28 July 2008

Excursion to Skegness

"When is a local bus service not a local bus service?"

"When it's been registered as an excursion (and so cannot accept free concessionary bus passes)"

This could be a new way for bus and coach operators to get round their perceived shortcomings in the government's free concessionary travel scheme on local bus services. Hunts of Alford, based in the heart of the LEYTR area, already cottoned-on to this idea when, faced with the prospect of very low reimbursement rates, chose to de-register their Seaside Express service linking the Lincolnshire Coast with Sheffield, and to instead operate the route as a bookable excursion.

Stagecoach in Peterborough are the next to operate in the LEYTR area who have sussed the same. During the school summer holidays for the past two years they've chosen to operate their weekend seaside special bus service to Skegness; hitherto Hunstanton was the town of choice, although in order to "breath new life" (and presumably profit) in the service, Skeggy was chosen - and loadings would appear very favourable to the Lincolnshire seaside town: usually two, full deckers depart Peterborough's Queensgate bus station at 0945 on Saturdays & Sundays (& August bank holiday Monday) bound for the coast.

Of course this year added operating costs have been incurred, specifically the fitting of tachometers to a number of Alexander-Dennis Tridents, in order to conform to EU Drivers' Hours Regulation 561/2006. At around £780 per vehicle the pair of Tridents will effectively be operating their first weekend profitless. With the prospect of the increase in patronage by way of over-60s travelling for free and the disproportionate reimbursement rate of 71.3% by Peterborough City Council, those in control at Stagecoach Cambridgeshire have opted to only part register the service as a local bus service and part register it as an excursion.

The Lincolnshire County Council & Peterborough City Council journey planners show Service X12 as operating only between Peterborough-Boston this year - a route that, operating over a weekend, will generate very little patronage - though the service is then operated between Boston-Skegness as an excursion, and with operating a service as an excursion operators do not have to accept the free concessionary scheme.

There is one big revenue earning problem with doing this: excursions do not qualify for Bus Service Operators' Grant (BSOG - nee fuel rebate) and at the current level of 44p/litre this amounts for a sizeable payment, especially for a lengthy bus service to, say, Skegness. Figures will have no doubt been crunched, graphs drawn-up and a line-of-best-fit produced and the outcome accepted that assuming very healthy loadings the deficit in BSOG will be more than made up by the number of concessions willing to pay the £10 day return fare, who'd otherwise have travelled for free.

In small print at the bottom of the poster advertising the service in Peterborough bus station the following can be read: sorry, there are no concessions available on this excursion.