Devastating rural cutbacks

Stagecoach East have submitted details on the GovUK Vehicle Operator Licensing site of bus service withdrawals which will leave significant parts of our area – Bourn, Comberton, Bottisham, The Swaffhams, Fordham, Soham and Melbourn are just some of the more notable examples – without any service whatsoever, and all the ‘V’ village links to the Busway at St Ives withdrawn.

List of service withdrawals from Sunday 30th October 2022

  • 11 Cambridge-Newmarket-Bury St Edmunds
  • 12 Cambridge-Newmarket-Ely
  • 18 Cambridge-Longstowe
  • 22 St Ives Town
  • 25 Addenbrooke’s-Trumpington
  • 30 Huntingdon-Ramsey
  • 35 Huntingdon-March
  • 39 Ely-March
  • 66 Huntingdon-St Neots
  • 904 Huntingdon-St Ives 
  • 915 Cambridge-Royston
  • V1 to V5 busway extension/link services

The full list of service withdrawals can be found on the GovUK Vehicle Operator Licensing site. However this is a ‘Beta’ page and the link might not work as you intend. As a work-around, we have archived the page as a PDF which you can view/download here. Note that the list also includes Bedford and Peterborough area cancellations.

We were shocked at the scale of these cutbacks, details of which were submitted (coincidentally?) on 16th September, the Friday preceding a Bank Holiday, when many are focussed on the Royal Funeral.

This is compounded by the complete lack of engagement with their passengers by Stagecoach East. They should have had press releases ready to go at exactly the same time as they loaded the last registration with VOSA. A long weekend of silence… A shocking way of handling things.

We ask Managing Director, Darren Roe, and Operations Director, Ross Barton, “How will you ever regain the goodwill of passengers?”

UPDATE: Statement from Stagecoach East Managing Director, Darren Roe

The excellent John Elworthy at CambsNews has a statement from Darren Roe in an article published late on Sunday – ‘Winners’ and ‘losers’ in Stagecoach bus changes. Extract, below.

Mr Roe said: “Some of them, where numbers have dropped as low as around only 50 customers per week, are costing up to £80 per passenger.

“We cannot continue to operate services which we know are no longer financially viable.

“That would not be right for taxpayers or our passengers.”

“Some services, where passenger use and funding is failing to meet operational costs, to end as part of changes for long-term viability of the network

Mr Roe said the review of services had been a key condition of Government Covid-19 recovery funding across England.

But he said the new network to be introduced from October 30 would enhance 12 services in the region

‘Winners’ and ‘losers’ in Stagecoach bus changes, John Elworthy, CambsNews

The full Stagecoach East press release for Cambridgeshire can be read near the foot of this post. The new network map can be viewed/downloaded here.

Stagecoach have also provided a FAQ document which you can read/download here.

These latest cutbacks will be devastating for rural residents – and bring more congestion to Cambridge’s already traffic-choked streets.

The bus user’s point of view needs to be heard more clearly, which is why Cambridge Area Bus Users are planning a post-Covid relaunch. We are seeking people who can be active in running the group. If this looks like you, please use this link to get in touch.

The immediate problem is that post-Covid ridership is around 70% of pre-Covid. There’s nbeen a significant drop in journeys by both fare-paying passengers (perhaps as a result of working from home etc) and concessionary pass holders. This makes many bus services unprofitable, particularly with the scheduled end of the Bus Recovery Grant by the Department for Transport DfT in September 2022. However a 6-month extension has recently been announced, to cover the six months from October 2022 to March 2023 – £130 million to protect bus services across the country DfT press release 19 August 2022 – and we are currently unsure how this will affect the cancellations.

First thoughts about this £130M extension are:

  • That’s not much money across the whole of England.
  • How will it be allocated? A share to each Transport Authority? Bids from TAs like so many ducks quacking for seeds on Histon Green?
  • Note the weasel words: up to £130 million of government funding announced to support vital bus services across England. So £130M is the maximum, it could be less. Much less.

Any such moneys will be channelled through our Transport Authority – Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, who also have a duty to fund ’socially necessary’ services.

The larger problem is 1980s deregulation. Whilst this never happened in London, in the rest of the country bus services are provided by commercial companies. For profit. For background on this see our (rather ageing, needs updating) page: Bus Franchising, Quality Partnerships, and other ways of improving bus services.

