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Transport Benevolent Fund - 2019
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March 21 2018
By Mel Holley

A former routeone editor, Mel has more than 30 years’ experience in road and rail transport journalism.

Councils need to look beyond price for
safety and sustainability of service

Chris Owens, MD of Llandudno based Alpine Travel, has hit out at councils for awarding lowest price tenders, without looking at what they are getting.

Chris Owens, MD of Llandudno based Alpine Travel

In a scathing attack he says coaches and buses are treated like a ‘Cinderella service’ and their economic impact not fully valued.

But says the system for awarding contracts needs to change from being price driven to rewarding quality.

He says the obsession with the lowest bidder had led to the collapse of companies like GHA in Wrexham and Padarn Bus in Gwynedd, who were undercutting rivals but then found themselves unable to provide a service for the tender price.

This led to corners being cut and Mr Owens says this is damaging the confidence people have in the sector.

He says Alpine will always put compliance ahead of price so he can “sleep at night.”

“We saw GHA grow into the largest private bus operator in Wales and then go bust. They were aggressive and went after every tender and undercut, undercut, undercut.

“They were badly managed and went into receivership in 2016.

“They were under concern for three years prior to this, but were still being awarded contracts.

“In 2014, Padarn also went under. We lost contracts to Padarn to 2009 that we had held since 2004. But we lost them because in 2009 they were tendering cheaper than we were in 2004.

“We steered away from bus services because people think they can run services for nothing.

 “Corners have been cut and no investment made while local authorities have been educated by these poor performers about what they should be paying.

“Here, we have the right ratio of mechanics to vehicles, compliance officers, finance, managers and supervisors. 

“Because we have these people in place it means we carry larger overheads than a lot of our competition. It makes business tight and difficult but I’m not willing to compromise safety and efficiency for price.”

Could not agree more as in West Norfolk a company has pushed out the big boy by doing just that.
It is believed to have tendered lower than a community transport group.
Jim Fishcer

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