Saturday, 14 April 2012

Stagecoach in Grimsby Cleethorpes

In the end, Stagecoach's Grimsby operation didn't see too many cuts in this month's service changes. It's also had investment in new buses for the 16 service to Wybers Wood. However it is 'what could have been' that indicates not everything in Grimsby is as good as it may seem.

Prior to this year, Stagecoach Grimsby Cleethorpes had seemed a rather stable operation, the Humber Flyer excepted. Most of the fleet is low floor, there had been a significant batch of new vehicles in 2006 and the core network had seen little significant change. To the casual observer the operation seemed to be doing OK.

Then in February came this shocker, Stagecoach's initial plans for cuts. Late evening and Sunday services to be considerably cut, the 12 entirely and the Interconnect 3 to Lincoln from hourly to just 2 through journeys per day. All is clearly not well in Grimsby for Stagecoach, even if this was a 'worst case scenario' negotiating position that Stagecoach hoped never to implement.

The main way most of these cuts were avoided was a deal with North East Lincolnshire Council on concessionary fare payments. Short term this is clearly very good news. But longer term, could concessionary fare repayments be cut, or increased at a rate less than inflation? What happens then? More cuts? Has it actually done anything to solve the underlying issues that must be affecting Grimsby depot?

Some 'smarter' working has come from all of this on the Grimsby-Immingham and beyond corridor. Gone are the 150's and 250's duplicating 45's, mileage is reduced and hopefully passenger loadings consolidated onto fewer journeys.

On the other hand though take the late evening journeys on the 8, 9 and 46 - all originally proposed for the chop. All must be struggling, whether through declining usage, fuel costs and/or limited revenue from concessionary fares. However at say 10pm at night though, are OAP's really going to 'make or break' a journey? My guess is no, yet with increased concessionary fare repayment, they have been saved. Either I am wrong or the underlying issue with these services, either fuel costs or declining usage, has not been addressed. And in the case of the 8/9 at least, the mileage involved in the services is quite low.

Grimsby depot is clearly no 'basket case'. The 13/14 seemed to have benefited from the 'Kick Start' scheme back in 2006. The 16 has justified new buses. Yet I can't help but wonder if cuts will be back on the agenda within the next year or two. It seems to be that if not careful Grimsby could become another Scunthorpe with a steadily declining town network. Investment is needed, not necessarily in new vehicles, but in reviewing the network and promoting it. Kick Start worked for the 13/14, it now needs to be repeated network wide. Any further opportunities to reduce mileage but not the service level need to be taken. I'm sure the 12 could in part at least be replaced by other services for example (a 13 variation to Bradley Park, the 7 along Littlefield Lane and Humber Flyer via Queen Mary Avenue for example). Relying on concessionary fares reimbursement levels being maintained does not seem like a long term strategy. It's a short term fix and lets hope Stagecoach already know this and are working on growing passenger numbers.

Finally, one Grimsby service exempt from the threat of cuts this time around was the Humber Flyer. Why? Probably a combination of it's political sensitivity, and uncertainty about the impact of Humber Bridge toll changes. Yet surely it has been hit hard by fuel prices and the BSOG cut?


Anonymous said...

I'd say that the Humber Flyer is starting to make money-or at least break even, and i'm sure it was only last year NELC gave them a three year deal on funding. What with low floor vehicles, and a stable timetable since last April, I don't think I have ever seen it so busy.

When you couple that to a 2/3 decrease in the tolls this April you can probably start to see why they felt they could leave it alone.

As for the Town network, it definitely suffers from a lack of marketing, perhaps because Stagecoach is the only large operator in Grimsby. It has to be said on concessionary passes, NELC does seem to have a wide range of people they like giving them out to, makes you wonder what the make-up of concessionary passholders to fare payers is n the average bus.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, the Humber flyer should run under the fast-cat branding - with the current 350 and current flyer co-ordinating to give a 30 minute service between Barton & Hull, then onwards to either Scunthorpe or Grimsby each hour. Short journeys could then run through between Barton & Scunthorpe to connect with the service from Grimsby and keep the 30 minute service from Scunthorpe. If timetabled well, it could also allow through journeys from Scunthorpe to Grimsby/Cleethorpes and Humberside airport.

In Grimsby/Cleethorpes town, the network is quite well used from my observations. The only issue I can see from the operators side, is the very low fare structure. A £1.35 flat fare is very cheap compared to other towns of a similar size, where fares would go up to the £2.00 mark - which probably means that the network is carrying a lot of passengers, but with a very low margin. Having said that, Scunthorpe has fares ranging from around £1.40 to £1.80 (before the April rise), and the network seems to attract far fewer users - So maybe a flat fare in Scunthorpe might attract more passengers?