Stagecoach, Wales’ biggest operator running 400 buses, has threatened a legal challenge over plans by the Welsh Government to make damaging changes to the country’s concessionary travel scheme. .The company has given the Welsh Government a deadline of 1 April to re-think its decision to set a new rate at which operators are reimbursed, which would result in a 24m cut in the scheme’s budget, or face a potential judicial review.Stagecoach says that legal advice from Herbert Smith Freehills suggests key failings in the process the Welsh Government has followed. The Government may also be liable to pay compensation for â€œviolation of EU law.â€Lawyers have also written to 10 local authorities in Wales responsible for implementing the concessionary travel scheme in areas covered by Stagecoach operations, pointing out that following the Welsh Government’s new guidance would be unlawful.Stagecoach has attacked the â€œbrutal, flawed and unlawful cutsâ€ by the Welsh Government, which last month confirmed a three-year funding package of 189m for its free bus travel scheme across Wales. The budget has been cut by over 11% from the 213.3m package provided over the past three years.The scheme provides free travel to more than 720,000 concessionary pass holders in Wales, including Armed Forces personnel and veterans. Under the scheme, bus operators should be reimbursed for the full costs of participating in the compulsory scheme.However, legal experts suggest the Welsh Government has erred in law by unilaterally capping the scheme to fit within an allocated budget, rather than following the statutory â€œno better, no worse offâ€ principle.CPT Cymru has written to Welsh Transport Minister, Edwina Hart, to express its concerns. Operators warn that the cuts will undermine public transport across the country, damage local communities and hit jobs and the economy. They said the impact of the funding cut would be even worse after taking account of inflation.Stagecoach in Wales MD John Gould says: â€œThe Welsh Government has so far refused to listen to warnings from bus operators, passengers, public transport campaigners and community groups. Legal action is a last resort and we have written to the Welsh Government to give them an opportunity to re-think their decision. We want to protect people from the devastating impact of these brutal, flawed and unlawful cuts.â€œThe Government has broken the key principle that operators are properly and fully reimbursed for the costs of participating in the mandatory scheme. It has rewritten the rules to its own specification and to suit its own purposes while dressing up the changes as the result of an independent review. The damage will be felt all across Wales and people are rightly angry.â€The cut also follows the Welsh Government’s 25% reduction in Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) in the last 12 months, which has already increased the cost of bus travel for passengers and adversely affected the viability of bus routes.In a statement the Welsh Government says: â€œThe new rate, recommended by an independent review, maintains the principle that bus operators who take part in the scheme are no better and no worse off. Any operator who believes they may be adversely affected by a local authority’s reimbursement arrangements have the right to appeal to Welsh Ministers.â€
First Bus has announced details of a brand new, fully accredited driver training programme.Designed to give its bus drivers industry leading training with a focus on safety and customer service, First’s ‘Better Journeys for Life Driver Training Programme’ has been awarded the highly prestigious City and Guilds accreditation, a first for the bus industry in the UK..The programme has also been endorsed by the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) and is currently being rolled out to new First drivers in Bolton and Southampton. From this September, new drivers from other First depots will begin to receive the new and improved training.Some of the improvements include:The 25 day course will now include three days of intensive customer service training – a significant increase for First and thought to be the most comprehensive customer service training in the industryFirst has put in place a guarantee to ensure a minimum 2:1 driver/trainer ratio at all timesThe amount of time a driver spends behind the wheel in training has been increased by around 30%From a safety perspective, new drivers will undergo the Smith System Advanced Safe Driving course and will better learn how to manage security and conflict issuesDrivers will also perfect their ability to manoeuvre a bus on ‘skill stations’ in the depot before going out on the roadFirst’s focus on helping customers with disabilities will continue. Drivers will undergo specific training to ensure they are aware how to manage wheelchair users and will continue to benefit from modules showing drivers how to identify and help customers with sight loss or who may be suffering from dementiaIn addition First has invested in its training rooms and is providing its trainers with extra support and coaching as they prepare to roll out the new programme. First’s investment in its Better Journeys for Life Training Programme also complements a change of strategy in the recruitment of drivers. First is placing a greater emphasis on attracting new people with a background and/or passion for customer service that the company can train to drive buses. An on-line application, featuring an on-line assessment, is designed to ensure candidates with a customer service and safety focus reach the interview stages.The overall programme, a 250k investment, was officially launched at First’s Bolton on 3July 3 and is the latest development from First in delivering its customer promise, ‘Better Journeys for Life’.Managing Director of First Bus, Giles Fearnley, said: “Our drivers play a vital role in attracting and retaining our customers. They are our ambassadors and therefore we must ensure they have the right training and the best training.