Some reflections on the 1930 Road Traffic Act in practice.

Some reflections on the 1930 Road Traffic Act in practice.

This article was prompted by the first paragraph of Chapter 16 of Keith Easton’s erudite and comprehensive article on the development of bus services in Hull. His opening explanation of the workings of the 1930 Road Traffic Act is of profound significance to all of us interested in the industry of ‘the old days’. It was the basis on which the entire industry operated.

The Act involved more controversy, argument and discord in its early years than many people realise, and it took several years before the ordered, regulated industry, largely as regional monopolies under the regional Traffic Commissioners, developed fully. A number of people who later held the most influential positions in the industry were heavily involved in its effective implementation; I think, for example, of Mr A.F.R. Carling of Southdown, later a senior director of BET.

It is sometimes forgotten, moreover, that one of the major figures behind the Act was none other than Herbert Morrison, a life-long socialist. While one of his prime motivations – perhaps his main one - was to clear up the chaotic state of bus and coach operations in London, he succeeded in giving the Act a ‘left wing’ tone, in that, for instance, it aimed to stop ‘wasteful competition’ – a sentiment somewhat different from today’s prevailing political attitudes. As an aside, with reference to Keith’s point that objections were allowed to Licence Applications, I have personal memories of smiling wryly in more than one such Traffic Commissioners’ Hearing at senior industry mangers with virulently anti-socialist views objecting in the witness box to an Application on the grounds that it would create ‘wasteful competition’.

A significant feature of the system of bus operations after the introduction of the Act was ‘cross-subsidisation’, by which operators were expected to maintain unprofitable rural services in return for the monopoly they had been given in running profitable services. In practice, the system worked well enough for a long time, but it was always a matter of geographical chance as what balance of profitable and unprofitable routes any particular operator inherited. Some operators were luckier than others. I was never privileged to inspect management accounts at West Yorkshire, but my recollection of that company is that they had a relatively small, (i.e. relatively small in comparison with their heavily profitable routes), burden of poor earning rural services. Others were less fortunate.

Going to Maidstone & District, which as a naïve northerner I had visualised as being in the affluent and therefore profitable, (I imagined), south-east, involved a culture shock. M&D ran a large number of rural services which always lost money, and relied on the profits it made from a much smaller bank of good routes. For example, the services in the Medway towns – the services of the old Chatham & District Traction - were highly profitable, but the consequence, I always felt, was that the passengers were paying higher fares than they otherwise would have needed to pay, in order to subsides services in rural Kent and east Sussex, which they never used and with which they had absolutely no community of interest.

The activities of most municipal operators didn’t help. They usually protected their own services by insisting on minimum fares charged by provincial companies working in their areas, or by restricting pick-up points. This naturally channelled passengers into using municipal buses, but deprived private operators of income, (as well as reducing passengers’ choice). Municipal operators often also had different attitudes to profitability, regarding buses as a public service operated for the benefit of local residents without the need to make a profit. Fair enough, but a consequence was that many city dwellers who occasionally used unprofitable rural bus services actually contributed nothing towards their cost in their normal daily journeys on municipal services.

As I have said, the system worked well enough for a long time, before and in the years immediately after WWII. As everyone knows, passengers were abundant, and car ownership limited. The 1960’s saw a different trend, which resulted in a smaller and smaller number of profitable services holding up an increasing volume of unprofitable ones. In turn, this meant constant fare increases and service cuts. Sadly, the entire records of my time at M&D were lost during a house move, but I did have an immense, extremely detailed and carefully prepared binder of an M&D Fares Application from the mid 1960’s. I can’t recollect its number, but I think it was the 17th or 18th such Application – certainly in the high teens – and in the Traffic Department the term ‘annual fares increase’ was used constantly.

Forecasts were always made of the effect of fares increases, and these took into account two factors: trend and resistance. The former was the inevitable reduction in volumes as passengers turned to the convenience of using cars, and the second was the expected result of fare increases turning passengers away. The two together amounted to about 4.5 or 5%, a worryingly high loss of business in the long term.

The management accounting system used by M&D was, by modern standards, a little crude and unhelpful. Every single item of cost was calculated very accurately in terms of cost per mile, and the income from every service was shown in the same way. It was impossible, however, to allocate any particular cost to any particular service or type of service. It was assumed that express services cost less to run than stage carriage, as did private hire, (no conductors, for example), but exactly how much less was a matter of estimate rather than known fact. I am quite sure that the Company seriously underestimated its staff costs on summer express routes, (and other operating costs, too), because all driver and other costs were lumped together and shown just as an overall cost per mile.

