1986 & ALL THAT!
The Post De-Regulation Scene
You may well have gathered that I'm not exactly a fan of privatisation so I think I'll leave the headline black on this page, for it was certainly a day of that colour back in 1986 when UK public road transport (initially except London and Northern Ireland)) was de-regulated. What disdain I had for the ramifications of the 1968 Transport Act pales into insignificance when compared to my (mostly best left unstated) views on the last thirty years of de-regulation, tendering and privatisation of UK bus and rail operations.
Being rather old-fashioned of view I believe there are certain categories of essential public services that should always be provided 'pro bono publico'* and should therefore be fully supported where necessary by the public purse. My strongly held view is that stage-carriage bus services and railways should never have been forced to move away from that position. There is a fast growing appreciation of environmental arguments now which begs the question as to why successive UK governments have never fully embraced the need to wholeheartedly support the development of better public transport as they seem moreso to do elsewhere in Europe and the wider world.
Prior to 1986, for all its ills, we had a system in the UK of bus operation that was about 90% in public ownership and that (or so it seemed anyway) at least went some way to providing the kind (if not always the quality) of services that people wanted, at a cost that most could afford, or were at least willing to pay.
We now have a privatised version of the 1968 'Gigantomania' and are now blessed with some big and very ugly international players who nowadays seem hell-bent on trying to swallow each other up and get even bigger (and uglier!). Sometimes they are biting off more than they can chew - witness National Express's venture into railway franchises! Things have changed a little now but in their formative days, these concerns ran buses in the same colours almost everywhere from Aberdeen to Zimbabwe.
True, fleets have been, more latterly, well modernised, though sadly vehicles are now supplied mostly by foreign owned if not actually foreign based manufacturers. Yes,there are some significant innovations - the concept of vehicles dedicated by conspicuous logos to specific services has grown widely. Passenger decline has (we are told) been much reduced but, for the UK, outside London anyway, there are often indifferent service levels and high farescales that are doing nothing to encourage us to leave our cars (if we can afford to run them!) at home. Now that the 2015 election is over we are in for more swingeing cuts to public expenditure and this will fall disproportionally on local government. Already the need to save huge amounts of money is seeing local councils reducing its subsidisation of local bus services markedly in many areas which cannot be good. Don't kid yourself that privately owned bus operations are very much more efficient or economic - you are just paying for them in different, less obvious, ways through much higher fares, and aforesaid subsidies (via your Council Tax). I particularly don't like the way operators can (and do) hold local government to ransom over subsidies for essential services.Nowadays these subsidies (and that goes for rail ones too) are costing you in local (especially) and national taxes a whole lot more than they ever did in the claimed to be inefficient overstaffed days of public ownership. I simply refuse to accept that privatisation has achieved anything at all that could not have come about with a properly funded and supported public service. The problem now, as I see it anyway, is that buses and railways have become just another service industry - and this can be a million miles from what the populace in general might wish for and regard as a proper public service that meets their needs rather than that of accountants and shareholders. Given what we now know about (and have to pay for) commercial operation of stage carriage services I think the old way might end up cheaper too!
............oh! and while I'm at it - Our government in recent years has hardly hidden its distaste for UK public ownership, but seems quite happy for the state owned railways of other European countries to muscle in in a big way with tendering and operation of UK bus services, i.e RATP (Paris Metro), Arriva (Deutsche Bahn Germany) and Abellio. which I think may be connected to Dutch Railways!
* Latin: Best literal English translation might be 'for the good of the people'
OK, I'm off my soapbox now! - To be fair to John, who used the Guestbook a while ago to take me to task regarding my views, I can accept that such hi-tech things as satellite controlled service information at stops, more shelters and, yes, generally more modern fleets, are improvements that might, under the previous way, have taken much longer to happen, but a properly funded and subsidised public service would I think deal with this and identify more closely with its users.
I thought I should include this page though to show some of the comparatively few photographs that I have taken since the late 1980s. I have certainly not travelled anything like as widely as hitherto, but, especially if you are young enough to have no memory of the sixties and seventies the selection will hopefully be worth your time to browse.
When initially drafting this page I ventured the opinion that buses nowadays are just characterless boxes on wheels. Anyone who experienced the scene in the fifties and sixties particularly will perhaps have sympathy with that view but, on reflection, for anyone younger anyway, and perhaps in a very different way, this is not really the case at all.
The privatisation saga may not have done all that much for the passenger (personal view) but if it has achieved anything for the enthusiast, and if you can identify with modern vehicles, it has certainly fielded tremendous variety. This has been helped greatly by the growing foreign influence on UK fleets which, in recent times have boasted buses and coaches originating (wholly or partly) from as far afield as USA, CHINA, MALAYSIA, INDIA, TURKEY, SERBIA, MACEDONIA, HUNGARY, POLAND, GERMANY, FRANCE, BELGIUM,SPAIN, ITALY, AUSTRIA, SWITZERLAND, PORTUGAL, SWEDEN & DENMARK, and that's only the ones I've read about!. It's all brought a new sphere of interest and colour to the everyday bus scene in many areas which counteracts the all-pervading presence of the uninspiring hues of Stagecoach and Firstbus. A very good example of this is Nottingham where the variety of hues and route dedicated vehicles operating alongside smart green trams is quite amazing. However, it must be remembered that there is every chance that it'll all be short-lived, such is the nature of the competitive world of bus services. But hey, wait a minute - aren't they still municipally operated there?
MANCHESTER MISCELLANY 2005
The big cities are perhaps the places where de-regulation has proved its most destructive. The silly 'bus wars' of the 1990s (Glasgow and Manchester come to mind) sometimes meant that simply too many buses were chasing too few passengers. The problem for local councils, particularly in big cities is to ensure adequate services where they are most needed. Commercial operators, of course, are not interested if they can't make money and if they can convince the town hall that this will be the case can often extract a high subsidy price for provision.The Councils have no way of checking on this as the operator can plead commercial confidentiality regarding his receipts.
Here's a selection from 2005 of buses working in and around the city centre and suburbs. One thing you can't rely on nowadays is being able to identify your bus buy its colour - the tendering processes mean they often change overnight.
AND HERE'S A LITTLE LOT FROM LEICESTER IN 1994
SHEFFIELD IN THE NINETIES
..........and in 2014
HUDDERSFIELD SINCE 2001
YORKSHIRE MISCELLANY - THE LAST DECADE
THE COLOURS OF NOTTINGHAM - 2008
BEDS HERTS & BUCKS
A few sightings during a day tour of locations in the three counties in March of 1993
Captions to follow...........