North Wales coach sales

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A line-up showing some of the varied fleet in the operator’s North Wales depot. ADRIAN MORTON

After dropping the children at school it was time for me to head a little further west instead of returning home, towards Chester to pick-up the A55 North Wales Expressway, along the coast and down through the beautiful Conwy Valley to Llanrwst, to meet Steve Jones, owner and Managing Director of both Llew Jones Coaches and Jones Coach & Bus Sales. It was whilst attending this year’s UK Coach Rally in Blackpool that I had a brief chat with Steve and pencilled in the diary a date for a long overdue catch up.

I believe it was 2007 when I first met Steve and his Transport & Compliance Manager at Llew Jones Coaches, Kevin Williams, at the annual coach show at Birmingham’s NEC. I can’t remember exactly how, I think through Jane Phillips of well respected Pride & Joy clothing. I seem to recall that after the event, some of us ended up going out together in Broad Street, Birmingham and were resident in a nightclub there until at least 4am! We’re all very much older now but from that day a great relationship was formed and I’ll be forever grateful for Steve’s assistance over the years. In my 14 years as an operator, if we ever had an issue, if it was in North Wales and on a weekend, Steve was always there to pick up the pieces, from flat batteries, a broken microphone and even replacing a driver who had suffered a heart attack in the early hours.

Five decades of history

Llew Jones Coaches can trace its history back 52 years. The company was established by Steve’s father Llywelyn Jones. Initially Steve’s father was an agricultural contractor and would buy and sell agricultural equipment in the winter months when contracting was quiet. He once bought a combine harvester in an auction in Lichfield and drove it all the way to Llanrwst at 12 mph!

He was later forced to sell everything, including his smallholding, after suffering acute kidney failure, meaning he could no longer work. Recovery was a long process but happily he came out the other side ready to start another chapter of his life, purchasing a house and coal yard, which subsequently became the company’s first depot in John Street, Llanrwst. Looking for something to do, a chance conversation with a friend at the local council led him to hear that they were desperately looking for more operators for home to school transport.

Llewelyn immediately got himself onto the tendering list and managed to secure his first contract. A coach was sourced in the form of a 36-seat petrol powered Duple Vella Vega, registered LUT 278. Word soon got about that the former coal man was operating coaches and one day a call came from a local outdoor pursuits centre, dissatisfied with the company they were using. Negotiations took place, resulting in Llywelyn taking on the work, which was advantageous being seven days a week as opposed to schools, which although a good source of income is less than 190 days a year. Private hire also began to build as well as the award of further school contracts and associated work, and the rest as they say is history…

Llew Jones carries out work for Leger, and has coaches dedicated to a its Luxuria, Silver Service and Shearings brands. LLEW JONES

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New leadership

Steve took over the business from his father, who passed away a year later, in 1994. Under Steve’s rein it soon expanded further, diversifying into other revenue streams with local bus work, extended tours and scheduled coach services. This year the company marked 30 years of working with Leger, and Steve does not envisage this changing; at present there are six coaches employed on such work, two dedicated to Leger’s Shearings brand, one to Luxuria and three to Silver Service.

The current fleet is somewhat mixed but is a reflection on the diverseness of the work the company performs; the biggest rarity is the daily use of a classic beauty, a Duple 425 with Cummins engine and manual gearbox.

Now registered RSU 407, it was new to former local operator Hughes, also of Llanrwst, as G761 HJC. Another Duple 425 to which Steve has a strong emotional attachment is also currently being prepared for test after being off the road for several years. An oddball which took my eye was a 13.5 metre seat-belted Enviro 300 single-deck bus fitted with air conditioning. It was one of a pair originally for non-PSV use with British Telecom and later auctioned off when Belle View Car Auctions in Manchester used to host events for coaches and buses. It later saw service with the erstwhile Jim Stones of Leigh before arriving at Llew Jones via Howards of Warrington.

By sharp contrast, last year saw Llew Jones commence operation of Transport for Wales contracted service T22 between Caernarfon and Blaenau Ffestiniog, using a fleet of Yutong E12 battery-electric buses which Steve says was a significant achievement for the company but also underscores its dedication to providing eco-friendly and efficient transport solutions for the communities it serves. A notable recent addition, further emphasising the broad spectrum of work undertaken, is a team-spec tri-axle VDL Futura II, new to Birmingham International and utilised for the many sports and rugby teams which the business currently supports. The coach still wears the colours of Birmingham International, and arrived in the fleet via Coast to Coast of Ardrossen.

