Megabus Sid needs to improve his London Sightseeing operation
To London yesterday for SKM for a family day out and our first experience on Megabus Sid’s open top London MegaSightseeing tour.
This is a tour that differs from most others. No Hop-on/Hop-off, it’s a non-stop tour advertised to take around two hours and pass 50 points of interest in the Capital. Buses leave from three separate locations - Tower Hill, London Eye and Park Lane with tickets, which must be booked online starting at £1, plus the booking fee.
We paid under £5 for two tickets - not quite the entry level fare of £1 each but extremely reasonable.
To our stop for ten minutes before departure. The driver was also waiting for his bus having returned from a lunch break and was informative and a real credit to the business. But we did wait and wait with departure almost 35 minutes late.
The tour itself if good, vehicles well presented, and clear audio commentary, which is in English only and triggered using GPS technology.
The commentary is provided by a blue badge guide, although Sid does offer some additional information in his own style at times.
We had read mixed reviews on the tour including how some tours had missed out part of the route, but we wanted to sample it for ourselves.
Including ourselves there were just three passengers on the tour, but it is still early days. Despite the dull, fairly chilly and windy weather conditions we opted to sit in the open at the rear of the bus. The commentary was informative and the journey enjoyable. Top marks to Sid for arranging Tower Bridge to be raised in front of us as we headed for the end of the tour.
But we cannot forgive Sid for axing two parts of our tour to try and get the bus back on schedule for its next run. It is a real challenge for Stagecoach and the Megabus team to offer the advertised tours given the vagaries of London’s traffic and the congestion.
It does seem that there is a contingency plan in place to miss parts of the tour to recover from late running. If that is the case then it should be advertised. If it is not the case them Sid should hang his head in shame or he could be banished to the Tower.
Stagecoach/Virgin lose East Coast rail operation to direct Government control
After months of speculation, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling MP made his announcement on the East Coast rail franchise yesterday (May 16th).
Journalists were expecting an announcement on Tuesday, but it came on the afternoon of May 16thin a statement to the House of Commons.
The Virgin Trains’ East Coast franchise, whose shareholders are Stagecoach Group (90%) and Virgin Rail (10%) are being stripped of the franchise that they took over in 2015.
The Transport Secretary has opted to put in an Operator of Last Resort (OLR). Publicly-owned London North Eastern Railway will take over operating the route on June 24th 2018.
It would appear that the (OLR) option has been a serious consideration for Grayling since February 14ththis year when Government-owned company DfT OLR1 Limited was renamed to London North Eastern Railway Limited.
Since privatisation of the route in 1996 staff have worked for Great North Eastern Railway, National Express, Directly Operated Railways and currently Virgin Trains East Coast. They will transfer over to LNER under TUPE regulations.
Virgin Trains East Coast has been using its own financial reserves to meet its franchise obligations following a shortfall in revenues. There is no suggestion that the route is failing or that Stagecoach Group and Virgin Rail have failed to meet the terms of the franchise.
Chris Grayling told the House of Commons that following his statement in February 2018 that “the franchise would run out of money within months”. He added “This is not because the route is failing. It continues and will continue to generate substantial returns for the government, and the most recent figures show passenger satisfaction at 92%. The route has its challenges, but it is not a failing railway.
“However, as I explained in February, Stagecoach and Virgin Trains got their bid wrong and they are now paying a price. They will have lost nearly £200 million meeting their contracted commitments.
Grayling said that the analysis carried out by his team suggested the case for the future of the East Coast route was very finely balanced, with some elements favouring a contract with Virgin Trains and others favouring the Operator of Last Resort. He concluded “When judging against my key principles, neither option was obviously superior”.
“There is, though, another factor that I have taken into account. I want to make the smoothest possible transition to the creation of the new East Coast Partnership. So given the finely balanced judgement, I have taken into account broader considerations and decided to use the current difficulties to drive our long-term plans for the East Coast Partnership.” The Partnership approach will align the operation of trains and management of infrastructure.This is the second time the East Coast rail route has been taken into Government control. The last time was following the failure of National Express management on the route.
Stagecoach Group Chief Executive, Martin Griffiths, said: "We are surprised and disappointed that the Department for Transport has chosen not to proceed with our proposals. We believe our plans offered a positive, value-for-money way forward for passengers, taxpayers and local communities, ensuring the continuation of the exciting transformation already underway on East Coast and a smooth transition to the Government's new East Coast Partnership.
"However, we respect the Government's decision. We will work constructively with the DfT and the OLR in the weeks ahead to ensure a professional transfer to the new arrangements, supporting our employees and maintaining the same clear focus on our customers as we have over the past three years.
"Today's decision should not detract from the hard work and dedication of our people at Virgin Trains East Coast, who have been central to the transformation we have been delivering for our customers over the past three years. During that time, we have attracted more passengers, greatly increased investment, achieved industry leading customer satisfaction and made significant payments to the taxpayer to reinvest in public services.
"Despite today's news, we believe that we can continue to make a positive contribution to the UK rail market, delivering long-term customer benefits and sustainable returns for taxpayers and investors."
There is a key question, however, that still needs be asked. If Stagecoach/Virgin got it’s sums wrong and over-bid, why was it not picked up at the bidding stage by the DfT? That said I am aware that the East Coast rail franchise is seen as a jewel of rail operations and maybe, just maybe, there has been a case of train operators wanting East Coast within their portfolio ‘at any cost’!
Matlock bus branding for Stagecoach Yorkshire Optare Solo
Stagecoach in Chesterfield, part of Stagecoach Yorkshire, will be taking over operation of the local bus services in Matlock from Tuesday 29th May 2018. The services will be marketed under the under the Matlockbus name.
Optare Solo 47325 is being refurbished for use on the route sand has gained Matlockbus branding on its standard Stagecoach livery. We understand that the vehicle will also gain a cherished registration mark.
We are pleased to bring you a selection of images of the vehicle showing the new Matlockbus branding courtesy of Stagecoach in Chesterfield and Shayne Howarth.
Steven Knight is a Transport Specialist who has over 40 years experience in the bus and rail industries as well as in specialist transport journalism. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists.