15 September 2007

Weekly Transport Update 8

  • More Megatrain destinations. Stagecoach Group is expanding its budget rail service Megatrain to three more stations on the South West Trains network. Off peak fares from £1.50, including booking fee, will be made available for travel to and from Axminster, Honiton and Havant, offering an additional 370 discount seats a week. Tickets for the new destinations went on sale yesterday for travel starting Monday 29 October 2007 to coincide with the completion of Network Rail’s major engineering works in the Portsmouth area.
  • Euro 5 tax break. The DfT has decided to give tax breaks on the early uptake of Euro 5 specification engines before they become mandatory on 1 October 2009. A Vehicle Excise Duty rate of £165 will be issued, irrespective of engine size.
  • US deckers for Megabus. Stagecoach Group plc placed into service last week the first of 17 integral Van Hool TD925 double deck coaches on its US network, based in the Midwest around Chicago. The $10million (£4.9million) investment is a first in the US.
  • West Coast Main Line figures 'up'. Figures released by Virgin Trains show that train passenger numbers between north west England and London have grown by more than two thirds since West Coast rail services were increased in September 2004. The one exception is the Manchester/Stockport to London route where a doubling of the train service to half-hourly has been matched with a 121% increase in passenger numbers.
  • Driver released from hospital. The Veolia Birmingham driver who was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol after causing his Scania/Irizar coach to tip over at Newport Pagnell services last week was released from hospital on 13 September and was questioned fully for the first time by Police.
  • Solent Blue Line bucks the trend. Go-Ahead subsidiary Solent Blue Line has announced that more than 975,000 additional journeys have been made on its network of services in the 12 month-period since July 2006. This represents a year-on-year increase of 19%. While most bus operators have experienced passenger growth due to the free concessionary travel to the over 60s offered by local authorities, Solent operations manager Alex Hornby says that the company is pleased that its Bluestar and Red Rocket services have attracted 8% more fare paying passengers within the total growth figure.
  • Arson to blame. A fire at the premises of Bluebird Coaches, Weymouth last Thursday is the likely cause of the fire which destroyed 8 vehicles - one vehicle was only 4 months old.
  • Cardiff Bus sell-off? The LibDem controlled city council is considering selling its 40% steak in the city's bus operator, Cardiff Bus. Cardiff is one of only 14 remaining council-owned bus operators, though by selling a sizable steak of its business to a third-party it joins the ranks of Nottingham City Transport (Transdev) and Eastbourne Buses (Keolis). The equity release would primarily be used to plug funding gaps.
  • Three-in-one Oyster Card launched. Barclays has launched the UK's first ever smartcard combining travel and dual payment functionality. Called OnePulse, the card can be used as a credit card, an Oyster smartcard, and a contactless payment card, which can be used as an alternative to cash for small purchases. An official launch took place on 10 September in London's Docklands and was supported by full page advertising in London's free commuter newspapers, distributed at railway and Tube stations across the capital. Barclaycard OnePulse cardholders will benefit from the cheapest fares on the Transport for London bus, rail, Tube, DLR and Tramlink networks using Oyster, exactly as they do with conventional Oyster cards. As well as acting as a credit card for transactions over £10, cashless OneTouch payment using contactless technology will allow cardholders to make low value purchases below £10 without entering a PIN or signature, thus reducing a customer’s reliance on cash. These transactions will be listed on the cardholder’s credit card statement. For transactions over £10, the OnePulse will require a PIN number or signature for authorisation. Barclays said if a card is lost or stolen, the cardholder can cancel it and it will no longer work for contactless transactions.
  • Lothian Buses' new deckers launched. Scotland's transport minister Stewart Stevenson has officially launched 10 new double deck coaches for use on the Edinburgh Airport to city centre Airlink express shuttle bus. The £2m order brings route operator Lothian Buses’ total investment in the Airlink service since 2000 to £8m. The 10 new coaches, built by Scania in Sweden, have a higher interior spec to existing buses in the fleet and include high-back leather seats for 74 passengers, tables, CCTV and additional luggage space. So far this year the Airlink service has seen passenger numbers increase by 5%. Edinburgh Airport reports that 23% of airline passengers travelling to and from the airport use the Airlink service – the highest percentage of bus transport at any of the UK’s major airports.
  • Management change at Grand Central before official launch. Open access rail operator Grand Central has announced a further change to its senior management team but has failed to quash speculation that the company may miss its scheduled September launch date. As final preparations continue for the launch of its high speed passenger train link from Sunderland to London King's Cross, the company would only say that services would begin "within the next few weeks". Tom Clift will become managing director when services start, enabling Ian Yeowart, Grand Central’s current managing director, to concentrate on developing further open access service opportunities. Clift's background in the rail industry includes being a former managing director of Cardiff Railway Company, which traded as Valley Lines when part of Prism Rail and National Express. He has extensive background knowledge of rolling stock matters and will also become a director of Grand Central’s sister rolling stock company, Sovereign Trains.