Friday, 28 September 2007

7+1 Impossibles

They said it couldn’t be done. They said it would never happen. They said it would never work. Here is Omnibuses2.0’s guide to 7+1 bus industry changes that in spite of predictions didn’t flop. Feel free to add your own comments on these or other bus-related impossibles-that-proved-workable we might've missed.

1. Deregulation

The ultimate in sucking in of teeth and shaking of heads. The bus industry, local authorities, unions and even switched-on passengers all united against government plans to free the market. The urban trial area was chaotic, the others too rural to count. In the event, following a lengthy bedding-in period, deregulation has at least been successful in reducing costs, rejuvenating management, improving profitability and even growing the market. Considerable issues do, however, still remain - for some, at any rate.

2. Seat Belts

Operators felt they couldn’t be fitted, wouldn’t work and would actually cause more injury to passengers than without them. Road safety campaigners said they were fundamental in the transport of children. 15 years on, it’s hard to find a coach without belts and belted seats have become an important part of the passenger environment and, indeed, perception. Pity few pupils use them.

3. Super Low Floors

A highly sceptical operating industry simply didn’t see the need (or wish to pay the price) for easy access buses. The earliest trials in Merseyside 15 years ago failed to convince. Then Wrightbus took up the challenge and the market first slowly and, when costs began to fall, quickly realised the growth associated with SLFs. Forget the chair-users for whom the concept was designed, it was parents with buggies, passengers with luggage and generally everyone being able to board easily and swiftly that made the difference. Did need a nudge from disability legislation.

4. Urban Minibuses

Cynics abounded within the nationalised and even newly privatised operating industry, as managers felt uneasy at replacing a double deck with several 16 seat Ford Transits. There was capital and labour costs, premature depreciation, concerns of longevity and the peak-loading question. It didn’t take long for the growth potential of up to 25 per cent, or their use to further or stem competition, to cement the minibus as the most important tool of the 1980s. Initially required a push from National Bus HQ to get the wheels rolling.

5. Rear-engined Double Decks

Engineers were more than content with uncomplicated front-engined double decks and traffic departments could never foresee a period when conductors would be truly surplus. And, anyway, no one felt the law would allow one person decker operation. This was in the mid- to late-1950s. Cost pressures, falling revenue but still with significant peaks resulted in a trickle of rear-engined double decks becoming a flood. Helped along by a change of law and bus grant.

6. Smoking on Buses

Buses and smoking somehow went together like chassis & body or driver & conductor. There were all sorts of socio-economic reasons why this should be. Smoking was for years relegated to the upper deck on deckers and, not at all satisfactorily to the rear of single decks. It was as well that many British bus roofs of the time were already coloured cream. Operators began offering smoke free minis in the mid-1980s then all buses from the very early 1990s, "for the sake of all our passengers", as the publicity would say. The resultant passenger furore suggested no one couldn’t manage 30 minutes let alone over an hour without a ciggie. Indeed, for many years, passengers continued to sneak a puff, till opinion switched to favour non-smokers, who began to speak up. Smoking passengers are now rare indeed.

7. Wheelchairs on Coaches

No one travelling in a wheelchair uses a coach, right? Such notions, though definitely present, didn’t last long. The real issue, though, was manufacturers trying to find a way of accommodating satisfactorily the often-complicated engineering solutions required, while also trying to maintain the aesthetics of the vehicle. There were initially a few clunky conversions but, thankfully, body builders have found ingenious (though expensive) solutions. Still a perception that beyond express services the market for disabled people is small and fragmented.

7+1 London's Low Emissions Zone

There’s still anger among operators that TfL will shortly impose unacceptably high emission standards within the capital. With all buses converted to modest emissions standards, LEZ will from February 2008 affect the tour and private hire market, whose proprietors feel constrained by the additional costs imposed on them. As Euro emission standards cascade, LEZ becomes less of an issue. And now it’s not just London whose enthusiasm for emission standards is strong. Cambridge is considering it too. Watch these spaces and expect more hoping to join.


Volvo bus driver said...

Cannot argue with most of the 7, but don't think wheelchair accessible coaches can be deemed to be a success just yet - still too few and far between.
The trial by Nat Ex on Bath to London saw virtually no users so when it was needed the lifts often failed through lack of use !! And the big batch of accessible Profiles for First Cymru was a resounding flop.

dbg said...

I have to agrtee with your list - but I could also suggest megabus? or is the jury still out on that one?

It does seem successful in most areas.

Anonymous said...

Super low floors can also be, as you do, described as easy access. However, I'm not sure they provide easy access to seats for less mobile people. Often the first proper seats are a third of the way down the bus - ok if the driver waits before setting off and ok if you can ring the bell and not get up till it has stopped.
Perhaps we should investigate another door, say at the back, and someone to keep an eye on passengers.....

Gene Hunt said...

It sounds like you are hinting at having low floor rear entrance buses, I always wondered though, what was wrong with disabled converting the Routemaster? I'm sure it would be possible to add lowering air suspension and a wheelchair ramp, and that equipment would be cheaper than a brand new bus! The ramp doesn't even have to be fitted to the platform, it can be stowed in the closet under the stairs.

cogidubnus said...

I have to agree with the first two commenters - I reckon you got it just about right apart from including the wheelchair accessible coach (not enough custom to judge yet) and excluding megabus, (something most of us were extremely dubious about, but which against all odds seems to be working).

The one other thing I might add is kick-start...some said it was a rare lapse into fantasy on Brian Souter's part, but for the most part, where it's happened it's been a real revitaliser...

Gene Hunt said...

Did my speech on disabled access for Routemasters sound a bit too stupid or is it just not practical? Cambridge is bringing in more Euro 4 engined buses, at the moment we have some Enviros and 8 Optare Solos, 4 of which have pranding promoting clean emission buses that don't smoke. Quite ironic really as they have all taken to belching out big clouds of smoke as the dirivers pull away!

busing / omnibuses said...

On Routemasters

Ramps not an option and unworkable. Getting from the kerb to the platform is one thing but beyond that there’s then a *huge* step to overcome to the lower saloon. Then there’s the time involved. Nope, sorry.

On Megabus

Hmmm. I think Megabus was more likely to be a success than not.

On Kick Start

Yes, quite right. Forgot about that. Undoubtedly successful in spite of what we all felt at the time.

On Wheelchair coaches

I was approaching this from the engineering/feasibility angle. It works, though everyone seemed so sceptical. As to whether anyone uses it... but then again it’s equitable that a lift is in place, surely.

Gene Hunt said...

Ah. I forgot about the extra step and of course the distance from the bus to the ground.

Gene Hunt said...

Still...It would be cheaper..?