There is a lot of speculation over the future of bus services in Taunton at the moment. With the depot of the erstwhile Southern National operation providing the majority of the town's services, First is retreating ever more. Webberbus are encroaching upon the network, and Stagecoach are around too following their takeover of Cook's Coaches in 2009. The last time I visited Taunton was three years ago - what will Taunton look like in another three years?
The town services are operated by a mixture of Enviro200s and Optare Solos - the Mercedes Minibuses removed since my last visit by further Solos and route cuts. I rode on 45114, which I must say sounded as if it had real mechanical problems with it - the shuddering while the bus was stopped was a new experience! Here is sister 45113 (YX58FRL), heading passed the railways station. These are the youngest buses First uses in Taunton.
Back in 2010, Town route 4 was in the hands of Darts new in 2005. Now, route 4 is operated by Darts new in 1998 and 1999. The majority of the '05' Darts have been moved to other depots. First transforming travel? Here is 42825 (S825WYD) heading along Corporation St.
Another example of a depreciation in quality. Back in 2010, route 54 was branded an operated by '55' plate Volvo B7RLEs. Now, in 2013, the 54 was operated by Volvo B7Ls new in 2002. This is former First York 60917 (YG02DKV), which I must say was sparking and very smartly presented.
One of the most recent arrivals was this 1997 Dart SLF from First Southampton. New to Glasgow, 40786 (R290GHS) was pictured heading out of Taunton on the 25A. I must say all First buses were externally exceptionally presented - ok, less hard when the sun is shining but certainly credit where it is due.
Volvo Olympians rule the roost in Taunton, with a number of examples that first saw service in Bristol now around the town. Here is 34173 (S673AAE), heading out of the bus station having just arrived from Axminster on route 30.
Following the takeover of Cook's Coaches, Stagecoach have heavily retreated in Taunton. They had a noticeable presence in the town back in 2010, but now the only routes observed were the 99 to Yeovil, and the 20 to Seaton. On the former, here is Optare Versa* 25256 (WA09KWN) arriving along Castle Way.
The problem for both the major groups may be Webberbus, a very impressive local independent that seems to have massive amounts of money to spend on very young or brand new buses. Here is one of a number of brand new Wright Streetlites in service around Taunton- MX13BBF is pictured arriving on route 18.
Since my last trip, Webberbus have also taken over the Taunton Flyer Park & Ride service from Stagecoach (and prior to that, Cook's). Versas were introduced in 2010 in a retro-Badgerline style livery. Here is YJ60LTT heading along Corporation St.
Following problems for Webberbus in Weston-super-Mare, the green and yellow Solos in service to the north were transferred south to upgrade Taunton town services. Here is YJ10EYW arriving in Taunton to load passengers for route 27.
Taunton is certainly an interesting place at the moment. Stagecoach seem to have the routes they want - simply the 20 and 99 - and First seem to be withdrawing further more into a core network. Since my last visit, the 2 and 23 have been cut, the 29 has been reduced in frequency, the 92 no longer goes to Exeter and many of the younger buses have been moved to other fleets. Webberbus seem to be doing very well with their young, vibrant fleet. What will the future hold?