Monday 17 February 2020


For as long as I am aware the Nottingham - Mansfield - Chesterfield corridor has been in the hands of East Midland Motor Services (now Stagecoach East Midlands) and the Trent Motor Traction Company (now trentbarton), though I recall just after deregulation tendered journeys operated by Gash's of Newark. 
Until the late 1990's the service number was 63 with express journeys extending to Sheffield (and later Meadowhall) run by EMMS numbered X2.

Then an amazing thing happened probably around 1997. Some Trent buses and Barton coaches were painted in Stagecoach colours for use on the renumbered services. The basic 63 (Nottingham to Chesterfield) became an hourly 737 making a 20 minute frequency between Nottingham and Mansfield with one an hour 747 (Nottingham to Meadowhall - run just by Stagecoach) and the hourly 757 (Leicester to Doncaster). The 30 minute frequency between Mansfield and Chesterfield was covered by an hourly Chesterfield- Mansfield short working.

ABOVE: Barton,  BELOW: Trent (Same company but not yet amalgamated. Both in Stagecoach 1990's livery)

Probably around 2005, things changed again. Stagecoach East Midlands and trentbarton agreed a name (Pronto) and single deck buses from each company were painted a distinctive purple/pink colour and fares and ticket availability were the same on either operator's buses. Indeed, the average passenger would not be aware who owned the bus.

I think trentbarton provided three or four vehicles and Stagecoach about eight. The route reverted to the basic old 63 route (Nottingham - Mansfield - Chesterfield) with a 15 minute frequency between Nottingham and Mansfield and 30 minutes between Mansfield and Chesterfield. Leicester, Doncaster, Sheffield and Meadowhall were no longer served.

ABOVE: & BELOW   trentbarton have used the 03 plate Scanias throughout the Pronto livery days. These pictures show examples of the trentbarton Scania L94/Wrightbus vehicles that have run between Chesterfield and Nottingham for over 10 years. 
Presumably once Stagecoach take over the vehicles can enjoy a well deserved rest.

This all seemed a good idea except for one major problem. Though some special tickets from each operator were permitted on all Prontos (eg Mansfield and Chesterfield Stagecoach Megariders), others were not (eg trentbarton zigzag and Stagecoach Day Riders). This made travelling on several buses for a day out extremely expensive, made all the more exasperating for passengers when either operator used a normal liveried bus on a Pronto service that would not accept or issue normal tickets for that operator. This situation has continued to this day but it seems may be sorted out on 16 February (see below).

In around 2012, it appears there was a dispute between the two operators, resulting in a short lived bus war. Stagecoach wished to increase the Nottingham - Mansfield frequency to every 10 minutes but trentbarton did not. 

Consequently, Stagecoach brought in extra buses, all in Pronto livery, and ran 5 minutes in front of every trentbarton Monday to Saturday working. Eventually, sense prevailed and the service did increase as Stagecoach wanted with the buses of the two operators running on an even headway.

The next surprise happened in 2018. Single deckers had always worked the services from at least the mid 1990's. Suddenly, Stagecoach bought 11 brand new double deckers, resplendent in Pronto livery (in my opinion, one of the most striking bus liveries on the road). 

This seemed to me to be getting at trentbarton in two ways. Firstly, trentbarton only run single deckers (and indeed are still using the 03 plate vehicles originally introduced onto Pronto more than 10 years previously) and secondly, contactless payment is advertised in large letters at a time when trentbarton did not provide that facility (they do now).

Move on a further year. Rumours are rife that Stagecoach were to take over trentbarton's share of Pronto (four buses worth) but I did not believe it until . . . on Facebook, a perplexed bus delivery driver asked what on earth were four brand new purple/pink branded vehicles doing parked at the back of Carlisle depot? 

What were they for? Obviously few if anybody around Carlisle would recognise that distinctive livery! 

Apparently they had been there since November. The East Midland area enthusiasts recognised it immediately and Facebook went mad (in bus circles, anyway)!

Above & Below Vehicles parked at Carlisle Stagecoach depot. December 2019

Well, these four buses arrived in Mansfield on 21 January 2020 (I have seen them with my own eyes), still without vinyls, and are parked at the back of Mansfield depot.

As of last week, three of the new 69 plate Prontos continue to stand at the side of the Mansfield Stagecoach depot. Although in Pronto livery, they still do not have any writing on the side, (11275-11277 SN69 ZPB, ZPC, ZPD)

11274 pressed into service on the 15.45 service 1 from Mansfield to the Designer Outlet on 12 February 2020. It is followed by one of the existing Pronto liveried buses on the 15.50 Pronto from Mansfield to Nottingham (SN18 KTU 10980)

The fourth one (11274 SN69 SNZ) has been pressed into service, probably because Stagecoach Mansfield has taken on at short notice, several school contracts. 
It seems that the contracts have been taken off other operators because non-DDA compliant vehicles were being used.

This view of 10973 SN18 KTG shows the livery that hopefully will be applied to 11274-11277 before they are required on 16 February to take over the four trentbarton Pronto workings.

The notices below have appeared on the Stagecoach and trentbarton websites referring to Pronto.:

So, from 16 February it IS all Stagecoach, including apparently the Friday and Saturday night buses to 3am from Nottingham which trentbarton has been running alone.

It is rumoured that big changes are afoot. Time will tell.

Why all the secrecy, hiding buses for months in Carlisle? Were they planning to run 5 minutes in front of trentbarton again if they didn't cooperate?

Incidentally, while all this has been happening, Stagecoach in Chesterfield (part of Stagecoach Yorkshire) has started a rival express service between Chesterfield and Nottingham (X1 via Alfreton, Designer Outlet and M1).

My final point is that nowhere in Notices and Proceedings North East (which strangely includes Nottinghamshire) can I find this change of operator for Pronto listed. 
It won't be the first time they have forgotten . . .

Oliver Foreman

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