London bus service faces the axe again

The 712 Uno bus to London Victoria

The 712 Uno bus to London Victoria - Credit: Archant

A CHERISHED London bus service described as St Albans’ “best kept secret” is once again in jeopardy after being salvaged around two years ago.

The 712 is slated to discontinue on Friday, October 4, this year, as bus company Uno have cited poor usage, echoing the former operator Arriva’s motive to drop the service three years ago.

But a regular user said the bus is extremely popular and a group of devastated passengers have even offered to pay more to keep it running.

Fiona Couper credits the Herts Advertiser’s campaign in 2011 to save the service as the reason she now uses it and has taken up the mantle to keep it in operation.

The St Albans resident regularly gets the bus from St Peter’s Street to Baker Street and applauded the service’s stress-free qualities and low-price fares, which are roughly half the price of a travel card into London on the train.

She said: “They [Uno] don’t realise how cherished it is. The other day I was working at home and I got the 10.25am bus and there were 30 people on it.

“In a week where train fares look set to soar even higher, it is a bitter blow. Some of the 712 users are having to contemplate whether they can afford to work in London for much longer without this service.

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“We are told it is closing because it is not a profitable service. However my understanding is that this also applied to other Uno routes, and they are not under threat.

Despite emailing and phoning the bus company the broadcaster has received no reply: “Their silence buys them time, and works against those of us who really want this service to continue.

She added that her fellow passengers have thought of a number of ways the service could attract more custom to stay in operation, such as better publicity and more commuter-friendly departure times.

“I think we all feel if Luton, Hatfield and Hemel Hempstead can have a bus to London, it’s not wrong to expect that St Albans can as well.”

Cllr Simon Grover described the service as “a best kept secret” and agreed the bus company could do more to promote it.

He said: “Some of the passengers have offered to pay a bit more, so it’s a little bit of a mystery to me as to why the bus company has decided to shut it down.

“Have they looked into all the options and had a look to see if they can save this service?”

He went on: “I think they should get round the table with some of the passengers and maybe looking at the price or the council for a big promotion.

“There could not be a better time to argue for this now the train fares have gone up again.”

Despite labelling the service as “well used”, Michael Finn, general manager at Uno, said it might be time for another bus company to step in.

He blamed the low number of concessionary reimbursements along with expensive operating costs for the service’s demise but added bus operations in general were having a rough time: “Times have changed since the two or three years ago when we thought there was a market there.”

Passengers paying more would not necessarily help the failing route, nor would changing times to appeal to commuters, he explained: “Every now and then we had a request to run the bus a bit later for commuters, but that would make the bus late for the uni students later on.”

In response to claims the service was not sufficiently advertised he said it was publicised on timetables and the Uno website.

He added: “It’s very disappointing. We tried to make it work and combine it with a service to the uni and for commuters, but unfortunately it hasn’t.”