Countryliner

Countryliner
Countryliner Coaches
logo
image
Countryliner's MRM7 at the 2007 Cobham bus rally, in the full white fleet livery.
Founded 1998
Service area West Sussex
Kent
Hampshire
Surrey
East Sussex
Service type Bus
Routes 72
Web site www.countryliner-coaches.co.uk
A bus in the cream livery for buses.

Countryliner is a large independent bus and coach operator, based in Merrow, Surrey, England. It operates in Surrey, East Sussex and West Sussex, running a number of bus and private hire coach services. It also operates into Hampshire and Kent.

Contents

History

The history of Countryliner can be traced back to 1911, with the formation of the East Surrey Bus Company, which was based in Reigate, Surrey. This later became part of the London General Omnibus Company, known today as London Transport.

In 1933, Green Line operated coaches across the home counties and London. The success of a Guildford to Charing Cross route led to the opening of the bus depot in Guildford. Buses were suspended from normal operation during World War II , but afterwards, Green Line carried on operating from Reigate. The company was involved in the Festival of Britain in 1951. 1970 brought nationalisation, and Green Line lost its link to London Transport, to become part of London Country Bus Services Ltd, which was a subsidiary of the National Bus Company. In 1987, the south west region of London Country became known as London Country South West and sold to Drawlane Group, which later became British Bus. These later came under the ownership of Arriva.

Green Line's private hire department was renamed Countryliner in 1992, and in 1996 London & Country, bought Blue Saloon Coaches of Guildford, a large bus and coach operator in the area. That company was sold off as "Countryliner Coach Hire Ltd" in 1998.

In 2001, the company started bus operations and now operate bus, contract hire and private coach hire. A new livery was adopted with a cream or white body, with a lime green skirt. Originally, buses were cream and coaches white, but most vehicles are now white.

The fleet was renewed between 2001 and 2006, with low-floor Dennis Darts making up the bus fleet and a mixture of Mercedes Benz and Volvo making up the coach fleet.

Countryliner Sussex Ltd was formed in 2006 to take over the bus operation of RDH Services of Ditchling Common, in West Sussex. It operated in Lewes, Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath.

In the same year, Countryliner Buses Ltd was formed, which took over the Hickstead operation of Compass Bus, also operating in the Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath area, and through to Brighton. At this time, the Countryliner group of companies operated around 80 vehicles through Surrey, Hampshire and Sussex.

February 2007 saw Countryliner make the local news after an 89 year old pensioner who had forgotten her bus pass was not allowed to travel for free.[1]

In 2008, Countryliner took over the operation of the Petersfield Town Services on behalf of Hampshire County Council, thus extending the operating area into the heart of Hampshire. In addition to this, more contracts were awarded to operate between Petersfield and Chichester and Midhurst on behalf of West Sussex County Council.[2]

June 2008 saw "Countryliner Group Ltd" created, to take over full ownership of all Countryliner subsidiaries. Incorporated were Bob Hodgetts, Roger Belcher, James Holmes and Craig White, the former two of which are company directors. However the latter two represent Merchant Corporate Recovery Plc, who paid £200,000 for a 51% stake in Countryliner Group Ltd, and who also provided a working capital facility of £300,000, showing extra cash had to be put into the business. Holmes said "the issues in the business can be clearly defined and the management has the ability to tackle them with our support".[3] Merchant Corporate Recovery valued Countryliner's assets at the time as £1million and said it had made pre-tax profits of £250,000 for the first half of 2009.[3]

Along with five other Surrey companies, December 2008 saw Countryliner make the Skills Pledge, a voluntary public commitment from employers to encourage and support employees of the company to improve their skills and gain qualifications.[4]

