Photograph by ‘unknown’ if you took this photo please go to the copyright page.
Leeds City Transport
AEC Regent V 2D2RA
In the early days of Tyne and Wear PTE they suffered some severe vehicle shortages, to fill the gaps buses were bought borrowed or hired in from wherever they could get them. Among the intake that came from Leeds was at least one PD3 and several AEC Regent V’s, all Roe bodied, one of the Regents is seen here standing between two Leyland Atlanteans. I think the Leeds buses must have been bought because the livery has been altered, where as the other stop gaps remained in their original unaltered liveries and displayed ‘On hire’ stickers in the windscreen. Both the Atlanteans have been re-painted in one of the ‘new’ experimental liveries for the PTE. Several layouts were tried before they eventually settled for something not a million miles from where they started.
Photograph and Copy contributed by Ronnie Hoye
05/10/12 – 07:28
Slightly bizarre yellow front doesn’t detract from the timeless design. Interesting bus sandwich with a standard Alexander Atlantean on the left and a Met-Camm Alexander clone on the right. [See dome and light lay-out for details.]
05/10/12 – 08:00
I’ve often been perplexed by how the phenomenon of severe vehicle shortages occurred. Both Tilling and BET, and presumably all municipal operators of any substance, had clear and established vehicle replacement programmes designed specifically to ensure shortages didn’t happen. In the 1960’s, unlike the early postwar period, there was adequate vehicle and body supply, and there was no reason why operators would be faced with a fleet problem that couldn’t have been foreseen and planned for. Reorganisation, such as the establishment of a PTE, might, I guess, have introduced new policies and direction, but the number of vehicles needed wouldn’t suddenly have changed, even if the owners, (and livery, of course), had. Takeovers, such as West Yorkshire’s takeover of Samuel Ledgard, could have introduced vehicles unfamiliar to or unwanted by the new owners, but didn’t create an insuperable overnight problem. Yet Yorkshire Woollen had sudden shortages, Ronnie refers here to Tyne & Wear’s difficulties, and there were others too. Can anyone explain, please?
A small point: many correspondents have expressed their reaction to the liveries introduced by PTEs and other new operators, but the two-tone green of Leeds, splashed with bits of orange here and there, presumably only a temporary arrangement, is nevertheless a bizarre sight. But an interesting posting. Thank you Ronnie.
05/10/12 – 13:23
Couldn’t agree more, Roy. Only "know" about Sheffield – which I believe was principally an attack of the far too frequent British Leylandism combined with Bus Grantism. The Bus Grant created a big demand and later Baroness Thatcher created a bigger one by abolishing it – the operators rushing to get orders in before the money dried up. BL couldn’t cope with the rush, but there was a knock-on effect – neither were spare parts being produced in adequate numbers. Operators, therefore, could neither get new buses nor spares to keep the old ones going. Hence the shortage, and also the cannibalisation of otherwise serviceable vehicles for spares.
05/10/12 – 13:25
Ronnie, as far as I recall none of the Leeds vehicles which served in Tyne and Wear, whether bought or loaned I’m not sure, were ever repainted other than the "identity" coloured panels at the front.
05/10/12 – 13:26
I understood that these Leeds buses were in fact acquired from OK Motor Services. Was there some Leylands too?
05/10/12 – 13:27
The ex Leeds AECs actually arrived in Newcastle from OK Motor services. At the time the delivery time for new vehicles from British Leyland was very poor which was one of the reasons for the success of the MCW Scania Metropolitan. In addition to the bought in ex Leeds buses Tyne and Wear borrowed from a wide variety of local authority fleets from as far afield as Edinburgh and Plymouth.
As well as Atlanteans from Bournemouth and Plymouth there was also Alexander bodied PD2s from Lothian, Leicester PD3s and Southend Fleetlines!
05/10/12 – 13:28
A bit of research has provided the following info: Leyland 284 sold to O.K Motors 03/76 then to Tyne & Wear 04/76
AEC Regents 937/944/946/950/952/958 Sold as above 12/75 and to Tyne & Wear 04/76
05/10/12 – 13:29
In this view, the amended livery on the Leeds Regent looks to me to be approaching orange, rather than yellow. Is is the film, is it the conversion from slide or print into a digital form, or are my eyes being troublesome again? Anyway, green and orange bus from the Yorkshire area . . . Where have I encountered that before? (But the green’s then the wrong shade for Halifax!)
05/10/12 – 13:31
There were a number of factors involved in vehicle shortages in the 1960s.
Many of the buses built immediately after the end of WW2 were coming to the end of their useful lives, so the same problems that occurred between 1945 and 1950 recurred – exacerbated by a vastly reduced number of body builders and, by 1966, the rationalisation of chassis builders under the on going development of the Leyland empire.
By the start of the PTE era double decker chassis choice was reduced to Atlantean (and the AN69 was firstly delayed and then swamped by orders from, particularly, SELNEC), Fleetline (again swamped by LT and SELNEC orders) and VR and most non ex- Tilling companies had no experience of the type.
Leopards, Reliances, Swifts and Fleetlines were the only single deck choice for many fleets – especially after many poor experiences with Panthers.
The Bristol RE did make inroads, though the Leyland empire had no great lover of the type and was focussed on the development of the still to come National.
The Metro-Scania in single and double deck form was basically experimental, the Seddon RU had just appeared and the days of the Metrobus, Dominator and the inroads from abroad were for later in the 1970s.
In the 1960s and early 1970s the industry was still very traditional. Bodies were still mostly hand built out of "traditional" materials and most body builders offered customers the ability to amend standard designs with regard to detail, sometimes with major design changes. Build times were long, delays from chassis builders caused irregular work flows and problems with new materials led to factory returns for repairs making problems worse.
Chassis building was even more chaotic. As the number of makers reduced, the pressure on Leyland, Southall and Coventry became immense. The freeing up of Bristol chassis and the availability until the late 1960s of the Guy Arab didn’t really help as their traditional operators needed to replace their fleets and, where there was capacity, most operators were loathe to move away from traditional suppliers with whom they had a good relationship, had built stocks of spares and did not want to learn different practices in the workshop and on the road.
Again, chassis were hand built, were individually delivered on the road rather than in bulk on trailers, and the range of variables was legion. In 1965 Leyland offered no fewer than 7 versions of PD2s, 9 versions of PD3s, 4 (pretty much unwanted) versions of the Lowlander and seven versions of the Atlantean.
Some of the variations were minor, others major. The average order was for between 10 and 20 vehicles so production line continuity was rare and the problem was made worse by supply chain problems, industrial disputes and the obtaining of "bulk" orders from major operators from time to time made things worse.
One example from the 1960s:
Stockport had a planned fleet replacement programme to clear the fleet of vehicles bought between 1940 and 1951. Starting with an order for 10 PD2s with East Lancs bodies in 1962, the order was repeated in 1963. A range of detail changes was made to the bodies without problems. 15 more came in 1964 but the chassis was changed to replace the St Helens front with an exposed radiator. A repeat order in 1965 again was trouble free. Each order was placed around 12 months before expected delivery.
By 1965 it was becoming obvious that delays at both chassis and body builders were growing so orders were placed for 30 vehicles half for delivery in 1966 half in 1967, again for identical PD2s with East Lancs bodies.
No vehicle was delivered in 1966, the chassis were very late and the 1967 chassis were arranged to be made at the same time. This led to knock on problems at East Lancs, which didn’t have the capacity to cope so the second batch were built at the Neepsend associate – reputedly not to the standard of the Blackburn product.