Stagecoach East provide most routes in and around Cambridge, including Park & Ride services, on a commercial basis. However that is not the whole picture…

Disturbingly, some of the cancelled routes aren’t purely commercial services. Services that the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority – who took over responsibility as the ‘Transport Authority’ from Cambridgeshire County Council – decided to support, are also being abandoned by Stagecoach.

Stagecoach, like all commercial companies are legally required by their shareholders to make a profit, so the word ‘service’ bus can be questioned. The law permits changes of routes and fares at short notice, and there are few regulations that control service provision. Even shared agreements between operators over routes and ticketing may be deemed illegal as ‘uncompetitive’.

Private bus operators are not required to consult, nor obtain approval, for any new service, any cancellation, any fare reduction or increase, any extended or reduced hours or days of operation. They merely have a duty to register any changes with the Traffic Commissioners, and to inform the local Transport Authority.

Where no commercial service is run Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority – who took over responsibility as the ‘Transport Authority’ from Cambridgeshire County Council – have a duty to fund ’socially necessary’ services. However, the Combined Authority have few sources of funding.

The Combined Authority must ensure that communities continue to be provided with bus services. It must move rapidly – to decide what replacement services it can support, to tender those routes, and to identify operators with buses ready to run on Monday 31st October and with drivers to drive them. Following Stagecoach East’s ‘long weekend of silence’ we need prompt, clear, public statements – and frequent updates – from Mayor Dr Nik Johnson and Bus Strategy Manager, Oliver Howarth.

We are pleased to note that action is already under way from the mayor and his public transport team.

UPDATE: Statement from Mayor Dr Nik Johnson

The Labour Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Nik Johnson said the decision by Stagecoach East was “unacceptable”.

“We are appalled that Stagecoach are pressing ahead with such severe changes to the network whilst continuing to accept the funding from the government that is designed to protect it,” he said.

The mayor said the CPCA’s officers were preparing “to take these threatened routes back out to the market” and re-tender them.

Anger over Cambridgeshire bus company axing 18 routes, Ben Schofield, BBC News, East

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s Statement on Stagecoach’s Withdrawal of Services.

Stagecoach has today confirmed its intention to withdraw certain bus services. The Mayor along with other Mayoral Combined Authorities lobbied Government successfully to secure an extension to the Bus Recovery Grant earlier this month. The grant is supposed to ensure the current network of bus services can be sustained. Despite requesting this extra money for six months Stagecoach has decided to make service cuts. 

The Combined Authority has been placed in an unacceptable position, to now find ways of sustaining as many bus services as it can and prevent bus users across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough being left stranded. We will now explore all options urgently to avoid this happening after 31 October.   

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson, said: 

“It is unacceptable that despite getting a six month bus grant Stagecoach are still planning to reduce these vulnerable rural routes.  The timing of this news couldn’t come at a worse time.  It is of utmost importance to the Combined Authority that our rural bus networks are protected. They are vital for so many of our residents across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, in addressing isolation, enabling inclusion and supporting access to key services. We are appalled that Stagecoach are pressing ahead with such severe changes to the network whilst continuing to accept the funding from the government that is designed to protect it. 

With this in mind, I have asked officers to prepare to take these threatened routes back out to the market. I have also asked that we urgently review and refresh the business case for franchising the bus system in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. 

We will work closely with Stagecoach and all our bus operators to ensure that we can continue to deliver the buses that our residents depend on.” 

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Statement on Stagecoach’s Withdrawal of Services

One distraught mother got in touch to say:

We have just paid close to £700 for our daughter to take the 915 bus into Cambridge every day, for her first year in 6th form. What a shocking way to begin her schooling year here in Cambridgeshire! Where can we insist this route not be axed, and if it is (which is utterly ill thought out, as lots of people take this bus into Cambridge!) Where can we get our hard earned money back?

by email

The Combined Authority, is working on establishing an Advanced quality partnership scheme with all local bus operators, followed by building a case for London-style ‘franchising’ under the Bus Services Act 2017, which is what Manchester are doing. This will improve things immensely in the longer term, but the legal ‘hoops’ that a Transport Authority has to jump through, when private bus companies see their profits potentially under threat, are immensely time-consuming. 

Service withdrawals are not the only changes

Stagecoach have also registered ‘variations of services’ to take place on the same date.