In 2009, Countryliner's financial standing was further brought into question. In November, a High Court hearing to wind up three of the Countryliner Group's companies, under the Insolvency Act 1986, was adjourned until January. The affected companies were Countryliner Buses Ltd, Countryliner Coach Hire Ltd and Countryliner Sussex Ltd. With Countryliner operating around 150 vehicles with around 200 staff at the time from five depots in Hampshire, Surrey, West and East Sussex and into Kent,[3] it caused worry among passengers and local authorities. Countryliner ran 23 routes in Surrey and Hampshire at the time, and during the proceedings Surrey County Council - who Countryliner ran a number of services under contract to - said they were "monitoring developments".[5] Countryliner made no comment but to confirm services were operating normally and that a restructuring was underway.[3]

The adjourned hearing took place on January 20 2010. It emerged that the winding up order had been started by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over an unpaid debt. At the hearing, the applications were dismissed and Countryliner were awarded costs against HMRC. Director Roger Belcher said "There was an outstanding debt to HMRC and they issued winding-up orders even though our negotiators were speaking to them at the time." The Countryliner Buses company had paid off all its debts and been liquidated, and Countyliner Coach Hire entered into a company voluntary arrangement (CVA). These assist troubled but viable businesses to reach an agreement with their creditors.[6]

Roger Belcher showed confidence about the business, saying at the time that "it’s trading healthily" and that there was never a risk that they would have been wound up: "All of our suppliers have been paid on time and all of our staff have been, there’s one creditor and one creditor only." The third winding up order against Countryliner Sussex Ltd was heard on February 17. As per what Roger Belcher expected in January, all debts were paid off in time for the hearing and that case too was thrown out.[6]

A number of changes to the company's Surrey network occurred from August 2010, as part of phase 1 of the Surrey County Council "Bus Review", a review of all of Surrey CC's tendered services, with the aim of reducing the amount of subsidy paid by the council. Routes 73, 81, 462 and 463 were taken on commercially, an unusual move as previously all of Countryliner services in Surrey had some form of Surrey CC support. As part of the changes, routes 71, 72 and 97 were withdrawn, and Countryliner lost the tender for route 437 to Arriva.[7] With this loss of work, Countryliner decided to start half hourly commercial service 464 between Guildford and Cranleigh from the day of the bus review changes, in competition with Arriva Guildford & West Surrey routes 53 and 63. Arriva also increased their services from the same weekend to every 15 minutes, however Countryliner's Neil Hatcher denied reports of a Bus War (where Arriva would react to Countryliner's new service by purposely increasing theirs).[8] Arriva's changes were not from the same day, and neither company would have been aware of the other's intentions at the time the changes were registered with the traffic commissioner.[9] Countryliner offered a more regular service to the Summerlands Estate in Cranleigh, and some buses ran via Guildford railway station towards Guildford unlike any other buses. Lower fares were charged, although Arriva did reduce their fares for their service changes. The service interworked with routes 462/3 to Woking (and from there the 73 to Chobham), with through fares available, although the workings did cause large problems with punctuality until February 2011 revisions. Neil Hatcher said that if the 464 was successful it would consider further expanding its services into Cranleigh's housing areas.[8]

Further financial problems surfaced on 1 March 2011 when Fisher Partners, a business recovery specialist, informed creditors that Countryliner Coach Hire Ltd had failed to keep up its payments to HM Revenue and Customs, against the terms of the creditors voluntary agreement mentioned above, and said that they were to petition a winding up order against Countryliner.[10]

Countryliner faced further problems in 2011, this time regarding maintenance. At a three day public inquiry finishing on 16 March 2011, just two out of five of the company's operator licenses being investigated survived being cut by Traffic Commissioner Philip Brown.[11] The Countryliner Coach Hire Ltd license, with authorisation for 35 vehicles, was revoked from the end of that week, from 23:59 on 18 March, after being found to have poor financial standing and having had several vehicle problems. This license carried around half of the Surrey services and some Sussex ones. The C & S Coach Travel Ltd licence, with authorisation for 33 vehicles, was found to have lost its repute, in particular following the numerous tachograph infringements, and was revoked from 31 July 2011 to allow school contracts to finish at the end of the school year. A condition was attached that no new EU work could be taken on, and director Geoffrey Shaw was banned with immediate effect from holding or obtaining an O-licence for two years. The other director voluntarily resigned. The business will be wound down gradually.[10][12]

