Coaches & buses the Dews way

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The three newest buses in the fleet are two 38-seat and one 43-seat MCV Evora-bodied Volvo B8RLEs. 38-seat BV22 HDE joined the fleet in 2022 specifically for the AW1 Huntingdon-Alconbury Weald circular service which started in January that year and is operated in partnership with developer Urban&Civic. STEVEN KNIGHT MEDIA

Steven Knight visits Somersham where local operator Dews Coaches has been celebrating its 70th anniversary

The village of Somersham dates back around 2,500 years and is situated nine miles east of Huntingdon and four miles north east of St Ives. The 2021 Census recorded a population of 3,348. It also has a claim to fame – it lies on the Greenwich Meridian Line which separates Earth into sections, truly the centre of the Universe!

Somersham is also home to Ron W Dew Limited, a bus and coach business which currently operates 53 vehicles and during 2023 has been celebrating 70 years in the transport sector.

At the helm today is Simon Dew, a third-generation member of the Dew family and the grandson of founder Ron.

Dews was founded in 1953 and, like many businesses of the time, started with just one vehicle – a 29 seat Duple-bodied Bedford OB – which was used on day trips but primarily private hire work.

The business in the early years saw some expansion with more coaches but really just catered for the local coach hire market, supplementing it with some tour work. Ron was content with a business that was ‘ticking over’ and doing reasonably well. However in 1964, Ron’s son, Simon’s father David, started working for the business and recognised that the business had potential and actively looked at opportunities for expansion. The business added school and works contracts to its portfolio and the fleet started to expand.


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Private hire work continued to increase, and in 1971 the company operated its first overseas trip, for a local school to Switzerland. Now overseas work is regular part of the private hire diary.

Through the 1980s and 1990s David and his wife Linda ran a successful tour programme through an associated business, Dewsway Tours Limited. Until 1993 the fleet also carried the Dewsway name.

The newest and oldest coaches in the Dews fleet. The Tourismo was new in 2023 whilst the Bedford is a wartime OWB chassis dating from 1944 with a Duple Vista coach body which replaced the original wartime utility body. CHRIS SHAW/DEWS COACHES

High profile business

In 1984 the company gained a high-profile contract providing the team coach for the Cambridge United football team. It held the contract for a staggering 20 years and has also done similar work for Peterborough United. An increase in private hire work in the 1990s saw the tours activity reduced with much of the additional bookings coming from educational establishments.

It was in the autumn of 1989 that Simon joined the business, which moved to its current site in Somersham’s Chatteris Road in 1991. This gave the capacity and catalyst for further expansion.

It would appear that providing team transport for football clubs gave Dews the experience it needed to move up a gear providing team transport and corporate transport for other sporting events. This work has included coaches for the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and The Rugby League World Cup 2022 as well as Women’s Euro Football, Cricket 100 and on corporate hire to Coca Cola at the London 2012 Olympics.

Where Simon has been able to make a real impact on the business has been through the confidence to ‘step back,’ review the operations and provide the resources and the best people to do the job.

To the casual observer Dews is probably viewed as a bus operator more than it is a coach operator, but the entry into the local bus market didn’t come until 2005. That’s more than 50 years after its formation, although it had been running buses on contract work prior to 2005. Perhaps the company name gives the answer, it is after all called Dews Coaches!

Managing Director Simon Dew is best placed to answer the question ‘is Dews a coach company that also runs buses, or a bus company that also runs coaches?’

There was no hesitation from Simon who told CBW: “In our hearts we are a coach company, but one which also runs bus services.” That response may confuse casual observers as there are far more buses in the fleet than coaches!

At the time of CBW’s visit, the company was expecting the delivery of a long-wheelbase Volvo B8R/MCV Evora. The delivery of this second new bus this year is a fitting way to bring the 70th anniversary year to an end.

The fleet now comprises:

  • 7 touring coaches (all with personalised ‘DEW’ registrations)
  • 1 standard coach
  • 15 single-deck buses
  • 26 double-deck buses
  • 3 minibuses
  • 5 vintage coaches
The winter months can be challenging to keep vehicles clean but Dews ensure that all of its vehicles retain a high level of presentation. SN55 BLV is a 73-seat Volvo/Wright which is one of a number of contract vehicles in the fleet that were new to Lothian. STEVEN KNIGHT MEDIA

The local bus services are generally operated under local authority contracts, with the AWI Huntingdon-Alconbury service, which is also Dews’ only bus service running on a Sunday, operating in partnership with developer Urban&Civic. The two-days-a week market day route 9 from Huntingdon to St Ives is operated on a commercial basis. The semi-rural nature of the bus services means that there are regular passengers with drivers knowing a number of them by name, whilst Simon says there is ‘an ongoing constructive dialogue’ with the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority which has a strategy of promoting and supporting local bus services.

