Future of the ‘Big Three’

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Opinions and predictions please!

Stagecoach: the first of the big three to show their hand with the planned merger with, or take over by (depends on your point of view) National Express. Will this development have any effect on local Stagecoach services?  One consequence of this will be the National Express contracts once ran by GNE.   Will these now be ran by Stagecoach?  What will happen to the Megabus services ran out of the northeast Stagecoach depots? The pandemic surely pushed NX into expanding their reach into local bus services, these at least had government support, whereas the coaching business didn’t get anything like that sort of help. 

Arriva: obvious that DB are desperate to divest themselves of Arriva UK Bus.  They’ve recently closed their company pension scheme, which to me is to make the company as a whole a more attractive proposition to any potential buyer. Was Trandevs acquisition of Yorkshire Tiger a precursor to a full or partial takeover of the business? Or are there other potential buyers on the horizon?

GNE: until recently probably seen as the most secure of the big 3. However, the pandemic has played havoc with any plans they had two years ago and it is almost a reset. There’s also the small problem that the Go Ahead Group currently has regarding their rail franchises, share trading has been suspended in the last couple of days. It was recently reported that the First Group, having sold operations in North America, we’re looking to refocus on their UK bus operations and that Go Ahead were on their radar, how likely is this?

It has been reported that the ‘levelling up’ agenda and the possibility of more investment in bus services and public transport (think BSIP) may make bus companies more attractive investments than they have been for many years, or is that just pie in the sky?
(06 Jan 2022, 3:49 am)Bazza Wrote: Opinions and predictions please!

Stagecoach: the first of the big three to show their hand with the planned merger with, or take over by (depends on your point of view) National Express. Will this development have any effect on local Stagecoach services?  One consequence of this will be the National Express contracts once ran by GNE.   Will these now be ran by Stagecoach?  What will happen to the Megabus services ran out of the northeast Stagecoach depots? The pandemic surely pushed NX into expanding their reach into local bus services, these at least had government support, whereas the coaching business didn’t get anything like that sort of help. 

Arriva: obvious that DB are desperate to divest themselves of Arriva UK Bus.  They’ve recently closed their company pension scheme, which to me is to make the company as a whole a more attractive proposition to any potential buyer. Was Trandevs acquisition of Yorkshire Tiger a precursor to a full or partial takeover of the business? Or are there other potential buyers on the horizon?

GNE: until recently probably seen as the most secure of the big 3. However, the pandemic has played havoc with any plans they had two years ago and it is almost a reset. There’s also the small problem that the Go Ahead Group currently has regarding their rail franchises, share trading has been suspended in the last couple of days. It was recently reported that the First Group, having sold operations in North America, we’re looking to refocus on their UK bus operations and that Go Ahead were on their radar, how likely is this?

It has been reported that the ‘levelling up’ agenda and the possibility of more investment in bus services and public transport (think BSIP) may make bus companies more attractive investments than they have been for many years, or is that just pie in the sky?
Hasn't Megabus been sold as part of the merger, I remember seeing something about that.
I wonder if that includes the transferring of the vehicles and staff, if so, I see no reason for not just carrying on with the way it is now.

It obviously must be cheaper for them to outsource the running of the NatEx services or they would have already been running them by themselves. I can't imagine it being immensely profitable for GNE?

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Megabus is now majority owned ComfortDelGro, with SocttishCityLink and some other coach operations. National Express coaches shouldn't change in terms of outsourcing, but the fine detail is to come.

Arriva have been on the market for three years, DB want rid of all of it, Bus, Trains the whole shooting match. The big problem is valuation. While it may look like an attractive proposition to Transdev in enthusiast eyes, it isn't. The fleet is ageing and needs massive investment, very possibly more in £s than the actual worth of the shares. Running a company down to the bone is never a good way of selling, despite that being ever so often the case.

First have given up hopes of selling the British bus operation, they made a huge loss in America, they are probably not in a strong enough financial situation to make a bid for a company as big as Go Ahead, and what value to Go Ahead is a merger? Outside of London their operations have been hugely impacted by Covid and pressure over various ULEZ'.
(06 Jan 2022, 3:49 am)Bazza Wrote: Opinions and predictions please!

