Bus passengers face a wet winter of discontent with no shelters

Six months since Inside Croydon first revealed the secret removal of the borough’s bus shelters, and a dodgy-looking £6.8million deal with a small company that had only been established a few months earlier, the council has admitted that not a single one of the promised new shelters has been installed.

Broken promise: the so-called bus shelter ‘upgrade’ was meant to have started by now

Established bus shelter providers and street advertising specialists JCDecaux’s contract with Croydon Council ended at the end of March this year. They promptly started to remove nearly all of the bus shelters from around the borough.

A confidential council briefing document obtained by Inside Croydon showed that a multi-million-pound deal had been struck with a company called Valo Smart City UK Ltd, a firm operating from Suite 219a in some Regus serviced offices on Lansdowne Road.

Valo Smart City was only registered in August 2020, and has no business record of providing bus shelters or selling advertising. It has never even filed a set of accounts.

In true Croydon Council manner, the replacement shelters were not ready to replace the Decaux ones as they were being disassembled through the spring. The council promised that they would be installed “from autumn 2021”.

That has failed to happen.

In a reply to a question from Sanderstead councillor Yvette Hopley, a council official has admitted that JC Decaux quit Croydon – Katharine Street sources suggest that the council was asking for too big a slice of the advertising revenues. In their letter, the council official also claimed that “a full tender process” had been conducted to find an alternative supplier.

Gone: JC Decaux removed their shelters in April and May. The council still doesn’t have any replacements

“We can confirm, that JC Decaux have removed their bus shelters in Croydon,” the council response stated.

“The contract with JCDecaux ended in March this year and they were not willing to extend this for any period of time despite our requests. Subsequently, they removed their bus shelters over the summer.

“We have completed a full tender process and have appointed a new company to install replacement bus shelters and street furniture as part of our ongoing programme and commitment to offer our residents in the borough a better service.”

Please try not to laugh.

“The new bus shelter installation will begin imminently.” Ahh, some good news.

But then,  comes some bad news: “Unfortunately we do not have specific timings as yet as the deployment is dependent on gaining planning permission for Digital Advertising consent.”

The council has known about this situation since JCDecaux refused to sign another contract, thought to be some time in early 2020, if not before. The council’s planning committee was considering the installation of the replacement shelters as long ago as March this year.

“For your interest, the application for the first batch of sites has already been submitted to planning,” the council officer wrote to Hopley, “and we are currently working with the planning authority…”, which just happens to be Croydon Council, “… to gain consents for the numerous individual sites.”

The council is still banging on about how the replacement shelters will have “Smart City” technology, offering “bus countdown information” – something which had been available on many of the removed Decaux shelters for nearly 20 years – as well as air quality and traffic monitoring.

But the harsh reality is that the council has been receiving no income from bus shelter advertising since March this year. Given that the Valo deal promised £6.8million income to the council over 10 years, that could mean that our cash-strapped council has missed out on around £450,000 in the last eight months. Or what they call in Fisher’s Folly “a Full Negrini”.

And while the Smart City stuff might all sound very nice, what most residents want is somewhere to shelter from the winter wind and rain, and for somewhere safe to sit while waiting for their bus. How difficult can that be?

In Croydon, it would seem, it’s impossible.

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13 Responses to Bus passengers face a wet winter of discontent with no shelters

  1. J Read says:

    Valo Smart City Uk Ltd seem a very odd company to give a sizable contract to. No accounts, only started on aug 2020, with 2 Executive Directors age 67 and 77 and citizens and resident in USA ? What on earth are Croydon council doing with our Shelters, our replacement shelters and our Money. This is all very concerning…. No Joke !

    • Without seeing the actual contract (for a public procurement process – heaven forbid!), this really ought to be a nil-cost project to the council, who in return for allowing the company to sell advertising along its roadsides, receives a share of that ad revenue.

      The trouble is, 100% of nothing is a big fat zero, and that mau have left another £400,000 hole in the council budgets this year already.

  2. Dolphin says:

    It is also a matter of well being and safety. It is comforting to know on these dark and lonely nights when the next bus is scheduled etc. It is also about wholistic thinking, ‘supporting green values.’ If people are to leave their cars at home and use public transport more, at least make it a comfortable, knowledgeable experience.

    Who is responsible for ensuring contractual agreements are met? Who does the chasing if it is not? Maybe there needs to be written into these contracts failure to produce goods or services/items claw back. Some one is manipulating the system, let’s see how long it takes to get the job done. Hurry up and protect the NHS by protecting vulnerable people from the wind and rain we are experiencing. Who ever was the greedy one in the first place for wanting more advertising space/rights etc please stand up! Xxx amount of nothing is just that… Now you get nothing!

  3. Once upon a time Council officers were obliged to obtain satisfactory financial and technical references from prospective contractors (or consultants). It is part of “due diligence” and similar to what ordinary members of the public often do on line before committing to a major purchase etc. How Croydon managed to enter into this new contract with what is a “start up” company is beyond me. Presumably there is a committee report somewhere in the system to justify the action. I wonder whose name(s) are on it?

  4. Dan Kelly says:

    A lot of the shelters were useless anyway as the rain blew in and the seats were wet.
    The dot matrix indicators are often wrong. Buses often turn up that aren’t shown.

  5. Ian Kierans says:

    It would be very interesting for Head of Fraud Mr Hogan to review and comment.

