North Somerset Coaches to cease all bus work

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Proprietor Dave Fricker blames local authorities favouring larger operators, poorly maintained roads and ‘out of touch’ regulators for his decision

North Somerset Coaches is to cease all bus operations to concentrate on day excursions and coach hire.

In a memo to passengers, Dave Fricker, Proprietor, wrote: “It is with a deep sense of sadness I have to write to inform you our popular and profitable bus services between Nailsea and Bristol (X54 & 55), Nailsea and Backwell School (55C), and from Bath to Weston-super-Mare (191) will be withdrawn from November 8. The future North Somerset Coaches will concentrate on day excursions and coach hire.

“Since 2008 I’ve tried to bring you the very best quality local bus services: Friendly, safe, smart drivers; clean, modern, lowemission lowfloor vehicles, some with comfortable leather coach seats; the pioneering use of smartcards; discounted peak travel for seniors; annual customer survey; hail & ride; good value affordable fares and flexible tickets and an innovative approach to service delivery with a promise of “we always run” – even in the worst winter weather.

“My proudest moment was national recognition with the receipt of a “Highly Commended” certificate at the UK Bus Awards in 2010. Concurrent with this commitment to deliver reliable and good quality services I’ve tried hard to support partnership working with local authorities. It is disappointing to have been excluded from meaningful involvement in many projects directly affecting you, our passengers, to the point where I feel I cannot continue.

“Discussions which should occur naturally and regularly, such as notification of roadworks, just don’t happen – remember the Bristol City Centre situation this summer when the council “forgot” to notify, let alone consult, anyone but the dominant operator until just two weeks before the three month closure of Union Street began? I’ve also been asking Bath & North East Somerset Council to cut overhanging trees on the 191 route for six months but they will not carry out this statutory duty and are happy for passengers to be placed at risk of injury.

“Despite the inability of local authorities to manage these basic obligations, more and more money is being allocated to them by central government for specific projects to control and improve bus services in the area. This is being mismanaged in its actual distribution so you, as customers of a small local business, cannot benefit – projects such as free WiFi, Real-Time information and on-bus next-stop announcements to name but a few. The schemes have been forged by local government officers well aware only the two largest bus companies in the area can meet the contractual specification. These worrying trends are echoed at national-government level where every political party is moving towards more regulation.

“This will mean control passing from transport professionals (bus companies) to unelected civil servants (council officers) who will not have experience of running the service they will be given to govern. The false promises of “localism” have already given local authorities the excuse to take more control and interfere with small local businesses like ours which are already delivering local services for local people. “This two-tier approach to the treatment of bus operators is akin to

“divide and conquer” tactics so inevitably smaller ????irms like ours will be squeezed out. In the last five years, 10 bus companies have withdrawn from the North Somerset district and three more have significantly reduced their contribution to the local bus market. This year saw the removal of our timetable and bus stop information by council officials because we stood our ground over unreasonable charges (the highest in the UK at £8.77 per stop) for their substantially incorrect information at bus stops, and having to engage professional consultants, at significant cost, to force payment of the correct amount of concessionary fares reimbursement, have galvanised my views that innovation and entrepreneurship are not welcome here.

“Finally, the latest consultation from the Senior TC suggesting 100% of buses will start and finish their journeys and reach all timing points in between, within five minutes of due time shows how out of touch the industry regulators are with the practicalities of day-to-day operations. Buses are expected to cope with ever more frequent disruption from ever-increasing rubbish and recycling collections, badly-phased traffic lights, bus stops which aren’t fit for purpose, bus lanes that aren’t wide enough, home shopping vans, furniture deliveries, cyclists, unexpected road works, illegal parking and unenforced waiting and bus lane restrictions – not to mention the proposed relaxation of doubleyellow line rules.

“At the same time vehicles are shaken to pieces by poorly maintained roads and have their roofs and paintwork damaged by overhanging trees and vegetation. Any concerns raised are brushed off as immaterial or inconsequential, yet they are the essentials which affect punctuality, reliability and safety on the road and the TCs still have no powers over these root causes of delays to services.

“In spite of our best efforts, it is clear there will soon be no place for companies like ours in this industry. Having thought long and hard I’ve decided now is the right time to withdraw from the local bus market because it also ties in with major changes to other bus routes to Nailsea, notably the complete withdrawal of all buses, not just ours, through Wraxall.

“It is very sad to have to abandon all our hard work but I’d rather do it now, on my terms and with pride in what we’ve achieved, rather than be forced totally out of business later on. North Somerset Coaches has a 44-year history, since 1969, of looking after local people. I’m determined the company will continue to do so through an enhanced programme of day excursions in 2014.”

Abus of Bristol has applied to the TC to run a partial replacement of routes X54 and 55 and has pledged to continue the same fares and honour existing season tickets and smartcards.