Cornwall’s flag carriers

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The Truronian name has been part of the coaching scene in the South West of England for over three decades, but the last few years has seen rapid growth for the brand. Richard Sharman visited Truro to find out how operations have expanded

Tucked away on an industrial estate near the centre of Truro is the main depot of First South West’s coach unit brand, Truronian. Although part of First Bus, Truronian is forging a reputation built on its own local brand, and that has paid off recently with large tender gains for college services, private hire and sports team coaches.

Irizar i6 Team Coach 25001, new as YN63 ZHK. RICHARD SHARMAN

Setting the bar high

“The Truronian coach unit has been part of First South West since 1995, but at one stage it was down to six coaches,” explained Commercial Director Marc Morgan Huws. “When we set out thinking about our future business strategy at First South West we wanted Truronian to be a significant part of it. We have spent the last three years making changes that are now coming to fruition – we changed the structure of the company and installed new offices at Truro depot.

“We wanted this reorganisation to make Truronian one of the top three coach brands in the South West, and it’s fair to say I think we have got a lot further than I thought we would.

“Part of that reorganisation was to get Truronian accredited by various organisations, and the first gained was CoachMarque. Having an independent assessment is good for setting the bar even higher for us as a business, meaning that those stringent standards can never be dropped, which helps us drive the business forward. So Coachmarque has been good and I think will be even more important post-Covid, with customers wanting to ensure they hire vehicles from not just a quality operator, but one who has systems and processes in place to ensure high standards and cleanliness.

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“Additionally, we are a DVSA Earned Recognition operator, active CPT members – with our Operations Manager Lee Horrocks being the South West Regional Vice Chairman for them – and we have passed the National Express audit, allowing us to operate duplicate services for them.

“Our most recent accreditation was from ‘We’re Good To Go,’ the official UK mark to signal that a tourism business has worked hard to follow government and industry Covid-19 guidelines and has a process in place to maintain cleanliness and aid social distancing.”

Operations Manger Lee Horrocks is seen with Debs Hart from the Truro office. RICHARD SHARMAN

Building the brand

“When we introduced the new Truronian livery we used the GWR shade of green, as these coaches would see much of their time on rail replacement. The first to gain this livery were the Irizar PBs from Greyhound, and we found the colour to be quite dark once applied. So, as there are three shades of Brunswick Green, we decided to settle on the lightest shade and change the vinyls to cream rather than silver.

“I am a great believer that a great coach brand is one where you can see the DNA of it. Over the years liveries have been designed to suit current trends and body styles, and I think it is good to modify a livery to suit body styles and make tweaks every year. This shows the progression of the brand. The team coaches will be silver to differentiate them from the rest of the fleet. Best Impressions is currently working on the livery for the team coaches, and they also designed the main coach livery.”

Marc continued enthusiastically: “We believe we have one of the strongest coach brands and images in the South West now. Particularly as you travel along the A30, our fleet is very noticeable during AM and PM schools or rail replacement.

“To further enhance this, the rears of all our coaches will become Cornwall flag carriers in the coming weeks. We have our own vinyl workshop run by Dave Sholtz, so vinyl production and application is all done in-house.

“We have worked hard on our profile and brand building, we have a good relationship with Best Impressions. We use the First South West marketing team to also market Truronian, so we get that strength of using a big business to promote us, alongside working with the best designers in the industry.”

“Truronian is a fundamental part of the First South West business and it is one of the core pillars of developing the growth of that business. Despite Covid-19 we are continuing to build the brand and expand our operating area; the new depots at Exeter and Plymouth make Devon a key market for us and we hope to gain further work/school contracts and private hire there. This equally applies to our depots in Somerset.

“Post-Covid no one knows how the coach market is going to recover, which is why we try to find niches in the market. However, we have no interest in entering the day trip and holidays market, there are coach companies out there who are focused on these activities and are better placed than us for that type of operation. Our key focus is private hire, college/works contracts and express services.”

Plaxton Panther 20561 is seen in a sunny Truro. RICHARD SHARMAN

Contract gains

First South West lost a number of council bus contracts in Cornwall earlier this year to another operator, but it has been quick to change its business model and gain a large number of school contracts. The Cornwall College contract has vastly expanded Truronian’s operating area to include Devon, where it sees scope to further grow the business.

Marc elaborated: “We have a series of vehicle running lines that are allocated to Truronian within First South West, which includes a proportion of Truro College and Truro Schools, and it includes all of Cornwall College. So the vehicles that operate out of Devon are Truronian, as are the 10 Wrightbus Geminis that are branded for Cornwall College services but carry the Cornwall by Kernow fleet names. We are quite clear that Truronian is a coach brand, which is why it is not applied to any service buses.”

Rail replacement innovation

“We see various sets of opportunities for the business and one is rail replacement. We have been delayed by Covid-19 and we will come out of it and establish a permanent rail replacement fleet, with more availability at the weekends and investing in the fleet above the vehicles we currently operate,” explained Marc.

“As well as the main coach fleet, we can use our short and narrow-bodied Optare Solos on rail replacement to serve branch line stations that are hard for bigger vehicles to access. We have 17 Wrightbus Geminis within our Cornwall College contract, which will have tachographs fitted so that they can also be used on rail replacement services on evenings and weekends.”

“We work with GWR and South Western Railway and more recently Arriva. This opens up the opportunity to take us out of our normal operating area. At present, we cover the whole of the West as far as Bristol and South Wales but we would be happy to send several vehicles away for a week to other areas of the UK to cover rail replacement, we have the resources to do that.