Continual fares increases made depressing reading when considering their impact. Applying the effects of trend and resistance, as we did, we could see profitable routes becoming less so, and the income from marginal routes dropping below average cost and thus they became unprofitable. Service reductions to counter these trends frequently made matters worse, reducing passenger numbers on other, connected routes, and so exacerbating the problem of sagging passenger numbers and income. M&D reacted in as positive way as the then current thinking suggested. It introduced one man operation, (should I say ‘one person’ in these politically correct days?), on a large scale. At WY, the prevailing attitude towards OMO in the Traffic Department was that it might be a necessary evil, but it was not a welcome innovation; at M&D, it was seen as a life line. Similarly, the company experimented both with small capacity vehicles for sparse routes, and with high capacity ones to avoid the need for relief vehicles on its busiest routes.

As another aside, I used to question mentally, (in the absence of relevant data), whether there was really much return from high capacity vehicles. On Service 1, Maidstone to Gillingham, one of the busiest and best routes financially, an exercise showed that on average the Fleetlines and Atlanteans used their extra capacity over, say, a 60-seat front-engined vehicle, for approximately 3½ miles per day – not much in relation to their higher initial costs and higher running costs. The management accounting system, of course, did not distinguish between the comparative costs of running different vehicles. The closest one could get was to examine fuel costs, (there was a daily fuel usage record for every vehicle), and maintenance costs from the various depots and Central Works. These latter, however, were hardly a precise guide, because they were not related to individual vehicles or classes of vehicle.

In this scenario, the Traffic Commissioners remained by and large aloof. They regarded major operators as being responsible, and while the process of a Fares Application was a serious and detailed affair handled with due process over one or two days, the outcome was rarely in doubt. There would be the ‘usual suspects’, in the form of objections from local authorities and other interested parties, but the granting of the Application invariably followed.

The Commissioners did, however, expect major operators to fulfil their responsibilities for unprofitable services, even on occasion requesting them to take over services previously operated by failed independents. I recall the only time I heard M&D’s Traffic Manager, (the fearsomely blunt and gruff Stanley Smith), swear. An independent – I won’t name them, because I’ve seen the same name in reference to an existing business – had had all three of his Bedford OBs put off the road simultaneously, and M&D were asked by the Commissioners to take over the service in rural Sussex temporarily, but also to submit an Application to run it permanently. Stanley had no choice in the matter; he had to agree. But I clearly remember his reaction to the passenger returns and income from that service: ‘B------ H---! I thought we had some stinkers, but look at this,’ he said, throwing the paper my way. The income per mile was lower than any M&D route I could think of. But running the service fell into the category of cross-subsidisation, the good will of the Commissioners was needed, and that was that.

There were a few subsidies from local authorities – often referred to, I think, as ‘precepts’ - but these were rare and were granted only in special circumstances: e.g. to support special additional school journeys, services that were so poor that they would otherwise have been totally withdrawn, or as rail replacement services. Rail replacement and ‘co-ordinated’ services were never an attractive proposition. Generally, they required the Company to coincide arrivals with train timings, but with a (usually unpublished) wait of maybe five minutes to allow alighting train passengers to catch the bus. Hence the time needed to complete a relatively straightforward bus journey could be extended by a couple of five minute station halts. M&D’s generally generous running times, (generous, certainly, compared with West Yorkshire), might give scope for these delays to be partially offset by tightening the running time and/or absorbing the waiting time, assuming the TGWU had no serious objections, but waiting at stations, especially when no extra people got on the bus, was irritating to passengers. If the train was more than a little late, so the bus could no longer wait, everyone was upset.

The prevailing management view of things seemed to be that bus companies could not be entirely commercial. A District Superintendent seeing the Company’s latest Annual Financial Accounts remarked to me that the return of 8% on investment wasn’t great, but the Company did, after all, enjoy a monopoly.

Some other operators faced even more pressing difficulties. I spent some time at Western Welsh Omnibus Company, which in its bygone good years had accumulated a sizeable cash balance that it had invested. In its Annual Accounts, the Company’s net profit was lower than the investment income from these retained past profits. In other words, by the mid 1960’s this very substantial operator was actually losing money on its bus operations. M&D, as is well known, incurred a loss in 1971, leading to its virtual merger with East Kent Road Car.

How long this system might have continued under the NBC without the impact of Mrs Thatcher’s politically motivated changes I have no idea, in the same way that I have no personal knowledge of how the industry’s funding works today. It had the effect, for more than a generation, however, of maintaining a whole body of operators, both provincial and municipal, that generated loyalty, respect and admiration amongst their staff and most passengers. Despite its inbuilt shortcomings, the success of the 1930 Act, maybe, can be gauged by the fond memories of the many regular readers of this site.

