Premiere Travel – A Brief History

Premiere Travel first appeared as a start-up bus company in Nottingham during 2002. Mainly taking contract work and a few tendered services, they grew organically. Contracts and tenders as good as they are, have two issues, they generally are short term, and are subject to downward value pressures on renegotiation. Whether due to this, or just as a expansion plan, PT started commercial operations in 2007, initially targeting Trent Barton’s very busy XPRESS and Radcliffe Lines services with their version – the slightly more direct X1

This move on TB’s core area inevitably caused some “competitive actions” and various fare initiatives were instigated. One thing that remained though – Premiere were consistently cheaper than TB. Their fleet frequently reflected this.

Over the next three years, Premier expanded their commercial ambitions, augmenting their Rushcliffe offerings with a second service, this time a carbon copy of TB’s Radcliffe service. This was branded “Red2”. The red naming apparently a result of the local description of XPRESS as the “Green ‘un”. At a similar time PT registered the abandoned Arriva service between Loughborough and Nottingham via Costock and Bunny. This was immediately successful, and expanded rapidly. Initially branded X9, it later joined the “Reds” as Red9.

In late 2010, PT purchased the Nottingham interests of Veolia (themselves having taken over Dunn-Line holdings’ interests). This won them a number of tendered services and the University of Nottingham internal services. Suddenly PT were a big player.

Further commercial expansions continued. the Red routes expanded along most major TB corridors. Expanding into Calverton (Red7) Briar Gate / Long Eaton (Red 4) Hucknall (Red 8) and Kinoulton  / Keyworth (Red3). The real success came with the massive improvement over TB’s Long Eaton Express – PT’s Red5. This rapidly displaced the TB offering, and drew a good loading. It remained dogged by poor fleet image, and sub market fares though.

One major expansion, which caught wide attention, including this blog, was the replacement of the tendered NCT skylink service between Nottingham and East Midlands airport, as a tendered service. It was unclear whether that could ever exist as a commercial service, and was initially launched as a 24 hour service, against a backdrop of relatively light loadings.It was withdrawn after 9 months, following reports of £1000 per week losses.

Controversy followed the interaction between TB and PT. unwilling to tarnish the main brands on the routes, Wellglade (TB’s parent company) introduced a further “competitor” on the Red2 and Red4 routes. labelled “Bargain Bus” 2 and 4 respectively, initially offering £1 flat fares, later dropped to 50p, they remained on the routes as long as PT operated. Both Red2 and Red4 were withdrawn. On the other routes, TB used discounts on its electronic smart card “Mango” also. Another Wellglade operator, Kinch placed a competing service on the Red9 route, but withdrew it later. The Bargain Bus tactics, perhaps surprisingly, did not attract the ire of the regulator – whilst Cardiff Bus were heavily reprimanded for defending their network in a similar way.

Late 2012, and early 2013 came news that PT were increasingly trying to raise capital to continue their expansion, yet were cutting down on their network. The speed of their demise still came as a surprise, I suspect tho the whole industry.

Premier Travel Cease Trading

As of the evening of 25th January 2013, Premier Travel have ceased all operations. This follows a spell of uncertainty, following a statement of intent to appoint administrators on Monday 21st February, and secure creditor protection.Auditors “RSM Tenon” were appointed in that role on 24th February:

The closure of the company came within 24 hours, having initially hoped that a buyer could be found. The speed of the closure does give some insight into the financial condition of the company. There are reports that staff have unpaid wages.

Premier ran Tendered, Contract and Commercial services. Nottinghamshire County Council have stated that they will have a replacement contract for school services in place by Monday 28th. No word as to the tendered services, but they have as late shown a willingness to operate their own services. The University of Nottingham also contracted their services to PT. They, at this point have just observed on their website that all services are suspended for at least the full WC 28th.

In retrospect their commercial services mainly served corridors already served by other operators, and both TB and NCT have offered short term interim acceptance of PT’s tickets and passes on their services on the affected corridors.

Most notably, two significant corridors which have no alternative service have been quickly replaced:

Red 7 / 7.1 – NCT have promised a new 47/47A. This basically covers the existing route in its entirety. Timetables and fares are available from NCT.

