ANALYSIS  ⁄  TRANSPORT & MOBILITY

Stagecoach escapes major sanctions over service failures

Traffic commissioner decides four days of free weekend travel in Exeter Plus ticket zone is sufficient penalty for poor performance despite public inquiry hearing severe criticism of company.

Stagecoach south west  Devon county council  Public transport 

Following a public inquiry into poor levels of service provision by Stagecoach South West, the West of England Traffic Commissioner has imposed a penalty valued by the company at just £120,000.

It is to be delivered in the form of four days’ free travel within the Exeter Plus ticket zone on the weekends of 10-11 and 17-18 December.

The commissioner also accepted an offer from the company to employ a new member of staff to maintain information displays and provide assistance at Exeter bus station, which Stagecoach said would cost £70,000 per year for two years.

He recorded this offer as a “statement of intent” from which the company could apply to be released “in due course if the circumstances support it.”

Exeter ticket zone map

Exeter ticket zone map

Devon County Council’s response to the commissioner’s decision was bland and predictable.

Conservative county councillor Andrea Davis, who co-ordinated the public complaints about the bus company and holds the transport brief at County Hall, said:

“We welcome the traffic commissioner’s decision and are grateful that they have listened to our concerns and those of Devon residents.

“We look forward to seeing an improved service offered by Stagecoach.”

Stagecoach South West said: “We deeply regret the level of service experienced by some of our passengers in recent months and we fully accept the decision of the Traffic Commissioner.

“Moving forward, our priority is to build on the extensive steps we have been taking to drive up the reliability of our services for our local communities.

“We are committed to working with our local authority partners to ensure these improvements continue and are sustained.”

Campaign sticker on Exeter bus shelter during 2021 Stagecoach strike over pay and working conditions Campaign sticker on Exeter bus shelter during 2021 Stagecoach strike over pay and working conditions

Other reactions have been less benign. Barry West, RMT south west regional organiser, criticised the company’s employment contracts for new staff as “a backwards and retrograde step [that] will do nothing for staff retention”.

He also said that reductions in sick pay and annual holiday entitlements in the new contracts were paying for the £2,000 “welcome bonus” Stagecoach offers to new drivers who already hold Passenger Carrying Vehicle (PCV) licences.

Nor have bus passengers been persuaded that Stagecoach has been adequately punished for the service failings it has inflicted on them in recent years.

One member of the Exeter Area Bus Action Group said: “How is this going to make them improve the service? I would rather pay and have a bus that turns up when it is meant to thanks!”

Another said: “What about the people that buy weekly and monthly tickets? We aren’t gaining anything.”

Stagecoach buses in Exeter High Street Stagecoach buses in Exeter High Street

Labour county councillor Marina Asvachin also said she was disappointed with the commissioner’s decision at an authority scrutiny meeting last week, describing the free weekend travel penalty as “atrocious”.

The decision may also penalise other operators who serve similar routes to Stagecoach on the two December weekends.

Since the end of October the Stagecoach service 5 route between Crediton and Exeter has also been served by Go-Devon services 315, 345 and 377.

Similarly, Okehampton to Exeter weekend service 6A is operated by Stagecoach on Saturdays and by Go-Cornwall on Sundays, while Dartline Saturday service 173 follows a similar route between Tedburn St Mary and Exeter.

Why pay to travel with Go-Devon, Go-Cornwall or Dartline when you can travel free with Stagecoach?

Stagecoach app showing Exeter bus service delays and cancellations Stagecoach app showing Exeter bus service delays and cancellations

It is not clear why the traffic commissioner softened his stance after clearly signalling at the public inquiry hearing that the company’s offer of free travel was welcome but not enough.

Despite making clear that the starting point for a financial penalty in this case was between £170,800 and £234,850 he said that the company’s offer of free travel and an additional Exeter bus station staff member would “exceed the level of financial penalty I find to be appropriate”.

The commissioner nevertheless found grounds for severe criticism of the company. He said: “This is largely not a case of buses running more than one minute early or five minutes late. It is a case of buses not running at all.”

He also said: “It has taken until this summer for a really significant [pay] increase to be implemented. I accept that external funding has made budgeting difficult but progress has been unacceptably slow.”

