex  (Read 381 times)

Offline essexdragon

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Not First in Essex
« on: May 30, 2019, 05:53:25 PM »
With First Group's "new strategy" for First Bus for a sale, or whatever; does the future for First Essex look rather grim?

I'm not sure First have fully thought this through, though it hasn't stopped Unite mobilising with no job loses, no changes to t&c. At least that's clear, unlike First's statement! With mediocre passenger growth, recent losses and write offs, the pension deficit and some of the highest driver wages locally, as well as a rather neglected fleet, I'm not sure the Essex opco is an attractive proposition for any of the local competition. Putting the local Arriva and First together, both with the same Home Counties problems looked attractive, maybe the synergies work, but if the logistics don't; and would Stagecoach or Go Ahead really want to annoy their existing workforce either?

If First keep hold of First Bus in some arms length arrangement, then what's the point? (Apart from obviously, temporary firefighting to keep a recalcitrant shareholder calling for their heads, off their back for the time being). Saving the Board's skins, for the time being at least! But as First haven't got the money to invest, or they'd be doing so, where is the money coming from?

Just thinking what we might call the successor is an interesting conundrum! Not Eastern National either, that's already taken!

FURTHER THOUGHTS. I assume (as with Arriva) speed will dictate a sale to private equity as, at least, an interim owner; who can avoid any trouble with the Competition Commission and, without the need to keep the stock exchange informed of every step, most public scrutiny too. The joys of our regulated capitalism!  Followed by some fraught brinkmanship with the PPF, and a very rough ride for staff and passengers! The Americans and the Germans will be happy, at least; escaping the albatross that the UK seems to have become.

When things settle down who will be the winners? Not, I suspect the passengers so much as perhaps the mid-sized regional operators, who will be very cautious having learnt their lesson! Despite the best efforts of the Competition Commission, I suspect the demise of First and Arriva is a like  a dream come true for Stagecoach and Go-Ahead. As for the Competition Commission, try as hard as they might to stop anti-competitive behaviour, they can't force competition. Not that they ever look up from their spreadsheet into the real world.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2019, 12:50:59 PM by essexdragon »

Offline essexdragon

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Re: Not First in Essex
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2019, 03:07:27 PM »
It has always seemed to me that comparing Stagecoach in Cambridge and First in Essex throws up some interesting comparisons. Apart from fleet replacement (or lack of), as far as I can see from published data both Stagecoach East and First in Essex have roughly the same number of drivers, which assuming comparable terms would presumably indicate the same scale of operation. Making allowance for the busway and  greater number of P&Rs around Cambridge, their income looks similar too (as do the fare prices - except for day tickets and First's so-called premium (ho ho!) airport services). So the marked difference, in operating profits - must presumably be down to costs. They wipe out the income in Essex' case. Why? The geography and population profile between Essex and Cambridgeshire isn't that different: major towns, suburbs, and satellite centres, both villages and smaller towns, and a lot of London commuting. But from observation buses in Essex are rarely full or anything approaching it during most of the day (even peaks).

Well First have an older age profile for their fleet, which may affect maintenance; and have always paid their drivers more (though why, heaven knows: Cambridge and neighbour Herts isn't that cheap to live in or around, either). But what seems to make the difference, to me, is that all out of town services run to the higher half-hourly frequency, routinely, and that urban services seem to have at least two or three frequent routes serving each district. Better even than National Bus Company days? Nice, if you have the resources. Stagecoach claim they don't. So how do First manage it?

Or does it lie at the bottom of the First in Essex reliability issues, appearance of neglect; and lack of profitability? Credit where it's due, it seems to be an amazing tribute to staff and managers that they aren't in an even worse position, but the network (if we can call it that) must be a nightmare to run in the ballooning congestion, and I can see why their reputation for their depot staff paddling frantically beneath the waterline to try and keep their heads above water is well-deserved. Passengers aren't too impressed when they wait up to 90 minutes for a half-hourly service, or if their local service doesn't turn up but there might be a nearby service a few streets away; though some of us got, or at least used to be, adept at "chasing the bus"! Not so easy if you are elderly or have young children or a pushchair or a disability, though. As for the drivers trying to keep to timetable, no wonder they end up passing the waiting passengers, whether they are supposed to do so or not!

So why? Well I suppose it keeps the competition away (though they don't seem to give Stagecoach too much trouble); and try to change it now (like reducing services anywhere) and all hell will break loose. But why have First HQ allowed it to continue for so long? Is it in any way related to their current issues - the lack of troubleshooting will store up problems not just locally, but nationally. I suppose too that contract services (as in their retained American ops) are so much easier when someone else does the specification and pays for it (or makes up the shortfall), London Transport for example.

Any thoughts from posters the other side of the wall?
« Last Edit: June 14, 2019, 05:12:39 PM by essexdragon »

Offline cesar

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Re: Not First in Essex
« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2019, 10:13:03 PM »
Not sure the comparison is quite fair. Cambridge is a city with a network largely of radial routes linking the suburbs and surrounding towns with the city centre. Driving into Cambridge is difficult, parking limited, difficult and expensive, and there are reasonable bus priorities at least in places. P & R is comprehensive, and well established. Add to that a high student population who probably are less likely to own cars (or have cars with them), and will also generate demand for evening/Sunday services, and you have a fairly good set of circumstances for bus operation.  I don’t know but would guess that ENCTS passholders make up a relatively small proportion of total ridership.

In Essex there are a large number of urban centres, all with one or more out of town retail parks. Parking is generally plentiful, and varies from cheap to medium- price. There are minimal bus priorities- a few in Chelmsford and Colchester but not much else. P & R only exists at 3 sites - 2 of which are struggling. The multiplicity of destinations means there are few really heavy flows to any one point, and hence the bus and frequencies are not really attractive.  This in turn makes evening services less well used, and the relatively high proportion of ENCTS passholders means revenue is also challenging.

I think you will find - though I stand to be corrected - that Stagecoach Cambridge provides the similar turnover with fewer buses and therefore each bus has higher revenues. If driver numbers are indeed the same, that will be partly a result of higher levels of evening and Sunday service.

I fully agree First Essex fails in many areas, but I’m not sure the comparison you make is 100% fair ( though it might be 50%...!).