“I’m therefore proud and delighted to launch our own bespoke training programme, especially as we’ve secured the much sought after City and Guilds accreditation. Our programme, which is designed to meet the specific needs of our business, places our driver training at the forefront of the bus industry and lays the foundations for further progress. We recognise that the bus sector must became more customer focused and our new driver programme further underlines our commitment to our Better Journeys for Life customer promise.“We want to attract new people on to our buses and encourage infrequent bus users to travel with us more often. Across the UK we’re working hard to improve services as we aim for passenger growth, and of course we are seeing some really positive results. The Better Journeys for Life Driver Training Programme is great news for our customers, our drivers and for First Bus.”Linda Guthrie, First’s Head of Driver Training, said: “The most striking difference to our new driver training programme is the focus on customer service. It achieves the right balance between the importance of being a good, safe and reliable driver and an outstanding customer service agent.“The focus on customer service is at the heart of our training and development agenda. Our new training programme is a significant and exciting step forward, as is the strategic shift in our recruitment strategy. We’re no longer simply looking for bus drivers – we’re looking for customer service agents that can drive a bus, or we can train to drive a bus.”Picture shows Giles Fearnley and Linda Guthrie
Stagecoach West has celebrated its longest serving staff members and recent retirees at an awards ceremony held on 21 October.With a total of 455 years service between them, 15 recipients were honoured for their commitment to Stagecoach West and the service they provide for the community.Clive Norman (pictured left) and Phil Toumine (pictured right) were among the staff honoured at the event.Phil joined Bristol Omnibus in 1965 as an apprentice mechanic and has been the Storekeeper in Cheltenham since 19070.Clive has achieved 55 years of services after joining Bristol Omnibus as a conductor at the age of 19. He joined the schedules team in 1971 and he has remained as a scheduler ever since.Operations Director, Rachel Geliamassi, says: “Of all the staff recognition events we hold at Stagecoach West, this is one of the highlights of the year.“Being in a room with the people, for whom Stagecoach has been such an enormous part of their lives, is very special.”
To develop its UK groups business, Swarovski Crystal Worlds has appointed Worldwide Attractions to represent it in the UK.Swarovski offers a “symbiosis of culture, crystal, entertainment and experience” at Swarovski Crystal World in Wattens and the flagship store in Vienna, the largest Swarovski store in the world.Worldwide Attractions is a London-based B2B travel sales and marketing company, representing tourist attractions, destinations and hotels to the travel trade markets.
Unwin says its BraunAbility Q-Series lift is the quietest model availableAttracting attention in the miniplus Area was Unwin, and its BraunAbility Q-Series inboard lift is claimed to be the quietest on the market.Unwin carried out work with experts to silence the Q-Series, and one of the means of doing that is to force the hydraulic mechanism used to pressurise when the ignition is turned on. That ‘tightens’ the mechanism, eliminating annoying rattles.“Inboard lifts are favoured because they are more reliable, but drivers and passengers don’t like the inherent rattling that comes with them,” says Unwin’s Tyrone Bell. “We have eliminated that on the Q-series.”A new seat lockable was also displayed by Unwin. It complements the company’s two existing products of this type and it is a ‘quick release’ model that has been designed to suit community transport applications.“The selling point is that it is simple and easy to use. It makes volunteers’ lives easier, and that is important for community transport operators,” adds Mr Bell.Locking and unlocking the device can be done with the driver’s foot, removing the need to kneel down.www.unwinsafety.com
The hit iconic 1960s film starring Cliff Richard is now the feel-good musical of the year, bringing music, laughter, romance and lots of fun to the stageCasting has been announced for the upcoming UK tour of Summer Holiday.Ray Quinn is to join the cast of the new musical in the lead role of Don, which was made famous by Cliff Richard in the original film. Ray was a runner up in The X Factor in 2006 and has since starred as Danny Zuko in Grease and taken roles in Dirty Dancing, Legally Blonde and The Wedding Singer.Summer Holiday follows Don and his friends and co-workers as they journey on a double-decker bus through Paris, the Alps, Italy and Greece.The musical will run at Liverpool Empire from 8-12 May and then tours the UK until 3 November.Venues on the tour include Liverpool Empire, Milton Keynes Theatre, New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Theatre Royal Brighton, Edinburgh Playhouse and Kings Theatre Glasgow. Further dates for 2018 and 2019 will be announced in due course.The original 1960s film of the same name has been adapted into a musical by Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan and is being directed and choreographed by Racky Plews.This hit-filled musical includes classics such as ‘In the Country’, ‘Summer Holiday’, ‘Bachelor Boy’, ‘Move It’, ‘Living Doll’, ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘On the Beach’.Full tour dates and venues can be found at summerholidaythemusical.co.uk
NatEx WM has had 1m contactless payments since its introduction in April.On 17 September, an unknown customer made the millionth contactless transaction.Tom Stables, MD of NatEx WM, says: “We trialled this system in Coventry in February. In the first two days, a fifth of adult cash passengers switched to contactless.”“People like it because they don’t even have to work out what ticket they need. They just tap a bank card on the reader and it works out the fare for them. The first tap pays for one trip. Then, however many more trips you make that day, you will never be charged more than an adult day ticket. It really is that easy – and it’s always the same price as the adult cash fares.”