He added that the company’s January 2022 claim that full staffing levels in Torbay and Plymouth would cover shortfalls in Barnstaple and Exeter “clearly proved not to be the case” leading to the withdrawal of more services, several at short notice.

He said: “The complaints provided by Devon County Council tell of workers being disciplined by their employers for being late for work, rent money being spent on taxis to work and important appointments being missed.

“There are complaints from parents and teachers about children not being able to get to school or waiting up to two hours for a bus to arrive.

“Some passengers with medical conditions complain of not being able to travel at all as they cannot trust a bus to arrive and cannot stand for long periods. A lack of information, even on the app, is cited by many.”

It is reasonable to assume that some negotiation took place. Did Stagecoach suggest that too costly a penalty would prompt it to cut commercial services – those run at the company’s discretion and not financed by the county council – to pay for the fine?

Stagecoach has changed its timetables three times this year - in April, July and now October Stagecoach has changed its timetables three times this year - in April, July and now October

At the hearing Stagecoach said its driver shortage had been reduced to manageable levels and placed significant emphasis on the prospective benefits of its October timetable changes.

The commissioner’s report painted an optimistic picture, following several pay increases which he said “settled matters in Exeter”.

The experience of bus users during November suggests that matters are far from settled.

While the number of cancellations appears to have fallen, punctuality is still poor, short-notice cancellations still occur and real-time information provision is still erratic and misleading.

There is anecdotal evidence that drivers are still leaving the company, and the additional Exeter bus station staff member will be of no benefit to the many passengers who use local buses which do not stop at the station.

Stagecoach failed to respond to a request for comment on these observations.

Meanwhile Devon County Council is counting on the success of the new DevonBus Enhanced Partnership, which it describes as “an agreement between a local authority and local bus operators to work together to improve local bus services”.

Establishing this partnership is a prerequisite for further government funding under the Devon Bus Service Improvement Plan.

It will be managed by a board comprised of county council, bus operator and user representatives. Board meetings are to be held in private earlier, although minutes will be published after the fact.

A forum to channel the views of bus user groups to the board is also being established. Its membership will be drawn from established local user groups and its chair will be appointed to the board.

Its meetings will also be held behind closed doors despite the widespread public interest in these matters.


 is a contributing editor of Exeter Observer.

Exeter in brief
Exeter in brief

Royal College of Nursing staff at the ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST have resumed strike action alongside South Western Ambulance Service workers as healthcare professionals across the country stage the biggest strike in NHS history.

Detailed plans for the Honiton Road MOOR EXCHANGE RETAIL PARK have been submitted for approval. Outline planning permission for the development was granted two years ago.

The police inspectorate says DEVON AND CORNWALL POLICE must make urgent improvements after it was found to be inadequate in three of nine areas including responding to emergency and non-emergency calls and managing registered sexual and violent offenders.
Its assessment found two other areas required improvement while two more were graded “good”. A new chief constable was appointed in December after the force was placed under enhanced inspectorate monitoring last year.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is consulting on its draft Exeter Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which is already nearly six years late, until the end of March.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER staff have resumed strike action over pay, pensions and working conditions alongside Exeter school teaching staff with dozens more strike days planned during February and March.

EXETER CITY FUTURES published the agenda for its last board meeting on 30 January, two months after the meeting was held. It says it is “committed to being completely transparent and open about the things that are discussed at board meetings”. No minutes were included.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is not making sufficient progress with its children’s services since they were judged inadequate in January 2020 according to the latest Ofsted monitoring report which found that key areas still require significant change and serious issues remain.

The UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has submitted detailed plans for its 1,700 bed West Park redevelopment of 50,000m2 of student accommodation.

Royal College of Nursing staff at the ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST have resumed strike action alongside South Western Ambulance Service workers as healthcare professionals across the country stage the biggest strike in NHS history.

Detailed plans for the Honiton Road MOOR EXCHANGE RETAIL PARK have been submitted for approval. Outline planning permission for the development was granted two years ago.