The Countryliner Ltd license, with authorisation for 15 vehicles, and with the other half of the Surrey routes on it, received a formal maintenance warning after a high MOT failure rate and was allowed to continue, again with the condition it must not take on any new EU work. The Countryliner Sussex Ltd license, with authorisation for 17 vehicles, carrying most of the Sussex and Kent routes, was allowed to continue. Again, no new EU work could be taken on, a new transport manager must be submitted by 25 March and finances must be shown. Finally, an application for a new license, Countryside & Suburban Ltd for 104 vehicles, was withdrawn at the inquiry. This was to have been a "catch-all licence" covering all of the Countryliner Group subsidiaries. Together, the O-licence authorisation fell from 140 vehicles to 72.[10]

The final licence held by Countryliner Group, RJB (UK) Ltd, with five O-licences for buses based at Borden, Hampshire, was not part of the inquiry, being in the Western Traffic Area as opposed to the South Eastern and Metropolitan area.[12] To overcome the cut to the licences, several Countryliner stopped operating several routes, and numerous routes changed to different licences. The overcome the immediate cut to the Countryliner Coach Hire Ltd licence, Surrey routes 10/11, 98, 478, 678, 823, and E303 were abandoned, the 10/11, 478 and 678 Surrey CC tenders all being taken on at short notice by Arriva from the next day of operation, similarly the 823 by Safeguard Coaches and the E303 to Reptons Coaches. Route 98 was withdrawn with no replacement, being a limited commercial service with alternatives routes available. The remaining routes on the license were spread to others, Surrey routes 48, 87, 89 and 479 to Countryliner Ltd and Sussex routes 54, 56, 69, 79, 91, 92, X92 and 93 to Countryliner Sussex Ltd. A planned service increase to the 464, including introduction of variation 474, was cancelled following the decision, as was planned route 78 to run every week from Cranleigh to Chichester Market.[13] Countryliner are to focus on a reduced amount of local bus work, it is intended that by October 2011 all routes will have moved onto the Countryliner Sussex Ltd licence, and by then most of the coach fleet will have been disposed of after the revocation of the C & S Coach Travel Ltd license. The company will have to re-affirm its financial standing every six months from 30 September 2011.[12]

Soon after the decision, Countryliner cancelled the registrations for Surrey routes 81, 462, 463 and 464 which they had taken on commercially following the Surrey CC Bus Review Phase 1, effective from 16 May 2011.[13] The reasoning behind this is unclear. Routes 81, 462 and 463 are being tendered by Surrey County Council from 16 May to 3 September 2011, however route 464 will not be replaced as it is a commercial venture in competition with Arriva.[13] Should Countryliner not bid for or not win the tenders for the 81, 462 or 463, their presence in Surrey will have been almost halved since August 2010.

Services

Surrey

Route From To Via Notes
11 Farnborough Kingsmead Paddock Hill Estate Mytchett, Deepcut, Camberley, Frimley Park Hospital Mon-Sat d/time only.
41 Farnborough Princesssmead Ash Greyhound Farnborough Park, North Camp, Ash Vale, Ash Station (outbound only) Mon-Fri d/time only.
73 Woking National Rail Chobham Bowling Green Road Well Lane, Horsell & Mimbridge Mon-Sat d/time only.
81 Woking National Rail Barnsbury Estate Acacia Avenue Mount Hermon Road D/time only (Sunday service is run by Abellio).
87 Chobham Delta Road Collingwood College West End 1 journey College days only.
479 Epsom Clock Tower Bookham National Rail Ashtead, Leatherhead & Great Bookham Mon-Sat d/time only.
516 Chart Downs Epsom Dorking, Box Hill, Leatherhead, Woodbridge Tesco Mon-Sat d/time only.

