Lessons from First Kernow?

Vehicle and Fleet discussions for First Midland Red Buses Limited or its predecessor, Midland Red West Limited.
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chason
Posts: 103
Joined: 14:24 Friday 22nd July 2016
Location: Bromsgrove

Lessons from First Kernow?

Post by chason » 09:16 Thursday 15th March 2018

I see in the new edition of Buses that First South West is investing in a further 41 new buses for First Kernow -21 Enviro400 deckers and 20 Enviro200 8.9m midibuses. This follows 30 Enviro400's making the total investment in only 17 months to £15.7 million.

Cornwall Council is contributing £2.5 million but it seems like only yesterday when First Kernow was on its knees with an elderly and exceptionally shabby fleet and many cuts in services being imposed. It even looked at one time that abandoning Cornwall altogether was on the cards. I appreciate that it benefited from the demise of Western Greyhound although, after its rapid initial growth, that company didn't seem to be doing all that well, even prior to its two disastrous depot fires. Also, in many cases, First was only getting back some of the services it had lost to Greyhound in the first place.

When I realised that it was the April edition of Buses I was reading, I wondered if it was an April Fool story but a better one appears later in the same issue so I think it must be genuine.

The question is , how has the turnaround been achieved and are there lessons to be learned here for other operators?

JustinTyme
Posts: 43
Joined: 20:20 Monday 4th July 2016
Location: Solihull

Re: Lessons from First Kernow?

Post by JustinTyme » 20:40 Thursday 15th March 2018

Perhaps we should also ask, "How did it get so bad in the first place?"

In the Lockhead years First Devon and Cornwall always seemed to be in a bad way, and when the recession hit some ten years ago the standard First response of "cut quickly" made matters worse.

Then the former MD purchasing Western Greyhound and, knowing precisely First's then inflexible ways, won tenders by narrowly undercutting First.

The turnround started with change at the top both nationally and regionally. I think First winning the Truro Park & Ride back from Western Greyhound was a significant moment. Cuts in funding clearly hit WG harder than they did First, which perhaps showed that WG had much less commercial mileage. Also, First exiting Devon (which had been a burden for some years) must have helped both financially and from a management time viewpoint.

Maybe reasons for success now are down to a combination of more flexibility, better relations with Cornwall County Council and (partly due to more stability?) increased passenger usage.

Whether there are lessons elsewhere is difficult to say - Cornwall is in many ways different to the rest of England, and of course is far busier in the summer than in the winter. But on the other hand maybe lessons have already been learned or do not need to be learned. Bristol is a massive growth area for First, and Worcester seems to be doing well after some investment a couple of years ago and recent tender gains.

I cannot help thinking that if First Bus's current management and culture had been put in place five or ten years earlier, it would probably be in a much better place than it is now.

chason
Posts: 103
Joined: 14:24 Friday 22nd July 2016
Location: Bromsgrove

Re: Lessons from First Kernow?

Post by chason » 08:52 Friday 16th March 2018

Thanks, Justin - your knowledge of the bus scene in Cornwall is obviously far greater than mine. As you say, as a holiday area, they need to cater for two different markets with the summer population far greater than mainly residents in the winter.

From my own admittedly limited observations, mainly just outside the main tourist season but usually around September/October time, the buses in the Penzance, St Ives, Lizard and Falmouth area don't exactly appear to be awash with passengers. However, one particular area of growth is the student population of Falmouth University which First Kernow appears to cater for quite comprehensively, particularly as it appears to operate from several campuses.

One other thing I should mention is that First Kernow does produce a single comprehensive, handy sized timetable booklet which seems to be readily available.

winston
Posts: 5
Joined: 23:38 Tuesday 27th June 2017

Re: Lessons from First Kernow?

Post by winston » 22:57 Tuesday 20th March 2018

A lot of the changes at Kernow are being driven by Cornwall County Council and the Devolution deal & additional funding the council received for bus services and infrastructure. Bus operators are committed to providing new vehicles as a means to avoiding franchising:

http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/community-an ... o-cornwall
http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/transport-an ... elopments/

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