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Following an absence of nearly two years for race spectators, the Silverstone Grand Prix burst back onto the racing calendar last Sunday with Stagecoach and megabus once again providing the official transport for race spectators. Richard Sharman talks to the people behind organising the mass movement of people and sourcing nearly 300 vehicles for the event

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As far as large sporting events go, it doesn’t get much bigger than the Silverstone Grand Prix. If you have ever been to the iconic circuit you will know that it has a certain atmosphere about it that cannot be beaten, especially on the Formula 1 race weekend. People travel from all over the country and beyond to support their team no matter what the result of the race. The location of the circuit makes it easily accessible by road, but with 140,000 fans able to attend the race, the modal shift from car to public transport is an important one and this is where Stagecoach and megabus come into the equation.











275-vehicle PVR

Stagecoach Midlands is the operating company (OpCo) behind organising the transport for Silverstone’s race spectators from Park & Ride locations at Hinton in the Hedges, Sixfields, Towcester Racecourse and Turweston. The person responsible for making sure that the weekend’s proceedings go to plan is Commercial Director Patrick Stringer. A career busman, he took a transport degree at Aston University and then went through the Go-Ahead graduate training programme, spending six years in various roles at Brighton & Hove before joining Arriva the Shires as Head of Commercial Development in 2014, moving on to Stagecoach Midlands as Commercial Director in 2015.

“This will be my fifth year planning the Silverstone event,” enthused Patrick, “It would have been my sixth had the 2020 Grand Prix gone ahead with race spectators allowed in. The event starts for us on the Friday for qualification. In comparison to race day, it only has a Peak Vehicle Requirement (PVR) of 70 vehicles, which rises to 175 on the Saturday and 275 on the race day. So it is a big job planning timetables, sourcing the vehicles and drivers from other Stagecoach OpCos. This year we saw a number of OpCos supply vehicles: Stagecoach East supplied 45, East Midlands 10, London 36, South eight, West 47, Yorkshire 11, and for the first time this year South Wales, with five. Stagecoach Midlands provided the balance of 113 vehicles. Our only requirement for the event is that we need double-decker buses to provide us with the capacity to move as many people as possible. On the weekend we generally get a good mix of vehicle types, with many being the newer stock an OpCo has if they are travelling long distances to get here. Stagecoach London’s newest vehicles are electric, and we don’t yet have the charging facilities here to deal with them. But this may be a project to look at in the future.”

“This year has been an exceptional year, as we have been planning the event in a matter of weeks rather than months due to the pandemic and the changing guidelines. In a normal year we would start the planning in March, but due to the situation this year we started at the end of May. We generally know how many vehicles each OpCo can provide a few weeks before the event, but we also need to be flexible to the needs of Silverstone’s requirements as they often have late evening entertainment on which requires you to operate later departures back to the Park & Ride site.”

Unprecedented times

“This years event required visitors to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test or a double vaccination to gain entry to the race circuit. This may have affected the actual volume of people that turned up on the day. It was also a first for Silverstone itself, as previously you were only required to have a ticket to gain entry,” explained Patrick.

“We had measures in place so that if any staff member goes sick we can call on other team members, whether that be from Stagecoach Midlands internally or other OpCos, to ensure that we remain fully staffed. In terms of staffing numbers it is one driver per bus, per day, so on Sunday, we had 275 driving staff, combined with 35-40 support staff throughout the three days who support staff and assist customers with boarding, particularly on the return journey to ensure they catch the right bus back to the right Park & Ride site. Two of those staff were also in the Silverstone command centre to ensure that we are aware of any issues on the day. For example, if Silverstone had to the evacuated we would play a part in that operation to get people to safety. My key role on the weekend was to manage the bus park. We need to make sure the drivers park the buses in the correct lane for the return journey. There is a lane for each Park & Ride service, and if a driver does make a mistake and parks in the wrong lane it could result in having to move a large number of vehicles to correct that mistake.”

“Each lane also has to be in a certain order so that any vehicles carrying out two runs need to be at the front of the lane. Once all the vehicles are in and parked up, I then go and double-check everything is in the right position ready for departure. Ironically I have never had the time to go in and watch the race since I have been doing this role as it is just too busy—but I do get to see the Red Arrows fly over,” laughed Patrick.

Patrick Stringer, Commercial Director for Stagecoach Midlands. RICHARD SHARMAN












Looking after driving staff

“Drivers from Stagecoach Midlands and the OpCos that provide additional vehicles volunteer for the opportunity of coming to Silverstone and spending a day, or a few days, doing something different,” said Patrick. “Every driver that volunteers to come to Silverstone also has the opportunity to go in and watch the practice or the race. That is one of the perks of what is a long weekend. Additionally, we provide our driving staff with free meal vouchers for the on-site catering facilities.

“Drivers on loan to us from other OpCos have accommodation booked for them at Premier Inn, Travelodge and for the first time this year, the University of Northampton campus. We try and make these hotels as local as possible, but we do find that race spectators book them up very quickly, so some drivers may stay further out in areas such as Corby.”

