Connecting Communities – How we set about doing something different

So it’s another week over, the third week of keeping our communities connected!

I thought I’d give you a bit of background on our new little bus service and how it came about. Our route 18 runs from Stokesley to Saltburn, via Guisborough and started three weeks ago at the start of September. I’m glad to say it’s proving popular already.

Early concept designs of the Coatham Connect brand

For a coach operator used to mainly operating contracts, making the step into local bus services is a huge culture change. Coatham generally do school & college contracts as well as the odd tour – all of these have one thing in common, the money is guaranteed.

Running bus services requires a change in thinking for sure, as the operator takes the commercial risk. If people don’t like it then they won’t use it, and you could be running at a loss for a while! Luckily(?!) we live in times where the usual rules of 70 days to start, change or remove any bus services have been suspended.

That gave us the opportunity to ensure no gaps were left in the local bus network when Arriva withdrew from a route local to us. They’d been struggling to ‘make it pay’ for a while, with a service change in April 2020 seeing it ‘saved’ (temporarily) during lockdown with a limited service extending until the end of August.

The last day of Arriva running their 81S in Stokesley

So we decided during August that we would take on what was known as the ‘81S’ between Stokesley and Coatham’s home town, Guisborough. That gave us little over two weeks to get everything prepared for Coatham’s first foray into local bus services.

We had to come up with a timetable that would give us a shot at building a commercially viable service. We decided it had to be worked around a school contract to have any chance of being viable, so I built a timetable that would wrap around this. I decided to try extending the service from Guisborough to Saltburn, a route operated by my former employers, albeit a few years ago now – it ceased before I joined them!

The completed, if basic, timetable for our new bus route

So the first Coatham Connect bus service was born. Now as anyone who knows me I always have plans for a network of services, where I think there are gaps in the existing bus network. Our new bus was to be numbered ‘18’ – a number that both fits into my future plans, and is the opposite of the ‘81’ number that Arriva still use for the Guisborough to Redcar & Marske section of route that survives. A rather clever and fitting route number I thought.

Obviously being a coach operator there was nothing really suitable in the fleet to operate the service so I had to go out and find a vehicle that would be the regular 18 bus. Thankfully my good friend at Go North East had a suitable candidate lined up for me, and we completed the deal for an Optare Solo that was, at the time, surplus to requirements at GNE. A few days later we were able to go and pick it up from their Percy Main depot, and dropped it off at a paintshop on the way home!

Picking our little Solo up from GNE’s Percy Main depot

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of sorting paperwork, getting timetables designed, making duty boards, organising ticket machines, temporary ticketing facilities, and we even managed to acquire a handheld contactless payment device.

It’s a credit to the team we have at Coatham that we were able to pick this up at such short notice and get everything in place in such a short time. The CoathamConnect brand was my idea to differentiate the services from our core business of coaches.

This is just the start, I am sure… watch this space for where we go next!

My next blog will cover the launch of our route, how the first few weeks have gone and what we’ve already learnt. Have a great week!

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1 Comment

  1. Very professionally thought through in most aspects. It will be hard to make it pay and the wise use of being a ‘school sandwich’ is one I often did at Leven. You are aware of my doubts about the Solo but the Mercedes could be a good move apart from ‘capacity’. I do applaud your efforts and the fine team at Coatham.

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