Roy Burke

02/04/12 - 10:01

Roy, thanks for a masterly posting.
It now seems incredible that the bus industry was controlled so tightly and efficiently for so many years. The concept of municipally-operated urban services, company-operated suburban and inter-urban services and independently-operated fill-in services, made perfect sense and helped to establish a reliable and comprehensive network which passengers came to rely upon. This, of course, gave operators a monopoly and many routes must have seemed like a license to print money. Even the many "Pearce and Crump" country bus operators must have thought they had died and gone to heaven when their local railway branch line closed. However, many of us can recall instances of this monopoly leading to complacency and downright illegality. Indeed, the skullduggery and chicanery that went on in some parts of the tour and excursions industry would have made the Mafia blush. It was no surprise, therefore, that when finances allowed, many passengers abandoned public transport in droves (myself included).
This situation was not unique to the UK of course. Where we differed from other European counties was that here in the UK we assumed that public transport was a dying cause and consequently little attempt was made to turn the tide. Luckily for rest of Europe, many cities and governments fought back and invested heavily in modern systems which helped to stem, then reverse, the decline. This helped to create cities which developed around its public transport provision, rather than our US-style, car-essential urban sprawl - much of which is now impossible to served adequately or economically by bus.
Bus deregulation was, in time-honoured British fashion, botched. What we ended up with was a cheap and nasty hotch-potch of services operated by life-expired buses and fleets of minibuses, primarily to serve those "welfare-reliant" passengers who couldn't afford a car. I well remember one Thatcher-era minister actually suggesting we should copy Manila and have fleets of Jeepneys in every city as an alternative to real investment in public transport. It would be nice to think that this attitude had disappeared, but public transport in this country is still a non-priority for most politicians. Token gestures like building the odd half-mile of guided busway, or repainting the bus fleet in some fancy but meaningless livery won't take us back to the days when the bus was an essential and reliable part of most people's life.
The 1930 Road Traffic Act came just at the right time to regulate a chaotic public transport system. What we need now is a 2012 Road Traffic Act to regulate for a nationwide public transport system, accepting once and for all that it can NEVER pay its way, and to create a subsidy system which guarantees good quality public transport for all, both town and country. It may take years to establish, but only when we can rely on regular, affordable and comprehensive services will we feel secure enough to change back to the bus.
Here endeth today's Pontification!

Paul Haywood

02/04/12 - 18:15

I feel that I must congratulate Roy on his very concise and lucid article concerning this act, and also the response by Paul.
As an enthusiast, I never understood the full ramifications before, but I can well empathise with Herbert Morrison`s ideal of cutting out "wasteful competition" All that seems to matter now is the pursuit of profit, and not the fulfilment of a public need.
Without a properly organised transport system, our current social system will be unsustainable, especially as future generations are probably less likely to be car owners due to fuel costs, and the potential cut in disposable incomes which is highly likely.

John Whitaker

02/04/12 - 18:17

Thank you, Paul, for your kind remarks. Your observations about the industry, both as it was in the ‘good old days’ of the 1930 Act and subsequently, are so obviously correct that, for those of us old enough to remember, the present situation makes very little sense. The old framework was destroyed mainly for reasons of political doctrine, although the sale of state assets no doubt helped improve the public purse, (and it was a Conservative, Harold Macmillan, who described this process as ‘selling off the family silver’). The present government is of the same political persuasion, of course, and, as you rightly point out, bus services are not an issue that raises much excitement amongst politicians of any hue. As you point out, also, other European countries took a more progressive and sensible approach.
One thing you mention – the reaction of operators to replacing withdrawn rail services in the 1960’s – gave me a gentle smile. No doubt many independents welcomed this as a profit opportunity, as you say, but for major companies like M&D, the attraction was less apparent. For one thing, operating costs were higher – wages, vehicle costs, overheads and so on. ‘Co-ordinated’ services produced additional headaches and were even less attractive.
Your comments about complacency within the industry are spot-on, too, although in fairness to M&D, that’s not an accusation that could be levelled at that company, I believe. If anything, they were over-responsive to perceived passenger needs. For a short while, for example, they ran an express service from Chatham to Liverpool, for the benefit of sailors from the Naval Base. It was a financial disaster, (but it was a cheap way for me to get visits home while it lasted).
I suspect that a lot of the skulduggery to which you refer, Paul, was the product of resentment felt by someone or other just at the very existence of a competitor. M&D, absurdly in my view, kept a fleet of very under-used elderly coaches which in the winter had no use other than to compete with independents for private hire. Their rates needed to be so low that losses were both inevitable and obvious. They even quoted a 16-seater rate when they only had 37-seat vehicles. (It was not unknown for a coach to be hired at the 16-seater rate only to be miraculously filled). The sensible thing would have been to admit that independents were better at the job, and withdraw gracefully.
Your final remarks, and your hopes for the future, will produce heartfelt nods of approval, I’m quite sure, from all readers of the OBP site.

Roy Burke

02/04/12 - 18:21

Herewith a (brief) comment on the response to the above comment by Paul Heywood:
AMEN, Paul.