The police inspectorate says DEVON AND CORNWALL POLICE must make urgent improvements after it was found to be inadequate in three of nine areas including responding to emergency and non-emergency calls and managing registered sexual and violent offenders.
Its assessment found two other areas required improvement while two more were graded “good”. A new chief constable was appointed in December after the force was placed under enhanced inspectorate monitoring last year.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is consulting on its draft Exeter Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which is already nearly six years late, until the end of March.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER staff have resumed strike action over pay, pensions and working conditions alongside Exeter school teaching staff with dozens more strike days planned during February and March.

EXETER CITY FUTURES published the agenda for its last board meeting on 30 January, two months after the meeting was held. It says it is “committed to being completely transparent and open about the things that are discussed at board meetings”. No minutes were included.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is not making sufficient progress with its children’s services since they were judged inadequate in January 2020 according to the latest Ofsted monitoring report which found that key areas still require significant change and serious issues remain.

The UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has submitted detailed plans for its 1,700 bed West Park redevelopment of 50,000m2 of student accommodation.

More Analysis
Lottery graphic

COMMUNITY & SOCIETY

Council lottery operator to take cut from local charitable donations

Decision to promote gambling as "incentivised giving" plays down risks without assessing potential impacts or evidencing claimed benefits, disrupting relationships between community and voluntary sector organisations and supporters.

Exeter Development Fund workshop presentation October 2021

DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Exeter City Futures falsely claims development fund documents disclosed under FOI legislation

Senior council director puts company on collision course with Information Commissioner's Office as significant governance failings emerge after councillors and public kept in dark over Liveable Exeter financing scheme proposals.

Exeter City Council 2020-21 external audit report cover

DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Exeter City Living put council at "significant financial risk" after £2.2 million loss in first two years

Missing business plan, lack of transparency and conflicts of interest among senior council directors prompt board resignations and governance review at council-owned and funded company.

All Analysis
News
Exeter empty and second homes by council tax band October 2022 bar chart

PLANNING & PLACE

Exeter has more empty and second homes than built in city in past two years

Council tax premium proposals that aim to raise additional revenue from underused housing stock might also encourage return to residential occupancy.

University of Exeter students based at Streatham & St Luke's campuses 2021-22 & 2022-23 table

PLANNING & PLACE

30,000 students based at Exeter university campuses in 2022-23

Freedom of information request reveals significant drop on last year with postgraduate students accounting for 58% of fall in numbers.

Devon County Council headquarters at County Hall

DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Underperforming county council children's services to receive nearly half of proposed spending increases

Details of simultaneous £50 million 2023-24 spending reductions not yet published as finance director cites service delivery "re-prioritisation".

All News
Comment
Co-living - discover a new way to rent

PLANNING & PLACE

Council development levy changes are insufficiently evidenced and don't meet city infrastructure needs

Exeter City Council and Liveable Exeter partners impose faulty typology driven by policy objectives while ignoring new local plan, evidence base and statutory funding statement and excluding residential and retail charges from review.

Exeter city centre retail area map 2017 and 2022 CDRC data

CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT

Is the grass really greener in Exeter city centre?

Academic research placing Exeter retail area at top of green space table was nationally reported, locally misrepresented then repurposed as booster fuel by local politicians overlooking study's social justice focus.

Exeter City Council outline draft local plan site allocations crop

PLANNING & PLACE

Will council seek investment zone status for Liveable Exeter sites?

Government growth plans combine tax breaks with planning deregulation, putting affordable housing provision and environmental protections at risk with little evidence that promised investment zone benefits would result.