Volvos and Scania vehicles dominate the bus fleet, with Mercedes-Benz being the preferred choice for the coach fleet. Simon explained that “the vehicle replacement strategy for the coach fleet is currently to replace at least a vehicle a year. That allows us to upgrade the fleet when coaches reach eight years old.

“That strategy meant that we were the first coach operator in the Cambridgeshire area to operate a Euro VI-compliant coach.”

Generally, for the contract fleet, the nature of the operations means that mid-life vehicles from other operators are the most economic option available. For the core bus services new vehicles have been bought in recent years.

Simon does share a concern that longer-term the supply of second life straight-diesel buses will dry up. Hybrid buses are likely to become the only option but likely will come with a need to replace the batteries. “It is a valid point, but we are not there yet. However, it is a concern that we are factoring into our long-term planning,” he explained. “There is also a discussion that needs to take place between the operators and the education transport authorities. Fundamentally, if the authorities fail to support operators through the challenge, we are likely to see some abandon replacing what will become fully depreciated and life-expired diesel buses.”

Simon does, however, believe that as technology moves on it may become affordable to re-power hybrid vehicles into full electric.

Winter wonderland. A Typical scene for Dews Coaches. CHRIS SHAW/DEWS COACHES


It has been a good number of years since Dews stopped running its own tours and scaled back its day trips. David Dew explained that there are other local coach companies that specialise in tours and excursions and do it well. “It is best to leave that specialism to them in a congested market.”

For Dews the coaching operation concentrates on corporate, schools and group hire activities. That part of the business has recovered well following the Covid-19 pandemic and the ‘lockdowns’ that went with it. Though the added challenge of Brexit and the increase in border clearance times has impacted somewhat in overseas travel, such hires still remain a key part of the business. Just a few days after CBW’s visit, four coaches were booked on hires to Germany.

Overseas hires have always been a part of the Dews offering and David Dew remembers in his early days his coach would frequently be the only coach on the ferry – a marked contrast to general coach operations today!

Dews has also had to adapt to the issues of traffic congestion, which can limit the range for hires in terms of mileage and duration of hire when considering drivers hours.

Rail replacement is also an activity that Dews undertakes. “It allows us to make use of the assets when otherwise they may be sitting spare in the yard,” says Operations Manager Chris Shaw.

Team approach

While Dews Coaches remains a family-owned business, Simon and his wife Debbie are directors of the business and have taken a focused team approach. This strategy marked a significant change for the business, where previously family members had spread themselves thinly, overseeing all aspects of the business. General Manager Nick Tetley is supported by Chris Shaw, who worked his way up from doing various roles in the industry and joined Dews initially as a driver, while maintenance is overseen by Workshop Manager Tom Williams and Senior Technician Lance Keatley.

Newest member of the team is Katie Dew who has extensive experience in business management and is now the Commercial Manager, charged with exploring business opportunities. There is no doubt that the current business success is down to Simon and Debbie taking that hard decision to ‘release the reigns’ and step back from wanting to manage and oversee every single activity of the business.

It is relatively rare for a family-owned company in the transport sector to adopt a team approach across the entire business but for Dews Coaches it would appear to be the right management model.

“We operate a sustainable business, not a lifestyle business,” says Simon, adding “we saw an opportunity to have a structure which was based around the expertise and experience that the management team have. It was the right approach, and we are successful at it. I personally no longer need to be on site every hour of every day given the professionalism of the team I have put in place.”

The local bus fleet has seen continual investment with four Euro VI vehicles in the fleet as the company pushes ahead with plans to increase the number of low-emission vehicles in the fleet. A further Volvo B8R will join the fleet in 2024. CHRIS SHAW/DEWS COACHES

Driver challenges and solutions

One of the biggest challenges facing the bus and coach industry has been an ongoing driver shortage. While Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have been blamed, it is a challenge that the industry has had to face for many years. David Dew said that recruiting drivers has been a challenge for most of the 70-year existence of Dews, but the important criteria is “what you do about it.”

Covid was, perhaps, the catalyst that made drivers more aware of the importance of the ‘work-life’ balance and one that companies have had to be acutely aware of for its driving team. A key part of ensuring that balance is the fact that service bus drivers are only rostered for one in three Saturdays.

Dews currently has 51 drivers on its books and, at the time of our visit in early December 2023, had a further six in training, which was the result of a recently held recruitment day.