The delay in delivery had fortunately been flagged up early so, in 1966, orders were placed for the 1968 intake and only 6 months later for the 1969 deliveries.
It should be stressed that Stockport advised all tenderers at the outset that it had an on going replacement policy and it was intended to invite tenders each year from 1961 to 1968 so the industry was warned well in advance. The hard fact is that design, build and work practices just didn’t adapt to the situation. Add in the need for widespread replacements and the recipe for shortages was complete.
05/10/12 – 17:34
So, the Leeds Regents came to the Newcastle area via OK Motor Services, and too quickly even for OK to paint them maroon!
05/10/12 – 17:35
It should also be remembered that reliability was also a constant problem at the time many of the rear engined types were not easy to keep on the road indeed at one point West Midlands PTE went to the press about the poor build quality and after sales at BL.
Geoff Hilditch prevailed upon Dennis to build the dominator due to BL intransigence over keeping the Fleetline in build which had the effect of resurrecting Dennis from PSV oblivion. It is an interesting thought that if Leyland had done what the industry wanted and not what Leyland wanted they may still be building buses.
05/10/12 – 17:37
Re David Oldfield’s comment, the 1968 Transport Act created both the Bus Grant scheme and, amongst others, Tyneside PTE, the set up date of this being January 1 1970. In common with other PTEs the Executive started work some months before actually taking over the day to day running of transport in its area and inherited orders for vehicles from its constituent parts.
Few if any of these orders would have been placed after the 1968 Transport Bill, which became the 1968 Transport Act, was published, given the already long delivery times. Some PTEs chose to extend those times by retrospectively changing specifications to meet both with the terms of the Bus Grant, which was effective for any vehicle registered on or after September 1 1968, and also any early standardisation they wished to implement.
Lead times for the available chassis, ordered at the time the Bill was published in 1967, was around 2 years. This increased further as the new decade dawned as LT and the PTEs decided to make hay by rapidly replacing older vehicles with heavily subsidised and standardised new vehicles.
As we all know 3 new PTEs were set up between 1972 and 1974 and the original PTEs were expanded to take in further operators. Tyneside became Tyne and Wear.
History immediately repeated itself, this time against the background of the 1974 three day week which badly delayed both chassis and body manufacture and a range of industrial disputes, not to mention that some of the new and very reluctant constituents of the PTEs had deliberately run down their orders and had also not spent ratepayers’ money on new Certificates of Fitness for vehicles which the new PTEs would withdraw at the earliest opportunity.
Thus by 1975/6 many operators of all kinds were faced with severe delivery delays and some PTEs started or were enhanced on a less than enviable basis with severe vehicle shortages.
The industry certainly does not learn from history. When the end of the grant scheme was signalled under Thatcher there was a rush to register vehicles before the last date and the manufacturers were faced with an embarrassing order glut, followed by a massive dearth – which led to the demise of many long established names and all but the death of a once strong indigenous industry.
06/10/12 – 07:48
I agree entirely with Chris Hough’s final sentence.
Leyland had put right virtually all the unforgiveable (for a major manufacturer in the latter half of the twentieth century) major faults in the Mark 1 National, and the National 2 was a civilised and reliable vehicle, either Leyland or Gardner powered. Then arrived the unspeakable Lynx which in earliest forms gave the impression of having been designed and riveted together by engineering night school apprentices. Frequent malfunction of the air suspension system and the ZF automatic gearbox (especially in the 2 to 3 and 3 to 2 changes) caused great passenger displeasure and discomfort, and acute embarrassment and pain to conscientious drivers. Those passengers quite understandably having little or no knowledge of such matters were heard to comment loudly, in droves, "ooh he’s heavy on his brakes isn’t he" and "this is a dreadful old boneshaker isn’t it ??." The latter remarks proved the point above all else, as the culprit vehicles were often very young in years. Arriva spent, I believe, around £10,000 per Mark 2 Lynx in "mid life refurbishment" involving reupholstered seats, new lighting, new handrails etc etc – all totally un-necessary. The effect on comfort and mechanical smoothness after this farce was nil as I found when, with an open mind, I encountered my first one – scarcely had we left the bus station before I inadvertently went over a twig or something to receive a painful thump direct to the spine, and then the passengers were treated to a missed third gear, Cummins engine screaming, and then the gear engaged before the revs could die down – I momentarily just mused over what I could have spent £10,000 on. The Lynx didn’t stay long in the Volvo catalogue !!
06/10/12 – 07:49
The above postings are fascinating to someone such as myself having never been involved in the bus industry. It is a revealing tale of management failings, poor planning, poor workmanship and lack of design development.
How sad that such situations occurred not only there but of course the British motor industry was just as haphazard. The late 1960’s to early 1980’s have much to teach us if only we bother to learn. No wonder that nowadays bus construction and fleet operators are so defined/limited.
Is not also strange that the Japanese who massively shook up the motor industry here, did not influence the commercial manufacturers to anything like the same extent. I believe that only Mazda and Nissan have made even a small dent in offering commercial chassis and even then with only lightweight vehicles.
Thank you gentlemen for your memories and insight to rather dark times and difficult operating situations.
06/10/12 – 07:50
Over the years OK bought quite a number of buses from Newcastle Corporation and later T&W PTE, but these went in the other direction, a bit ironic when you think about it. I know OK did have a couple of Regent V’s, but I don’t know if any of these eventually made it into their fleet, although I think I’m right in saying that one of the Leeds buses diverted to Newcastle did survive into preservation, but I don’t know where it is.
06/10/12 – 07:51
One other point on this. Whatever the problems within the industry, political meddling, starting with Castle’s clumsy handling of British Leyland,the PTEs and the formation of the National Bus Company and culminating in Ridiculous Ridley’s deregulation in the name of choice (leaving us with an effective national quadropoly) have not only proved the correctness of the maxim "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" but have cost thousands of jobs, millions of pounds in lost export orders, diminished civic pride and taken away local accountability.
On the plus side some comfort can be drawn from the export successes of the last few years and my cousin, who is Director of Bus Operations for Go Transit in Toronto has, I’m pleased to say, contributed to this.
06/10/12 – 09:01
Phil I agree with you wholeheartedly in your comments, and I am tickled pink by your very very appropriate nickname for Sir Nicholas Ridley, whose deregulation fiasco was based on the alleged success of the notorious Hereford and Worcester "trial area."
We mustn’t forget either his even more incredible sidekick Mr. David Mitchell who came to Leeds on a promotional visit and stayed at the Queen’s Hotel. Writing in the press the Government minister said something on the lines of "I looked out of my hotel window in City Square this morning at 08.45 to see dozens of double decker buses all nearly empty, and deregulation will cure all this wastage." It beggars belief that he had failed to notice eighty plus workers alighting from each of the said vehicles at the same time – would it be cynical to suggest that he knew full well what the situation was and that he was simply "helping the Government’s cause" ?? So, therein lies the root of the expensive and distressing shambles that we’ve all suffered since – as I see it the only beneficiaries of the 1986 Act have been the vinyl makers and the marketing gurus who have, at the operators’ expensive behest, turned the Country’s once mainly dignified buses (and trains) into mobile graffiti carriers.
06/10/12 – 10:54
Just as aside regarding David Mitchell. His son is the famous Andrew Mitchell him of the cycle incident at Number 10.
06/10/12 – 14:21
Ronnie The surviving ex Leeds AEC Regent V that ran in Newcastle is none other than the pictured 952. It is now under restoration at the Lincolnshire Vintage Vehicle Society A later one 980 ENW 980D is also preserved at Keighley bus museum. This one ran for AA Motor Services after sale by the PTE.