Keith Easton

04/04/12 - 15:47

I am extremely impressed and encouraged by the superb and one hundred percent accurate observations and opinions in Roy's article, and by Paul's and John's equally pertinent and well expressed answers. I also join with Keith in his appropriate commendation of all !!
I had very real practical experience of some of the dastardly and blatantly illegal and dangerous practices which abounded following De-regulation. Having happily taken redundancy from Metro's Headingley Depot on 25th October 1986, exactly six hours before that organisation ceased to be an operator in favour of the new and hastily assembled Yorkshire Rider, I found myself in a whole new World as a driver in the Pontefract, Barnsley and Doncaster areas. To use a hackneyed old saying "I could write a book - or several actually" about the scandals which I encountered and which I had to struggle, vainly while holding my head high, to ignore and to do my job properly and legally while working for an honourable firm - South Yorkshire Road Transport and its various direct successors.
I'll just outline two wicked examples by way of illustration.
Out of many invaders who attacked the Pontefract area was one who registered two journeys per hour (quite un-necessary as passenger demand had always been adequately catered for) for a quick circuit of the complex Chequerfield Estate - as with all the "get rich quick" newcomers their buses ran only during Monday to Saturday daytimes. Presumably with his Firm's knowledge - or maybe not - one of the drivers used to fit in another journey each hour, sometimes two, at his own whim, and these were routinely operated on the basis of going round any of the unregistered portions of the route at the passengers' preference !! Usually he would appear on the Chequerfield stand in the Bus Station at our authorised times and scoop up all our passengers. Any attempt to remonstrate with him resulted in a sneering retort, a clever "leer" and hand signals to match - one always had a vision of "The Wild West" - only the stetsons and guns were missing.
The other episode I'm going to relate occurred in South Elmsall Bus Station on the long route 249 from Pontefract to Upton. As I attempted to leave I found that three of the "pirate's" buses had deliberately formed a blockade to prevent me from leaving on time and picking up my passengers. There was much chortling and smirking by the three "drivers" who were having their daily game of "playing buses" - but the hilarity diminished somewhat when I was seen outside my bus taking the attached photo, and the traffic jam mysteriously eased.

Just one more example, on the subject of the strict and reassuring vehicle standard requirements of th 1986 Act. An outfit in Barnsley soon noticed that there were rich pickings to be had on the long established and adequate service 245 from Barnsley to Pontefract. They began to appear with their very sad old Leyland Leopard on the town terminal stand on our time. This vehicle sported a hole where the rear fleetname should have been - a good view could be had of the bulbs and wiring within - and a conductor to do something with the revenue. The professional image was reinforced by the destination display which consisted of a tatty piece of buff cardboard in the nearside windscreen proclaiming in a homely manner in felt tip scribble "Ponty."

Chris Youhill

04/04/12 - 17:14

When I was a lad, my Father used to tell me about the pre-1930 days when buses of doubtful pedigree would race each other to the stops: he used to put it together with buying specs from Woolworths. Never believe the myth of inevitable progress.


05/04/12 - 18:07

Lost of interesting posts on this - here's another one (I hope)
Afetr deregulation many operators continued to buy new buse such as my local EYMS and the then KHCT. It was school childern who were often saddled with superannuated buses in poor external condition at least and who were probably put off buses for life.
The bus industry was and is a mosaic of diffent opertors and philosophies. In 1959 Huddersfield was buying rear entrace 7' 6" wide trolleybuses whilst in the same East Lancs premises 8' wide 66 seat forward entrance trolleybuse were being assembled for Bradford. KHCT had received approval for one-man operated 35 foot long single deck trolleybuses.
G H Pulfrey of KHCT embraced OMO and converted several motorbus route in 1957-60 using (mainly)15 Weymann bodied AEC Reliances.His plan to operate double deck trolleybuse in OMO form using tokens and prepaid tickets was stillborn as unions would not agree.
In Hull cross-subsidisation involved casualties in that short riding passengers (of which there were many) particularly on the six trolleybus route suffered in fares increases in order to keep longer journey fares down.Re-housing in Hull involved locating people on the outskirts but fare did not match the distance, a deliberate political policy. No one asked why the short riding passenger who paid fares, rates and taxes should subsidise the longer distance and no one asked them if that's what they wanted. Pulfrey had to absorb the costs there being no contributtion from the Council.
In the four week period ending 6 June 1959 the average income on "B" area routes was 34.84d pcm. On "A" area bus routes it was 38.43d pcm. Motorbus costs were 36.08d pcm. 13 of 18 "B" area route had income below the average costs whilst 5 of the 7 "A" area routes were also below costs. In fact the system was worse than it looked because one "A" and four "B" routes were one man operated which brought the average cost down. KHCT never identified separate running costs for the "A" and "B" areas. the frequencies of some motor bus route were unchanged for years
Trolleybus receipts were 44.94d pcm against costs of 44.14d Even these must be treated with care. When abandonment was discussed throughout 1959 a careful examination by outside groups changed the game. Originally KHCT said replacement would save £15,000 a year. Various allocation of costs were challenged and it was found that all former tramwaymen's superannuation costs were charged to trolleybuses even though a significant number had transferred to buses, so these were excluded. This reduced the saving to £11,000 or £30 a day. After the decision was taken the trolleybuses received a £3,000 rates reduction so the final figure was even less. This mirrors what people have said about poor cost allocation regimes.
Today's bus services do pay and operators in some instance carry as many passengers with less buses than previously. Companies do actually want to carry more passengers. But the game has changed. City centres are dying as a result of online shopping and out of town centres, the latter far more convenient for many users. Saturdays used to be the busiest day - not any more. The larger retailers are disappearing replaced by a selection of fast food outlets and coffee shops as we try miserably to emulate the continent. Many traditional city centre employers such as banks have reduced staff to very small levels compared with twenty years ago.
Recalling the "good old days" (if there ever were any apart form the immediate post-war period)is of little use. If there was a new act who would decide the level of service and the cost? London is a poor example and the subsidy is enormous.
The present system is not perfect by any means but neither was the old one when it could take months to decide on fares increase applications.Why should an organsation that was not responsible for running the buses decide what fares could be charged? Why is competition between bus operators wasteful and competition between (say) supermarkets a benefit?
In any case the bus competes with cars, trains and cycles - is that wasteful as well?
Look forward to the responses.