Stagecoach: the first of the big three to show their hand with the planned merger with, or take over by (depends on your point of view) National Express. Will this development have any effect on local Stagecoach services?  One consequence of this will be the National Express contracts once ran by GNE.   Will these now be ran by Stagecoach?  What will happen to the Megabus services ran out of the northeast Stagecoach depots? The pandemic surely pushed NX into expanding their reach into local bus services, these at least had government support, whereas the coaching business didn’t get anything like that sort of help. 

Arriva: obvious that DB are desperate to divest themselves of Arriva UK Bus.  They’ve recently closed their company pension scheme, which to me is to make the company as a whole a more attractive proposition to any potential buyer. Was Trandevs acquisition of Yorkshire Tiger a precursor to a full or partial takeover of the business? Or are there other potential buyers on the horizon?

GNE: until recently probably seen as the most secure of the big 3. However, the pandemic has played havoc with any plans they had two years ago and it is almost a reset. There’s also the small problem that the Go Ahead Group currently has regarding their rail franchises, share trading has been suspended in the last couple of days. It was recently reported that the First Group, having sold operations in North America, we’re looking to refocus on their UK bus operations and that Go Ahead were on their radar, how likely is this?

It has been reported that the ‘levelling up’ agenda and the possibility of more investment in bus services and public transport (think BSIP) may make bus companies more attractive investments than they have been for many years, or is that just pie in the sky?

GNE has been the weakest of the three up here for years. They barely make a profit and that's pre pandemic nevermind after hence the cuts, cuts, cuts which have been going on for years masked by some fancy repaints. Stagecoach by a country mile is the most secure up here.

Arriva up here would be quite attractive imo. Makes a profit and there's potential for growth with investment. It's the depots down South which are the big problem especially the South Counties and Midlands which have been making a loss for years and it's also where the fleet is the worst.
 (excluding Hartlepool and South Shields). Transdev won't be buying them though.
(06 Jan 2022, 3:49 am)Bazza Wrote: Opinions and predictions please!

Stagecoach: the first of the big three to show their hand with the planned merger with, or take over by (depends on your point of view) National Express. Will this development have any effect on local Stagecoach services?  One consequence of this will be the National Express contracts once ran by GNE.   Will these now be ran by Stagecoach?  What will happen to the Megabus services ran out of the northeast Stagecoach depots? The pandemic surely pushed NX into expanding their reach into local bus services, these at least had government support, whereas the coaching business didn’t get anything like that sort of help. 

Arriva: obvious that DB are desperate to divest themselves of Arriva UK Bus.  They’ve recently closed their company pension scheme, which to me is to make the company as a whole a more attractive proposition to any potential buyer. Was Trandevs acquisition of Yorkshire Tiger a precursor to a full or partial takeover of the business? Or are there other potential buyers on the horizon?

GNE: until recently probably seen as the most secure of the big 3. However, the pandemic has played havoc with any plans they had two years ago and it is almost a reset. There’s also the small problem that the Go Ahead Group currently has regarding their rail franchises, share trading has been suspended in the last couple of days. It was recently reported that the First Group, having sold operations in North America, we’re looking to refocus on their UK bus operations and that Go Ahead were on their radar, how likely is this?

It has been reported that the ‘levelling up’ agenda and the possibility of more investment in bus services and public transport (think BSIP) may make bus companies more attractive investments than they have been for many years, or is that just pie in the sky?

Interesting what peoples perceptions are of the performance of the big 3.  I'm with Storx on this one, I think it's mentioned elsewhere on the forum that GNE are the least profitable of the big 3.
(06 Jan 2022, 1:22 pm)Chris 1 Wrote: Interesting what peoples perceptions are of the performance of the big 3.  I'm with Storx on this one, I think it's mentioned elsewhere on the forum that GNE are the least profitable of the big 3.

