Leading Welsh bus and coach operator Adventure Travel has responded to the Welsh Government’s announcement that the entire Welsh bus network could be merged into one network, but warns that much more clarity and detail are needed before the plans can be understood – and therefore taken into account – by the many groups of people involved.
Details of the proposal have been revealed indicating that private bus companies would be required to tender to run services under a franchise model, with the Welsh government taking much more control over the industry. Talks of a shake-up have been underway since well before Covid, but an official white paper was halted during the outbreak in 2020. With emergency pandemic funding currently in place to support operators as the number passenger numbers and associated revenues are slowly recovering, partnerships between operators and the Welsh Government/Transport for Wales have flourished. However, under a franchise system, Welsh government ministers made it clear that partnerships would be discontinued.
Adventure Travel managing director Adam Keen thinks the proposals can work in principle, but questions the large stream of funding required and the ability of bus operators to respond to customer needs. Speaking of the proposals, Adam said: “The bus franchise has been on the cards for a number of years, so today’s announcement is not unexpected. Franchising is being discussed in various parts of the UK and indeed some cities in England, such as Manchester and Liverpool, are already quite advanced in their plans. Whilst there are certainly mixed feelings among the various operators, Adventure Travel supports the plans and we believe our business is in a very good position to adapt as needed and therefore also in a good position to comment on the plans.
Adventure Travel was acquired by ComfortDelGro in 2018 with a view to possible future franchise models. Its sister company, Metroline in London, already operates successfully under the Transport for London (TfL) franchise system, further strengthening the company’s position to adapt to a new model thanks to the experience gained there. low.
“We have worked extremely cohesively with local authorities during the pandemic and it would be a real shame to end these useful and productive partnerships. Initial franchise plans are obviously in the early stages of development, but there are “twig-covered holes” when it comes to funding and investment. Running a franchise model for an authority is an exceptionally expensive process; one only has to look at the TfL model and the recurring funding problems they have encountered to get an idea of its precariousness. It is also crucial that the Welsh Government – while wanting to take the lead – engages with bus operators because ultimately we are the experts in what we do. The amount of consideration, time and data analysis involved in something as simple as a rate change is not clearly understood by most people and therefore I urge decision makers to involve operators in building a model for Wales that is affordable, sustainable and deliverable. . If the Welsh Government is successful, it may ultimately be good news, not just for existing bus customers, but also for potential new customers.
Adam went on to say:
“I can’t imagine a franchise system being in place until at least 2026 given the enormity and complexity of the task at hand, which raises concerns about what happens between here. there, as well as how the model will run from then on. Investment is also a significant concern, with new zero-emission buses each costing over £100,000 more than a diesel variant and no firm funding or subsidy scheme is yet in place for these vehicles, unlike England and Scotland which have ‘Green Bus Funds’ and similar Operators have collectively invested millions of pounds in the fleet over the years in Wales and this level of investment will need to be further increased for zero emission buses and then added to the costs of the franchise model.