06/10/12 – 14:22
Years of dealing with politicians, local and national at home and abroad, has taught me that when those in power decide they want to do something, they generally do it and if they say something is so – it is.
In dictatorships they don’t have to prove anything to implement their ideas. In democracies they have other ways. They go out of their way to find obscure examples to prove their case, they manipulate circumstances and events so their case will fit or, as in David Mitchell’s and many other cases, see only what they want to see and take that as fact.
06/10/12 – 15:05
As we all know, hindsight is an exact science. At the age of 66 I’m still a youngster to some, but I’m old enough to remember a bygone ere when buses were classified as ‘Public Service Vehicles’ and pride in the company, it’s vehicles and the service they provided was still regarded as a virtue and something to be positively encouraged. Today we live in a world run by people who "know the price of everything and the value of nothing" (Oscar Wilde) pride has become an outdated expensive and unnecessary obsession that eats into shareholders dividends and no longer has a place in today’s throw away society. I started at Percy Main at the beginning of 1967 when I had just turned 21. The Northern General Group was by no means alone in setting very high standards for itself, and throughout the industry many examples can be found where pride in all aspects of the company was still very much on the agenda. NBC and the formation of the subsequent PTE’s that followed were to change all that, at countless depots throughout the country pride was soon replaced by an attitude of ‘whats the point?’ The Tilling Group and many Local Authority Undertakings were perfect examples of how Nationalised or Municipally owned companies could and should be run, they were managed by people who knew the industry rather than a board made up of accountants, ‘experts’ and people with a political axe to grind, most of whom hadn’t been on a bus since they left school, and as for running a fleet of them ‘that’s censored’. End of rant.
06/10/12 – 18:44
Very true Ronnie and that goes for many other industries. Allied to the total focus on "qualifications" and little emphasis on common sense, practicalities and experience it’s no wonder so many economies are in such a mess.
I’d be the first to say that, on the other hand, working conditions for most workers have improved but the standard of service given has declined dramatically.
Going back to the photo at the top of this thread, does anyone know the reason for the nearside staircase which Newcastle specified for a while?
In October 1968 Alexander bodied Atlantean Newcastle 601 was displayed to the public in Manchester alongside Manchester Fleetline Mancunian 2048 and Sheffield Park Royal bodied Atlantean 293 and the feature drew some adverse comment.
06/10/12 – 18:45
Long delivery times were also experienced in the late 1950s. Hull Corporation tendered for 5 Atlanteans on 8 December 1958 but did not receive the first two until May 1960. MCCW got the order for the bodies on 16 March 1959. (it charged £5 10s per bus for a certificate of fitness!)
But the five AEC Reliances that were ordered in February 1959 arrived in February 1960.
When Mr Pulfrey obtained authority for ten 35 foot long single deck trolleybuses with Roe bodies on a Sunbeam "Transit" chassis in November 1958 he told the Transport Committee that he had been quoted two year’s delivery.
On more than one occasion in the mid/late 1950s Walter Haigh who succeeded Pulfrey asked for permission to place orders well in advance due to long delivery times.
Malcolm J Wells
07/10/12 – 08:08
The above mentioned Nicolas Ridley will go down in history as one of the intransigent bigots of all time. I recall penning part of the London Country response to the Deregulation "Green Paper" on behalf of the MD, Colin Clubb. The LCBS input, together with the contributions from other NBC companies, was collated and edited into the National Bus attempt to introduce some semblance of reality and common sense into the impending legislation. The other parts of the bus industry, the PTEs and municipalities, also submitted soundly based comments. It was all ignored totally, such was Ridley’s blind commitment to destroy public ownership at whatever cost, and equally, to wound fatally the Transport and General Workers’ Union, with its perceived important funding role in the Labour Party. The Transport Act 1985 was barely different from the "consultation" Green Paper. The considerations of the travelling public did not occupy Ridley’s interest for a microsecond. His motivation was purely political. His previous crass involvement in the Falklands issue, and then his deliberate escalation of circumstances that lead to the miners’ dispute, show him to have been the wholly destructive force that was brought to bear upon the bus industry.
07/10/12 – 08:09
I don’t know the definitive answer to that one, Phil, but I can tell what I do know. in 1975 I left Tynemouth and Wakefields to join Armstrong Galley ‘the coaching division of T&W PTE’ Whilst I was at Percy Main I was a dual crew driver, so my experience of buses with centre exit doors is somewhat limited. Newcastle Corporation ‘as it was at the time’ for some reason had the staircase on the N/S side on some of the Alexander bodied Atlantean’s with the exit door to the rear of it. To the best of my knowledge none of NGT’s were like this, and I cant remember any United D/D’s with centre exits. Anyway, after a series of accidents, including I believe a fatality, the unions at both NGT and the PTE refused to use the centre doors, some, but not all, ‘depending on cost V’s life expectancy’ were removed and extra seating added, and the remainder were made inoperative, and since then neither Northern or Stagecoach as the former PTE is now, have brought any new vehicles into the area with centre doors fitted.
07/10/12 – 08:10
And much of what appears above in connexion with the bus industry, also applies to the mismanagement of the rail industry. All the EU wanted was accountancy transparency by separation of the infrastructure side and the train operations side, but politicians saw an opportunity to privatise the whole system by breaking it up into component parts, rather than, at least, complete regional railways. And the industry has been in flux since 1993, Railtrack/Network Rail, using outside contractors, then in-house staff, train leasing companies, but also government-built trains, short, then long franchises, with the latest Virgin/First fiasco and Network Rail still not achieving the levels of efficiency found abroad. It’s a pity the railways were ever nationalised in the first place, for shareholder control is powerful. But having done so, the governments never exercised that firm control to ensure increasing efficiency. BTC was a giant transport bureaucracy that needed this.
07/10/12 – 08:10
Trouble is Ronnie, and Phil, your rant has substance. Everything you say is true.
I think I’ve said before that as a young, and cocky, well qualified musician, I had my legs cut from under me (metaphorically) by the experienced men of Manchester. It did me no harm, and lots of good. With experience, I matured and improved as a musician and a teacher. Qualifications alone don’t cut it.
07/10/12 – 14:45
Chris H, your remarks about the railway industry (it’s probably an age thing, but I detest the the PR truncation "Rail Station") have much force, but equally destructive has been the influence of "Left" and "Right" domestic pendulum politics, whereby governments of utterly opposed persuasion seek to undo the economic structure of their predecessors. The separation of track/infrastructure and service operation in a manner akin to the roads was envisaged in the very early days of the railway industry, and was jettisoned in favour of unified control of track and trains. The present profiteering shambles in the UK is inexcusable, and the inefficiency is reflected in exorbitant ticket prices.
Yet again, we have wandered away from the subject matter above, but don’t we get some interesting contributions to discuss?
07/10/12 – 17:56
Wasn’t one Prof. John Hibbs the architect of deregulation? (and consequently the dismemberment of the NBC which was seen as necessary to ensure its success). Now John Hibbs might have been a gifted academic – and his "The History of British Bus Services" (David & Charles, 1968/1989) is a good read – but I would have thought that politicians like Nicholas Ridley et. al. might have had the nouse (good Yorkshire word there) to avoid taking practical advice on the organisation and regulation of the entire English and Welsh stage-carriage sector from somebody whose sole experience of day-to-day management of bus operations was limited to the spectacularly unsuccessful ownership of the tiny and rural Corona Coaches (of Sudbury).
07/10/12 – 17:57
The Thatcher Government was ideologically opposed to public transport.
Two quotes illustrate this one:
‘anyone on public transport after the age of 25 is a failure’ – Baroness Thatcher.
