03 December 2009

First Bristol quits NX

With First's Greyhound venture having commenced in September, tensions have been growing between the UK's largest bus company and stricken National Express (NX). Yet another NX contractor has started a new inter-city coach venture, operating directly in competition with them. Naturally, First will - and have - claim(ed) that Greyhound attempts to tap into a new clientele, and to some extent this appears to be true, though was it coincidence that First surrendered the vast majority of its South West NX routes immediately before starting Greyhound? This acted as a handy way to cascade the needed Scania/Irizar PBs for Greyhound.

Stagecoach were the first large operator to clash swords with NX, when in 2004 it expanded its Megabus operation in a move which virtually copied many NX coach routes. I have it on exceptionally good authority that at one stage at the end of that year, NX seriously contemplated removing Stagecoach as one of its third-party contract operators, though such a ill-conceived approach was re-thought before too much harm was done; in any case, Stagecoach surrendered many of its NX services and replaced them with Megabus routes (Preston, Gloucester and Aberdeen all surrendered NX services and very quickly commenced Megabus operation), while some briefly flirted with both Megabus and NX coaches under the same route, though so far as I know, only Stagecoach Yorkshire's Barnsley depot have dual operation: NX coaches with Woolley Edge Outstationed Megabus drivers.

In the latest move by First, the operation of one NX's most frequent coach services (it used to be branded 'Shuttle') is to be surrendered at the end of the year, with South Gloucester Bus & Coach taking over Service 040 between Bristol-London, operating to an hourly frequency throughout most of the day. This will cease all First Bristol operation of NX services. A smaller seven-coach unit is understood to be unaffected at Bath; as too is the seven-vehicle operation at Cheltenham and the few remaining diagrams operated by First Devon & Cornwall (11 coaches).

With First's Greyhound business having a managing director for merely two routes, it has always been a virtual certainty that this new brand will extend from 2010; expect Bristol to be one of the 'first' destinations when expansion comes.

In a separate move, we've heard that Veolia may have purchased Yeomans Canyon of Hereford, who act as a third-party contractor for NX on Service 413 London-Hereford. (GL)