Malcolm J Wells

08/04/12 - 16:03

Malcolm, your hoped for responses to your (controversial?) comment have not, I’m afraid, materialised, so perhaps as the author of the original article I might be permitted to submit an observation.
First, your account of the different vehicle policies of KHCT, Bradford et al. There were many alternative approaches to meeting demand, and different operators applied a varying pace towards introducing driver only vehicles. But that just reflected different circumstances and I can’t ascribe that much significance to them.
One small matter, however, on which I think I may disagree with you, if I have understood your point correctly, is the phenomenon of relatively higher fares for short distance travellers, (a process we used to refer to as ‘fare tapering’). There are some cogent costing arguments for it. Bus companies incur substantial costs before a wheel ever turns, and the recovery of such costs, it can be argued, should be related to passenger journeys rather than to passenger miles. The example I gave of large capacity vehicles needing their extra space only for small distances illustrates the point, since those expensive vehicles addressed, essentially, a problem caused by high peak volumes of short distance passengers. The same argument explains utility companies’ standing charges, taxi fare structures, and why two small cans of beans from Tesco usually cost more than one large one.
From their comments, I guess most readers of these pages would agree with you that today’s operators are profitable, (and definitely profit-conscious), but I wonder how far this is truly market related. For example, in Scotland, where I now live, all pensioners, and many others, too, get free or heavily subsidised bus travel; the cost comes out of public funds – not so different in effect from the policies of some of the former municipal operators. You yourself refer to the ‘enormous’ subsidy in London. Where would current operators be if they had to rely purely on the market? Subsidies are subsidies however they manifest themselves, and it is wrong, I feel, to assume that privatisation solves ipso facto the problem of (any) public service that is not sustainable without support. I think Paul Haywood put his finger on exactly the right spot: there is a strong case for a national transport policy based exclusively on public need, supported openly and clearly and devoid of party political dogma, (Ha! Ha! Fat chance).
Finally, the points you make in your last paragraph. There is nothing inherently different, I submit, between fare levels needing the approval of the former Traffic Commissioners and the present responsibilities of Ofcom, Ofwat, or many of the other ‘Ofs’. There are, however, inherent differences between bus operators and supermarkets, which make the question of competition, (or its ‘wastefulness’), significant. For one thing – the very core of the argument – supermarkets can thrive in a purely commercial environment, while comprehensive bus services cannot. For another, as the two most impressive managers I ever met in the bus industry both stressed to me, a bus operator’s product is instantly perishable. The journey potential of unfilled seats is lost forever, and the ‘product’ therefore, is immediately wasted. If Tesco don’t sell their beans today, they still have them to sell tomorrow, but a bus company can’t find passengers for yesterday’s unfilled seats. Excessive competition exacerbates the issue. Similarly, Tesco can change the price of their beans often and at will, and it doesn’t matter much. That approach is unrealistic with bus fares. Unregulated competition produced exactly the sort of mayhem that Chris Youhill – probably the correspondent with the longest and most distinguished bus industry career of any contributor to these pages – found so offensive.
Likening competition between buses and other forms of transport, (cars, taxis, bicycles, etc), ignores, now as it did in the 1960’s, the impractibility or unavailability of those alternatives to many bus users.
Most readers of the OBP pages will acknowledge, I’m sure, that the appeal of the ‘old’ days, (I don’t think I have ever referred to the ‘good’ old days), is heavily nostalgic. What is regretted, I feel, is the replacement of a system that exuded ‘character’, whatever that vague term implies, with one that seems faceless, boring and insensitive, (and has some dreadful, garish liveries, too). Personally, I don’t think it works as satisfactorily, either, but I don’t use buses very much these days, and I’m biased, any way.

