FlixBus/Stagecoach dispute intensifies

A row between FlixBus and Stagecoach over usage of Aberdeen Bus Station is intensifying.

Scottish government and the city council are now being drawn into what FlixBus describes as a ‘bus war’.

Stagecoach’s Managing Director for North Scotland, David Beaton, informed Flixbus Managing Director Andreas Schorling in an email on 24 April that owing to a recent Health and Safety Assessment that the FlixBus slots at the station would be withdrawn. Stagecoach does not own the station, but has a mandate to run it.

“There is a glaring conflict of interests when it comes to their management of the bus station” – FlixBus Managing Director, Andreas Schorling

Andreas Schorling said: “Stagecoach has an ownership stake in Scottish Citylink which is a direct competitor to FlixBus and operates some of the lines for them. There is a glaring conflict of interests when it comes to their management of the bus station.”

A spokesperson for Stagecoach explained the health and safety concerns: “As the local community in Aberdeen will know, the bus station is smaller than others and therefore we must make safety a priority to avoid overcrowding of both people and vehicles.

“We are therefore continuing to carry out the recommendations from our safety review and a further meeting is scheduled for June 14 where we will agree the new departure slots available, following the redesign of Union Square Bus Station. Operators will be informed of slot availability after that meeting.”

FlixBus services, which are operated in Scotland in partnership with McGill’s, are now embarking and disembarking in the nearby street, which it claims is unacceptable.

Andreas Schorling said: “We have evidence that Aberdeen Bus Station’s utilisation is not maximised and in fact being used largely as a parking facility for buses and coaches rather than as a pickup point for passengers. We suspect this is a deliberate misuse of the space to keep out competitors.

“The Scottish Transport Minister Kevin Stewart has told us to liaise with Aberdeen City Council to minimise any adverse impact on passengers. We have requested an urgent meeting to seek the council’s support, to ensure residents are being offered a full and fair choice of services from their local Bus Station.”

FlixBus adviser Jack Irvine added: “Stagecoach’s pig-headedness is causing consternation for our passengers and the council cannot be happy that we are having to load luggage and passengers on the street which is clearly a safety issue.

“We keep hearing about Stagecoach having health and safety issues inside the bus station and that’s why they won’t give us slots. How about the health and safety issues of us being forced onto the street? Incidentally we have still to see the supposed health and safety concerns Stagecoach have about Flixbus being present in the bus station.

“This is the kind of behaviour we saw in the British bus industry 30 years ago especially by Stagecoach. Next thing you know they’ll be running competition off the roads.”

No discussion?

Both parties in the dispute claim the other has not been in touch to discuss the issue.

Andreas Schorling said: “Despite Stagecoach’s claims that we are ‘in discussion’, officials have made no effort to consult with us or find a resolution in the last two months and in fact refused a dispute resolution. Operations staff from our coach partner McGill’s offered a meeting, but Stagecoach declined without explanation.”

“FlixBus have continued to publicly complain about the situation but have not been in touch with us for over a month” – Stagecoach spokesperson

A spokesperson from Stagecoach said: “FlixBus have continued to publicly complain about the situation but have not been in touch with us for over a month, nor have they used their four allocated departure slots and instead have made the decision to use Littlejohn Street as opposed to the accusation that we have ‘forced them out’.

“It is also normal for buses to stop and allow passengers to board from the street in the form of bus stops and bus shelters, which is common across the UK.

“Flixbus have continued to fail to raise their complaints through the proper procedures, yet we are open to discussion via the proper method than continuing this current public ‘bus war’ that they are intending.”

Flixbus’s legal adviser Professor Peter Watson of PBW Law has now intimated by letter to Stagecoach at their Inverness HQ that a formal complaint will be submitted to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) should the matter not be immediately resolved.

Professor Watson claims the Health and Safety assessment Stagecoach reports to have carried out has never been seen by FlixBus.

He adds: “Stagecoach and its associated company Citylink are in a dominant position insofar as the operation of the Aberdeen bus station. Our clients’ inability to provide further services for which there is demand has the effect of restricting competition and frustrating customer demand. Our client has suffered loss and will continue to suffer loss as a direct result of Stagecoach’s actions. Our client considers the situation requires, in the public interest, a full and open investigation by the CMA.”

McGill’s CEO Ralph Roberts, who is also President of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, said: “This situation could have been resolved amicably and swiftly. I am hopeful we can still achieve this. I am certain we all share the goal of having more and more people travel by bus. I hope Stagecoach share my views.”

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