    But assuming that as he has not and it has happened, all was in order with respects to fraud – due diligence processes – regulations inc regulations pertaining to tendering and bidding.

    One can also believe that the whole process was efficiently documented and reviewed and good governance oversight and risk management was adhered to at all times.

    One can also believe that clear protocols and delivery management were integral to the Project with fail-safe backups.

    Assuming that this is all true and there was nothing remarkable about the contract or process and no one was at fault for the failed delivery then perhaps one of the the alternatives was true –

    Now tongue in cheek – but either this was
    1. Rubbish management and incompetence?
    2. Improper tendering by Council or intentional tendering to a supplier known to be unable to gear up to meet requirements?
    3. Or just purely intentional?.
    Ok as a 4. Or all the above?

    But perhaps it is something else?

    Maybe one could believe that a project to digitalise the borough and tack on IT kit and software to allow monitoring of Air Pollution and CCTV cameras and – push the boat out – to assist prevention of crime and anti-social behaviors to the shelters was a worthy project for all bus shelters in the Borough?

    It would be an interesting project and if delivered remarkably forward thinking.

    But perhaps someone thought oops this might not be in the current Council executive best interests.

    Not because it would be measuring Air pollution from the Incinerator. Can you imagine in the voice of Private Fraser ” We’re all doomed Mr Mannering” booming out at at regular intervals. Or getting modern and asking Ms G Thornburg to vocalise her thoughts on Viridor. Definitely worth a visit to te local Bus shelter that!

    Not because it might show the LTNs are actually causing higher/lower pollutants overall to the Borough. We could have the Councillors voices saying I told you so – dependent on level – perhaps not worth a visit to the Shelter?
    Not that it would catch Developers removing suspended bays signs from one location to place outside their own development for their own purposes and with Council assistance afterwards in replacing them as they got both the tags and number of bays wrong. Dear me that would go viral and hit instagram facebook and every other social media. One can imagine George Michael and Andrew Ridgley singing ( – If you’re gonna do it do it right, do it with me. I’m your man ) in the background to getting the sign switch wrong.

    No there would be a more fundamental reason – Money!

    This Executive is broke. IT costs money to build and maintain along with Digital Competence. This Council has no money and is unable to even maintain its own digital processes effectively.

    It is an Emperor with no clothes and now no Bus shelters!

    So where is the impact assessment on that fantastic piece of work of leaving vulnerable people reliant on Public Transport at the mercy of the elements? In the immortal words of Oliver Hardy

    Just another nice Mess!

  6. Lewis White says:

    Unfortunately, it would seem that if Croydon has an adopted “Procurement Policy” for such high-value contracts the decison makers (senior officers and councillors) who should be ensuring best value for money are either naive, brainless, looking the other way, or having the wool pulled over their eyes by the promoting officers who themselves have either incredible naivety, lack of real knowledge of such contracts and risks, or some other interest in getting a big project delivered by a firm with very little UK track record.

    Decaux has a long track record. Whilst it too was once a young company in the UK, it had a long track record in France.

    Adshel has along UK track record.

    Yet another wasted opportunity for Croydon ?? Sad

    • There have been proven cases of corruption in the procurement process at Croydon Council in the past, the outcome of which was that one of those responsible was promoted… to chief executive.

      We also understand that other elected councillors, despite repeated requests over the bus shelter fiasco, have been denied any response. The contracts are also withheld from councillors, with council employees claiming commercial confidentiality.

  7. Lewis White says:

    I fear that the depth of manure in the London Borough of Augea’s municipal stable is going to drown an elected mayor who goes in to clear it with a mere pitchfork.

    A very large pump and a very large holding lagoon ( to stop it flowing untreated into the crystalline waters of the Wandle) and a state of the art sewage treatment works is clearly required.

  8. Elinor Hucknall says:

    While Valo Smart City *UK* is a relatively new company, Valo Smart City US is not. Just as – as noted in another comment – JC Decaux began in France before moving into the UK market, so Valo Smart City is doing the same in expanding out of the United States. Seems to me the issue is Croydon Council’s tardiness in approving planning that is cause of the delays – and what I don’t understand is why replacing a bus shelter with another bus shelter requires a whole raft of Planning involvement.

    • We reported on the links to the US company (registered in Delaware) previously. That company has little direct experience of bus shelters or ad sales, either, though. The point you make about planning is a valid one, which in turn suggests that it might be a convenient excuse for the slow rate of replacements.

  9. Lewis White says:

    Our bus shelters have seats that are like static versions of the Medieval misericord– you can only perch on them . So street sleepers can’t sleep on them.

    One hopes that the US designed shelters will be better than US public bus services– non-existent in outer areas of town.

    By the way, I hope that the people evaluating the contract in Croydon are not going to tie themselves into some deal on glass replacement in case of vandalism that gives Valo Smart Cities a very good sum for any replacements . I can just imagine some ridiculous price tag being agreed, and bus shelters deliberately made with large areas of glass that get smashed up by Croydon vandals every week. Nice little earner !!!!

    I still can’t understand why three UK companies with a proven track record in providing and maintaining bus shelters with electronic information and seats can’t be invited to provide competitive quotations for providing and managing shelters for a management contract period of 10 years. A decent shelter should easily last 10.

    To place this with an unknown company with no major bus shelterr experience does not sound a “very good idea”.

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