Operations Manager Chris Shaw said: “The impact around recruitment and retention is something that is common across the industry. But it is no good sitting and waiting for prospective drivers to come and knock on the door looking to join us. We need to be pro-active. Get out there. Make people aware we are actively recruiting.

“We also try and accommodate, as best we can, the complex needs of individuals and offer both full time and part time driving opportunities. We are probably unique amongst independent operators in that we organise recruitment days where prospective applicants can actually have a go at driving a bus. We will also recruit suitable applicants who only have a car driving licence and give them the appropriate training and put them through their PCV test.”

Like many operators, while there is a good age profile amongst full time drivers at Dews, those undertaking part time roles are generally older and most new entrants into the industry are currently looking for full time positions. “It is a challenge we will have to address going forward,” says Chris. Perhaps not unexpectedly, the longer serving drivers are those employed on coach work.

Dews is also proactive in encouraging women to enter the industry and join its driving team. “There is still a perception that bus (and coach) driving is still a male dominated role. That is not the case and there shouldn’t be any barriers to put off women from choosing bus or coach driving as a career,” says Chris.

Dews is probably ahead of the game here with 11 women on its driving team, which is around 20% of its driving workforce – well ahead of the level at most operators.

Providing maintenance support there are five fully qualified engineers.

Ensuring that wage rates are competitive, Dews is not alone in the industry in also facing increased costs for fuel and vehicle spares, notwithstanding higher capital costs for new vehicles. Those increases need to be factored in to operating costs. Simon says that: “Private hire rates are now where they need to be and are much better than pre-pandemic. There will always be other operators who will squeeze margins to secure work, but it is important that the industry does not go back to the old days. There has never been a greater need to get a hold on costs as there is now.”

Environmental debate

There can be no denying that ‘change’ can be difficult for any business or individual, but how difficult can often be addressed by looking at both the short term and long-term benefits. For the transport sector that change is focused on the reduction in emissions through alternative fuels. In recent months we have spoken with several smaller family and independent operators, and it is probably the one aspect of the future that gives them sleepless nights.

Hydrogen is an option, but when thinking about alternative vehicle power it is electric that comes to the fore. There is an argument that electric is a realistic option for local bus services, but that comes with an increased investment cost in vehicles and a much larger investment in charging infrastructure. For some, the latter is also likely to need a significant and expensive upgrade to power supply systems. But a pragmatic long-term view has to be taken.

Simon is a passionate supporter for adoption of alternative fuel technology to allow the reduction in roadside emissions. Introduction of Euro VI vehicles into the fleet has been the first stage and Dews is actively looking at the options available and how they can best support the business in reducing emissions further. “This is very much work in process,” says Simon, “we will not stand still as a business and are committed to ensuring that environmental initiatives are at the forefront of our future plans.”

Simon Dew (left) took control of the company in 1992 from his father David. DEWS COACHES

Heritage and future

Given that the first vehicle operated by Ron Dew was a Bedford it is appropriate that the small heritage fleet of five vehicles are all Bedfords.

Whilst not generating a large income for the business, there is nevertheless a demand for the hire of these vehicles for weddings and school proms. Vehicles from the Dews heritage fleet have also made on screen appearances in both TV and film.

These vehicles have their own accommodation in a corner of the depot where they can be kept under cover to give them protection from the elements.

“These historic vehicles have a huge amount of value to the business. They are as much a part of Somersham as they are a part of Dews Coaches,” says Simon.

Dew’s has always been proactive in finding innovative solutions to problems. A former Cambridgeshire Transport Officer and CBW reader recalls one example from the early 1980s during a vicious cold snap with daytime temperatures continuously below freezing and school transport severely disrupted or cancelled due to diesel fuel waxing. Dews’ answer to get children to vital exams: the brainwave of firing up the Bedford OB, a petrol-engined vehicle with no air system to freeze-up! And the kids loved it!

Looking forward, with a general election likely by the end of 2024 I asked Simon if there was anything he would like included in the election manifestos that would benefit coach and bus operators?

“It is important that a future Government promotes public transport. There is a real need to get cars off the road and people onto buses, coaches and also trains. To do that the bus industry needs current funding schemes to continue, while operators and local authorities need to ensure that continual improvement of these services takes place.

“For coaches, the Government needs to look at how it can encourage coach operators to move to electric vehicles. While it may be a step too far for express coach services it is an option for tourist coaches. But operators will only take the plunge if the Government does its part and ensures that the infrastructure is in place to support the use of electric coaches.

“Without that investment diesel powered coaches will be kept in operation for longer, reducing investment in new vehicles which will also hit vehicle manufacturers.”