It's not all about how much profit they're making though, Arriva may be making more money, but they're also not making any investments into the services. So when the time comes to update the fleet they're going to have to spend big, and I'd guess very little of that profit has been staying within ANE for them to make those investments. GNE on the other hand, has been continually making investments in the fleet

Looking at Arriva County Durham's accounts, which went up yesterday, they went from making a gross profit of £6.2m to a loss of £4.5m, although due to government grants of £11m, they still made a profit of £1.3m, compared to GNE's overall loss of £4.6m since it seems GNE only received around £4.5m in government grants. 
I just skimmed them so feel free to double check!
(06 Jan 2022, 2:09 pm)streetdeckfan Wrote: It's not all about how much profit they're making though, Arriva may be making more money, but they're also not making any investments into the services. So when the time comes to update the fleet they're going to have to spend big, and I'd guess very little of that profit has been staying within ANE for them to make those investments. GNE on the other hand, has been continually making investments in the fleet

Looking at Arriva County Durham's accounts, which went up yesterday, they went from making a gross profit of £6.2m to a loss of £4.5m, although due to government grants of £11m, they still made a profit of £1.3m, compared to GNE's overall loss of £4.6m since it seems GNE only received around £4.5m in government grants. 
I just skimmed them so feel free to double check!

True - it's not, but the profitability of any business will always determine the future of it.

In terms of ANE, again I agree that the fleet is in need of investment and that most of the profit generated will be squirrelled back off to Germany.  At some point that will change though, the lack of investment and general interest in Arriva by DB is purely because they want to sell and don't want spend.  With investment and interest, I personally see potential in large parts of ANE.
(06 Jan 2022, 8:48 am)54APhotography Wrote: Megabus is now majority owned ComfortDelGro, with SocttishCityLink and some other coach operations. National Express coaches shouldn't change in terms of outsourcing, but the fine detail is to come.

Arriva have been on the market for three years, DB want rid of all of it, Bus, Trains the whole shooting match. The big problem is valuation. While it may look like an attractive proposition to Transdev in enthusiast eyes, it isn't. The fleet is ageing and needs massive investment, very possibly more in £s than the actual worth of the shares. Running a company down to the bone is never a good way of selling, despite that being ever so often the case.

First have given up hopes of selling the British bus operation, they made a huge loss in America, they are probably not in a strong enough financial situation to make a bid for a company as big as Go Ahead, and what value to Go Ahead is a merger? Outside of London their operations have been hugely impacted by Covid and pressure over various ULEZ'.

I'm interested to see how the ComfortDelGro deal works out. The press release was that CDG would be take over ownership, marketing, retail and customer service activities of Megabus (and Falcon), but we know that the vehicles themselves are owned and maintained by the various Stagecoach subsidiaries, operated for Megabus likely through some kind of transfer pricing arrangement. I can't see that changing in the first few years, as CDG still need those buses on the road and running to have a business, but it creates quite an odd situation.

You'd have the second largest coach operator outsourcing work to the largest coach operator, who then outsource their own coaching work to other operators. It also gives them a massive ability to influence the cost of coach travel.

In my opinion, there'll have to be changes somewhere down the line, likely with CDG moving to moving to a similar position as NX and using multiple contractors to deliver Megabus services, but it remains to be seen.

Couldn't agree more re: your Arriva comments. No one in their right mind would purchase the Arriva UK bus operation as a whole, unless the sole purpose was to asset strip it. The more likely result is individual depots or areas being sold, where it makes operational sense for another operator to purchase that work.

Go North West in Manchester is a good example and perhaps also good foresight, as it's given Go Ahead a base to operate out of and win work under the incoming regulated network there.
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(06 Jan 2022, 2:30 pm)Chris 1 Wrote: True - it's not, but the profitability of any business will always determine the future of it.

In terms of ANE, again I agree that the fleet is in need of investment and that most of the profit generated will be squirrelled back off to Germany.  At some point that will change though, the lack of investment and general interest in Arriva by DB is purely because they want to sell and don't want spend.  With investment and interest, I personally see potential in large parts of ANE.


Reading a bit further into the accounts, it seems like that is the case. While I'm no accountant, it looks like at the end of each day all money is sent back to DB, and Arriva have to ask nicely to use any of it.

