THE stories about the forthcoming Stagecoach service revisions and withdrawals in St Neots and St. Ives areas tell only part of the story.
From July, the 46 route between Huntingdon and Peterborough is to be discontinued and replaced by an extension of the busway service. This will run from Huntingdon via the Stukeleys to Sawtry, and then on to Hampton and Peterborough, leaving out entirely Alconbury and Alconbury Weston, and also Stilton, which will be given a new link to Peterborough, but will no longer be connected to Huntingdon.
Stagecoach seemingly now has a fixation with routes that supposedly shorten the times for selected passenger journeys – others, of course, on the withdrawn sections are ignored entirely – though much of the time-saving will be marginal in effect.
The problem with the present service 46 is not its route, which is perfectly sound, but its mediocre reliability. On May 9, I, with several others, waited in vain for the 7.41am journey from Sawtry Green to Peterborough. The next bus is not until 9.31am, but with characteristic indolence Peterborough depot made no attempt to cover the journey, but merely despatched a mechanic to the broken-down bus.
The correct course of action to deal with a breakdown on limited frequency services is that of sending out immediately a replacement vehicle. If the depot does not have a spare bus, then it should take one off a high frequency town service. The removal of one bus from the Citi 1 would not have left the people of Orton or Werrington with a 2 hour 41 minute gap in service such as we suffered at Sawtry on that day.
I had to return home, get my car, drive to Hampton – picking up a lady passenger still waiting at the Green – where we both caught a bus to Peterborough. As I was travelling on to Northampton to bring back a vehicle to Sawtry, I subsequently had to catch another bus from Sawtry to Hampton in the afternoon to bring back my car.
My letters of complaint to Stagecoach, principally in respect of the Peterborough depot’s lack of competence, did not yield a response, and then a totally unsatisfactory one, until 10 days had elapsed. Significantly, also, absolutely no offer of compensation was forthcoming to cover the considerable costs I had incurred entirely because of Stagecoach’s shortcomings.
It is worth remembering that Stagecoach applied a major hike to fares on April 1, pleading impending penury from increased costs and Government cuts. It is difficult to reconcile this hard luck story with the fact that, last August, Stagecoach handed out £340 million to its shareholders, with Brian Souter himself pocketing £50m, while his sister took £37m. Significantly, the bus operating part of the Stagecoach business is the biggest contributor to its profits.
If this is a definition of a state of destitution, then it is one that the suffering passengers of the company would willingly embrace. When it comes to compensating people for abysmal service, it is crystal clear that the Stagecoach supremos are graduates of the Ryanair school of public relations.
So besotted is the local arm of Stagecoach with the busway, that the good people of Hill Rise and Ramsey Road in St Ives are set to lose their Stagecoach bus service to Huntingdon, supposedly to achieve the speeding up the Huntingdon-Cambridge timings. This specious objective would carry more conviction if Huntingdon passengers were not already subjected to an involuntary extended time-consuming tour of Oxmoor on every trip to and from Cambridge.
This, of course, obviates the need for Stagecoach to provide a dedicated Oxmoor service, and thus saves operating costs, but to then adopt the spurious argument of speedier journey times to justify the removal of the Huntingdon service from the main residential area of St Ives is duplicitous in the extreme.
The real time saving of this re-routing will be marginal anyway, around five minutes at best, and utterly fails to impress when passengers are then treated to a pronounced hiatus in progress at the St Ives park-and-ride for crew changes to be accomplished at a decidedly leisurely pace.
The reminder from Peter Lee of Whippet that he will still provide the Huntingdon link scrapped by Stagecoach would be more persuasive if his buses did not exhibit a strong homing instinct for school premises at strategic times in the morning and afternoon, resulting in major gaps in the public timetables.
Also, Whippet drivers each work the same duty daily with their ‘own’ bus, giving rise to the temptation to tailor the scheduled operation to their own satisfaction. With enterprise and improved supervision, Whippet could certainly expand to meet the public need so patently scorned by Stagecoach.
When Thatcher and Ridley deregulated the bus industry in 1986, they gave operators the power to run what they like, where they like, when they like, and charge passengers what they like for the privilege. The Traffic Commissioners lost the role of licensing routes and fares, and for holding operators to account for slovenly service standards.
The bus passenger now has no official channel whatsoever for pursuing complaints, and the present day regional monopolies such as Stagecoach treat their customers with corresponding total disdain. Their motto is simple: ‘Frankly, we don’t give a damn.’