‘all of you should be running a service individually’ Nicholas Ridley to a group of Hull drivers in 1984.
This is not an anti Tory rant but a honest recall of past events.
08/10/12 – 08:31
Doubts about road service licensing had been expressed from the very beginning of the system but once the bus industry was no longer financially viable overall and unable to ‘pay its way’ the regulatory regime was bound to be questioned with greater vigour.
I know Professor John Hibbs well. He is a libertarian. His pamphlet (in the series Hobart Papers) ‘Transport for Passengers’ published in 1963 (and in revised form in 1971) provides a convincing demolition of the road service licensing as then practised and I consider this to be a seminal piece.
Looking back at the period when I was studying for corporate membership of The Chartered Institute of Transport (shortly after the second edition of Hibbs’ paper had been published) it was notable that reference to Hibbs’ critique of the system was ignored – presumably in the hope that it would go away.
Hibbs was not alone in questioning whether a system that had been introduced when the industry was young and recently developed was best suited for an industry that had matured and was in decline. Professors Michael Beesley and Stephen Glaister (along with Dr Corinne Mulley) weighed in with similar arguments.
In April 1998 I presented a paper ‘The Story of Bus Service Deregulation’ to the Yorkshire Section of The Chartered Institute of Transport which recounted the tale from the early days of the system and examined in some detail the process leading to de-regulation. This was published and is available in Proceedings, Volume 7, Number 4 December 1998 of The Chartered Institute of Transport.
08/10/12 – 11:48
I’ve devised and run enough academic and industry conferences in my life and had close dealings with the interface between a range of industries and academia around the world to know that there are three truths which hold whether the subject is nuclear physics, aviation, medicine or road transport:
1. For every academic thesis there are 100 other thesis which will disagree.
2. Academic theories which are not carefully and properly devised in consultation with those who have day to day experience in the industry concerned are generally proven, in time, to be either worthless and, at worst, destructive.
3. The appointment of people, be they academics or just from another industry, to give an impartial and independent overview and produce a report on which a government will act, on the basis of their being "experts" in management or successful in their own field, has been proven time and time again to be flawed.
The pressures of time scales imposed, the amount of knowledge that needs to be assimilated, processed and judged and the often skewed selection of the expert to fit the profile and outcome the commissioning government wants are the same whatever the complexion and location of the government concerned.
In terms of the bus industry and Ridley’s Act, I understand how a libertarian can justify the free for all that emerged in the late 1980s and into the 1990s with every Tom Dick and Harry blocking the streets with all but clapped out vehicles as they jostled to give "choice" to passengers and make fast profits by employing crews at minimal pay – as happened in, for instance, Manchester – but I wonder how the same person can justify, in their terms, the outcome of the virtual quadropoly which exists today where the small guys have been driven out of business, the big companies cherry pick routes and times of service, the Transport Bodies in the conurbations seem to be in the thrall of the operators and passengers’ needs still come well down the pecking order at a time when there is both economically and environmentally a growing need for public transport.
08/10/12 – 11:49
Gosh! What a long and diverse discussion has arisen from my wee question about fleet shortages. To turn to Kevin’s point, however, I think most followers of this site understand very well that the financing of the bus industry by the late 1960’s had become unsustainable in its then form – I wrote a short OBP article on this very subject a little while ago. It is the subsequent political and doctrinally motivated series of disruptive and ultimately pointless reorganisations that most of us find objectionable. Professor Hibbs’ libertarian approach does not fundamentally alter the social requirement, (to those who accept that principle), to provide unprofitable bus services – only the degree of provision and the manner of subsidisation. It’s not surprising that many people just wonder what has been achieved by all the upheaval. Considering how successfully, in service terms, the array of provincial and municipal operators were working, the financial problems could have been addressed satisfactorily without it, and at much less overall cost to the public purse. The ‘old’ structure had many benefits in terms of passenger and staff loyalty and identity, (you just need to read these pages to remind yourself of that), that have been destroyed for ever. I left the industry the day before the NBC started to operate. Much that has happened since amounts, to many of us, to swapping a birth right for a mess of potage.
08/10/12 – 15:21
Phil and Roy – although I can speak only as the humble holder of the RSA Diploma in Road Transport, and most of my long experience in the Industry has been, out of choice and job satisfaction, entirely practical I must say I admire your professional views entirely and I feel that you have both "hit the proverbial nail on the head" in your analysis of the present situation.
09/10/12 – 08:06
John Hibbs’ intense hatred of the Road Service Licensing system arose through his, and Bert Davidson’s, involvement with Corona Coaches of Sudbury, which the two of them purchased in 1956. He seemed to position himself as a latter day Basil Williams, set upon taking on the big operators, notably Eastern National, encircling his business. All his attempts to revise/expand his network were frustrated by objections from the "big boys", and his antipathy towards the RSL system became a passionate crusade. However, the ultimate demise of Corona was very largely due to the misguided purchase, at an inflated price, of the business of A. J. Long of Glemsford in August 1958. The subsequent death of his partner, Mr. Davidson, compounded the difficulties, and Corona went bankrupt in July 1959. Nonetheless, John Hibbs always blamed Road Service Licensing for the collapse of Corona, and in his later career as an academic, campaigned long to destroy the licensing provisions of the 1930 and 1968 Acts.
Ironically, had the Ridley style deregulation been introduced in the mid 1950s, Corona would have been wiped off the map within weeks, just as, to give one example of many, Darlington Corporation was later annihilated by unbridled, unregulated competition.
My only personal encounter with John Hibbs occurred in an extended Traffic Commissioner’s Hearing into an application by an outfit calling itself Vulcan Crown that sought to run frequent minibus services between Heathrow and central London. John Hibbs appeared in support of the application, which was opposed by the many operators who already had services between the airport and London, and also by the licensed taxi operators. In short, John Hibbs did not make an impressive witness. Vulcan Crown did not win its case.
Mr. Hibbs must now be well into his eighties, but a picture of him in youthful days may be found here.
Deregulation was a step too far for the bus industry. Norman Fowler remedied the unfair bias in RSL applications towards existing operators by changing the emphasis in favour of applicants. Before that, applicants had to produce proof of need. As Phil points out above, we are now, thanks to deregulation, suffering the state of huge companies operating as regional monopolies, who can do precisely as they please at will. The bus passenger, unlike the air or rail traveller, has access to no official authority to pursue complaints.
10/10/12 – 09:20
Some very useful discussion here.
The quantity restrictions introduced through road service licensing was an economic experiment with the very clear intention of capturing the benefits of both competition and co-ordination. This is evident from reading Ministry of Transport documents at the National Archive, the Minutes of Evidence of the Royal Commission into Transport 1928-30 and the parliamentary debates on the Road Traffic Bill recorded in Hansard. A good deal of the evidence from operators associations stressed the desire, nay need, that bus operations should remain competitive. The aim was for ‘light-touch’ regulation to temper what were considered to be the worst excesses of competitive behaviour rather than to remove competition.
The reality was very different. From the very beginning the Traffic Commissions sought to establish complete and detailed control over key operational facets. They specified timetables as a condition of a licence and, of course, there was no authority or system of variation – that came later. Interestingly their powers in regard to fares were permissive but the Commissioners adopted a standard approach of making a fare table a condition of a licence also, even though their legal authority for doing so as a matter of general administrative policy was less than clear. Moreover, they insisted on standardising fares and operators specifying each fare.