Red 9 – Kinch have stated they will restore their withdrawn service No. 9 to replace the PT service.

Yourbus Citylink

Yourbus have registered a new service from 18th February 2013.

As a first for them, it is a named service, “Citylink” and as per the registration, a limited stop service between Derby and Nottingham. As a direct competitor for “Red Arrow” this is another first – taking on a Trent Barton commercial route. Timetable here:

There are no surprises in the timetable, The same route and basic frequency as the Red Arrow, operating between the TB sevice during the day, and 5 minutes ahead the offpeak every 20 minute service.

It is likely that the service may use the Citaro single deckers which were earmarked for the now abandoned Y35 service. This may be the main advantage that YB hold – being more suitable vehicles, and probably cheaper to operate than TB’s offering.

Be interested to see fares once the “special offers” from both parties die down.

Changes in Trentbarton Land

Trentbarton have registered a large number of service changes over the past few weeks, due to take place at the end of 2012. One thing that is noticable is the sheer number of services that are affected. A significant number of Derby services are also changing at the same time.

The details of the changes are:

  •         Variation Accepted: Operating between Nottingham and Ripley/ Heanor/Alfreton given service number Rainbow 1 effective from 31-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.
  •         Variation Accepted: Operating between Nottingham, Victoria Bus Station and Cotmanhay Farm given service number Two effective from 31-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.
  •         Variation Accepted: Operating between Nottingham, Victoria Bus Station and Mansfield Bus Station given service number Rainbow 3/3A/3B/3C effective from 26-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.
  •         Variation Accepted: Operating between Mansfield Bus Station and Derby Bus Station given service number 91/92/93 effective from 31-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.
  •         Variation Accepted: Operating between Nottingham Victoria Bus Station and Chesterfield Coach Station given service number Pronto effective from 31-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.
  •         Variation Accepted: Operating between Nottingham, Upper Parliament Street and Nottingham, Upper Parliament Street given service number Calverton connection effective from 31-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.
  •     Variation Accepted: Operating between Nottingham, Friar Lane and Bingham, Willow Road given service number The Radcliffe Line effective from 26-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.
  •     Variation Accepted: Operating between Nottingham Frier Lane and Loughborough Baxter Gate given service number Skylink Nottingham effective from 26-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.
  •         Variation Accepted: Operating between Derby Bus Station and Mickleover given service number The Mickelover effective from 31-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.
  •         Variation Accepted: Operating between Derby Bus Station and Spondon given service number Spondon Flyer effective from 31-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.
  •         Variation Accepted: Operating between Derby, Gower Street and Derby, Gower Street given service number Harlequin effective from 31-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.
  •         Variation Accepted: Operating between Alfreton, Hall Street Bus Station and Derby Bus Station given service number H1 effective from 31-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.
  •  Variation Accepted: Operating between Bakewell, Matlock Street and Derby, Full Street given service number SIXES/6.1/6.2/6.3/6.4/6.x effective from 31-Dec-2012. To amend Timetable.

It will be interesting to follow this up once the details are released.

Also Premier have registered the following cancellation:

Cancellation Accepted: Operating between Stapleford, Toton Lane and Beeston Bus Station given service number 17 effective from 02-Jan-2013.

A Good Night at the UK Bus Awards for Nottingham

Nottingham did well again at the UK Bus Awards. Wins were achieved in the following categories.

  • “Making Buses A Better Choice” award won by Trentbarton for their promotion of  rapid 1, the car users’ choice, with NCT getting runner up for their Social Media & Technology promotions.

  • The Young Manager of the Year Award went to Tom Morgan of Trentbarton

  • The Chris Moyes Memorial Award for Top National Bus Driver won by Allan Gilmour of Trentbarton with Elaine Allitt, also of Trentbarton being highly commended.

  • The Marketing Excellence Award was won by Trentbarton for “Mango – no fuss – no brainer”

  • Top City Operator was won by NCT
  • The prestigious UK Bus Operator of the Year also won by NCT
  • And finally Nottingham City Council won the “Local Authority Project of the Year” for the Nottingham Statutory Quality Partnership Scheme.

