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How Preston's bus wars have been fought

Take a drive down Gamull Lane or New Hall Lane in Preston and you may spot the odd gang of kids at a bus stop.

But you will not find soldiers, tanks, or the scars of war.

Yet this is the heart of one of the bitterest battles to break out on the city's streets, the one between Preston Bus and Stagecoach.

It is a 'war' which has spread further afield, to other routes in Tanterton, Moor Nook, Ingol and beyond.

The fight has led to official warnings from government bosses, complaints from members of the public and even bouncers and watchmen on bus stops across the city.

When the war officially started is a matter for debate as national operator Stagecoach has been competing with its local rival on certain routes for up to 18 months.

However, it was May this year when the battle really heated up.

That was when Stagecoach registered to run a service every 10 minutes from the city centre to Gamull Lane, Brookfield and Farringdon Park, via New Hall Lane.

The new service undercut Preston Bus fares on two of its most lucrative routes.

Stagecoach stepped things up further by adding more money-spinning services to Royal Preston Hospital and Tanterton.

Stagecoach calls it competition while Preston Bus says it is an

attempt to destroy its business. What effect has the war had on both parties?

Preston Bus managing director Peter Bell says: "We have lost customers. It is not a number we like but I would not say it is a significant threat to us.

"We have lost money because of all of this, and our staff are

worried, but this is a cash business and there is still plenty of money in the bank.

"I can understand people being concerned. We are employee-owned and that means our staff have invested their own money into the business, some as much as 7,500.

"They trust the management and know that we are all in the same boat. It is human nature, you cannot blame people for being concerned.

"We have tremendous customer loyalty and we have had people coming up to our staff and asking 'how are WE doing?', not 'how are you doing?'.

"They see us as their company and I think that sums up what we have developed here."

On the other side, Stagecoach regional managing director Chris Bowles believes the expansion of his firm's operations in Preston is not a war. He believes it is a multi-million pound investment.

He said: "We have put 4m into the network which we have served, in one form or another, for more than eight years.

"Our new services have brought in 40 new or nearly-new buses, generated 50 new jobs and got 33,000 people using our services every week. It shows they are popular and being used.

"In towns and cities up and down the country, we have started new networks or expanded existing ones, often operating alongside other bus operators quite amicably.

"There is no reason why Preston should not also benefit in this way. The future outlook is that we will continue to seek ways to best meet customer needs on an ongoing basis."

Since yesterday, Stagecoach has altered its service to Farringdon Park to cover Moor Nook, at the request of customers.

Can we expect to see a ceasefire anytime in the near future?

Preston Bus boss Mr Bell says: "We did not start it so we cannot finish it.

"We have not encouraged it, we have not done anything except compete as fairly as we can.

"I do not blame Stagecoach for being competitive – that is the nature of the beast – but they are a far bigger business than us with greater financial resources.

"The only ones who can step in to stop this is are the North West Traffic Commissioner, the Office of Fair Trading or Stagecoach itself.

"Do I think it will end soon? Not really, I can see it going on for at least another 18 months."

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