I’ve been living in Bracknell for over eight months now. I can’t say anything special has happened, it’s Bracknell what were you expecting. But one thing has managed to irritate me over the last few weeks, the buses. I’m not a frequent bus user, but when I do use the bus, I’ve just got annoyed.
Just to give an overview of the bus situation, in Bracknell there are three operators. First, Courtney and Thames. Three bus operators for a large town, I don’t know why. As for the bus station, naff is the word to best describe it. It’s about 20 years old, it’s run down, nothing to hype about.
When I first came to Bracknell, Great Hollands (the area I live in) were served by First during the day, and Courtney during evenings and Sundays. A return ticket for the 171/172 on First was accepted on the evening running Courtney. Everything was fine. But come now, there appears to be a little ‘tit-for-tat’ bus war going on between First and Courtney. First now operate the evening and weekends after winning the contract from Bracknell Forest Council, and Courtney have decided to operate competing services in Great Hollands. Now competing services, fair enough. It’s allowed by the Transport Act 1985. I have no issue with the principal of competing services, but the little war going on between the companies has now started to annoy me, as I shall explain.
A ticket return from Great Hollands to Bracknell centre is £3.40 on all operators. Immediately when Courtney started offering competing services during the day with brand new Optare Solo buses, First started undercutting them and are now offering a return for the price of a single (£2.10). At the time, I wasn’t bothered. Infact, that benefitted me because the bus I’d normally get to get into work on time was the 0942 first service. The nearest Courtney service was 0955. Woohoo, I save £1.30. But then you got to ride on old old 15 year old buses with run down seats. Saying that, last two weeks First have introduced “new” buses. I say “new”, because they’re not “new”.
As for the ‘tit for tat’ I mentioned, it’s just small things. A few weeks ago, I got on a Courtney bus to go back home. The First bus arriving in parks at the stop in such a way on purpose it was pretty awkward for the Courtney to get out in the small gap which you can just fit through. Also meant that the service was delayed for about five minutes trying to get out of the bus stop. I’ve also heard and had conversations with both Courtney and First drivers mentioning this “war” between them. One particular comment was a First driver commenting on the price undercutting, saying something along the lines of “we can do this price for the next year if we wanted to”. Great.
Timetabling has been an issue as well. When Courtney offered their new Sunday services, it was timed about 5-10 minutes before the First services. That’s just stupid, to have two buses in a 10 minute range and then no buses for another 50 minutes. Thankfully First reacted to restore some balance. Ever heard of complementing services? You can compete, but don’t be an ass about it.
This is the real thing that has been annoying me lately. I believe that the First buses are running late on purpose if there’s a Courtney service ahead of it. Why do I think that? Many times, I’ve tried to catch the 0942 171 bus which is a First service. Now typically it never arrived on time in the first place, usually arrives 0946. Lately however, it’s been arriving at around 0953, even later. Yet the Courtney service arrives on time! It’s just stupid, and I believe it’s happening on purpose to cut off the trade for Courtney. The 0922 First service before arrives on time, and that doesn’t have any competing Courtney service near it. Just ridiculous.
Still better than Wessex Red. Just saying.