Bus fleet replacement

Something odd is happening to our local bus fleet. 

All the buses that serve the Exeter to Exmouth route have been replaced together.  And all the vehicles are dedicated to that route.  So the company has acquired eleven new buses,  branded them as "Stagecoach Gold" with comfortable seats, wi-fi, USB sockets at the seats.  The timetable hasn't been significantly changed, but the service has been relaunched with gold coloured buses, labelled all over with the route name and number.  (Link here for the story.)

It seems odd to have a large bus fleet and then to divide it into - what shall we call them? - sub-fleets which cannot be interchanged.  Naively, one would expect that it would be more efficient if no vehicle was dedicated to a particular route.  Then, when wear and tear meant that one vehicle needed maintenance or other attention, any of the other similar vehicles could take its place.  But a bus which is labelled "Exeter to Exmouth" on the side cannot be used for the route from Exeter to Barnstaple.  And the buses that go between Exeter and Barnstaple are plain, and would not be appropriate for the Exmouth service.  So, I deduce that there must be enough flexibility in the Exeter-Exmouth sub-fleet to ensure that the service can be supported with vehicles of the same colour and quality. 

It isn't the only local route which has its own sub-fleet.  There are other "gold" bus routes out of Exeter and Plymouth.  But this is the route with the most regular service (every 15 minutes during the day).  In due time, I expect other local bus routes to have their own dedicated sub-fleet.  The same branding is being used in other parts of the UK.  The USB sockets are a new feature compared with buses that were rolled out in the Midlands.  For some time we have had "ordinary" buses branded with a particular route; however, those could have their branding removed or changed quite easily, should the need arise.  The point about this latest change is that the new vehicles are quite different in styling and facilities.

So, let us speculate and try (as O.R. people) to unravel the decision-process that has been followed.  A decision has been made to introduce this quality service; that means it has to be marketed in competition with the railway line and travel by car.  So the decision follows that all the buses on the service must be of the same appearance and standard.  Then this leads to the size of the sub-fleet, and here cost appears, balancing the need for facilities to keep these vehicles on the road with the extra revenue to be expected from the improved service.  Somewhere along the line, there is an advertising budget, which has been quite small in comparison with the cost of a double-decker bus.  (And decisions have to be made about how to advertise the service.)  Some of the costs are offset because the new transport has released a dozen or so older buses into the pool for the whole local fleet. 

Other commercial vehicle fleets have similar problems, whether they are trucks or trains.  But there are relatively few situations where a whole sub-fleet needs to be rolled out overnight.

And I like the new buses - because, in addition to the facilities mentioned - they have more legroom!


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