The company is a dealership for the Noone Turas range, and has exhibited at the UK Coach Rally for a number of years. JONATHAN WELCH

New venture

2019 saw Steve set up Jones Coach and Bus Sales, initially selling used vehicles from his own fleet and others he bought for onward sale. Things progressed somewhat in 2020 when after a chance conversation with Bernard Kavanagh, good friends with Mark Noone in the Republic of Ireland, Mark approached Steve to sell 12 former Alfa Mercedes-Benz Tourismos that they had converted to PSVAR specification.

Steve managed to find homes for these very quickly, and with Mark suitably impressed he soon asked Steve to consider selling and supporting the Turas range in the UK. Initially hesitant, as the yard looked more like a breaker’s yard than a coach dealership’s showroom, Steve said yes after being highly impressed by the Turas range, so set about a huge investment and transformation of the Llanrwst premises.

The depot, bought back in 2000, occupies the former goods yard and sidings at Llanrwst North station, which still sits opposite and is served by trains on the branch line between Llandudno Junction and Blaenau Ffestiniog – when it runs that is; if the train, driver, or indeed both, hasn’t been nabbed to reduce disruption on the main line between Holyhead and Chester.

Over time Steve has invested heavily in the yard and its facilities, including resurfacing and the provision of two well equipped workshops. As neighbouring companies have moved away or retired Steve has very fortunately had the opportunity to expand. Most recently acquired and put into use as late as this year, as an additional two bay workshop, is a lovely former railway engine shed built with local stone and roofed with Welsh slate. On the day of my visit it was occupied by a mix of vehicles but its intended purpose moving forward will solely be for the vehicle sales side of things, in order to separate the two businesses.

Turas impresses

Four brand new Noone Turas midicoaches were evident in the yard, all waiting to be collected by their prospective purchasers. I have to admit I was suitably impressed when given the opportunity to look over a Turas 900s,

An unusual vehicle no longer in the fleet was LJ11 LLJ, a 55-seat VDL SB4000 with Hispano Divo bodywork. RICHARD SHARMAN

built on a DAF LF chassis and using an eight speed ZF automatic gearbox. I’ve always been a staunch supporter of DAF powered vehicles and ZF drivetrains and the build quality of the Turas looked stunning.

What impresses me most about the 900s variant is its ability to seat up to 37, yet it is still a proper midi-coach, with enough room for passenger comfort but small and narrow enough to access areas that some of its competitors can’t. I see it as the current market’s best replacement for the original Plaxton Cheetah – who would have thought the last of those had rolled off the Scarborough production line some 10 years ago?!

A distinct advantage over the Cheetah, which was one of its downsides, is luggage capacity, a commendable 6m3. Steve too has confidence in the marque and has two Turas 900s models destined for his own fleet; it’s testament to his ethos that he wouldn’t expect another operator to run anything he wouldn’t do himself. A fully PSVAR version is also available.

The Turas range doesn’t stop there though, with the smaller 700 and 600 models built on Iveco chassis, and the 500 based on the renowned Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Steve showed me around the extensive parts stock he has built up and explained that as more units are sold this will be expanded; an array of glass was noteworthy. Colin Stephenson has been appointed to head up the parts department, whilst Steve currently handles sales himself, assisted by Sales & Business Development Manager Christina Saunders. Between them, they expect to sell just over 30 new vehicles this year. Steve told me that they could sell more but are currently holding back a little until the premises are fully finished and more reflective of the product they are supplying.

Turnover is currently around the £5m mark for vehicle sales and £4m for coach and bus operations, which is highly commendable for both; it must be remembered that the sales division is relatively new and as mentioned, currently still being built up. At first glance, the operating side also seems somewhat restrictive considering the rural nature of the company’s location – I wouldn’t think there is too much corporate work to secure in the local economy, where sheep probably out number us humans, but I stand to be corrected!

It was a most enjoyable day wandering around the yard, admiring the fleet and watching an army of individuals preparing stock for onward sale. There are no better people to sell vehicles than operators themselves, a fact which has been clearly appreciated by the people at Noone.

I continue to say that people buy from people, Steve being a true gentleman of the industry, so I can only imagine that Jones Coach & Bus Sales and the Turas range in the UK will continue to go from strength to strength.

Team coach 118 GOP was new to Birmingham International. ADRIAN MORTON