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The Transformation of Britain’s Bus Industry, 1980-2000
In 1980 Britain’s bus industry was stable and settled. Across much of England and Wales the National Bus Company was the major operator. Underneath a bland corporate livery most of its subsidiaries had names which could be traced back to the earliest days of bus operation.
Similarly in Scotland, the Scottish Bus Group’s subsidiaries were old-established businesses. London Transport served the capital with a highly-standardised fleet, while elsewhere the seven biggest urban areas were served by relatively recently-formed Passenger Transport Executives. Smaller towns and cities had locally-accountable municipal transport departments. And almost every bus in these fleets was British built.
In the second half of the 1980s local bus services were deregulated, and by the beginning of the 1990s most public sector bus operators had been privatised. It was a massive change. By 2000 NBC and SBG had vanished. The PTE and London Transport bus operations were now run by private sector businesses, as were most of those which had been in local authority ownership. New names appeared. Some were long-lasting, such as Stagecoach and First; others were relatively short-lived, such as ATL, AJS and Q Drive.
For a while there was chaos in many urban areas, with too many buses chasing too few passengers. But there was innovation, too. High-frequency services were introduced, sometimes using minibuses. Competition saw reductions in fares on some of the better-used routes. And most major operators started actively marketing their services, introducing customer care training for front-line employees.
Visually this was an exciting period. Fondly-remembered fleetnames were reinvented and new ones were created, along with liveries conveying a new focus on local or regional identity. Buses were suddenly more noticeable on the streets.
Twenty Turbulent Years follows the drastic dismemberment and gradual reshaping of the bus industry over this period, combining over 275 high-quality images from across the country with lively and informed narrative charting the changes in company ownership, vehicle manufacturing and operators’ purchasing policies.
Overall, the upheaval spelled mixed fortunes for the bus industry. Wages fell. Urban areas had too many buses, while rural areas often had too few. And Britain’s bus manufacturers were badly hit. Who in 1980 could have foreseen the disappearance of some of the biggest names in bus and coach building – Leyland, Bristol, MCW, Duple? On the upside, who would have guessed that Dennis, the forerunner of Alexander Dennis, would survive as part of Transbus, ultimately emerging as the market leader?
Everything you wanted to know about the Scottish Bus Group’s vehicles in one volume. Advancing in a Forward Direction is the enigmatic title of Fawndoon’s second Scottish-themed bus book, and in 192 pages with 300 photographs and comprehensive tables it gives details and background information on every type of bus and coach bought by the Group from 1946 until privatisation.
But Advancing in a Forward Direction is much more than dry lists of buses. In the main section of the book, dealing with new purchases, author Stewart J Brown provides an authoritative and sometimes critical overview of each model purchased, setting the Group’s vehicle purchases in a historical context. He looks at SBG’s conservative engineering policies and the Group’s unfortunate relationship with early rear-engined double-deckers.
Stewart Brown quotes from contemporary documentation, finding press criticism of vehicles such as the rear-engined Albion Viking (for its gear-changing) and the impressive M-type Motorway coach, described by one journalist at the time as “a rather ghastly mistake”.
Two further sections are devoted to vehicles acquired from the operators the Group took over, and vehicles bought second-hand, around half of which came from London Transport.
There are many excellent books about London’s buses, but this one is unique. In one volume it lists every bus and coach bought by London Transport and London Buses from 1946 until privatisation in 1994. At the start of the period LT was taking delivery of its last wartime buses. At the end, the first of a new generation of low-floor buses were being delivered.
Standardisation was one of LT’s aims, as evidenced by such well-known types as the RF, RT, RM and DMS. But over the postwar years an incredible variety of types were purchased, from Leyland Titan PD1s to Dennis Lance SLFs, not forgetting small buses such as Metroriders and Dennis Darts.
The vehicle lists are supported by informative text giving an overview of the various vehicle types – with an acknowledgement by LT in 1984 that responsibility for the problems it experienced with its Daimler Fleetlines could not all be laid at British Leyland’s door.
Almost 150 photographs illustrate the unexpected variety of the London bus fleet over five decades.
Scotland’s buses in the 1960s were represented by a striking and colourful range of operators, liveries and technologies. Some vehicles still on the road dated right back to pre-war years, while others heralded the new era of low-floor single-deckers and rear-engined double-deckers.
In this attractive new book, Stewart J Brown evokes the flavour of that period through a remarkable selection of colour photographs covering the length and breadth of the country, most of them previously unpublished. Region by region, his engrossing commentary puts bus operations in their context, while his entertaining, detailed and sometimes witty captions convey a remarkable amount of information about individual vehicles and their historical significance.
The vast majority of pictures were taken by the late Harry Hay, who spent a lifetime immersed in the industry, and wielded his relatively basic photographic equipment to astonishingly good effect.
This was the era when the new Alexander companies – Midland, Fife and Northern – were coming into their own; when David MacBrayne still held sway in the Highlands; when independents continued to play a major role in the industry; and when traditional municipal liveries were still to be seen in Scotland’s four biggest cities.
Scotland’s Buses in the 1960s brings all this vibrantly back to life.
Glasgow Corporation Transport was one of Britain’s biggest municipal bus operators, with a fleet which peaked at almost 1,500 buses and trolleybuses in 1962. Glasgow’s Buses tells the story of this mammoth operation, from the growth of its bus fleet in the 1930s, through to the decline in public transport use which started in the 1950s.
The book explores the vehicles, the routes and the Corporation’s troubled venture into bus body building. It chronicles the creation of the PTE in 1973, and the upheavals caused by the deregulation of local bus services in the 1980s.