Roy Burke

09/04/12 - 07:03

I was most interested to read some of the comments regarding the 1930 RTA. Having worked in the bus industry for almost fifty years I have to say that in my experience, the biggest decline in bus services has taken place since de-regulation and privatisation. The mind set of the last thirty years has been one of allowing privateers to milk the public purse and this is amply demonstrated by the indecent haste with which bus operators have withdrawn non-profitable evening and Sunday services as local authorities have cut subsidies. This proves beyond doubt that the 'public service' ethic is dead and buried. My own personal experience of this comes courtesy of my local bus route where the evening service has been reduced to a joke with 'Worst Bus' exhortations to 'use it or lose it'. Meanwhile they continue to operate a bus five minutes in front of a competitor every hour throughout the day from Monday to Saturday. This is the sort of waste that the 1930 RTA was set up to eliminate. It is a fact that competition always destroys but never creates, the object being to put the other bloke out of business and grab all the profits for yourself. Before de-regulation bus operators used to operate on the principle of cross-subsidisation, where the better paying routes helped to fund those which were uneconomical and this had the additional benefit of keeping fares at a standard level across an operator's network. Operators also used to co-operate with one another where they operated over the same or similar routes and many were the instances of joint ticketing systems and revenue sharing. These days there is no co-operation whatsoever and the fare paying passenger is the loser. Typically, our local route has two operators, one of which is 'Worst', who run a half hourly service with one bus in the hour running five minutes in front of the competing operator (presumably with the aim of putting him out of business). There is no benefit to passengers in this as even though the competitor has a lower fare than 'Worst', he only offers an hourly service and his tickets are not valid for travel with 'Worst' or vice versa. Had there been proper regulation, the three buses in the hour would have been required to run at twenty minute intervals and the operators would have been encouraged to harmonise their fare structures and accept each other's return tickets. The sad thing about all this is that this nonsense is gradually being rolled out to virtually every public service so that these leeches can suck yet more money out of OUR taxes. I, for one, am very angry despite the fact that I have an advantage in that I am retired and have both OAP and retired staff passes so that the worst (may be a pun there) effects of this madness affect me but little. I do, however, feel extremely sorry for those who are struggling to earn a living and are being asked to pay exorbitant prices for essential services. As for a 'co-ordinated' transport system - this is a joke. The last two buses from Taunton to Minehead depart at 2005 and 2245, calling at Taunton Railway station on the way. Imagine the traveller arriving at Taunton on a 'Worst Great Western' train at 2015 on a freezing cold winter's night - having just missed a bus, he or she will be obliged to sit in a freezing cold, open ended bus shelter for 2hrs and 40 mins for the next bus. This is hardly an incentive to use public transport and it would appear that things can only get worse until we stop the lunatics running the asylum. I could say even more and perhaps I will if I ever get round to writing a book about my life in transport. There is a snag to this - there seems to be even less spare time available to me now that I am retired than there was when I was working - apparently I am not alone in noticing this phenomenon.

Alan Bond

09/04/12 - 11:16

Thank you indeed Alan for putting into your last two sentences my position exactly. I would love to have written just such a book myself but somehow, after eleven years of retirement at 65 years old, all my projects fall further into arrears almost daily. I'm guilty of daydreaming and reading far too much about "the good old days" - although perhaps guilty is the wrong word, because they were enjoyable and fascinating times and the bus industry was regulated to a civilised and manageable standard to the advantage of all concerned.