I have to say in all honesty that I am not convinced that Hibbs harboured ‘intense hatred’ towards road service licensing or that his objections to the system arose solely from his experience at Corona Coaches (although undoubtedly this played a part). I say this because it was after the failure of Corona that G. J. Ponsonby at the London School of Economics and Political Science persuaded Hibbs to research the effects of the Road Traffic Act, 1930 upon the development of the bus industry under a Rees Jeffreys Scholarship. It is my opinion that it was here that Hibbs developed his thinking in questioning seriously road service licensing. Up until this point there had been little critical, systematic study of the system with just a few volumes available to the scholar, such as: D. N. Chester’s ‘Public Control of Road Passenger Transport’ published in 1936 and G. Thesiger’s ‘Report of the Committee on the Licensing of Road Passenger Services’ in 1953 Report. This latter report focused on the administrative procedures of the system rather than an economic examination. I do not have a copy of Chester’s book to hand but I seem to recall that he observed that the system may in due course produce the worst of all worlds.
To come back to the point of Hibbs’ stance on licensing: in his Hobart Paper first published in 1963 and republished a decade later he suggested retaining road service licensing with some key reforms rather than calling for its abolition. This is hardly the position of someone who possessed ‘intense hatred’ of the system.
I would have to revisit Hibbs’ work to establish for sure when he moved his position from reform to favouring abolition but it may well have been following the partial de-regulation under the Transport Act, 1980.
Although Hibbs was an early advocate of de-regulation (if one ignores Professor Arnold Plant’s paper to the Institute of Transport in 1931 deploring restrictive quantity controls under road service licensing) the key factor is to be found in the way in which the idea was developed by others and embraced and promoted by ‘think tanks’, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute. These bodies had considerable influence on Conservative Party thinking under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher. Dr Andrew Tesseyman’s Ph.D Thesis ‘The New Right Think Tanks and Policy Change in the UK’ – 1997 unpublished – features bus de-regulation as one of his case studies and our ‘paths crossed’ as he was working on this around the time that I was researching the roots of de-regulation.
I agree that road service licensing saved many small, independent operators and enabled a good many of them to remain in business as they were protected from competition from the large companies, but the detailed control of every facet of operation was not the intent of the architects of the scheme and the way it developed did the industry considerable damage.
Post de-regulation Hibbs has been a stern critic of the predatory behaviour of some of the large groups, and he has long argued for road pricing in order that each motorist pays at the point of use in accordance with the space they occupy and the time.
10/10/12 – 11:49
Hibbs maybe a stern critic of the predatory practices of some the large groups but such Damascene conversions are typical of academics whose blue sky thinking has wrought havoc on industries they have tampered with.
As for advocating point of use charging on a space and time basis – this has merit only if other road transport taxes are reduced so that discretionary use isn’t affected and the tax take is demonstrably fair.
The UK, indeed the world in general, has suffered from academics and economists who have in some cases a little, in many cases no experience of having to daily manage and operate a business in the real world, provide employment and suffer the vicissitudes of competition and ever changing legislation, commodity prices and changing customer demands..
The effect of their input is visible around the world today.
10/10/12 – 11:50
There has been comment above about Nicholas Ridley. Ridley occupies a position in the bus world that is the same as Sir Richard Beeching to the railways and it is very difficult to have a reasoned discussion about either of these two men because attitudes are polarised.
Andrew Tesseyman made contact with me after hearing of my work researching the path to bus service de-regulation and we exchanged notes, as it were. During the exchange Andrew said that he had a photo-copy of the speech that Ridley delivered to the Annual Dinner of the Bus and Coach Council on 15 February 1984. This was the speech that caused the hearts of many members of the audience to miss a beat and the reports in the press and trade journals at the time covered the main points of Ridley’s address but not the detail. I asked Andrew for a copy of the speech as I wished to see for myself what Ridley had said.
Ridley questioned the dispensation of road service licensing and sounded its death-knell but he then floated a range of possible alternatives ranging from complete de-regulation to administrative franchise. One is left with the impression that he was genuinely open-minded about what might replace road service licensing. I accept that this is a minority view, and one that some people in the bus industry from that period seem unable or unwilling to accept; but the fact that the view is minority in no way invalidates it.
Andrew’s research discovered that Ridley had established a departmental panel under the title of ‘Road Passenger Transport Steering Group’ (RPTSG) to examine reform of the system. This was hardly surprising as further reform of bus licensing was in the Conservative Party election manifesto. The RPTSG consisted of representatives of other government departments along with a small number of external advisers that included Professors Michael Beesley and Stephen Glaister as well as Malcolm Buchanan, a transport consultant. The group was given the remit of considering all options except retention of the status quo. The view that Ridley wished to abolish road service licensing as then operating is absolutely correct. This was Ridley’s starting point, but that is not the same as saying that he was fixed upon complete de-regulation, although one must conceded that an advisory group with Professors Beesley and Glaister among their number may have leanings in that direction.
It was this group that suggested complete de-regulation to Ridley and this taken forward to cabinet and then published as a White Paper. At this point the decision had been taken and de-regulation was unstoppable in the same way that regulation under road service licensing was unstoppable in 1930. That’s the way the process ‘works’.
Ridley did not take advice from Hibbs, well at least not directly; other academics played a critical role here as Andrew discovered. In a few years time the deliberations of the RPTSG may be available for public examination at the National Archive and we will be able to better see how the decision to favour de-regulation was taken.
Critics of this process may care to consider that it bears some similarity with the way in which ideas for bus regulation was developed after The Great War. Then the word on the lips of policy-makers was not ‘competition’ but ‘co-ordination’. An internal departmental committee was established at the Ministry of Transport with representatives from operators and their associations – in fact it was chaired by none other than Frank Pick – to consider matters of bus safety but they soon strayed into the realm of examining and developing proposals for the licensing of services. It was their final report in May 1925 – an interim report had been issued a year earlier – that laid the basis for road service licensing.
Here we see that the pressure for regulation came not from ‘think tanks’ but from operators and their associations who managed to have seats on the ‘inside’ – and in time dominate public discourse along with other competitors such as the railways who wished to see development of the bus industry curtailed. The position of the bus operators was strengthened further by the alignment of interests between capitalistic owners and organised labour in the form of the Transport & General Workers Union.
10/10/12 – 14:45
I don’t doubt the depth of your research and the accuracy of the information you quote, however to opine Ridley was not fixated on total deregulation flies in the face of the major tenets of Thatcherism i.e. to de-nationalise and deregulate as an article of faith rather than a reasoned and applied matter of policy where such application could be proved efficacious.
Clearly it is now a matter of history that bus de-regulation, rather like rail privatisation, was badly flawed and has left the industry in a much different state to that which was intended.
It is interesting to note that the concept of public transport as it developed in the 20th century was allied to the idea of public service – thus Public Service Vehicle.
The involvement of local councils in the provision of transport was on the basis of joint funding – from ratepayers in general and from the paying passenger in particular – with the aim of providing a service to allow people to travel at a reasonable price from and to where they wanted to be.
Some operators got it very wrong and the service was always a drain on the rates but the idea of service remained. Some got it very right.
Stockport, for instance, renewed its fleet in the 1960s, kept fares at a reasonable level and provided excellent service to all parts of the County Borough with clean and comfortable vehicles. In 1969 they handed a fleet to SELNEC, all but a handful being under 12 years old, and that handful were usefully used elsewhere in the SELNEC system to replace older vehicles. At the same time it handed over a brand new depot and engineering works and the final balance sheet showed a healthy profit which helped keep the general rate down.
Whilst SELNEC and GMT had their critics, they continued the ethos of service to the ratepayers – an ethos deregulation destroyed and replaced with profit before all.