The megabus team at Silverstone. Back row L-R: Martin Johnson (Duty Manager, London); Mark Atkinson (Network Manager); Jack Haynes (Business Analyst); Tony Simmons (Operations Director. Front Row: Marie Atkinson (Operations Support Manager); Rhiannon Aldridge (Digital Marketing Executive). RICHARD SHARMAN














Inner circuit shuttle

“We also operate the inner circuit shuttle buses for the staff, media and any accredited officials. Silverstone quite likes having the Wrightbus New Bus for London (NBfL) travelling around the inner circuit as they are a modern icon for London, and it is nice to see them doing something a bit different. The first year they operated was in 2017, and they proved very popular so Stagecoach London is more than happy to provide these vehicles to us,” said Patrick. There is a PVR of four vehicles on this route, but this year we also provided five single-deckers as support vehicles for when the NBfL are running at capacity. These additional vehicles also assist in moving race marshalls and hospitality staff around.”

Serving the local area

Stagecoach Midlands also operated the MK1 service from Milton Keynes and the N1 from Northampton. This service operates morning and afternoon on all three days. “These services are geared around people travelling by train and connecting to the bus, however many local residents also use the service to get to Silverstone,” continued Patrick. “Fewer people are travelling by train at the moment due to Covid-19, but we still operated the service to full capacity, and have seen the demand for the Milton Keynes service grow. We had staff at Northampton and Milton Keynes to assist passengers, who can call on additional vehicle resources if the demand requires it.” Three-day tickets for an adult are charged at £37 from Northampton and £40 from Milton Keynes.”

Yellow Coaches operated the GP10 service from Bournemouth to Silverstone on Saturday. The service is seen departing from Oxford. RICHARD SHARMAN












Express coach links

As well as providing Park & Ride and local services, Stagecoach-owned megabus provided coach services from many locations throughout England to Silverstone.

“The last year has been a turbulent time for the whole industry, and particularly inter-city coach travel. We unfortunately have had to take our services off the road in England and Wales on two separate occasions since the pandemic started, but we have taken that time to review what we do as a business and our network. We have come out the other side with an improved coach network and further departures for the Silverstone event,” explained Tony Simmons, Operations Director.

“In normal circumstances, we start planning the event before the next one has even happened so that we can have the tickets on sale as soon as possible after the race day, where we see customers returning every year, but this year has been very different due to the pandemic. We were not sure if the 2021 race would go ahead, so we still started planning early last year, but we did so with an open mind that requirements and capacity at Silverstone may change. As a result, the requirement for the number of coaches this year is reduced compared to previous years. The public is still getting used to using public transport again, especially to large events such as Silverstone. We looked at our passengers’ travelling environment at the start of the pandemic to ensure we were doing everything we could for our customers. We already had rigorous cleaning regimes in place, but we have now stepped this up even further. One of the major developments has been working with Graysons Thermal Systems and Filtration Control for the fitment of HVAC filters to our coach air-conditioning units. These are 99.9% effective against Covid-19 and other viruses and bacteria.”

“Reserved seating is something else we have added for our customers in the last two years, and it has been well received. We also have the option for customers to take advantage of extra legroom where we removed six seats from our Plaxton Elitei coaches during the pandemic to maintain social distancing and have taken the decision that this change will remain once restrictions are lifted on 19 July, as will the anti-bacterial passenger cleaning stations.”

Gloucester depot fielded two of its new ADL Enviro400MMCs on race day. RICHARD SHARMAN
Buses operated to full capacity on race day, with face covering compliance high despite the scorching heat of the day. RICHARD SHARMAN












Event planning

“Our Silverstone services always have a good mix of internal group operators and external contractors to operate them, and this year was no exception. All of the vehicles used were PSVAR-compliant, with external contractor coaches provided by Freestones Coaches, Goldwings Executive , MP Travel, MIT Luxury Travel, Panther Travel and Yellow Coaches. Many of these operators already operate on our main network and are happy to be assisting at Silverstone too.”

Commercial Manager, Alistair Brown explained how he works out where the demand for their services to Silverstone is: “I go back through previous years historical data and the passenger loadings to establish what the demand for the service was and if it needs less or additional resource for the next event. However, demand is always changing, and I normally revisit the schedules and routes a few weeks before the event and make the changes where necessary. Demand is normally high from the bigger city pick-up points, but it can also be surprisingly high from some of the smaller towns that we serve too. In addition, we like to try out different pick-up points that can easily divert off the main routes to give our customers even more options. We also have access to Silverstone’s ticket holder postcode data, which gives us further information to extend our offering. We are trying eight new locations this year that were not on the network in 2019, these are Bournemouth, Cannock, Hitchin, Stevenage, Wellingborough, Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesborough.”

Tony added: “We are always looking for new ways in which we can help our customers connect and attend big sporting events such as Silverstone and the MotoGP.”

Brand new airsym PSVAR-Compliant Plaxton Panther YX21 NPJ operated the GP1 from London. RICHARD SHARMAN











See our YouTube channel for video coverage of the event, available from this Thursday