List of service variations from Sunday 30th October 2022

  • A,C Trumpington P&R-Huntingdon
  • B   Hinchingbrooke-Cambridge
  • 1   Arbury-Fulbourn
  • 2   Ely-Addenbrooke’s
  • 3   Fison Road-Cherry Hinton
  • 4   Cambridge-Cambourne
  • 5   Cambridge-Longstanton Park&Ride
  • 6   Cambridge-Oakington
  • 7   Saffron Walden-Cambridge 
  • 8   Cambridge-Chatteris
  • 9   Cambridge-Littleport
  • 13   Cambridge-Haverhill
  • 19   Landbeach-Cambridge 
  • 101   City Tour   
  • 604   Milton-Impington Village College
  • 606   City Centre-Impington Village College 
  • 607   Trumpington-Sawston Village College 
  • 904   Huntingdon-Peterborough 
  • 905   Cambridge-St Neots
  • 16A   Great Thurlow-Cambridge 
  • PR1   Cambridge City Centre-Madingley Road Park&Ride
  • PR2   Cambridge City Centre-Newmarket Road Park&Ride-Stetchworth
  • PR3   Cambridge City Centre-Trumpington Park&Ride
  • PR4   Cambridge City Centre-Babraham Road Park&Ride
  • PR5   Cambridge City Centre-Milton Park&Ride 

The full list of service variations can be found on the GovUK Vehicle Operator Licensing site. One again, this is a ‘Beta’ page and the link might not work as you intend. As a work-around, we have, again, archived the page as a PDF which you can view/download here. Note, again, that the list also includes Bedford and Peterborough area cancellations.

As to what these variations are, dear reader, your guess is as good as ours. In a way the cancellations are the easiest to understand. We know exactly what’s happening, and when. Whereas for the variations we know only the when. Just about anything might happen with these routes. How many buses per day to/from Littleport, Landbeach or Saffron Walden? Dunno. How frequently will the ‘citi’ routes run? Dunno.

Update: see the full statement from Stagecoach East and link to the new network map, near the foot of this post.

Petition:

Jemma Fortey has started a petition – Stop the cancellation of Stagecoach bus service 11 & 12 – which attracted over 400 signatures in the first 10 hours.

Stagecoach bus company has announced they intend on cancelling bus services numbers 11 & 12, connecting Cambridge to Ely via Newmarket (return) and Cambridge to Bury St Edmunds (return) in October 2022.

Not only will this have a huge impact on children and young adults attending Cambridge colleges, and West Suffolk college, it will also remove any public services from any villages between, allowing us access to train services.

This cannot be allowed to happen, people will become even more isolated, people will struggle to get to work, the elderly may lose their only form of transport to get from a-b.

The government want us to use buses and reduce pollution and traffic in main cities and this will undoubtedly cause more cars to travel into Cambridge, where, coincidentally ,they are considering a £5 levy for congestion. Please share wide and far so we are heard and those that don’t have social media are considered. 

Jemma Fortey Stop the cancellation of Stagecoach bus service 11 & 12

And the good news?

A new service

Stagecoach have registered a new service – route 131, Haverhill town service. However this is likely to be merely a replacement for the current circuitous routing of services 13/13A.

National fare reductions announced

You may have come across this article in The Times earlier in the year:

Affordable bus fares are due to be introduced in England from October, with a £2 cap on all local and regional journeys.
A taxpayer subsidy will cut the cost of travel for six months during autumn and winter, with bargain rates for cross-country trips of up to 80 miles…
The scheme for a single journey, which Downing Street [our emphasis] has been working on since April, is intended to address a long-standing anomaly whereby bus services in England are more expensive and less frequent than in London…

Nicholas Hellen, Transport Editor, Sunday Times, Sunday July 10 2022

It would appear, however, that in the hands of the DfT and Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport (at the time of the announcement) this has been updated, delayed, and cut to three months, as this Guardian article explains: Bus fares in England to be capped at £2 for three months, says DfT.

Subsequently, chartered accountant and Member of Parliament for Berwick-upon-Tweed, The Rt Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP was appointed Secretary of State for Transport, as part of the new PM’s team, on Tuesday 6th September 2022. What further changes there will be to this scheme we can only speculate. And if your local bus service has been withdrawn you will be unable to benefit from any fare reductions.


