Under scrutiny Stagecoach appoint new CEO

Does this signal more cuts? – Owl

Under-fire bus firm Stagecoach has appointed a new managing director in the south west.

Midweek Herald Staff www.midweekherald.co.uk 

Peter Knight, who currently heads up the firm’s operation in north-east Scotland, will be in the driving seat from December – replacing Mike Watson after he resigned from the role.

He will be responsible for around 1,000 employees and over 300 bus services during a challenging time for the company, which has faced significant criticism for delayed and cancelled buses throughout Devon.

Earlier this year Exeter councillors called the city’s bus service ‘not fit for purpose,’ while Stagecoach was summoned to a public inquiry last week which will decide whether action should be taken against the company following a number of complaints from users.

The result of the traffic commissioner’s hearing will be known in the next few weeks. Sanctions could involve compensation for passengers in the form of free bus travel at weekends for a certain period of time, though the inquiry also heard that fares are likely to increase soon.

Stagecoach has blamed staff shortages for the problems, including a struggle to fill driver vacancies, and a drop in passenger numbers compared to before the pandemic leading to swathes of timetable alterations.

However, Mr Watson said in his final appearance at Exeter’s highways and traffic orders committee earlier in the month that the amount of ‘lost mileage’ on the Exeter bus network has “much improved” – falling to three per cent after previously being nine per cent a year ago.

Mr Watson added that further service changes which came into force yesterday [Sunday, 30 October] will mean “we eliminate our lost mileage.”

But the changes have been criticised by many, with some routes and services being cut, although the frequency of selected routes will go up. Stagecoach has said the changes are necessary to focus resources on the highest demand.

An ‘enhanced partnership’ is also being set up in the coming weeks so that Devon County Council and local bus operators can improve services.

On his appointment, Mr Knight said: “I’m looking forward to getting out and about and meeting our drivers and customers, as well as key stakeholders such as Devon County Council, and continuing our important work to re-build from some of the challenges we have faced coming out of the pandemic.

“I believe there are some great opportunities ahead as we look to move more people out of their cars and onto public transport, and I am determined to deliver a good and reliable bus service for our communities in the south west.”

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