RATP Dev UK, the parent company of Epsom Coaches, is to rename the Surrey-based operator, and end its tour operations, just three years before the company was due to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
The surprise move, announced on 3 April, will see the company become Quality Line, currently the trading name of the company’s bus division. The company is to be brought under direct management of RATP Dev London.
The changes, which will take effect from 25 June 2017, are understood to mean that the well-respected Epsom Coaches name will disappear completely, and coach tour operations will come to an end.
It is also understood that Steve Whiteway, Epsom Coaches’ managing director, is to retire.
It is understood that Epsom Coaches existing day trip and tour programme will continue until 24 June. After that, the programme will cease. Customers already booked on tours after that date are being notified and monies refunded.
Tim Jackson, Chief Executive of RATP Dev UK, says: “I would like to thank Steve Whiteway who is retiring in June after 37 years of service. Steve’s dedication and leadership over the years has been the foundation for this successful business.”
“In an increasingly competitive market, I’m confident that the closer integration of Quality Line into the RATP Dev London operation will enhance the company’s competitiveness and create opportunity to develop it further. That should be good for its passengers, employees and local stakeholders.”
Fiona Taylor, managing director of RATP Dev London, says: “The changes enable RATP Dev London to speak with a stronger voice and deliver a consistent product, so that we can better serve our customers every day. We very much look forward to working with the excellent staff of Epsom Coaches as they join the RATP Dev London team.”
RATP Dev London currently has two subsidiaries: London United and London Sovereign. Quality Line’s existing TfL routes will continue to run from the Epsom depot. RATP Dev UK says that from June it will have a single interface with TfL to cover contract and account management, tendering and business development. It will also deploy best practice across all ten of its London bus garages.
Epsom Coaches was established by H.R. Richmond in 1920. In 1986 the company made the move into the bus market. In 2003 the bus division was rebranded as Quality Line with the fleet repainted from the traditional cream and brown into all over red to comply with TfL requirements. In April 2012 the company was purchased by the Paris-based RATP Group.
In June 2015 the company celebrated its 95th anniversary with a well-attended open day at its Epsom premises. Commenting at the time, Steve Whiteway said: “Our visitors enjoyed the variety of attractions we laid on and especially enjoyed the nostalgic displays of old vehicles and photographs from our long history. We have had some wonderful comments, our staff team and vehicle owners together with our suppliers really went all out to make this a very special day for all concerned.”
It is understood that staff are saddened that the changes mean they won’t be able to celebrate the company’s centenary. Talking at the open day in 2015, Steve said: “I am very proud to lead this business, which has always had the community at its heart. We now look forward to our centenary in 2020.”
Stuart Render, who has worked closely with the Epsom Coaches team for a number of years, and has shared many of their successes, says: “Epsom Coaches is one of this country’s most respected coaching names. It is therefore disappointing and not a little sad that the brand and the tour operations are to disappear. It is equally disappointing that the team of professional, enthusiastic and hard-working staff are being denied the opportunity to celebrate what would have been a hugely important milestone in the history of the company.
“However, there is little room for sentimentality when it comes to the harsh commercial environment. This is a straight commercial decision, and is in no way an indication of the team having done anything other than work their socks off. All the team at Epsom Coaches can be rightly proud of what they’ve achieved. Come 25 June, the coach and coach tourism industry, and the many loyal customers of Epsom Coaches, will have lost something very special.”