The resulting bus wars in Manchester in the 1980s and 1990s not only gave poor levels of service but brought the industry into disrepute. The Stockport and Oxford Rd corridors became over congested with rival operators whilst other areas saw service reductions and complete withdrawal of service in the evening.
The well known debacle of UK North (trading as GM Buses) was a direct and dangerous result of deregulation.
As of September 2010 the Greater Manchester PTE (now transport for Greater Manchester) supplied information that showed no less than 343 routes had to be supported by subsidy for part of or the whole service.
Subsidising bus routes from the rates through an elected council’s transport committee operating a service which puts its losses or profits into the rates is one thing.
Subsidising tendered for services through a remote from the voter executive which selects profit making operators and then pays for operating often inconvenient evening and weekend timetables is nothing more than a nonsense.
There is nothing wrong with blue sky thinking, devising ways of improving the way an industry works or even trying new methods. Where it all goes wrong, as it has in this instance, is when political dogma, academic theory and a lack of consultation with the professionals combine.
The end result has been the elimination of accountability, the creation of a small number of powerful major operators with profit as the first motive for existence and general public dissatisfaction with buses as a means of transport
10/10/12 – 14:46
From reading the comments so far we can see that as ever, if you go to the right people all the answers are there, but no one ever thinks about asking the question. I remember someone asking me years ago "do you know the meaning of the words incentive, initiative and logic?" to which I replied "yes" I was told to forget them, as in most cases you’ve got no incentive to use your initiative and logic doesn’t apply. The same person told me he thought many economists and experts were people who looked through the rear window of a car and told the driver what direction to take. Many a true word, as the saying goes.
11/10/12 – 07:14
Economics: ah, yes, the examination subject where they ask the same questions every year, but the answers are different. Remember that war is good for the economy. It stimulates factory output, which generates more production of raw material, so it encourages more circulation of money, and it reduces excess population!
11/10/12 – 07:16
Two other points need to be taken up.
It is your contention that once the idea of complete de-regulation had been taken to Cabinet and the White Paper had been published, the decision to proceed to de-regulation was unstoppable.
Thatcher had an overwhelming majority and at any stage of the passage of the Bill through Parliament the decision could have been aborted or amended right up until the unusual, but still viable, method of delaying Royal Assent for further consultation, had the government been open minded on the subject.
This may have caused embarrassment but the 1980s spin doctors had no difficulty in projecting whatever reasons and explanations necessary when the admittedly few changes of policy were made.
Of course that fact is that Ridley presented exactly what the Cabinet expected to hear and what the party dogma had defined. That, and only that is the reason the Bill was unstoppable.
On the subject of Ridley’s speech of 15 February 1984 is concerned, it seems to me and many of those who heard the speech first hand that his range of options were there to deceive the listener into believing all options would be thoroughly researched and discussed. This patently did not happen and the speech was an example of an oft used political device of laying out all possibilities to deflect criticism and reassure, whilst proceeding down a specific and unwavering path.
In 2005 in his book "The Dangers of Bus Re-regulation" Hibbs said "after 20 years of comparative freedom the bus industry today has become a commercial success".
He’s right – as far as the owners and shareholders of the bus companies are concerned, but how many passengers and ratepayers would agree?
11/10/12 – 11:36
I gather from your postings that you are not a supporter of de-regulation, or the subsequent outcome; and I have the feeling that if you were having a party at home that Hibbs et. al. would not be included on your guest list.
My position is one of fascination with the processes by which ideas for regulating the industry in the 1920s and subsequently de-regulating the industry came to be developed, promulgated and ultimately produced as acts of Parliament.
Certainly Prime Minister Thatcher was driven by ideology. I think the phrase used at the time to describe her was that she was a ‘conviction politician’. Ridley was a true disciple.
There are three additional points that are worth making in this lively debate.
The first is that from the early 1970s questions began to be raised across the political spectrum about the system of bus service licensing. It is a matter of record that the Labour Government Transport Policy paper of 1976 made explicit reference to the need at some stage to examining the case for changes to the licensing regime, although I am absolutely certain that they would not have embarked on privatisation and de-regulation of the Ridley variety.
Secondly it is unfortunate that in the years immediately preceding de-regulation the Labour Party had moved decisively to the Left and the Greater London Council and some of the Metropolitan County Councils had made transport subsidy a central issue in challenging Thatcher’s doctrine. In this sense a large part of the bus industry was caught between a clash of two competing and opposing ideologies: one at local level, the other at national level.
Thirdly, following the return of a Conservative Government in 1983 Tom King has been appointed Secretary of State for Transport but in the reshuffle that followed the resignation of Cecil Parkinson from the cabinet over the Sarah Keys affair, Ridley was given the transport brief. It is interesting to contemplate some counter-factual scenarios of what might have happened if Tom King remained at Transport had Cecil Parkinson not lost his trousers.
I agree that proposal for reform can be halted at any time where a governing party has an absolute majority but the realities of our political system framed around parties means that once a policy gets ‘a head of steam’ it becomes almost impossible to stop. At some point a policy proposal passes the point of no return. This is true at the local council level too, where councillors sometimes have to vote to support policies with which they disagree; or vote against course of action that they privately favour. The situation that I describe applies across the entire political spectrum. That’s the way the system works, and it’s not ideal; in fact it’s verging on crazy but at the moment it’s the best that we’ve got and frankly the alternatives look much less appealing.
Dr Alan Whitehead, who subsequently became Labour MP for Southampton Test, made a very astute observation in regard to the intellectual arguments used by each of the two opposing political parties in the debate on de-regulation. ‘It is also clear that the Labour opposition had no real understanding of the premises to which Ridley was working, and therefore, concentrated their attacks on targets which did not exist as problems, at least from the point of view of the vision of the proposed legislation’. (Whitehead, 1995, ‘Planning in an Unplanned Environment: The Transport Act, 1985 and Municipal Bus Operations in McConville and Sheldrake (Eds.) Transport in Transition)
Certainly one can place a different interpretation on Ridley’s speech to the BCC to the one that I have set out, and I’m sure that at the time some were of the view that he was ‘going through the motions’.
What I find interesting about Andrew’s revelations relating to the RPTSG is his finding that the group consisted of representatives from a variety of other government departments. One is curious to know which other departments were at the table, and why? One cannot but wonder whether there was representation from the Treasury and if so how much the desire to curb public spending on bus subsidy further was a critical factor in shaping the deliberations of the group and the form of de-regulation that they proposed.
We may know the answers to all of these questions in a few years time if the minutes of the RPTSG are available and lodged with the National Archive.
With very good wishes
11/10/12 – 15:54
It may interest the political watchers on here, regardless of their own views, that Southampton Test – as mentioned in Kevin’s entry above – is one of the barometers. It has, for many years, been the case that which party holds Southampton Test holds the majority in Westminster. NOT THIS TIME!
12/10/12 – 08:16
Of course Nicholas Ridley was the obvious choice to take over as Transport Secretary. He was the only member of Thatcher’s cabinet who could actually recognise a bus. In fact – only apocryphal – I’m told he even once considered boarding one!
To be serious for a moment: I recall in December 1968 a meeting I had with Mr AFR Carling, a senior BET Director whose role in the industry has been mentioned in these pages before. At that time, BET seemed pretty relaxed about losing their bus interests. They’d got, (I have in mind, although my memory isn’t always perfect), £35 million – about £700 million in today’s money – for their less than half ownership in businesses with declining profitability, and were rather more excited with other interests, such as Rediffusion, Edison Plant, aircraft simulators, and quite a few more. If BET had been as strongly opposed to nationalisation as they apparently were in the late 1940s, maybe the NBC would never have been born. (But maybe Phil or Kevin, or somebody else will tell me that that idea is nonsense).