Quote:Liquidity risk

The company voluntarily participates in a group cash pooling arrangement operated by its ultimate parent, Deutsche Bahn AG ('DB'). This is a long-standing arrangement operated by DB to manage the liquidity needs of DB group companies, and the company has been a party to this arrangement for several years. Under the arrangement substantially all the company's cash balances are swept into the group cash pool at the end of each business day. The company has a positive cash pooling balance at the balance sheet date, and the directors expect the company's pooled cash balance to remain positive over the going concern assessment period.
The company is currently dependent on daily access to its funds in the cash pool for the funds required to operate and to support the going concern assumption. As the terms of the company's agreement with DB do not provide explicit rights for immediate access to these funds on request, this gives rise to a potential liquidity risk that funds may not be available as required to settle liabilities during the period of 12 months from the date of approval of the financial statements, and the directors acknowledge that this indicates the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the company's ability to continue as a going concern. However, the directors consider this risk to be highly improbable, as such action would contradict internal group policies and would be inconsistent with the past practice.
(06 Jan 2022, 3:41 pm)streetdeckfan Wrote: Reading a bit further into the accounts, it seems like that is the case. While I'm no accountant, it looks like at the end of each day all money is sent back to DB, and Arriva have to ask nicely to use any of it.


That’s been going on for many years, that’s what happened with Arriva train services in the uk before there got stripped and put back in uk hands all profit went back to DB and not put back into the system and DB asking for handouts from the uk government to try and sort the uk train side, DB should be stripped of the uk bus side aswell and sold to other companies that would take care of the bus services etc…, if you go to Germany you will see how there transport infrastructure has grown and updated by using uk taxpayers money


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(06 Jan 2022, 3:41 pm)streetdeckfan Wrote: Reading a bit further into the accounts, it seems like that is the case. While I'm no accountant, it looks like at the end of each day all money is sent back to DB, and Arriva have to ask nicely to use any of it.

That's not uncommon for a subsidiary, unless they were operating as an arms-length organisation/carve out.

Looking at Arriva Plc (Company number 00347103) will give you a fuller picture.
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Prior to the pandemic, I'd have argued that all three would have continued to struggle numbers wise, based on the mantra that 'operators know best', whilst seeing numbers drop.


Traditionally, I always saw Stagecoach as a strange one. A presence in towns and cities across the UK, with random operations in seaside towns which were dying on their feet - often with the odd link or two to larger networks.
Morecambe - towards Preston.
South Shields - towards Sunderland. 
Hartlepool - towards Stockton and Middlesbrough. 
Always thought Blackpool was ripe for Stagecoach domination and surprised (but pleased) it has never came off. 


As for Arriva, we were always told that it would be sold off as a whole and not in divisions. Whilst that may have been the aim, it's predictably proven to not be the case and I can see the Arriva presence reducing until what is left, is sold as a complete unit. 
Until Arriva does go, will we see the constant shifting of vehicles around depots continue? 
Will we see the likes of Teesflex fill gaps in places around East Cleveland, serving areas the X3/4, 5, 28 and to an extent the X93 refuse to go? Or will they look to grow their market as opposed to the apparent asset stripping we see elsewhere?


Go-Ahead - never could make my mind up about them. Always seem to be in a state of flux, no matter where you see them.
Whether it's buying out a smaller operator and then selling them no too long later, an apparent lack of integration between networks (looking at Thames with Oxford or EYMS with GNE amongst others), contracting and reducing their network or repainting it... You can't say its boring! Especially when you're stuck with shares they can't sell!
I will give them credit for offering up some local control. Tis a shame that the local control is seemingly filled with those who know best or talk that way at least.

Fresh, inspiring minds could have changed bus operations for the positive. There wasn't and isn't enough of them and from what I've seen, any inspiration seems sucked away pretty soon. 
Tis a shame and tis a legacy of failed Thatchernomics. It's just a shame there's a fair few who see Covid as the culprit and not the actual decision makers. 

What the future holds, who knows.
I bet it will involve more handouts, subsidies and route consolidation though. The exact opposite of what de-reg was meant to be about.
'Illegitimis non carborundum'
(06 Jan 2022, 2:09 pm)streetdeckfan Wrote: It's not all about how much profit they're making though, Arriva may be making more money, but they're also not making any investments into the services. So when the time comes to update the fleet they're going to have to spend big, and I'd guess very little of that profit has been staying within ANE for them to make those investments. GNE on the other hand, has been continually making investments in the fleet

Looking at Arriva County Durham's accounts, which went up yesterday, they went from making a gross profit of £6.2m to a loss of £4.5m, although due to government grants of £11m, they still made a profit of £1.3m, compared to GNE's overall loss of £4.6m since it seems GNE only received around £4.5m in government grants. 
I just skimmed them so feel free to double check!

