15 April 2009

Free rides in Perth

One of the 'big five' has competition on its hands, and in its home city, too. Stagecoach has found itself on the receiving end of a ploy it instigated in the mid-90s in the north-east town of Darlington, bringing the municipal operator there to its knees within two weeks - free bus rides for all.

Bankfoot Buses is the operator who is causing the stir in Stagecoach's first city. The company was forced to cancel its bus services last week following the Scottish Traffic Commissioner (TC) Joan Aitken ruling that they had been deliberately causing ill-will towards Stagecoach through using similar driver uniforms and vehicle branding to the latter as well as using a forged O Licence disc and had interfered with city centre bus stop arrangements.

Bankfoot Buses - a local operator, running buses between Dunkeld-Bankfoot-Waterloo-Perth - had its licence revoked for 3.5 years as a result of the above findings by the TC. They intend to appeal against Ms Aitken's decision as they claim to have been unaware an inquiry was ongoing and thus unable to represent themselves.

Their immediate plan is to operate Service 22, linking the above places to central Perth, for free. One of Bankfoot Buses' initiatives on Thursdays during December was to offer its passengers free mulled wine, something which they claim the TC suggested was a contributing factor towards what she saw as ill-will towards Stagecoach.

Stuart Newing-Davis, a Bankfoot Buses director, said "Other operators seem to want to snuff us out quite quickly and unfortunately we're not going to oblige." Mr Newing-Davis said that any donations made by passengers using its free service in the future will go towards the restoration of a church in the nearby village of Stanley.

Surely Stagecoach have nothing to worry about? They're not a fledgling municipal in need to sell, having just accepted an offer from another, smaller operator for their purchase!!

In all likelihood, Bankfoot Buses will almost certainly disappear in the next few months - though probably though a lack of finance rather than further action being taken by the TC. As Stagecoach know themselves, running free buses requires no registration with the Vehicle & Operators' Standards Agency, but the outlay is equally as costly as if you were running a registered bus service. This is what will ultimately see off Bankfoot Buses. (CW)

What happened in Darlington during 1994 can be seen (pdf) by clicking here.

Bankfoot Buses' website can be seen by clicking here (and you can read their 'interesting' reaction to TC Joan Aitken's decision to remove their licence).