Thursday, 27 September 2012

Nottingham's Competition for Passengers

I found myself in Nottingham for a few hours yesterday. It's always a pleasure to be here if you're an advocate of good public transport.
Riding the trams is a great reminder of how important and popular a good tram system is. My quick trip up to Hucknall was packed, even in the middle of the day, and the friendly staff looked happy enough in their work, offering passengers (including me) who asked, the choice of a tram day ticket or a "Kangaroo" (all buses, trams and trains in Greater Nottingham). The only slight downside was the dreaded contra-vision on the windows! I also think the conductors would look smarter if they wore a uniform instead of the more casual pullover as attire. The whole tram publicity appears to have had a subtle makeover to make it "softer" and more attractive, with the emphasis on "gliding" (instead of "riding") the system. (It looks very much like a Ray Stenning / Best Impressions production).
On the buses, the on-street competition fascinates me. The Competition Commission must be delighted with what goes on here. NCT and TrentBarton are the big players here, but there is also activity from Premiere and YourBus. What is also interesting is that the standard from all 4 is extremely high - no room for downmarket 20 year-old vehicles in this City! (Although the Statutory Quality Partnership Scheme - the first in the country - might well have something to do with that!)
The battle for "Brand Loyalty" is probably the most fierce as I've seen anywhere in the UK. Premiere takes on TrentBarton over several of their corridors and offers, on the face of it, cheaper fares. There is also a plethora of "deals" to wed passengers to the smaller operator. But TrentBarton have the extraordinary "Mango" smartcard product which offers very significant discounts compared to cash fares (and in turn, cheaper than Premiere on some examples), and is promoted very heavily. It's a very hard competitive battle in this City! I hardly noticed any advertising for the Kangaroo (all operator) ticket anywhere except on the tram (although I didn't have time to ride on any NCT buses to see their version of ticket promotions).
Whilst Premiere offer an undeniably good service (apart from one journey which failed to materialise), TrentBarton's offering is as good as it gets anywhere I've seen in the UK. I recommend anyone wishing to see an excellent model of how to run a bus service to visit "trentbartonland"  (as they call it!) to sample it for themselves.
There is a huge amount of branding going on across all of the operators and I never once saw the "wrong" bus on the "wrong route" - even though TrentBarton ran a couple of "standard" liveried buses on some routes, it was made very clear which services they were.
I shall return to the City for a more in-depth look as to why it is one of the UK's leading public transport cities in the near future, but it is certainly a scenario to discuss within the wider debate about whether areas need "Quality Contracts" or if deregulation of the buses actually worked or not (not a simple question to ever answer!). Here is a City with some of the best public transport in the UK - and all done in a deregulated environment.

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