Quite an achievement! Even if the view of the awards themselves is of industry back slapping, the sheer dominance of TB and NCT with Nottingham City Council re-winning their award cannot be taken in isolation. This is cementing Nottingham as the leader in almost all aspects of how a city should provide, operate and promote its bus services.

Well done to all involved!

Save The Red Flyer!

Premier have followed up their cancellation of the Red Flyer with a marketing campaign to encourage regular users to pay to maintain the service. In an interesting move, they have suggested that 75 regular users pay £70 per month / £17.50 per week, to stem the £1000 per week loss that the service is suffering.

First, to quickly analyse that figure. The service is approximately 20 return journeys a day. So the loss is approximately £4 per single journey. One or two extra passengers per single journey would make up the loss. The real issue, however is the looming winter period.. The coming months will see a lower patronage as the old NCT service has historically shown.

For this reason, Premier have made a good move, the regular passengers probably is its only chance. If they “pay up” the offer is, that if the service returns to profit, they will see fare reductions later (but if it doesn’t, won’t it simply get cancelled again?)

A further aspect of the post is to canvass ideas where these extra passengers may come from:

The key to saving the service also hinges on getting more people to use the service so let us know where we are missing a trick in promoting the service.

My initial thoughts are:

  • A few poor decisions at the onset. Using Broadmarsh as a terminus and neglecting Nottingham Station lacked convenience. These decisions were later reversed.
  • The fleet (in true Premier style) was lacklustre. The coaches in random liveries were damaging, buses lightly branded for other routes (even from time to time using Nottingham University Hopper branded vehicles), and the Enviro 200 “spares” gave a feeling of inconsistency. Better branding and better buses could make a difference.
  • I’m sure they have an answer to this one, but is every journey loss making? If not can the service be better tailored to its base usage (travel to work?). Is 24 hour actually feasible?
  • There has been a feeling that Red Flyer is a direct competitor to Skylink. Whilst the Yourbus style “on street competition” may be an adrenaline filled experience for newcomers to Nottingham, Red Flyer is Premier’s own route. To develop it, working with Trent Barton may add value. Joint ticketing, for example could cushion the blow of the cancellation of overnight services. On a service which is a little “lean” cooperation can be a saviour.

Mystery NCT route 33

NCT have taken a slightly unusual approach of announcing a new service via social media prior to registering it. In a google+ post they stated:

Our brand new route, bringing new (and some old) destinations back to the NCT network is service 33! On the street from 22nd October 2012…

Notably a day after the proposed start of Yourbus’ Y28, and numbered to group with the pink line routes (although the original 33 ran to Beeston – much as the 13 does now – but as an orange line route).

Due to the early start, I’m sure we will see a registration in the next day or two.

Red Flyer Cancelled – A Worthwhile Try

The cancellation of Premier’s Red Flyer has been accepted by VOSA. The last day of operation will be 19th November 2012.

I assume that after just 7 months of operation, the service simply could not cover its costs. This of course entirely removes a direct service to the airport via the north of the river, and increases the journey time from the City to EMA from 35 minutes to around 55 minutes.It will be missed by many regular travellers.

i think in many ways what went wrong was that whilst appealing to commuters, the service struggled to raise its profile with more casual users. The better branded but slower and generally more expensive bus did tend to attract the families with suitcases. Linked with difficulties with timekeeping usage appeared to grow more slowly than may have been hoped.

Whilst it has been obvious for some time that Red Flyer had patchy usage across the day, I am perhaps surprised that it was cancelled in its entirety without first trying to tailor the service to its usage pattern.

When the NCT service was withdrawn, I did think there was scope for the northern, direct service to succeed. I applaud Premier for giving it a go. Sadly, that may be the end for the route – at least until the A453 works are completed.

Online Petition: Reconsider West Coast Mainline franchise decision

It will not go unnoticed by observers of the rail industry that the franchise to run the UK’s busiest rail line has recently been re-awarded. The line (or network really) in question is the West Coast Mainline, and the bidders are the incumbent Virgin Trains, and the UK’s largest Rail operator, First Group.