12/10/12 – 08:18
If deregulation was seen by the Thatcher government to be the correct path for the bus industry, why then was the biggest UK market for public transport, that of London, excluded from the magic formula? Perhaps the destructive brutality of unbridled competition, in which commercial might obliterated inconvenient competitive innovation, was a bit too much to stomach for the seat of government and the home of politically influential financial organisations. As it is, London is specially treated in respect of its financial support for public transport, which is massively and disproportionately weighted in its favour in comparison with the deregulated rest of the country. This, amongst other things, allows the current mayor to treat Transport for London as a personal public relations machine, and expend upwards of £7.8 million on a handful of absurd, vanity project "Routemasters". Elsewhere, in the deregulated provinces, county councils are cutting bus subsidies savagely. In my own county, all such subsidies have been withdrawn to save a mere £1.4 million. Deregulation, like railway privatisation, was born of political dogma, not sound commercial common sense.
That John Hibbs was a catalyst in this destructive policy is not in doubt. What does interest me is that he is described in his various writings as having "had a managerial career in the bus and railway industries before joining the academic world". Can those who claim to know him better than I confirm this? I understood that he held a minor clerical position with British Railways before venturing into his purchase of Corona Coaches. I know of no other positions held by him in the bus, or, indeed, railway industry. If anyone can prove me wrong on this subject, I should be greatly interested.
12/10/12 – 08:21
When I bought the photo from a stall holder on Tynemouth market, it came as part of a job lot of about 200, the bloke on the stall said "I just want rid of them, I’ve had most of them for years and nobody seems to be interested" how wrong could he be? Its certainly created a lot of interesting comments on this site.
12/10/12 – 12:49
I hope that no one is saying that other people are talking nonsense and certainly I have not said that. All I am doing is placing into the public domain the findings of my published research and people are free to agree or disagree or place different interpretation upon events.
AFR Carling was a staunch defender of road service licensing. He played a prominent role in the Institute of Transport and in 1965 was honoured with an invitation to deliver the twenty-first Henry Spurrier Memorial Lecture. His paper ‘Control in Passenger Road Transport: A View of Service Licensing after 35 years’ can be considered a response to Hibbs’ IEA paper ‘Transport for Passengers’.
The reasons for BET exiting the bus industry is worthy of study. From a strategic perspective a set of businesses with profitability under pressure and the likelihood of a great deal of political intervention in the future may have been the catalyst for BET ‘calling it a day’, especially if they could see better opportunities in other business areas.
Why was London excluded from de-regulation? This is a good question. At the time Ridley justified this on the basis of allowing bus services in the capital a period of adjustment under the revised framework of the recently created London Regional Transport (LRT). It is worth saying that at this point the House of Commons Transport Select Committee looked at this and was not convinced. They concluded that it amounted to an implicit admission of the potential risks associated with de-regulation in urban areas.
This may well be true but I think what has been forgotten is that Ridley ensured that the 1985 Act contained powers to extend de-regulation to London subject to approval by Parliament. When these powers were considered in more detail in 1987 presumably with a view to de-regulating services in the capital, (by which time Ridley had been moved to the Department of Environment), they were judged unsound as they implicitly contradicted some of the statutory duties of LRT. This meant that extending de-regulation to London would require primary legislation. De-regulation in London was thus placed in abeyance although the Conservative Party did include a commitment to de-regulation London’s bus services in their 1992 election manifesto.
Had de-regulation occurred in London this would have placed bus services in a similar position to before the London Traffic Act, 1924.
In essence there are four acts of parliament that altered quantity regulation: London Traffic Act, 1924; Road Traffic Act, 1930; Transport Act, 1980 and Transport Act, 1985.
Here is the crux of the matter, I think: the first two restricted competition and to a large extent had been framed by, or at least highly influenced by the bus industry (which was in favour of them), the latter two were imposed on an industry that was against them (which mirrors the points made so eloquently by other contributors).
12/10/12 – 15:30
Sorry not to have replied to various points for the last 36 hours or so but I’ve been en route to Texas to see the grandchildren.
I’ll come back on a number of points during the next day or so when I get a minute.
Enjoying the debate!
12/10/12 – 18:01
Kevin Did the BET group not attempt a sort of comeback with the minibus operator United Transport a BET subsidiary who were going to target Leeds but got cold feet when Yorkshire Rider invested heavily in minibuses and possibly tried Manchester
It should also be remembered the 1985 act that at the time the centralisation of all services was being looked at in an effort to break the power of the largely labour local authorities. Some of whom mounted a concerted campaign against abolition just prior to the advent of the 1985 act. Oddly PTEs were left alone perhaps as they were seen as slightly easier to deal with than bus owning local authorities.
13/10/12 – 06:50
Take care, Phil and I look forward to reading your next contribution. The nearest I have ever got to Texas is the word Texaco at the local petrol filling station!
Turning now to Chris’ excellent observations. I can’t answer your first point as I have not followed events that closely.
On the second point concerning the retention of the PTEs I hope that I can say something useful. The development, progress, fortunes and misfortunes of the bus industry are inextricably linked to local government.
The Metropolitan County Councils (MCCs) were formed and designated as PTAs thus setting policy for their respective Executive. The problem was that local government re-organisation established a two-tier system in the great cities of the large conurbations (and other cities and towns in the metropolitan areas) that had hitherto enjoyed unitary status as county boroughs. Many of them had fought valiantly to retain a unitary system but that was not to be, and some Metropolitan District Councils (MDCs) had a very uneasy relationship with the local MCC. This was very noticeable when the authorities were under different political control.
By 1981 the GLC and all the MCCs were under Labour control with the former committed to its’ ‘Fare’s Fair’ policy and Merseyside and West Midlands also embarking on a policy of large scale subsidy. South Yorkshire had adopted a low fares policy in 1975.
What happened then was interesting because some of the lower-tier authorities – the MDCs and London Boroughs in the GLC area, and which were under Conservative control as far as I can recall – mounted a legal challenge to these policies. The GLC policy was declared unlawful, the West Midlands policy was altered prior to judgement and the challenge to the Merseyside MCC failed. The different judgements turned on the set of wording in the acts of parliament which were different in respect of London when compared to the rest of the country. The Thatcher Government responded with the Transport Act, 1983 that set a limit to subsidy at or below which legal unchallenge could not be made. This was known as the Protected Expenditure Level (PEL).
The Conservative Election Manifesto of 1983 contained a commitment to abolish the MCCs, although as far as I can remember gave no indication of what would happen to the PTEs.
As it so happened the legislation abolishing the MCCs was occurring at or around the same time as the Transport Act, 1985 and the PTEs were retained, while quite a few other MCC functions were transferred to statutory joint boards. The PTAs reverted to an arrangement not dissimilar to that which had applied when the first set were established in 1969: namely the PTA consisted of councillors nominated from the lower-tier MDCs. At a stroke this, along with the PEL, effectively neutralised them politically since in many PTA areas the MDCs were under different political control and even in areas were they were under the same party control the common party apparatus was more difficult to manage; and de-regulation did the rest so-to-speak.
There may have been a fear among policy makers in central government that de-regulation and dismantling the PTEs at the same time was simply too risky.
I have a hazy memory that the Act abolishing the MCCs allowed for a MDC to secede from the PTA (and hence PTE) if they so desired, but I’d need to re-read the Act to be sure.
