Part 6 here
The perception passengers faced in first five to 10 years of deregulation was one of fragmentation. This stemmed from all too frequent service changes, loss of network benefits and loss of integration discussed in Part 6. We stress the word perception as, in many cases, the reality was different. However, in the bus industry, like all service industries, perceptions count. Passengers didn’t fully understand the deregulated process or why their local operator had changed names or liveries – they just felt the changes were too frequent. Local newspapers reported problems while councillors & opposition MPs gnashed their teeth.
What often went unreported at the time were the behind-the-scenes positives. There is no doubt that the stimulus that was the Transport Act 1985 had brought great operating efficiencies and a managerial rejuvenation. This resulted in the minibus revolution of the mid- to late-1980s, with increased operated mileage and significant patronage growth on some networks.
It also brought redundancies, especially among white collar, supervisory and managerial staff. Now in full control of their own businesses and with the threat of competition but 42 days away, all the larger operators sought to reduce overheads. In the early years, reductions and amalgamations in depots further cut fixed and semi-variable overheads. Part of this was a need to rely less on subsidy and more on the farebox. Early deregulated networks were certainly optimistic in the mileage they operated as commercial, and even today, 85 per cent of mileage remains as such, though incumbent operators tend less often to flinch as they once did at making painful operating decisions.
Town centre overheads, be they bus stations or garages, life-expired or not, were often sold as prime development sites, with garaging relocated elsewhere on industrial estates. Some called this asset stripping, others a logical and business-like realisation of assets to boost the bottom-line. For a few, these sales part-financed growth by takeover, of course.
Operators legitimately argued that it was not for them to provide town centre bus stations that henceforward the Transport Act 1985 ensured must be available for any (potential or actual) competitor to use. Others argued that sales of bus station land were against the public interest. Where transport authorities could afford it, they tried to lease or purchase these sites; in the Mets, the PTEs already owned the sites in any case.
Whichever it was, it was sometimes hard for some to avoid the notion that bus services had become secondary to the principal activity of property disposal.
To be continued…
Wednesday, 8 March 2006
Part 6 here
Posted Wednesday, March 08, 2006