It is putting in an application at the end of the year to increase its vehicle authorisation from 28 to 40 to be based at its new 1.2-acre site on Stratford Road, Warwick, which started operating fully in August.“I am going to say that it is the biggest we are going to get and we are going to stop there, but I have said that a few times before,” acknowledges Jordan Ridley, the Warwickshire-based company’s Founder and Managing Director, who started the operation about 10 years ago as a one-man owner-operator, and has seen it grow to own 34 vehicles, including what he describes as “a few toys.”“What had stopped us growing before was our premises. We didn’t have the room for the vehicles.”Need for new homeIn fact, 12-18 months ago, Jordan was facing a major dilemma at his then ‘yard’ on a half-acre site in Kenilworth.“We were wedging in 30-odd vehicles on the site. We had a workshop, an office and a drivers’ room, Some of us had to stay every night to park the vehicles because they had to be parked up so tight. Every morning we had to get there for 0430-0500hrs to move the vehicles so they were all in line as to what time they were going out. It was an absolute nightmare,” Jordan recalls.“I had got to the point where I thought we are either going to have to cut the fleet right down or put it up for sale and hope someone came along and took it off our hands because of the fact that we couldn’t find a yard.”A search for a new alternative started about five years ago when the company was already outgrowing its Kenilworth site with 12-15 vehicles at the time.But now, after a few false dawns, Jordan can happily see his fleet of mainly coaches but also some double-decker buses able to be comfortably lined up on the new Warwick site, which is close to the M40-A46 Interchange.Ridleys has a five-year lease and Jordan is hoping that he might be able to buy the whole four-acre site at some stage.New facilitiesFacilities that have been created include a large two-bay garage workshop for the maintenance team, with a smaller bay being used for body repairs and can handle vehicle repairs if needed. The workshops were supplied and installed by South Yorkshire-based BlueLine Buildings, who also provided Ridleys’ smaller workshop for its Kenilworth site. “It was a quarter of the size we have now but worked well for us, so we went back to them when we moved in,” says Jordan.On top of the lease payment, Ridleys spent about £250,000 on getting the new site ready, including installing a surface, putting concrete pads down for the new buildings, including the workshops, offices, toilet and drivers’ room, having a wash bay and steam clean facilities, installing fire alarms and security system, and bringing in telephone lines, and bringing in electricity and water to the site.A new addition last week was a fuel tank, supplied and installed by Gloucestershire-based Oil Tank Supplies, that holds 15,000 litres of diesel and 5,000 litres of Ad-Blue. There was no space for a fuel tank at Ridleys’ old Kenilworth home, and Jordan estimates that having on-site re-fuelling and fuel in bulk instead of using fuel stations will save the company £1,000 a week“It has been an expensive move, but a move that needed to be done without a shadow of doubt,” says Jordan of the company’s relocation.“The move is massive for the company. It has just made us look more professional,” says Jordan, who adds that it is “fantastic” being at the new site and the staff – 35 full and part-time drivers, six mechanics and four in the office – are enjoying their new surroundings.“We can grow for a start because we have room to grow.”Fleet expansionThis growth is already happening with the development of the company’s business operation and fleet.While school contracts and school trips have always been Ridleys’ “bread and butter” and private hire and rail replacement work are part of its business mix, it has bought 14 brand new vehicles in the last three years.“So you look at your fleet and think: ‘These vehicles can do a lot more than just school runs’. So we have got into the tour market, and started working for tour companies with the new vehicles,” says Jordan. It has signed a deal with a tour company starting in April 2019 for five vehicles a week through the year taking international tourists around the UK.This will partly be undertaken using four of Volvo’s newly-launched MCV-bodied B11R 53-seaters that Ridleys has bought for its tour contract work and are expected to be delivered in March and April.