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Stagecoach and Arriva’s Guildford ‘Bus War’ Leaves Safeguard Feeling The Pinch

Published on: 16 Nov, 2018
Updated on: 17 Nov, 2018

A bus war has broken out in Guildford with two large national bus companies both hoping to muscle in on routes operated by local bus firm Safeguard.

An Arriva bus passes along Park Barn Drive from the roundabout at Southway / Egerton Road.

Stagecoach and Arriva have increased the number of buses they are now running throughout the Stoughton, Guildford Park, Westborough and Park Barn, well-populated areas with high student numbers, cited as some of the most profitable, for bus operators.

Here is a Safeguard bus. All these pictures were taken at the same location with minutes of each other on Friday afternoon, November 16.

Local independent firm Safeguard, winners of Small Bus Operator of the Year in 2014 and the Gold Award as Top Independent Operator at the UK Bus Awards 2015, is feeling the squeeze as its routes 4 and 5, which it has operated for many years, are being challenged by frequent services from the large nationals.

Then a park and ride bus comes along.

The result is buses on some routes arrive at only a few minutes interval, often with only a few passengers, if any, on board. Additionally, cheap fares and price deals are being offered.

In July 2018, The Guildford Dragon NEWS reported the story of the University of Surrey dropping Arriva from its contract to operate buses through the Stag Hill campus awarding it to Stagecoach instead.

One from Stagecoach.

Routes 26 and 27, pass through the Stag Hill campus of the University of Surrey, linking up with its student accommodation at Manor Park (adjacent to the Surrey Research Park / Royal Surrey County Hospital) and Hazel Farm (off Cumberland Avenue, Pitch Place).

The story noted that Arriva was intending to operate the same service throughout the rest of the route area, while not passing through university land, with its buses using The Chase instead.

Another Arriva bus.

The latest twist in the saga is that on November 4 Arriva replaced its bus routes 26 and 27 with new bus routes A, B and C, the first two of which almost entirely mirror Safeguard’s existing Route 4 and 5 service, and the latter almost entirely mirrors Stagecoach’s Route 2. Stagecoach has a Route 1 in Guildford as well.

It means there are now up to 12 buses an hour each way along The Chase, direct to and from the Royal Surrey County Hospital. That is: Safeguard’s existing six buses, plus six additional Arriva buses, plus four each way on the park and ride Route 400 buses.

And there are now up to 16 buses an hour – an average of one every there or four minutes – Safeguard’s existing 10, plus six additional Arriva buses – travelling around Park Barn.

The video shows the frequency of buses at the bus stop by Kings College, Park Barn. As can be seen on the display as one bus passes further buses are due in four, five and eight minutes.

There are now up to eight buses an hour each way along the very narrow Manor Road in Stoughton. Four from Stagecoach’s, plus four additional Arriva buses.

Stagecoach buses here are clad in University of Surrey markings. This one noting its service to the community.

But elsewhere in Guildford, there have recently been cuts to bus services. Saturday services to Bellfields (Route 3) and to Merrow (Routes 36 and 37) have been reduced from a bus every 20 minutes to one every half hour. Safeguard does not operate buses over these routes.

And on this Stagecoach bus a notice that states: ‘Let’s fight pollution, next stop sustainability.’

Such tactics have been seen in other parts of the UK, and in Guildford itself, since bus services were deregulated in 1986, for the first time since the 1930s. Larger bus companies can afford to operate at a loss during the “war” hoping to force competitors out of business, at least on the routes in question.

But while those on the routes being fought over are enjoying very frequent services at reduced fares, at least in the short-term, passengers on less populated and less lucrative routes continue to have infrequent services, if they still exist at all.

Arriva is a multinational transport company, a subsidiary of the German railway company Deutsche Bahn. Its 2017 revenue was £4.7 billion. Stagecoach is mainly UK-based transport company operating bus, tram and rail services. Its 2017 revenue was £3.9 billion and its UK market share of bus operations is around 20%.

One regular Park Barn passenger, Oksana Armstrong, said: “I prefer to travel on the Safeguard buses because they come on time and their drivers, who I have come to know, are polite and I think their driving is safer.

“I know that the other bus companies are now competing for this more lucrative route but I still choose to wait for a Safeguard bus.”

The bus war is also likely to be having a detrimental environmental impact. Despite claims of bus travel offering lower pollution, an article in the Daily Telegraph, published this month, states, “even the cleanest bus pumps out more than three-and-a-half times the nitrogen oxides of a new diesel car. And the average bus… will emit more than 16 times the NOx of the cleanest car.

“When it comes to particulate matter, essentially smoke, buses do even worse. The average bus in the UK billows out 28 times the particle matter of a diesel car. Even the latest bus emits eight times a diesel car’s particles.”

And, of course, the lower the average passenger number per bus the higher the pollution figure per passenger mile.

Safeguard and Arriva have been invited to comment.