Full statement from Stagecoach East

NEW BUS NETWORK CONFIRMED FOR CAMBRIDGESHIRE TO REFLECT POST-PANDEMIC TRAVEL PATTERNS

  • Review of services key condition of Government Covid-19 recovery funding across England
  • New network enhances 12 services in the region
  • Some services where passenger use and funding is failing to meetoperational costs to end, as part of changes for long-term viability of the network

A new bus network was confirmed for Cambridgeshire today to reflect the changed travel patterns following the Covid-19 pandemic.Developed by Stagecoach East, it will be effective from Sunday October 30, and follows a review that was a requirement of the UK Government’s provision of pandemic recovery funding across England.

The new network will mean enhancing 12 services across the region including:

  • Addenbrooke’s to Milton service extended to Milton Village and Milton Park & Ride
  • Parnwell to Peterborough Hospital new morning journeys to support ‘early shift’ key workers
  • Newmarket, Madingley and Babraham Park and Rides increased to every 10 minutes
  • Saffron Walden to Cambridge increased to every 20 minutes in morning peaks
  • Peterborough to Hampton increased to every 20 minutes
  • Fulbourn to Arbury and Werrington to Orton return to enhanced 10 minutefrequency
  • Milton Park and Ride journeys extended every 30 minutes to Waterbeach,replacing journeys on service 9
  • Cherry Hinton to Fison Road, Cambridge, returns to enhanced 15 minute frequency

The Government has made it clear that the network review and any funding support is designed to develop sustainable local transport networks without further continued revenue support from central Government.

Across the new network in Cambridgeshire, 23 services where operational costs are still challenging even with central Government funding, will continue to run, because there is some evidence of increased use.

But 18 routes, which have seen significant falls in passenger numbers, will not be part of the new network. These represent less than six per cent of the entire Cambridgeshire network, and have been supported by temporary national Government funding since the pandemic. Passenger numbers on these services are consistently too low to cover operational costs.

Darren Roe, Stagecoach East Managing Director, said: “We have designed a new core sustainable bus network with the aim of growing services over the long term. The new network is responding to local demand, and as part of that, we’re pleased to announce a range of enhancements for people in Cambridgeshire.

“We are grateful for the Government recovery funding which has been allocated to rebuild services that are sustainable for the long term. This unfortunately does mean making some tough decisions that reflect the reality of how services are being used after the pandemic.

“Overall, services are operating at around 75 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger levels, with concessionary travel for older people dropping to as low as 55 per cent. Inflation, rising fuel and energy bills are also all having an impact on our costs. In such tough economic conditions, just like local authorities, bus companies are having to make very difficult decisions.

“The 18 affected services have been losing £12 per passenger per journey on average. Some of them, where numbers have dropped as low as around only 50 customers per week, are costing up to £80 per passenger. We cannot continue to operate services which we know are no longer financially viable. That would not be right for taxpayers or our passengers.

“The more people who switch to buses, the stronger our networks will be. It can generate vital investment for more electric vehicles, helps keep fares low and ultimately will help us to expand the bus network to meet new demand. We remain focused on working closely with our local authority partners to make the best use of passenger fares and public investment in services, to deliver the widest and most sustainable network we can for local communities.”

As part of the review, Stagecoach East contacted councillors in all the areas affected by the closure of routes, along with local authority transport and policy officers, and held meetings to talk through the financial situation and the development of the network.

Whilst the Government has offered a final one-off additional period of funding, Stagecoach East has decided to focus resources on services which do have a sustainable future. There is no evidence of any growth on any of the affected services. Some other services, where operational costs are also not being met, will receive three more months’ Government funding, on the basis there is evidence of some improvements in passenger use on these routes.

Declining services that will not be part of the new network are mainly in the Huntingdonshire and Fenland area: Cambridgeshire: 11/X11, 12, 18, 25, 39, 915, V1, V2, V3, V4, V5, 22, 30, 35, 66; and Peterborough: 23, 24, 29.

The new network map can be viewed/downloaded here.


Some thoughts on statements from Stagecoach East and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority

The Stagecoach paragraph…

As part of the review, Stagecoach East contacted councillors in all the areas affected by the closure of routes, along with local authority transport and policy officers, and held meetings to talk through the financial situation and the development of the network.

… does not square with the Combined Authority’s response

The Combined Authority has been placed in an unacceptable position, to now find ways of sustaining as many bus services as it can and prevent bus users across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough being left stranded. We will now explore all options urgently to avoid this happening after 31 October.   

