Tuesday, 13 November 2012

How do you solve a problem like Marchwood?

The village of Marchwood is currently in the midst of a bus war between incumbent Bluestar 8 and challenger First 11. Some of the history to this is covered over on the Omnibuses blog as well in previous posts on this site.

The situation we have now is two operators running commercial services on a route that until a few weeks ago was seen as unprofitable and had to be subsidised by Hampshire County Council. Is this current set up really sustainable? Most probably not.

So what happens next? What seems obvious is that one of the operators will have to pull out of Marchwood before they lose too much money. But who will blink first and how much are they prepared to lose before they do?

First, as the newcomer to the route, seem at first sight the most likely to pull back to their city heartland. But the company is changing its ways. Southampton of course pioneered a whole network revamp that appeared to put knowledgeable local management in control rather than blindly following misguided orders from Aberdeen. The 11 is one of the early signs of First on the attack and finally looking to expand westwards beyond the city, or at least southwards beyond Totton, depending on which way you look at it. If they did pull out however, that would leave Bluestar with no incentive to provide unprofitable evening and Sunday services and it would be as though the 11 had never happened.

Could there be a chance that Bluestar would surrender Marchwood? The way Bluestar has neglected Hedge End over the years provides one model of what could be about to play out on the Waterside, with gradual decline from the main operator to be replaced by several operators with one or two frequently changing routes each. Not exactly ideal for passengers who benefit from having their local route as part of a big regional network. Maybe Bluestar will put up more of a fight this time, determined not to let First gain a base from which to seriously challenge their successful route 9. If Bluestar do drop Marchwood, that would surely be the only bit of the Waterside they would be prepared to wave goodbye to. There would be no guarantee that First, if they were left as the only operator in Marchwood, would provide evening or Sunday buses if there's not much money to be made from them.

So, thinking longer term, what could the future hold, if neither company can make a success of their Marchwood routes? One option is a shuttle route between Marchwood and Totton only. This would be the bare-minimum-option. It only covers the sections of route not covered by any other service and would be relatively cheap to run (only needing one bus) compared to subsidising a route to run all the way into Southampton. The obvious downside is that passengers would have to change at Totton, possibly to a different bus company, in order to get any further. If there is no reasonably priced integrated ticket (Solent Travelcard would be too expensive for such a journey as Marchwood to Southampton return), then this option would fail. One way it could possibly work though is for Bluestar to try it commercially, linking with their existing routes between Totton and town and making use of the integrated ticketing which would already be there for the onward journey beyond Totton. Maybe an evening and Sunday version of this could also provide a service to West Totton, when it would otherwise be unserved. After all, people able to get back home by bus in the evening means more people using the bus in the daytime.

For the links with the Waterside, that option could extend to either Applemore or right in to Hythe in the daytimes. This raises the option of extending the H1 and H2 Hythe local routes from Applemore through Marchwood to Totton. The only danger of that is if such a route were run by a company that then didn't offer onward travel from Totton using the same ticket. Not so bad for pensioners with their free passes, but a disaster for paying passengers and probably an overall disincentive to use the bus.

What are your ideas for serving Marchwood after the current competition has gone?


  1. Interesting article! I think it is very obvious that Bluestar have thrown the kitchen sink at this one, to send a very clear message to anyone thinking of encroaching onto the waterside/Totton areas. Not only have they doubled the frequency on the 8 through Marchwood, but extended it to Fawley and Calshot, to screw up any chance of First making a brass penny out of the Hythe local service. Not only that, but they have anticipated the next move, by serving West Totton and Calmore with a vastly increased frequency on the 11 and 12 routes, and even improved the service to Cadnam, albeit only generally linking it with Totton. The clue that they are only doing it until First pull back, is their issue of individual timetables for each route, allowing them to reprint when the time comes, without having to redo the whole timetable booklet. I find it particularly interesting that Bluestar have also gone on the counter attack, with the launch of the 16 route (as big a disaster as Firsts 11...), and the re-routing of the 3 route to serve Woolston.

    As to the future, I think your scenario of linking Calshot/Fawley/Hythe/Marchwood to Totton, rather than Southampton, in a similar way to what they have done with Cadnam, is a strong contender.

    Whilst it is interesting that First completely re-jigged their Southampton routes, the early signs are that it has failed to set the world alight. If I were running First, I would not be looking to attack the waterside at all. Its a battle that Bluestar seem intent on winning. Winchester routes would have proved a much better bet in my opinion! Having said that, we have seen so many times before, that no-one ever seems to win in these situations, and sooner or later, the status quo is preserved. Sadly, people tend to lose their jobs, as soon as it is, due to the losses incurred......

  2. A little off topic i know but i think the thing that would benefit the travelling public in Marchwood and the Waterside in general would be to reinstate a passenger service along the Totton to Fawley branch line, it would certainly relieve the congestion along the bottleneck currently known as the A326!

    1. I have no idea what the morning rush hour is like on the A326, as I am long gone by then, but I drive the return leg at various times from 3.30pm to 7pm. There are only tiny hold ups, which last for about 5 minutes, mainly caused by motorists who dont know how to use the joining lane from Rushington (why do people not use the whole of the lane?), and infernal parents who press the pedestrian crossing lights at Twiggs Lane every few seconds, instead of crossing in groups. From my experience, the Millbrook/Redbridge situation is far worse than anything that happens on the A326.

  3. Marchwood isn't a problem, it's an opportunity that has failed, so far, to be fully exploited. If you compare what is served by buses with the maps of the whole area, there is still a missed opportunity to grow demand in the whole area by providing a high frequency local trunk route (or two interworking routes) between Southampton and Lymington via Totton, Marchwood or Marchwood Industrial Park, Hythe and the underserved or unserved parts of the Waterside, and Beaulieu, and which could connect with every ferry sailing at Hythe.