All Comment
On our radar
All topics

ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY   AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY   COP26 COP26 COP26   COVID-19 COVID-19 COVID-19   CITYPOINT CITYPOINT CITYPOINT   CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE   CLIMATE CRISIS CLIMATE CRISIS CLIMATE CRISIS   CO-LIVING CO-LIVING CO-LIVING   CONGESTION CONGESTION CONGESTION   COUNCIL TAX COUNCIL TAX COUNCIL TAX   CROWN ESTATE CROWN ESTATE CROWN ESTATE   CYCLING & WALKING CYCLING & WALKING CYCLING & WALKING   DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT   DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE   DEVON CARBON PLAN DEVON CARBON PLAN DEVON CARBON PLAN   DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL   DEVON PENSION FUND DEVON PENSION FUND DEVON PENSION FUND   EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL   EXETER AIRPORT EXETER AIRPORT EXETER AIRPORT   EXETER CATHEDRAL EXETER CATHEDRAL EXETER CATHEDRAL   EXETER CITY COUNCIL EXETER CITY COUNCIL EXETER CITY COUNCIL   EXETER CITY FUTURES EXETER CITY FUTURES EXETER CITY FUTURES   EXETER CITY LIVING EXETER CITY LIVING EXETER CITY LIVING   EXETER COLLEGE EXETER COLLEGE EXETER COLLEGE   EXETER CULTURE EXETER CULTURE EXETER CULTURE   EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND   EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION   EXETER LIVE BETTER EXETER LIVE BETTER EXETER LIVE BETTER   EXETER LOCAL PLAN EXETER LOCAL PLAN EXETER LOCAL PLAN   EXETER PHOENIX EXETER PHOENIX EXETER PHOENIX   EXETER PRIDE EXETER PRIDE EXETER PRIDE   EXETER SCIENCE PARK EXETER SCIENCE PARK EXETER SCIENCE PARK   EXETER ST DAVID'S EXETER ST DAVID'S EXETER ST DAVID'S   EXETER TRANSPORT STRATEGY EXETER TRANSPORT STRATEGY EXETER TRANSPORT STRATEGY   EXETER CITY CENTRE EXETER CITY CENTRE EXETER CITY CENTRE   FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FREEDOM OF INFORMATION   FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER   GENERAL ELECTIONS GENERAL ELECTIONS GENERAL ELECTIONS   GUILDHALL GUILDHALL GUILDHALL   HARLEQUINS HARLEQUINS HARLEQUINS   HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP   HOUSING CRISIS HOUSING CRISIS HOUSING CRISIS   LGBTQIA+ LGBTQIA+ LGBTQIA+   LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD   LIVEABLE EXETER LIVEABLE EXETER LIVEABLE EXETER   LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY   LOCAL ELECTIONS LOCAL ELECTIONS LOCAL ELECTIONS   MAKETANK MAKETANK MAKETANK   MARSH BARTON MARSH BARTON MARSH BARTON   MET OFFICE MET OFFICE MET OFFICE   MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL   NET ZERO EXETER NET ZERO EXETER NET ZERO EXETER   NORTHERNHAY GARDENS NORTHERNHAY GARDENS NORTHERNHAY GARDENS   OXYGEN HOUSE OXYGEN HOUSE OXYGEN HOUSE   PARIS STREET PARIS STREET PARIS STREET   PARKING PARKING PARKING   PENINSULA TRANSPORT PENINSULA TRANSPORT PENINSULA TRANSPORT   PLANNING POLICY PLANNING POLICY PLANNING POLICY   PRINCESSHAY PRINCESSHAY PRINCESSHAY   PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT   PUBLIC CONSULTATION PUBLIC CONSULTATION PUBLIC CONSULTATION   PUBLIC HEALTH PUBLIC HEALTH PUBLIC HEALTH   PUBLIC REALM PUBLIC REALM PUBLIC REALM   PUBLIC TRANSPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORT   RAMM RAMM RAMM   REFUSE & RECYCLING REFUSE & RECYCLING REFUSE & RECYCLING   RETROFIT RETROFIT RETROFIT   RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK   ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST   SIDWELL STREET SIDWELL STREET SIDWELL STREET   SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION   SOUTH WEST WATER SOUTH WEST WATER SOUTH WEST WATER   SOUTHERNHAY SOUTHERNHAY SOUTHERNHAY   SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT   ST SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE ST SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE ST SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE   ST SIDWELL'S POINT ST SIDWELL'S POINT ST SIDWELL'S POINT   STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST   STUDENT ACCOMMODATION STUDENT ACCOMMODATION STUDENT ACCOMMODATION   TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL   UNIVERSITY OF EXETER UNIVERSITY OF EXETER UNIVERSITY OF EXETER  

More stories