Just a quick blog entry to state a couple of my thoughts on the issues with Dorset schools at the moment. As you may or may not be aware, Damory (Go South Coast) have won the majority of school contracts, leaving First only with commercial journeys and subcontracting out a few school journeys to independents. The price of school bus fees has also been increased by over £100, and families are feeling the crunch.
* The council price increases are expected in this climate. I think some sort of increase should have been expected. However, an extra £150 to fork out (fees have gone from £250 to £400) - and just this is just for one child - would be too much for most families to pay out. I think a gradual increase would have been kinder on families. For a family with four children, that is £1600 for school bus fees - increased by £600.
* One operator providing all the council's services is not something I'm against and makes a lot of sense. Go Ahead's mistakes seem to only be a few teething issues, and probably will have already been ironed out.
* First are one of the unfortunate losers in this. They are also, for some passengers, the only people they can rely on. With commercial service passenger levels soaring around school opening/closing periods, First will potentially lose other passengers on journeys with lots of school children. We all have heard people in the bus station moaning about a lot of children on the bus, or saying "we'll go back earlier to dodge the school kids". A short term boom in child annual passes may be offset by longer damage to these individual journeys around school times.
* This is also an opportunity to First. I have no idea of the finances, but if they can register a reliable, cheaper, commercial alternate to the council's services - maybe for the next academic year, or next academic term - they may win back a lot of the passengers. Things could get "sticky" next summer if First choose to do this as if a commercial service is run alongside a tendered service, the tendered service must be withdrawn.
* In the short term, First need to introduce as many double deckers on these school journeys as possible. Duplicates may not be a financially-viable alternative to a problem they haven't caused - but as much capacity as possible needs to be brought in at as cheaper price as possible. An efficient First response will be very good PR, who appear to be fairly popular in the local press for struggling against the Weymouth roadworks for over a year.
* First have returned to Bournemouth with commercial school route 54. A sign of things to come or a one-off?
Interesting times ahead. Off topic, reliable sources claim Stagecoach's route 5 - Swindon - Salisbury - is a commercial competitive service to Go South Coast in the north.