It's hard to take anything from the accounts, Arriva's only include 9 months during Covid, GNE only 3 months so it's incomparable really.

Profits make a massive difference when trying to sell something though, old assets will just drop the price that you can ask for something. New assets and no profits is the worst combination as you'd have a high selling price for nothing.

In theory with Arriva if they improved there buses then they'd do it with a promotion which in turn would increase profits even further so it's not wasted money. GNE on the other hand if they make a little profit and already have a new fleet where else can you go to improve money, make a loss and the only option is cuts. I know GNE is (or was) one of GoAhead's worst areas.
Would the Wellglade Group invest up here.
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I think the Big Three need to take a look at what has just happened down in Oxford where they had mass cuts in service due to large parts being duplicated by Stagecoach Oxfordshire and Oxford Bus Company - https://www.oxfordbus.co.uk/network-review
(06 Jan 2022, 7:46 pm)Malarkey Wrote: I think the Big Three need to take a look at what has just happened down in Oxford where they had mass cuts in service due to large parts being duplicated by Stagecoach Oxfordshire and Oxford Bus Company  - https://www.oxfordbus.co.uk/network-review

This is already planned for later this year. See recent discussion elsewhere on the forum regarding the BSIP/EP.
(06 Jan 2022, 8:53 pm)Dan Wrote: This is already planned for later this year. See recent discussion elsewhere on the forum regarding the BSIP/EP.


So did they get the funding for it?, like 800m?, or I'm I thinking of the wrong thing?
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(06 Jan 2022, 7:46 pm)Malarkey Wrote: I think the Big Three need to take a look at what has just happened down in Oxford where they had mass cuts in service due to large parts being duplicated by Stagecoach Oxfordshire and Oxford Bus Company  - https://www.oxfordbus.co.uk/network-review
Interesting re the Thames Travel X39/40 and the lack of integration with the Oxford services that I mentioned yesterday.

Surprise, surprise - they've looked to improve the integration and perception of the service and punters will now be fully aware of the link between the two Reading services and the rest of the Oxford network...
'Illegitimis non carborundum'
(06 Jan 2022, 3:07 pm)Adrian Wrote: I'm interested to see how the ComfortDelGro deal works out. The press release was that CDG would be take over ownership, marketing, retail and customer service activities of Megabus (and Falcon), but we know that the vehicles themselves are owned and maintained by the various Stagecoach subsidiaries, operated for Megabus likely through some kind of transfer pricing arrangement. I can't see that changing in the first few years, as CDG still need those buses on the road and running to have a business, but it creates quite an odd situation.

You'd have the second largest coach operator outsourcing work to the largest coach operator, who then outsource their own coaching work to other operators. It also gives them a massive ability to influence the cost of coach travel.

In my opinion, there'll have to be changes somewhere down the line, likely with CDG moving to moving to a similar position as NX and using multiple contractors to deliver Megabus services, but it remains to be seen.

Couldn't agree more re: your Arriva comments. No one in their right mind would purchase the Arriva UK bus operation as a whole, unless the sole purpose was to asset strip it. The more likely result is individual depots or areas being sold, where it makes operational sense for another operator to purchase that work.

Go North West in Manchester is a good example and perhaps also good foresight, as it's given Go Ahead a base to operate out of and win work under the incoming regulated network there.
I must say, Arriva North East does seem a better proposition if either of GNE or Stagecoach/National Express could pull it off, then consolidate. With the devastating effect of covid and a bleak economic future for the region, is there really room for three main players? Is it time for a new round of carve up's and regulations?
(06 Jan 2022, 8:48 am)54APhotography Wrote: Megabus is now majority owned ComfortDelGro, with SocttishCityLink and some other coach operations. National Express coaches shouldn't change in terms of outsourcing, but the fine detail is to come.
Stagecoach and National Express agree to merge https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-s...s-59652889

As detailed in the above article:

‘National Express wants to tie its commuter and shuttle bus operations into Stagecoach's city and town services, and to use the Scottish firms network of depots.’

that suggests to me that the outsourcing will be coming to an end