Friday, 5 October 2007

7+1 Good Ideas at the Time

Ah, it's good to have the benefit of hindsight, especially when what's needed is a large measure of foresight. Here's Omnibuses2.0’s guide to 7+1 bus industry initiatives that seemed a good idea at the time but actually tended to prove otherwise. Feel free to add your own comments on these or other bus-related 'mistakes' we might've missed. We trust we're not being too harsh.

1. Leyland National

Yes, this appears both here and under 7+1 Classic Buses, for good reason. The reign of the rear-engined single deck city bus was ending when Leyland and the National Bus Company launched its most significant design ever – a single deck city bus. The Leyland National certainly sold but that was down to limited competition and mass orders from NBC. That’s not to say that the bus wasn’t a success, at over 7,000 manufactured. It nevertheless only met half its potential. Double deck driver-only buses, a refusal by Britons to stand at peak times and NBC’s MAP all put paid to the single deck, at that time.

2. Fife Yellow Taxis

Not quite everything Midas touch Brian Souter tries necessarily turns to gold. In fact, the yellow Fife Taxibus project didn’t prove to be Stagecoach’s golden goose. This two-year experiment of high-frequency, demand responsive, urban, upmarket people carriers didn't turn commercial and was a rare failure for Stagecoach. It does show that Stagecoach is prepared to try anything and that it is less risk averse than some industry observers think. Virtually everything else Stagecoach does in the UK turns positive. Just think what a revolution Taxibus might’ve been had it succeeded…

3. Local Coaching Units

In the mid-1980s, most management buyout teams of former National Bus Company subsidiaries, and even some newly arms-length municipals, looked to coaching in a fairly big way. It was a natural avenue along which to expand, competing against the ‘cottage industry’ of local independents. Some did reasonably well, others not. Virtually all succumbed to the downturn in coach tours & private hires and loyalty to smaller operators, and most folded when the acquisitive bigger groups felt that concentrating on local bus services provided a much more robust return.

4. VOSA Centralisation

While the jury’s still out as to the success or otherwise of VOSA centralising its PSV registrations in Leeds, it certainly was highly unpopular with the traffic commissioners themselves. It was primarily this that delayed the commissioners’ 2006 report as they felt the move to Leeds took place somewhat behind their backs .

5. Scottish Bus Group VRs

At a time during which everyone else was moving towards front entrance/rear engined double decks, the Scottish Bus Group wanted to shift most of its newly purchased rear engined stock. Thus it was that by 1973 SBG had exchanged a large number of its unloved Bristol VRs for much older English half cab Bristol FLF Lodekkas, finding willing National Bus subsidiaries willing to trade crew operated relics for newer vehicles capable of dispensing with conductors. NBC generally found little problem with the VRs, though SBG didn't get on with them. And it didn’t take SBG long to re-equip with rear engined double decks.

6. Dual Purpose Vehicles Withdrawal

Once common within the provincial sector, coach seated buses (or coaches relegated to bus duties) were perfect on country long distance bus routes. Large enough for peak inter-urban loads yet able to double up on express or tours duty at need, they fulfilled a multiple need. The industry had used them for over 50 years by the time they began to be killed off (and probably rightly) by disability accessibility regulations. Some still remain but their life is likely to be relatively short but generally this has left a gap in vehicle stock for over twenty years.

7. Market Analysis Project

All the rage among National Bus subsidiaries, the Scottish Bus Group and selected municipals, MAP became the late 1970s & early 1980s perceived solution to the provincial industry's problems. Yet, MAP failed to halt the long-term passenger decline as predicted and many operators had to make fresh cuts after only two years. Unlike the quick actions taken under the deregulated era, there was no attempt under MAP to market new services. It’s easy to be harsh on MAP. The mindset among operators and local politicians at the time meant that this was the only reasonable course. But, did it work?

7+1 Routemaster Withdrawal

Never has the withdrawal of a type of bus been so unpopular. Many believed that it became a victim of political correctness. More couldn’t see the point of replacing a vehicle that loaded passengers in double quick time and thereby could maintain higher operating speeds in intense urban traffic, or which enabled nimble passengers to alight almost anywhere. There’s even a call for an updated, modern Routemaster once again specific for London’s needs. Sadly missed.


Gene Hunt said...

Wasn't the rear engined city bus market declining parly due to London Transport's experience with Merlins and Swifts-Standing room only on board those-bit like the Citaros now!
In the 1980's Cambus actually ran coaches to London and all around the UK. This seemed to have been bought out by the Cambridge Coach Company who then later were bought by either Burtons Coaches (who own some ex Cambridge CC vehicles) or Stagecoach, who bought out Cambus in 1995.

cogidubnus said...

The Leyland National argument depends on where you stand (literally at peak!) but in many rural/interurban scenarios with high peak loadings it was a real saviour...and internally the design lines were so clean and was great for its time, (and beyond), but I don't want to see it back, which brings us on to:-

The RM, and whilst I sympathise with all the fans out there, no matter how much you tart up a 50s/60s bus it remains a 50s/60s's natural span has ended (just like in turn the Atlantean and the VR)...

Yes it's iconic, but it's also typical of a post-war era where labour was cheap but materials costly - where one totally stripped down/rebuilt every few years to make a limited resource last a long time...

Time passes irrevocably, Society moves on and philosophies change... as have gone the central works units, then so must go the RM which depended on them...

As regards the rest I think you got it about right...apart from the VOSA centralisation...the jury isn't out - those in the know, people I respect who have everyday dealings with the creature, tell me it's an unmitigated disaster, and I happen to believe them...

It is the nature of the beast...

Gene Hunt said...

cogidubnus, it's a pity but your right about the Atlantean, the VR and the Routemaster, got an idea for next 7+1 though, how about 7+1 what if's..
for example if leyland had decided to build AEC's rear engined routemaster design instead of pushing their atlantean.

Anonymous said...

I'm aware that this is a bit late but in reply to gene hunt, the coach services were operated by Premier Travel, taken over by AJS Holdings in 1986. In 1990 this was split into Cambridge Coach Services (AJS owned, most of Premier's express services) and Premier Travel Services (Cambus owned, mainly private hire). With Stagecoach's takeover in 1995 it adopted their livery with 'Premier' fleetnames, and finally was sold to Burton's in 1998, who continue to use Premier fleetnames on some coaches. However CCS was bought in 1991 by Blazefield and then by National Express, for whom most services from Cambridge are now operated by Burton's. So in a way all the surviving parts of Premier Travel have arrived at Burton's.

Anonymous said...

Hello. About issue 6, could someone explain to me what´s the difference between "bus" and "coach" ? Thanks in advance. (I don´t live in the UK)