Chris Youhill

10/04/12 - 06:50

Seem to have overturned bees' nests but I enjoy the comments. Conditions varied and still do vary throughout the country so it is dangerous to assume that local knowledge applies to all. There seems to be a general consensus (this does not apply to the contributors on this site) that all pre 1986 was good, post 1986 is bad.
It will vary by location and I can only use Hull's experience. Here are some more Hull statistics (sorry to bore you all).
Most passengers carried in 1948/9 , 53, 132,000 on trolleybuses (surplus £7,716) 48, 378,000 on buses (deficit £26,456) 101,500,00 in all. By 1964/5 the total passengers carried had fallen to 63,172,000, a fall of nearly 40%. The deficit was £13,500. In the intervening years 13 were in deficit for motorbuses, three for trolleybuses. The trolleybus surpluses amounted to £186,600(approx) the motorbus deficits to £377,000. By now there was no reserve fund.
By 1984/5 the number carried had fallen further to 60,094,805 but the operating deficit was £3,129,657 which was offset by subsidies amounting to £454,000. The 1985/5 passenger number was 40,000 more than the previous year but the deficit was £30,000 higher.
Hull had a coordination agreement with EYMS. A joint committee met quarterly, alternately in Hull or London, travel by Yorkshire Pullman! It was essentially a revenue and mileage sharing agreement. Decisions were painfully slow items often being deferred so that a six month wait was not unknown. Other than it probably kept KHCT in existence in 1934 I have to search to find advantages although I will admit that it eliminated any competition, wasteful or otherwise.. It may explain why "B" area services saw little alteration whilst those in the exclusive "A" area domain of KHCT saw much change.
To his credit Pulfrey realised only one-man operation could keep costs down to a reasonable level in order to keep services at a politically acceptable level but he was unable to achieve much progress.
Other than that there was little innovation. Buses and trolleybuses were confined to the main roads with many residents of the city having to walk a considerable distance to reach a bus stop.
In 2012 both EYMS and Stagecoach provide commercial and tendered services that serve streets that were devoid of buses from the city centre for forty or fifty years or more. Pickering Road North , Albert Avenue and Chamberlain Road are just three examples plus a service along Bricknell Avenue to Cottingham by Stagecoach. Except along common sections of main roads both operators do not compete. EYMS has innovated with its Petruaria Express and Wicstun Express and its X46
It is hard to say whether deregulation was for good or bad in Hull. Could Hull's service levels have been sustained with such high losses? There is a case for subsidising services say for workers, evening services and perhaps Sundays but could anyone afford such losses over a period of time? Would the Council have had to devise an agreement that laid down service levels in return for cash rather like Barbara Castle's BR policy?
When were KHCT's good old days?

Malcolm J Wells

10/04/12 - 12:46

I think it is a case of "horses for courses". The 1930 Act was devised in response to the chaotic, wasteful, in some cases downright dangerous, practises of unbridled competition. In days when very few people had private transport, and railways (stations often remote from the communities they claimed to serve) were becoming very financially anxious, it made a fair stab at imposing the social obligation to serve places off the beaten track, rather than just moving in on obviously profitable routes.
Many cities certainly had revenue protection arrangements, forbidding interurban operators from carrying local traffic in competition with the municipality's own buses. But this also benefited interurban operators (and their clientele), whose out-bound services might otherwise have been crowded with local traffic, preventing longer distance passengers from boarding at intermediate stops. Maybe we tend to forget how busy all buses were in the early to mid 50s.
From the 1970s (perhaps a bit earlier) everyone got used to the infinite flexibility of the car - you started whenever you wanted, and you went wherever you wanted, without having to consult a timetable, go to the city centre and out again in order to reach relatives only two miles away, but in a suburb served by a different group of radial services, or worry about the time of the last bus home. The operators were between a rock and a hard place. Plummeting revenue, as highlighted by Malcolm Wells in his native Hull, dictated the very reverse of what might have kept bus travel attractive : run bigger buses less frequently, rationalise routes, slow everything down with OMO - perhaps adding to this "no change given" rules.
And of course, OMO was the biggest possible turnoff for mothers shopping with little children - managing buggy, shopping bags, kids and having to put everything down to furtle in purse for fare, before gathering all her worldly goods together again and moving on. You only needed three or four such to add 5 minutes to the journey time. The driver sees his tea-break, fag break or toilet break disappearing, and the resulting impatience and bad temper shows in his driving. It's hardly surprising that bus travel became to many people the transport of last resort. I am surprised that UK cities have not gone down the continental route of fare collection - on-board cancellation of tickets purchased in agency shops (with bulk discounts) and a fine of around 25 times the fare, for those caught without a cancelled ticket. This relieves the driver of all revenue responsibility, and also removes the need for him/her to carry cash.
Deregulation (some friends deliberately used the term "deregularisation") was a circus for the first few years. Fortunately, it seems that most of the cheapskate merchants with the leaky, smokey fifth hand Leyland Nationals held together with bits of string, have now been consigned to the dustbin of history. No, I don't really like any of the big groups with their loud "Toys R Us" colour schemes, but some provide a reasonable service (at least during the daytime on weekdays).
As for "the good old days" - think of getting on a (steam) train and having a compartment to yourself for a journey of several hours. Very pleasant - as good as private transport really - but heavy, fuel intensive, labour intensive, and hopelessly unprofitable. The operators do have to think of finance, and we do have to be realistic.