Sussex

Route From To Via Other Info
134 Fletching Brighton Newick, Ditchling Shopper service. Wednesdays only.
166 Lewes Haywards Heath/Balcombe Plumpton, Wivelsfield 'Rider' service.
196 Crowborough Heathfield High Hurstwood, Buxted, Cross-in-Hand. Connects with service 197. Shopper service. Mondays (not Public Holidays) only.
197 Heathfield Eastbourne Horam, Hellingly, Horsham, Polegate, Willingdon, Eastbourne District General Hospital. Connects with service 196. Shopper service. Mondays (not Public Holidays) only.
245 Uckfield Bus Station Uckfield Bus Station Uckfield Hospital. Uckfield Town service. 'Rider' service.
824 Beddingham Burgess Hill Lewes, Plumpton, Ditchling, Hassocks 'Rider' service.

Fleet

A Countryliner Volvo B10M/Plaxton Premiere coach.

Surrey

The fleet mainly comprises new and second-hand Dennis Darts with Plaxton Pointer bodywork, but two new Plaxton Primos and 4 MAN/MCV Evolution were added to the fleet in 2006. Most recently a new Alexander Dennis Enviro 200 has joined the fleet in early 2009. The coaching base is also here, most of which are Mercedes-Benz.[14] [15]

Sussex

This fleet is more varied as it was taken over from RDH Services. It contains Optare Solos and Dennis Darts, as well as small numbers of other vehicle types.

References

  1. ^ "Lydia, 89, forgets pass — and is ordered off bus". Surrey Advertiser. 2007-02-15. http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/s/75263_lydia_89_forgets_pass__and_is_ordered_off_bus. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  2. ^ Countryliner - History Accessed 10 May 2008
  3. ^ a b c d "Countryliner hearing". Route One Magazine (Issue 311). 2009-12-03. 
  4. ^ "Six companies make Skills Pledge". Surrey Advertiser. 2008-12-03. http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/business/s/2040484_six_companies_make_skills_pledge. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  5. ^ "Countryliner winding-up proceedings adjourned". Surrey Advertiser. 2009-11-25. http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/s/2061466_countryliner_windingup_proceedings_adjourned. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  6. ^ a b "Countryliner winding-up order thrown out". Surrey Advertiser. 2010-01-22. http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/s/2064431_countryliner_windingup_order_thrown_out. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  7. ^ "Guide to revised principal bus services from 28 August 2010". Surrey County Council. 2010-08-09. http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/sccwebsite/sccwspublications.nsf/docidLookupFileResourcesByUNID/docid34211D9AED3C7D75802577420035AC9B?openDocument. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  8. ^ a b "Cranleigh sees increase in bus frequency". Surrey Advertiser. 2010-09-01. http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/s/2077472_cranleigh_sees_increase_in_bus_frequency. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  9. ^ "Notices and Proceedings". The Traffic Commissioner for the South Eastern and Metropolitan Traffic Area (Publication No. 2202): Pages 7, 10. 2010-07-09. http://www.dft.gov.uk/vosa/archive/N&P%202202%20-%2009th%20July%202010.pdf. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  10. ^ a b c "Two out of five linked 'Countryliner' firms 'survive'". Route One Magazine (Issue 377). 2011-03-24. 
  11. ^ "Notices and Proceedings". The Traffic Commissioner for the South Eastern and Metropolitan Traffic Area (Publication No. 2220): Page 14. 2011-03-18. http://www.dft.gov.uk/vosa/archive/N&P%202220%20-%2018th%20March%202011.pdf. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  12. ^ a b c "Operator and Corporate News". London Omnibus Traction Society (LOTS), The London Bus (Issue 560): Page 4. 2011-04. 
  13. ^ a b c "Country Area Route Developments". London Omnibus Traction Society (LOTS), The London Bus (Issue 560): Pages 16, 17. 2011-04. 
  14. ^ Countryliner - "Bus fleet" Accessed 10 May 2008
  15. ^ Countryliner - "Coach fleet" Accessed 10 May 2008

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