When the beans were counted, First Group won out. As one commentator said, if Virgin had to lose it, then its a shame it’s First, not Stagecoach! The irony being that Stagecoach are minority shareholders of, and the transport brains behind Virgin.

The news was met with a sense of foreboding by the passengers and staff at VT’s main destinations. One member of the public, Ross McKillop, decided to take his concerns a little further, by pitching an online e-petition urging the government to reconsider the decision.

The petition was picked up quickly by the mainstream press and Sir Richard Branson. Quickly social media catapulted the number of “signs” to over the 100,000 mark required by the government to even consider the petition. At the time of writing, it had added 40,000 in the past 24 hours, and was about to exceed 120,000. It is reasonable to expect that the quarter million mark is a distinct possibility before the closure of the petition.

So why the outpouring of support for Virgin, who, when all said and done have faced their fair share of criticism for high fares, overcrowding, spells of unreliability and almost impenetrable airline style fares. Well I can only say why I “signed”.

The issue, as I see it goes deeper than just the WCML. It goes to the heart of rail franchising as a whole.

Virgin has its flaws, but First Group are criticised in most passenger satisfaction surveys as failing on many of the basics, such as onboard service and train cleanliness. Issues which point to under-staffing.These issues were eradicated from the WCML by Virgin 10 years ago, and whilst valuable to passengers, don’t come cheap.

The franchising process, it seems lacks transparency, and it is difficult to see how the key stakeholders (i.e. the passengers) have any input whatsoever. The bidding is effectively an auction between the DTP and the bidders. I think it is fair to assume that franchise renegotiations haven’t really grabbed the public attention except where they went wrong. The East Coast mainline has twice been handed back by franchisees who outbid Virgin, only to realise their bid was wrong. This is bound to cause confusion amongst passengers. It can of course work the other way. East Midlands Trains (Stagecoach) and CrossCountry (Arriva) have well out-performed their predecessor on the routes, Central Trains (National Express). National Express’ removal in Scotland by First Group was also generally welcomed by passengers.

Some observers, including Virgin themselves feel that First’s bid is not sustainable, but ease of walking away may simply result in them handing the franchise back again (they require 7% growth per annum to meet their financial requirements) and the bid which promises to reduce fares, increase services and return more to the treasury can only lead to aggressive cost cutting.

It is unlikely that this particular petition will change the WCML decision. What it does do is sends out a message to government that Franchising needs to include our needs, and our voice must to be heard. An eBay approach is not an appropriate approach to decisions of national importance.

Full Disclosure: I have no personal, professional or Financial interest in any Transport Company except as a fare paying passenger.

Red 5 – Now every 10 minutes

Thanks to Humber Transport for pointing out that the new timetable for Premier’s Red 5 has been published on Derbyshire Count Council’s timetable download site.

Most notably, the daytime frequency between Long Eaton Green and Nottingham has been increased to every 10 minutes. 3 per hour continue to New Sawley.

This improvement, added to the recent extensions to the number of early and late buses Monday – Saturday leads to a surprisingly complete service. The strengthening loadings on this route, appears to have driven these changes, now that the “fare wars” have vanished.

I can’t decide if Red 5 has genuinely grown usage on this route, something which Long Eaton Express never managed to do, or whether it is simply a shift of patronage from Indigo. Indigo’s loadings still appear to be good.

So where now for Red 5? I can’t see a great deal of scope for further frequency improvements – perhaps a couple of later runs on Sundays, but that is about all that is left. One area of weakness that remains, and it is evident across Premier’s network is the inconsistency of the fleet. The same trip could easily be delivered with a double decker one day and a solo the next. A fleet of better branded, similar vehicles would certainly lift the brand.

As far as Trent Barton are concerned, I’m not sure I can see what options they have left to contain the Red 5. It is probably too late to resurrect the Long Eaton Express, and that may well cannibalise patronage from Indigo anyway, and Skylink seems to be seen as having a separate purpose.