Stephen Ford

10/04/12 - 19:41

Most municipals were cautious and conservative - understandable to a degree. But there were exceptions including Reading, Sunderland, Walsall and Hull. As long ago as 1949 when the first "Coronation" trolleybus design was taking shape he wanted to run ten along Beverley Road (service 63) using tokens and pre-purchased tickets but no cash. No. 116 was fitted with a Grant farebox to cope with tokens. The allday frequency would have been retained although evenings might have been reduced.
The design did not meet the Ministry of Transport's specifiaction so had to be specially approved. It was eventually but protracted discussions with the Union came to nothing.
R Edgeley Cox sent a drawing of a 70 seat version of the "Coronation" design to the Ministry saying this was the bus of the future. he also sent a 35 feet long single decker scheme as well. Had the ^3 experiment been approved for the agreed six month trial it is likely that Pulfrey would have bought the larger version also, probably to H71D layout. But he and his design were twenty years ahead of the time.

Malcolm James Wells

12/04/12 - 06:19

Hi Malcolm, I don't like to pull you up, but didn't the 26 & 27 run along Albert Avenue for many years? However Living in St Matthew Street, I would have welcomed a bus service along Boulevard North to link Anlaby and Hessle Roads, as I had a ten or fifteen minute walk to the nearest bus stops on either of the two roads mentioned.

Keith Easton

12/04/12 - 11:05

Keith - the Albert Avenue example refers to services to and from the city centre. kHCT's philosophy was to stay on the main radial roads even though it was aware of such distances - I have a report which actually lists the longest examples.
Pulfrey was against most inter-district services (limited works services excepted) and introduced the circular 1/2 most reluctantly. His main concern was that it would extract revenue from other services (he was right even if only in my case)
In 1970 Hull City Council paid Mckinseys consultants to look at all its services. It devised a minimum distance for access to a bus service. KHCT failed on most counts.

Malcolm J Wells

13/04/12 - 17:38

As a writer on the history of the independent bus industry I have always had very mixed feelings about the 1930 Road Traffic Act. On the one hand it gave financial stability to many independent operators of stage carriage services, but on the other hand it trapped them in amber, unable to expand beyond their 1930 stage of development. One should also never lose sight of the fact that the RTA was deliberately designed to favour monopolies, and that monopolies have rarely been good for anything with the exception of basics such as water and other household utilities (and many would argue that they do little good in those areas given the experience with telephones in GPO days).
The huge monopoly established in the bus industry in 1928-31 by the creation of “The Combine” (including the interests of the Tilling and BET groups and the four mainline railway companies) had enormous political power and its lobbyists moulded the 1930 Act to suit themselves. The small independents (and even the larger ones such as Barton) had virtually no political clout and in many cases across the country well-known and widely respected independents were treated poorly by the Traffic Commissioners compared to “The Combine” companies. Plus, let’s be blunt, many MPs and members of the Lords had much of their personal finances invested in railway shares. Virtually none had any kind of financial interest in independent bus concerns. Add to this the propaganda campaign conducted by the likes of the Taylor family of Crosville (which treated independents as “pirates” and saw them as objectives to be eliminated) and it’s easy to see why the 1930 RTA was not the best of news for the independent sector.
Of course there are some stories, many of them true, of independents who ignored the new Act and got away with it for decades. Without naming any names I know of one Devonshire operator in a remote village which regularly operated untested and untaxed vehicles on its only stage carriage service whenever traffic demanded additional duplicates. Nobody seemed to notice, especially if the vehicles were deployed at the weekend. Another well-known operator in Staffordshire bought large batches of Daimler and Leyland PD2 double-deckers. Only around half of each batch was licensed at any given time. If one of the active vehicles broke down it was fairly common practice to take its registration plates and tax-discs and transfer them to an unlicensed (but functional) vehicle. More worryingly this same operator had a similarly cavalier attitude to overloading with as many as a hundred passengers being crammed into a 56 seat ‘decker on occasions, with standees on both decks. I've also heard reliable reports of another Devonshire operator which managed to fit more than 90 people into a 40 seat single-decker. The vehicle in question was pulled over by a policeman who issued no ticket but merely demanded that half the load should disembark before the bus could continue. Yes, independents did cut corners and some of them engaged in genuinely dangerous practices, but on the other hand they did get people home and I can’t remember a single incident where this kind of practice led to a fatality or a serious injury.
One should also remember that the level of service offered by “The Combine” varied from one area agreement company to another. I’ve always been a great fan of the original North Western but one has to admit that its “village” services in Cheshire were pathetically inadequate – the only villages in the centre of the county which received more than a token market-day rotation were those fortunate enough to be located on main roads between large towns. In this area the level of bus provision has increased markedly since deregulation, an anomaly repeated in several other parts of the country despite those mealy-mouthed politicians who claim that deregulation has been a disaster for rural areas.
I could go on and on, but it’s somebody else’s turn!

Neville Mercer



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