I hope that I have set out the matter correctly but if I have not then I’m sure that others will respond to correct my errors and/or omissions.
13/10/12 – 06:50
I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that the House of Commons Transport recommended that a PTA should also be created for London, but the government was fed up with political control of transport by Ken Livington’s GLC, with its destructive Fare’s Fair’ policy of ridiculously cheap fares, slowly running LT into the ground. Ridley, therefore, created London Regional Transport, controlled directly by the Secretary of State. The GLC was abolished not long later. With full deregulation (1985?) the long road of route-tendering was introduced, uniquely. London was not immune from the chaos of deregulation, but was spared the worst effects of it. Of course, passenger numbers dropped off when more realistic fares were restored.
13/10/12 – 06:52
Reading the very interesting debate made me look at the statistics for Kingston upon Hull City Transport immediately pre-1986.
In 1983/84 KHCT made an operating loss of £3,128,75 which was reduced to £2,664,444 by revenue support and Transport Supplementary Grant income from Humberside County Council.
The following year saw a loss of £3,568,099 (£9,027,290 in 2012 money) with a nett loss of £3.091,510. Fares had remained unchanged since August 1980 as part of s deliberate low fares policy
Passenger numbers had increased overall by 0.50%despite the numbers using its Crown travel card falling. The mileage operated had increased by 0.50%. A fleet of 231 buses was maintained to meet a peak requirement of 185.
In 1965 the department made a profit of £4,500 (£71,850 in 2012 money) from 63,172,000 passengers carried
Keith Bastow in his annual report highlighted the challenge which the new Bill would require, namely going from £3.5 million deficit to at least break even.
Even without deregulation could that level of support continue? Was this the case elsewhere? As several people have mentioned the existing system was under pressure from all sides and the level of subsidy was a major factor in the Conservative thinking.
Deregulation might not have been the best answer but change was needed.
Malcolm J Wells
13/10/12 – 17:48
Kevin, you are correct, I’m not a great believer in deregulation and history seems to bear me out.
Apart from the debacle in the UK bus industry, deregulation in aviation (an area in which I’ve worked and have detailed knowledge) has been at best a mixed blessing and at worst a disaster. Take the situation in the USA for instance where the initial round of deregulation was touted as the opportunity to widen passenger choice, reduce fares and open competition. After an initial surge of new airlines, few of which lasted more than a few years, the toll began to be taken of a number of long established regionals and the odd bigger carrier.
33 years on most of the once household names have gone, American Airlines is in Chapter 11 protection and likely to be taken over by US Airways which would leave just 3 majors handling all the international routes and over 85% of domestic service.
Fares have returned to the sort of levels common before deregulation and service on board has decreased. Sounds familiar?
Deregulation in the financial sector has also been an unmitigated disaster and I won’t go into the ludicrous situation on the railways.
As for Hibbs and Co coming to one of my now rare parties, perhaps a party would be the wrong place to meet up but I would have been very happy to have organised a conference for them to present their side of the story.
I’m a great believer in a mixed economy and the provision of public services. Having held senior positions in a number of manufacturing and service companies, been a Principal Officer in local government in a then unique Public/Private partnership, which I was instrumental in starting more than 30 years ago, and finally run my own international conference company specialising in aviation topics with events sponsored by IATA, various governments and airport authorities, I’ve developed my views based on a variety of experiences.
I was working in Greater Manchester Council from 1978 to 1984. When my operation was set up the Tories were in control. Thatcher had been an enthusiastic supporter of the MCCs in 1973/4. By 1984, with Labour in power in the MCCs and presenting a power base in the largest population areas, she’d changed her mind completely and, unable to democratically take charge via the ballot box, she decided to remove what had become a thorn in her side. At this time she was presenting herself as a bastion of democracy on the world stage.
Kevin says that in the period prior to deregulation the Labour Party had moved decisively left. At the same time it must be acknowledged that the Tories had moved decisively right. The paternalistic policies of the 1950s and 60s under Churchill, Eden, Macmillan and Home had been buried under a tidal wave of dogma as the right wing of the party moved as far away from Heath’s disastrous industrial relations policy as possible, running rough shod over many long held party "truths" in the process.
My own position was supposedly threatened by Labour taking over control from the Tories at GMC but I can honestly say I received equal support from all parties in the Council.
Back in the mid 1960s, the formation of the original PTEs had been advised by industry experts (such as Albert Neal, ex MCTD) and whilst in many quarters there was anger at the elimination of municipal bus operations, the principal of local service, albeit on a more regional but still publicly accountable basis, was maintained.
The machinations of deregulation under Thatcher and Ridley totally ignored the concerns of the industry, sacrificed the public service element to the cause of profit and took away any level of public choice and accountability leaving only the Transport Authorities as a token level of control.
As matters have evolved the much vaunted tendering process, which was supposed to have given so much opportunity for choice has, because of the dominance of the big groups, become little more than a formality, the ogre of subsidies that deregulation was meant to see off has not disappeared and, in London, whilst the operators have to paint their vehicles in approximately the same livery, giving a patina of uniformity and hiding their individuality, we have Boris spending exorbitant amounts to get rid of articulated vehicles, which manage to operate successfully in cities just as congested and with equally as narrow streets as London, whilst protecting his new Routemaster vanity bus from open sale which, were it of use to others, could bring in much needed business from elsewhere.
I believe there are certain areas of national life which have to be provided with some level of local or national government subvention and public accountability. The realities of running a business for profit are such that you minimise costs and get the highest price possible for your product. For producers of discretionary products this has always been the case but the provision of affordable public transportation, from the early days of municipal transport, was always seen as a social necessity.
The burgeoning of private car ownership from the 1950s helped jeopardise the industry. Had some of the fuel duty and road tax for private cars been locally ring fenced and given to operators to offset the need for government subsidies, around 1955, we probably wouldn’t have seen the emergence of the PTEs, let alone deregulation.
I’ve said before, the need for extensive, affordable to the passenger public transport is growing. An answer other than the current situation is urgently needed.
We’ve travelled a long way from the above Regent V and for the next week I’m a long way from home and much of my reference material. Given my memory isn’t what it was, I’ll keep up with any developments on this thread but may not contribute unless I’m confident of the sources I can access.
14/10/12 – 07:07
Phew! Bit heavy, but fascinating, Phil.
14/10/12 – 07:08
Malcolm mentions Hull In the years following deregulation Over the period before the sale of the company they tried a number of different strategies to maximise their profits. These included a low cost operation Citilink using older vehicles in a two tone green livery and a successful short break holiday programme under the Kingstonian banner They also expanded out of the city into York by taking the coach side of Reynard Pullman over As the economic noose tightened these activities were disposed of . Several other companies courted the council to buy the business including Yorkshire Rider who were still an independent company at the time Eventually Cleveland Transit who in turn were bought by Stagecoach.
In contrast East Yorkshire seen by many as a weaker company who would quickly fall by the wayside with their small operating territory and motley collection of used buses have thrived and prospered despite a damaging turf war with Hull following the end of the joint operating agreement.
Today they have offshoots in Manchester (Finglands) and the Midlands (Whittle) and maintain a high quality fleet in all three areas.
15/10/12 – 07:17
What a wonderful piece on the trial and tribulations of the bus industry since 1970 which I think is worthy of filing under "Best Bits" for reference about the problems with bus deregulation now. I have found the story of great interest which has confirmed many of my own views on the National Bus era, the PTEs and bus deregulation. However these events are a very good reason why this splendid web site has block on post 1970 bus photos. In my dotage I prefer to think of the good old days of the forties and fifties.
Good idea I could do it from Roys question that started the debate.