Entrepreneurial bus operator in Kent pulls out all the stops to flag up investment and service upgrade
Sevenoaks-based Go-Coach Hire launched its new Silver Service for route 401 (Westerham-Sevenoaks) last Friday (June 12). The firm, which now operates 32 vehicles and employs 46 staff, has invested over £100,000 in its first new bus, a 31-seat Enviro200 for the route. As well as leather seats, free Wi-Fi is included in the specification and cartoon character Betty Boop (see Big Picture) is helping to promote the new vehicle and service enhancements being introduced.
“As from July 25 we will run two additional 401 departures from Sevenoaks on a Saturday, making the last bus leave at 1745hrs,” said Go-Coach Hire Managing Director, Austin Blackburn. “This will benefit many customers who work in town, want to visit family or friends, or perhaps would like to leave the car at home for a change. We are also pleased to announce that there will be no increase in fares for the 401 service this year.”
The 401 was the first route that Go-Coach Hire took on under tender from Kent County Council (KCC) in April 2010. The KCC County Links programme then assisted the operator in improving reliability and publicity and the service saw a 10% growth in patronage in the first six months of operation. Go-Coach Hire was prepared to operate it commercially from October 2011, saving the local authority £13,650 annually.
The new bus, which has a carrying capacity of 71, was exhibited by Alexander Dennis at the MENA (Middle East North America) Transport Congress and Exhibition in Dubai during April 2014. Austin has had AESYS digital destination equipment installed, Hoddesdon-based PSV Transport Systems having been appointed the UK and Ireland distributor for AESYS in February. Exterior vinyls, as for the rest of the Go-Coach Hire fleet, were supplied by IVC Signs of Noah’s Ark just outside Sevenoaks, while timetable leaflets were designed by Ditto Creative based in the town. Austin tries to use local companies whenever he can and he and General Manager Jill Blake have been impressed by the way Ditto has been able to visualise their ideas.
The launch was attended by representatives from Kent County Council and Sevenoaks District Council. Underlining the respect with which Go-Coach Hire is held locally, not only was Sevenoaks’ current Mayor, Cllr Stephen Arnold, there breaking a bottle of Champaign over the windscreen of the bus, so were two of his predecessors. The Champaign bottle was actually a stage prop made from sugar. Austin had high praise for the contribution made by the District Council to the town.
Also attending was local MP, Michael Fallon who is Secretary of State for Defence. Michael clearly enjoyed the event and took away a 401 timetable – the route passes his front door. He described Austin as his favourite type of business person. “The big companies have to shape up because Austin is on their tail,” he said. “This is a business that delivers a public service. People know it’s going to be there. I hope to take it again in the future.”
Austin Blackburn, aka the Bus Doctor, is well known for his engineering skills across London and the southeast. He started Go-Coach Hire with just one vehicle in 2008 and in CBW shortly he and Jill will talk to Andy Izatt about the rapid development of what is now a £2m turnover business and its plans for the future.