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson, said: 

“It is unacceptable that despite getting a six month bus grant Stagecoach are still planning to reduce these vulnerable rural routes.  The timing of this news couldn’t come at a worse time.  It is of utmost importance to the Combined Authority that our rural bus networks are protected. They are vital for so many of our residents across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, in addressing isolation, enabling inclusion and supporting access to key services. We are appalled that Stagecoach are pressing ahead with such severe changes to the network whilst continuing to accept the funding from the government that is designed to protect it.”

Moreover, whilst in an email to us (20 Sep 2022, at 05:33) Managing Director, Darren Roe, says…

We are disappointed that the information appears to have been leaked prior to our planned release of information this morning, we have followed the HMQ period of National Mourning guidance, and felt it was inappropriate to release any information until that period had ended.

… these service withdrawals and variations were posted on a publicly-accessible site – the VOSA (GovUK Vehicle Operator Licensing) site. It is not surprising that everyone through journalists and public transport campaigners to enthusiasts would spot these registrations.

This still leaves open the question of why these service withdrawals and variations were posted on VOSA on Friday on 16th September, the Friday preceding a Bank Holiday.

Speaking to Darren Roe directly, on Wednesday 21st September, he explained that Friday 16th September was the registration deadline (ie the last date for posting these changes) in order for them to be effected on Sunday 30th October 2022. Were it not for the passing of HM Queen Elizabeth II and the subsequent period of National Mourning, press releases of the service changes, including enhancement to Cambridge P&R and some citi routes would have been issued simultaneously.

Asked why the date for the service cancellations and changes (and hence the registration date) could not have been delayed by a week, Roe said that the changes were being planned since July, that compiling new staff rosters and vehicle allocations takes time. Marketing & Communications Manager, Amber Clark, added that the company also felt that the 30th October, coming at the end of school and college half-term holidays was the least disruptive date which they could choose.

Roe stressed, “I totally get it,” that these changes will be disruptive to many people, but that the services being cut were unsustainable. Others, showing signs of becoming sustainable were being retained and, in some cases, enhanced. He also emphasised that the company had been in confidential discussions, over the summer, with councillors throughout the affected areas and with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s mayor and public transport team.


In response to an email from the principal of one VI-form college, raising concerns about how post-16 students will be able to continue their courses from the end of October, the mayor’s office said:

The Mayor is appalled by the decision made by Stagecoach and understands the concerns and issues this raises for users. The CPCA will be going through a procurement exercise to seek alternative services, on a like for like basis where possible, and this will take approximately three weeks to complete. Further information will be available once this exercise has been completed.

Meanwhile, Whippet issued this statement on Tuesday 20th September:

On Sunday 30th October 2022, Stagecoach East will be introducing a new, sustainable bus network to the communities of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to reflect post-pandemic travel patterns. View timetables and new network information at https://stge.co/3UodCWb.

We are aware of this impending change and working with internal and external stakeholders and other operators in an attempt to mitigate some of the losses incurred by this change.  Please bear with us while we assess any possibilities and we will keep our passengers and the communities we serve appraised of any changes.

Note that Whippet are not as small a company as a casual observer might imagine. The Lee family sold the company to Tower Transit which subsequently de-merged parts of their operations. Whippet are now part of the Ascendal Group.


The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority has promptly sought new contractors for these services.

CPCA – Local Bus Services 2022
Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority

The Authority is seeking to award services contracts to multiple suppliers for the following 23 Bus Routes. The 23 separate routes will be treated as individual Lots. The Supply of Local Bus Services (Contracts 5A, 8A, 9A, 11, 12A, 18, 22A, 23, 25, 29, 30, 31A, 33, 35, 39, 66, 904A, 915, V1, V2, V3, V4 and V5)

Procurement stage Opportunity
Notice status Open
Closing 6 October 2022, 12pm
Contract location England
Contract value £0
Publication date 21 September 2022

GovUK Contracts Finder site

Interestingly, Stagecoach has confirmed to us that they may tender for some of these services…

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3 thoughts on “Devastating rural cutbacks

    1. Yes.

      Stagecoach East should have had press releases ready to go at exactly the same time as they loaded the last registration with VOSA. A long weekend of silence…

      If they were ‘exploring alternatives’, they should tell us all.

      Like

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