“Volvo and MCV have done a very good job of putting together a cost-effective tour coach,” says Jordan.This purchase forms part of a £1.3 million, six-vehicle order that Ridleys has made through Volvo Coventry, with the feature being two of the 57-seat 9900 coaches, which Jordan describes as the “best looking coach I have ever seen” and which will also be used on the tour contract. Ridleys is among the first operators to order 9900s and the pair will be delivered in September 2019.Volvo 9900 ‘flagships’“The 9900s will be our flagships definitely. We will make a big fuss of them when they come in and get them out there to people. They are the cream of coaches. In my opinion; they best you can buy. Volvo have done a fantastic job in putting together a very, very good product.”Volvo coaches make up the large proportion of Ridleys’ fleet – including the 1994-registered B10M Jonckheere, nicknamed Lottie, that Jordan started his company driving and has just returned after an extensive refurbishment and is still driven by him on school runs when required.Ridleys has just bought two Van Hool double-decker coaches, ex Stagecoach, from Procters with the vehicles hoped to arrive this week. The 87-seat vehicles will add to the five double-decker buses that Ridleys operate around West Midlands, and have already attracted interest from clients wanting to use them, including the Coventry City FC supporters club from Leamington Spa and Warwick, and will also be used for tour work among other tasks.“I have never bought a coach without having the work for it first,” says Jordan about the latest fleet additions.“I think we have one of the best fleets around, regionally certainly, and with the new vehicles, I think we are getting up there with the ‘best of the best’.”Future thoughtsJordan sees the market as “unbelievably challenging” and thinks Euro 6 will have more impact on his business – which is purely UK focused – than Brexit.Ridleys will have 20-plus Euro 6 vehicles in the fleet by April 2019 when London “goes Euro 6”. Jordan thinks that should be fine for his company, which only has about 20 vehicles in London at any one time during peak summer time.However, potential possibilities of West Midlands cities like Birmingham and Coventry going into Euro 6 would present a few issues for Ridleys with its double-decker buses currently running school contracts in the area.Brexit wouldn’t impact on Ridleys as much as operators who go abroad, he thinks, but the possibility of it pushing new vehicle prices up would have a “huge impact” and possible fuel price rises could be an issue.Ridleys have made a lot of investment in its operation recently with the new site and fleet expansion, but Jordan is “confident” about the future.“I am a bit of a risk taker, but I take calculated risks. I will sit down and calculate everything to the penny. We do push ourselves sometimes. The new site certainly pushed boundaries and my bank account as well.“You don’t get anywhere in business unless you push yourself and take risks. If you don’t do that, in my opinion, you don’t get anywhere.”FIND OUT MOREwww.ridleyscoaches.co.uk A move to a much bigger ‘yard’ has helped open the doors for new growth opportunities for Ridleys Coaches, with fleet expansion including the purchase of two new 9900s as ‘flagship’ vehiclesWhat a difference a year or so can make. That is certainly true for Ridleys Coaches, which has just revealed it is spending £1.3 million on six newly launched Volvo coaches – two of the super luxury 9900 model and four of the MCV-bodied B11R for tour contracts – as part of business and fleet growth plans.Ash Brown, General Manager, and Jordan Ridley, Managing Director, with some of the fleet at Ridley Coaches’ new Warwick base
Stagecoach East Midlands marked its 250,000th passenger on its Simplibus service in Newark last Thursday (28 March).Maria Torres boarded the bus at Newark Bus Station to discover she was the 250,000th passenger to use the service since its launch in September last year.Maria was treated to a bus journey with a difference as the operator had arranged flowers, balloons and a night’s stay at Newark Lodge Guest House.She says: “I was so surprised when I stepped on the bus to find I had won a prize for being the 250,000th customer. I can’t wait to enjoy a night away.”Simplibus, which runs across Newark, has helped increase the number of people choosing to travel by bus by making timetables easier to understand, introducing contactless payments and making bus routes more reliable.
Alpine Travel drivers have been awarded GreenRoad Fleet Elite status.The GreenRoad advanced safety and telematics system monitors driving manoeuvres and helps to improve fuel efficiency. Fleet Elite status is awarded to drivers when their ‘risk score’ is ‘exceptional’ for a year.Two Alpine Travel drivers achieved gold awards, four drivers achieved silver, and a further four achieved bronze. Five other drivers obtained the Master Fleet Elite status after achieving gold for four or more years.Chris Owens, Managing Director at Alpine Travel says: “Within a short period of time, our ‘risky manoeuvres’ fell by 60%, and, with them, our incident levels, fuel usage and maintenance costs.“Our drivers embrace the system and take pride in their improving safety scores.”