Cornwall’s bus revolution

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Go Cornwall Bus has gone from operating a fleet of 35 vehicles to 150 in just four short months. Richard Sharman visited the Cornwall Operator to find out how this mammoth task was achieved

The South West of England is normally a calm and quiet place, but the county of Cornwall has recently seen some of the biggest changes to its bus scene since deregulation. In January 2020 Go Cornwall Bus, the division of Plymouth CityBus that covers Cornwall, won the contract to take over all of Cornwall Council’s subsidised bus services from 29 March.

Newquay Bus Station. RICHARD SHARMAN

The planning phase

“With operations now covering a large geographical expanse, including Cornwall and Plymouth , we adopted the Go South West umbrella identity

“The tender documents for the council contracts were issued in July 2019,” explained Mark Collins, Head of Commercial at Go Cornwall Bus (GCB). “They included 73 local bus options, 190 school contracts and a huge tender specification to work through with multiple options of interworkings that could be achieved.

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“We had until the end of September to submit our bid; I had a newborn on the 3 September so I ended up spending more time in the office than with my wife and son.

“It was a huge team effort that involved working both evenings and weekends. We put together a local project team to put together a strategy, which then had to be signed off by the Go-Ahead Group and was then submitted to the Council.

“The appetite was to go big with the GCB expansion, so we submitted a number of options. The Council offered three versions of each tender for each route: A, B or C. We put in an operator’s proposal which we called option D, which was a network that utilised interworking of buses and services based on an economy of scale (i.e. one operator operating the whole network but subcontracting to smaller operators to ensure that it wasn’t seen as a multi-national bus operator taking over the whole network). This option also meant we safeguarded smaller bus operators, as we are very community-focused.

“A lot of work went into going back over the One Public Transport for Cornwall scheme’s objectives. This was set up before the tender process with several key objectives, with the main focus on having one network, one ticket, one brand and so on. Our proposal brought those objectives to life under the umbrella of Transport for Cornwall (TfC).

“The bid was submitted in late September and then it was a long wait until January to find out we had won the tender and that services were to start at the end of March.

“With operations now covering a large geographical expanse, including Cornwall and Plymouth, we adopted the Go South West umbrella identity, as the home of the Plymouth Citybus and Go Cornwall Bus passenger-facing brands.

“The new contract is for eight years, with CPI inflation added each year. The contract is for a Peak Vehicle Requirement (PVR) of 127, which equates to a fleet of 150 vehicles when servicing and MOTs is taken into account, and that stays steady through the summer and winter periods. There are a few commercial elements, which we told the council about before the tender was up, such as parts of the 11 and 73 now coming under the TfC umbrella. The key focus is to deliver local services to local people, rather than the tourist market.

“We were provided with a base timetable and improved on that to ensure that there were better connections between bus services and integration with the rail network where possible. We also made changes to longer layover periods to allow for connections and reduce PVR on some routes to deliver better value to the council. By doing this as one network we managed to reduce the PVR by 27%.”

Branding

“As part of our proposal, we looked at various liveries, including some two-tone ones, and used the Transport for Cornwall brand,” continued Mark. “After winning the tender, we sat down with the Council to talk branding. They wanted a hybrid of the Transport for London brand, so the name stuck and it was decided that the livery would be red. The final livery and logo were done through the Council. We were of course aware of the time we had to source and paint the fleet, so we jointly decided that a smart, clean single colour livery was the way to go. The buses stand out being bright red, and we use the same paint code as Plymouth CityBus (PCB).”

Customer Experience Advisor at Newquay Bus Station, Tom Carter. RICHARD SHARMAN

Depots and engineering

“The major blocker to any new major bus company coming into Cornwall is the provision of land and engineering facilities. It was publicly known before the tender that bidders had the option to partner with Corserv, a division of Cornwall Council, for engineering work and also for vehicle parking, so site plans were provided with the tender documents. This was our preferred option and we negotiated with Corserv during the tender to get our cost base,” Mark said.

“Corserv put a night shift into the larger sites and also moved to a bigger hanger at Newquay Airport to allow for all servicing to take place. Corserv also services the county’s big lorries, vans, etc, so they were already providing those facilities – we are solely the bus provider.

“Our three main depots are at Newquay, Scorrier (near Redruth) and Bodmin with the main servicing facilities at Newquay or Plymouth depots. Outstations are also located in Bodmin, Bude, Callington, Helston, Launceston, Liskeard, Looe, Penzance and St.Austell.

“Every employee at GCB has a company phone with a drivers’ first use check application installed, developed by On Track Retail, a Go-Ahead Group company. This allows engineering to see the checks in real-time and get any defects rectified quickly.

“The driver also can take a photo of any damage to a vehicle and send it to engineering; they are then able to source a panel, for example, and get issues rectified ASAP. Drivers also have the DAS Intranet installed on their phones, allowing for duty swaps to take place, whilst the Personnel Group Happy Platform will deliver employee engagement and payslips direct to the employee, reducing paper usage. This will also be rolled out across PCB soon.”

The management team of Go Cornwall Bus. GSW

Standardising on UK-built buses

Mark continued: “We are heading towards standardising both the PCB and GCB fleets on Alexander Dennis Ltd (ADL) vehicles. Except for some MAN gas-powered buses and Mercedes-Benz Citaros at Plymouth, we are nearly there. By 1 November, the GCB fleet will either be new ADL Enviro200/400 MMCs or ADL vehicles that have come through PCB.