“We also do a lot of work with First Travel Solutions, which sees us travel further afield. We aim to have a dedicated rail replacement fleet within Somerset and Devon in the next 12 months.

“An interesting project linked to rail replacement is the bike bus, a converted dual-door Plaxton Pointer-bodied Dennis Dart SLF that has been converted to carry bikes when rail replacement is in operation. It was a jointly funded project with GWR and born out of the need to transport train passengers’ bikes when a large rail replacement service was in operation in Bristol with service buses.

“The vehicle is owned by GWR and operated by us. It can carry 16 seated passengers and six bikes. We sourced the vehicle from Ensignbus, as we needed a dual-door Dart, and at the time there was nothing within group suitable. It had been in use at Harwich Docks and was an airport bus before that, so it had low mileage and fewer seats to be taken out.

“It has been very reliable, having done a tour of all the GWR operating area to promote a big timetable change. This saw it going to Southampton, The Cotswolds, Oxford and South Wales.

We are currently talking to GWR about coming up with more tailored solutions for more niche rail replacement work, where space is limited at rail stations. We specialise in bespoke solutions.”

All Truro coaches are washed by hand. Driver Andy Worgan is seen with daytime cleaner Gary. RICHARD SHARMAN

New opportunities

“The team coaches have been amazing; the best thing we ever did was to put two team coaches into the fleet – due to Covid we only have one at the moment, but another is due. We supply the team coach for Truro Football Club and Cornish Pirates Rugby Team, but since then we have also gained the Launceston Rugby Club (known as the Cornish All Blacks) and Truro Rugby Club.

“Many of the clubs have second teams, which we are also providing transport for. The latest addition to the list is the Royal Marine Band based in Plymouth. So going forward we have got three VIP customers, Truro Football Club, Cornish Pirates who are one position away from the English Premier League and the Royal Marine Band. Between those three clubs, there is plenty of work to keep the two coaches busy.

“The two Mercedes-Benz Tourismos that we originally had as team coaches were liveried for the teams and down-seated from 51 to 41 seats; the feedback we had from that was excellent. Pre-covid, we were receiving phone calls from customers who specifically wanted to hire those two team-liveried coaches as they were fans of them or wanted the higher specification, so team coaches is an area of growth for the business outside of our normal customer base.

“At the moment the one Irizar is doing all the clubs, but once the other arrives we will be putting them into club liveries. It is also good for us that we can get 49 seats into that coach and still have it to team specification with tables etc fitted.”

Marc continued: “We think the express coach market has a significant number of opportunities for us. We now have depots that stretch from Penzance across to Plymouth, and heading north we have Exeter and Taunton, so we are very placed to carry out this type of work. It is all part of a long term plan. We are an accredited National Express duplication service operator, and we have a long-standing relationship with them.

“Pre-Covid we were selling coach hire to the schools we serve in between AM/PM runs, and we were the busiest we had ever been with that sort of work which included swimming baths and field trips.

“We also work with Vamooz as the functionality of their app is superb. We use it on one of our school contracts. It makes it easy for customers to pay and for us to allocate seats. It’s another tool in our toolbox for trying to meet these different opportunities. Pre-selling tickets to individuals is something we wouldn’t normally go near, but the app makes it easy for us.

“We did have a big project planned with Vamooz which was delayed due to the advent of Covid, but I expect that to come post-Covid.”

Much-loved Truro depot cat Millie. RICHARD SHARMAN

Investing in the fleet

“First Bus are very good at fleet planning; we recognised three years ago that PSVAR was coming and since then we have been pulling in PSVAR coaches from the group that were available, which is now paying off.

“We have got 13 Plaxton Profiles from various OpCos in the group and six Plaxton Panthers, one coming from First Berkshire’s RailAir unit and five that had come from First Essex and were stored until we were ready to send them to Plaxton at Anston for a full refurbishment and repaint. Not all of the coaches are for rail and we do operate some open school and college contracts that do require PSVAR vehicles, but we can use those on evenings or weekends on rail as required,” explained Marc.

“We originally operated six former-Greyhound Irizar PB-bodied Scanias, but are now down to one and another PB that wasn’t acquired from the Greyhound operation. Another recent addition has been an Irizar Century-bodied Scania from the First Aberdeen coaching unit. We have recently gained some additional school contracts that are not PSVAR so we will be retaining those three coaches for this work.

“The Plaxton Profiles are currently going through a refurbishment programme, and we are halfway through this. We use Qualiti Conversions in Southampton for this work, and although it is a long way, the work they do is to a very high standard. This work includes a full repaint and the refurbishment and retrimming of the vehicle’s seats.

“We are constantly improving the fleet in terms of presentation, and have recently taken on someone who will spend time in between schools ensuring that the coaches’ presentation is to the right standard.

“Our aim going forward will be to operate a fleet that is between 12 and 15m long. We have even looked at double-deck coaches as we are aware that we need to offer a unique selling point. We are keen to find those niches in the market that will grow our profile. We are also able to source vehicles from outside of the group, which broadens the choice we can look at.

“In terms of smaller vehicles, we previously operated Plaxton Cheetah-bodied Mercedes-Benz Varios which would do school contracts and private hire when required. Over time, however, those school contracts have outgrown that size of vehicle, so it is hard to justify keeping something that size on the fleet – we would rather price a job right and send out one of the team coaches than keep smaller vehicles on the fleet.

“We can call on any of the First South West fleet, and particularly the open-top fleet where a number have had digital tachographs fitted. The open-top Northern Counties-bodied Volvo Olympian is also classed as a Truronian vehicle.”

You can view a video of Truronian’s Irizar i6 Team Coach at