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Responses to Stagecoach and Arriva’s Guildford ‘Bus War’ Leaves Safeguard Feeling The Pinch

  1. Jeff Hills Reply

    November 17, 2018 at 11:42 am

    People should boycott Arriva and Stagecoach and just stick with reliable Safeguard. If Safeguard has the spare vehicles and drivers they should operate through Merrow, as at the moment half the advertised buses never run, although the electronic timetables show them as running. Plus, if they are late, they leave the bus station without letting on passengers and also miss out on the Bushy Hill estate by staying on the Epsom road.

    Please use Safeguard. If we lose them the big companies will have won and just pull the services out altogether.

  2. David Wragg Reply

    November 18, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    I notice that some readers have commented on the fact that many Arriva and Stagecoach buses have not turned up.

    Although it may seem as if bus regulation is non-existent, it has not gone completely. If your buses fail to turn up frequently, you can complain to the traffic commissioners for the South-East, and if they get enough complaints there are sanctions which they can apply. If it is a tendered service rather than a commercial service, you can also complain to Surrey County Council.

    Safeguard is highly regarded across the industry, but at a time like this it requires, and deserves, the support of the travelling public.

  3. Wayne Newby Reply

    November 18, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Why doesn’t Arriva stop trying to squeeze out the better bus service and sort out its own reliability? Half the time Arriva busses don’t even show up and there are no apologies offered.

  4. Ray Hingerton Reply

    November 19, 2018 at 11:10 am

    Who allowed these bus companies to use the Safeguard nos. 4 and5 routes?

    Can Surrey County Council stop them? Otherwise, it will put Safeguard out of business. We are quite happy with the service Safeguard gives us. Their drivers are friendly and helpful.

    We should boycott the others and only use Safeguard.

    Bus operations were deregulated in the 1980s, so councils do not have the power to rationalise services. Ed

  5. Guy Sutlieff Reply

    November 19, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    Until last week when Arriva changed to service “C” slightly reducing the frequency, we had 16 buses an hour running up and down Grange Road, all timetabled at that frequency so two would be leapfrogging up the road one way and two leapfrogging the other way. Bizarre, ridiculous and downright stupid.

  6. John Hawthorne Reply

    November 19, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    Bus wars – this is interesting. Thanks for the link and letters. Very useful.

  7. C Nicholls Reply

    November 20, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    Cheap fares, have you tried getting them? I have tried on many many occasions and the drivers just say, “I don’t know how to sell them” as they have to be downloaded on to a smart card.

    I wrote and complained to Stagecoach and rather than be given an answer was told: “you are the only person who has complained”. How helpful.

    I went out an hour early recently to go to the circus and I only live 10 minutes away, I waited for four Arriva buses that did not turn up, they should have all been twenty minutes apart (that was also during a rain and thunderstorm so I was saturated), and despite being an hour early still missed 20 mins of the show due to the buses not turning up.

    They are both regularly late. There are even ghost buses that are on the timetable which I have tried to catch coming home from work but, so far, in just over a month, one particular bus has only turned up once. I have also been told by a driver to ignore the electronic displays that say, for instance, bus in 12 minutes as they are provided by the council and are nothing to do with the bus companies, hence the incorrect times shown.

    If a bus company wants my business it will have to turn up and learn how to sell a ticket in the first place. I keep being told to buy singles or returns and just ask the next driver for the cheap weekly pass but they quite often not know either and why should I have to pay again for a journey that should be included in my weekly ticket? I am being overcharged frequently due to lack of driver training.

  8. Keith Parkins Reply

    November 20, 2018 at 9:03 pm

    There is no problem if bus companies run routes that in parts overlap, but not when they simply run buses to poach passengers.

    We also need to be able to use tickets on rival bus services. For example if catch a bus into town and another bus runs over the same route, can still use the same ticket.

    Regulator must enforce or change the rules.

    For those with a bus pass, not a problem, as can use any bus.

    Running empty buses on a route to drive a local bus company out of business, is not acceptable.

    It is causing traffic congestion and pollution.

    These buses could be run on other bus routes where there are less frequent buses or no buses.

  9. Brian Creese Reply

    November 21, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    This is what a Tory ‘free market’ bus service looks like. Too many buses on one route – designed to force a smaller company out of business no doubt – far too few buses on other routes. This was always the Conservative vision for public transport. What we need is a properly planned local bus service which works for everyone.

    Brian Creese is the vice chair of Guildford Labour

    • Nick Holloway Reply

      November 27, 2018 at 2:24 pm

      Trust a Labourite to try to score cheap points over a local bus service issue.

      They’ll not get many votes behaving like this.

  10. Geoff Kerr Reply

    February 6, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Brian Creese is correct. The trouble is, we have had Labour governments since 1986 which have done nothing about bus regulation. Similar tactics were used in Darlington and Barrow to force the local municipal operator out of business.

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