Lower fares promised after bus firm buyout
REGULAR bus passengers in Huntingdon are set for cheaper rides following Stagecoach s takeover of Huntingdon and District Buses on Monday. The Perth-based company plans to introduce a flat-rate daily fare of £5 or £20 per week from April 6. But the takeov
REGULAR bus passengers in Huntingdon are set for cheaper rides following Stagecoach's takeover of Huntingdon and District Buses on Monday.
The Perth-based company plans to introduce a flat-rate daily fare of £5 or £20 per week from April 6.
But the takeover could still be referred to the Office of Fair Trading, which ordered Stagecoach to sell the Huntingdon operation in 1996 when it merged with Cambus to avoid reference to the then Monopolies and Mergers Commission.
Rival operator Whippet could ask the OFT to investigate whether the re-merger could be anti-competitive.
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For the moment Stagecoach Cambridgeshire's managing director Andy Campbell is promising not just flat-rate fares but new buses and additional training for drivers in disability awareness, safe and secure driving and customer service.
"I think it will be positive for passengers in Huntingdonshire," he told The Hunts Post.
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"The daily and weekly tickets, which cover the whole of our Cambridgeshire area, are really good value. You could go as far as Haverhill, Royston, Saffron Walden and Market Deeping."
The Stagecoach multi-journey tickets are significantly cheaper than the multi-operator tickets sponsored by Cambridgeshire County Council, which allow passengers unlimited use of any operator's scheduled services in the county for £7 a day or £30 a week.
"Initially we shall not make any changes but, for the longer term, we hope to put newer vehicles into the fleet. And driver training is a big thing for Stagecoach. The industry has changed a lot in the last 20 years," Mr Campbell added.
"We hope the OFT will see it as positive for customers."
But Whippet director Peter Lee was not so sure. "I don't know whether it's an issue for us or not yet," he said on Monday. "I haven't had time to digest it. But we seem to have come full circle."
Under the 1996 agreement with the OFT, Stagecoach agreed to sell the Huntingdon operation as a going concern and not to compete with it for two years. In the event, that has been 12 years.
Huntingdon's services were bought by Hertfordshire-based Sovereign, which sold them in 2003 to Cavalier Contracts, operating out of Long Sutton, near Spalding.
This week's sale sees Cavalier's two directors pulling out of bus operation completely but retaining their Lincolnshire taxi business.
"We will still be trading under the name of Cavalier Travel, but our interests will be purely private hire (taxi) operations limited to eight seats," said managing director Dennis Upton.
Mr Upton had been planning to spend several million pounds on new low-emission guided buses for the opening of the Huntingdon-Cambridge services in spring 2009. That investment will now fall to Stagecoach, which had agreed to use the busway for services between the new town of Northstowe and Trumpington and Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.
But the delayed start to the new town meant those plans had been reconsidered, and Stagecoach had been planning to continue as far as St Ives anyway, Mr Campbell said.
But he promised communities such as Fenstanton, which stand to lose out when the busway opens and Cambridge services are diverted, will not lose out altogether.
"We have no plans to abandon any places we now serve."
Stagecoach has an excellent track record in Cambridge city, where bus patronage has increased hugely over the past few years, said Glenn Edge, the county's head of passenger transport. "We can see a mild concern over competition but, if Stagecoach does as it has in Cambridge, it might be much better for passengers in Huntingdonshire," he added.