“Part of the tender submission process was that Cornwall Council wanted a complete Euro VI fleet by 2024. Having two-thirds of the fleet brand new is a great help, but we have to retrofit the other third of the fleet. We are still waiting for some new buses to be delivered, and once they have been the old Plaxton Pointers will then be off the fleet.

“Our original order was for 92 brand-new buses for the fleet, and we are currently at the 75 mark. The remaining deliveries to come are all Enviro200 MMCs, two of which will be belted for a school contract that interworks with the town service in Bude.

“By the time everything is delivered the oldest vehicles in the GCB fleet will be 63-plate ADL Enviro400s, formerly Red or Yellow Flash PCB vehicles. The ex-London 64-plates will stay as they are shorter and ideal for some of the tighter routes. They are also being converted to single door. The ex-London 64-plate ADL Enviro200s are also being converted to single door. This work is carried out by fellow Go-Ahead Group company Hants & Dorset at Eastleigh.

“Once all vehicles are delivered and the various conversions take place, that will be our fleet for the next eight years. The new buses will be spread throughout the county, and by January 2021 everything should be painted into the correct livery at both PCB and GCB.

“We have opted for blue interiors, with USBs at the front section of the bus and ADL Smartseats. All vehicles are fitted with MiX Telematics systems.”

8.9m ADL Enviro200 MMC 2022 arrives in Newquay on service 58. RICHARD SHARMAN

Driver recruitment

“We had to find 250 drivers with no TUPE from First South West,” recalled Mark. “It was a huge task to recruit and we are still not up to full establishment. We originally had 50 agency staff, but this has reduced a lot by loaning drivers from Go North East. We are currently around 30 drivers away from reaching full establishment.

“Some of the 220 drivers recruited so far have been through our training school at Plymouth, which was open pre-Covid and has been open for three months since lockdown ended.

“We have held recruitment open days, radio and social media campaigns, and advertised in local Cornish title papers. We have had a lot of interest from former coach drivers and people that would have been working in the hospitality sector if it were not for the pandemic.”

The standard blue interior of the new ADL vehicles, as seen in an Enviro200 MMC. RICHARD SHARMAN

Working with smaller operators

“TfC is owned by Cornwall Council, so it’s up to the council as to who is allowed to wear the TfC livery. We subcontract some of our services to small and medium-sized operators. They have to deliver the same tender submission promises as us, which includes providing Euro VI vehicles by 2024,” explained Mark.

“We work with Hopley’s Coaches, OTS Falmouth and Travel Cornwall. We have subcontractor forums and meetings, and everyone is very happy with how it is working out. It’s the best of both worlds: we get to make sure the small to medium-sized operators remain in business and they get to carry on delivering a high standard of service to the public.”

Award winners

“Go South West won a Queen’s Award this year, the only transport operator to do so for enterprise,” enthused Mark. “This also allows us to carry Queen Elizabeth’s E crest, as British Airways do. We are the only travel operator to be awarded Investors in People Platinum and we are the National Transport Awards’ Bus Operator of the Year. We are very proud of these awards, and it’s all because of the work we do with the Job Centre, dementia, open days for partnerships and being an integral part of the community.”

The Covid-19 effect

Mark continued: “Due to the lockdown situation that occurred whilst we were in the process of starting operations at the end of March, we are still in the mobilisation phase of things like fuelling on site and bus washes as planning permission was halted during this period.

“For the time being vehicles are being fuelled at service stations and vehicles washed by hand, but more permanent processes are on the way once we have the planning permissions granted.

“At the start of the pandemic, we were only operating around 40% of the network, which meant we could operate the majority of routes with the new buses, which were fitted with temporary Covid screens to start with and everything that is staying on the fleet is having permanent Covid screens retrofitted. Hants & Dorset provided the temporary screens and Plymouth depot is retrofitting the permanent ones.

“The start of operating TfC was many months in the planning and we were keen to get everything mobilised as quickly as possible, but it feels like Covid-19 took away that success at the 11th hour. “We were unable to get buses painted as we didn’t have a full bodyshop due to social distancing in the height of lockdown. Not being able to work in the office as a team or get out and about in the first weeks of operation was difficult; loan drivers from GNE had to go back as there was nowhere for them to stay. So it’s been very rapid and agile in terms of trying to get this operation mobilised during a pandemic but we wanted to make sure we got all the basics in operation quickly.

So yes, at the moment there is no glitz or glamour about the operation but we have eight years to do that. Our bread and butter is how we work with the community and integrate bus travel in the wider community.

“We have had unjust reviews from people looking from afar, but it’s not until you understand the fabric of the company you realise it’s not all about the glitz and glamour. We purchased 92 new buses and people will question why we did it with no big launch, but it’s about providing a service to the people, making sure it is punctual, clean and has friendly drivers, it’s not about painting the buses in four different colours and fitting them out with all the gizmos.

“In terms of what is on the way, we already have the Ticketer tap-on/tap-off readers fitted to all the vehicles that are staying on the fleet, and a new mobile app and website are currently in development.”

 

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