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  January 2012
  Bus Deregulation - 25 years on
It's 25 years since bus deregulation which took place in October 1986 as part of the 1985 Transport Act.   This allowed operators to run any commercial services they wanted rather than conform to the previous rigid rules of licensing.   The aim was to encourage competition and drive fares down.   Initially there was the expected uptake of new and competing routes by operators, but over the years competitive practices have almost entirely disappeared.   And new large groups now dominate the bus market rather than lots of small entrepreneurial ventures.  
    Glasgow's A Go-Go
   Minibus Madness
  Harry Blundred introduced minibuses in an urban setting with his Devon General services in 1984.
Subsequently his Thames Transit company established similar patterns in Oxford (above) and Portsmouth.

  Minibuses were the perfect tool for competitive bus services.   They were cheap and easy to operate and could inflict severe pain on incumbent companies.   Greenock was a hot spot for minibus operation for many years.
  One of the highest profile casualties of a minibus war was Darlington Transport who succumbed completely under pressure from United Automobiles and Your Bus which was founded by former United drivers.
  Even London was tempted by the allure of the minibus, buying 134 of these Alexander bodied Mercedes vehicles.   The initial routes converted were the 28 and 31 but they were also used elsewhere such as on Uxbridge branded services.
All Change
Perhaps the best place to witness the full effect of the Derugulation was Glasgow.   Until that point three major Scottish Bus Group (SBG) operators, Clydeside, Central and Kelvin, had coexisted with Strathclyde's Buses, the arms length company owned by Strathclyde PTE.   All that changed at the end of August - slightly earlier than the rest of the UK - when open warfare erupted.   Suddenly Clydeside were operating north of the river to such places as Auchinairn, Kelvin were competing head on with Strathclyde using former London Routemasters and Central were fiddling about in such wondrous locations as Summerston and Toryglen.   Strathclyde's response was simply to extend existing routes to more far flung destinations.   This saw their vehicles operating on the 11 to Cumbernauld, the 19 to Hamilton, the 62 to Airdrie and the 66 to East Kilbride.

Not content with new destinations, the SBG companies swapped bus stations to allow through running across the busy Glasgow city centre.   Kelvin therefore found a new home in the desolate Anderston X bus station and Clydeside migrated to Buchanan bus station.   The unavoidable conclusion to these changes was traffic jams and mayhem.   Soon Anderston X would close for good and some semblance of order would be returned.   However the most significant event of deregulation in Glasgow almost went unnoticed at the time.   The coach operator Stagecoach dipped its toe in the water for the first time by starting a Routemaster service to Castlemilk from St Enochs Square.   Who could have foreseen what the future would have in store ?
Because the city centre saw a significant increase in on-street bus stops, the PTE helpfully produced a guide about where to catch your bus.   Hope St. became the centre of activity (or not) with many horror stories of delays and traffic jams. 


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  Legacy

The act ensured that most state and local authority owned companies were privatised.   However inevitably a public monopoly was soon replaced by huge private monopolies.

One of the main intentions of the act was to stimulate competition.   An example that still exists is the Wilmslow Rd in Manchester where several operators compete.

Innovation was not a word commonly found in a busman's dictionary but now operators especially Stagecoach have developed new brands such as their local express network.

Rural bus services used to be operated by inappropriate mid-size high floor vehicles but with the evolution of the minibus for urban use, travellers in the countryside have benefited.

Previously there had been a degree of public transport  integration such as in Tyne & Wear.   It's only recently that Quality Partnership Schemes have revived such possibilities.

Several routes used to be operated by more than one company such as the 729 service from Brighton to Tunbridge Wells.   This mode of operation has almost completely ceased.



Photo Facts
  • Top
    • One of the most unexpected developments was the creation of a swathe of minibus routes in Preston and Manchester by a company called Zippy.   Just when it looked as though they were heading for world domination they sold out to Ribble in 1988 who in turn were bought by Stagecoach.   A Ribble and Zippy minibus are seen here battling it out in Preston bus station in March 1988.
  • Glasgow's A Go-GoLegacy
    • Kelvin prepared for deregulation by investing in batch of former London Routermasters.   They were primarily used on the 5A service from Easterhouse to Faifley and ran straight through the city centre along Argyll St.   Deregulation came early to Glasgow in August of that year, so WLT419 is seen here near the St Enoch Centre in a very wet day in September 1986.
    • Central T349 (GSU831T), a standard Y-Type Leopard of Central, is seen in Argyll St on the then recently introduced 29 service to Toryglen in September 1986.   Note the paper destination blinds which were standard in many Scottish Bus Group vehicles during this period.
    • Another wet day in Glasgow.   This time it's December 1986 and Clydeside M70 (HSD70V), an Alexander bodied Fleetline from Clydeside is far from home and about to head out to Auchinairn, territory of both Kelvin and Strathclyde.   It must be remembered that at this point all bus operating companies were publicly owned and thus the competition was funded by the taxpayer.   Although Clydeside had moved camp from Anderston X, this was a through service that called outside their new home of Buchanan Bus Station.
    • Sneaking up on the blind side was Stagecoach with their Magicbus operation from St Enochs to Castlemilk.   602DYE, a former London Routemaster which had operated in Perth, is seen on yet another wet day in November 1986.   Who could have predicted that within five years Stagecoach would be such a major player in the UK bus market ?
    • Strathclyde LA1289 (FSU106T) in Clydebank bus station in September 1987, heading for Airdrie on the historic 62 service.   The service remarkably survives in this form today.
    • Lured by cross-city operation, Clydeside and Kelvin effectively swapped bus stations at deregulation.   Kelvin moved to the uninviting, unappealing and frankly awful Anderston X bus station, while Clydeside took up residence in the altogether more favourable Buchanan Bus Station.   Unfamiliar destination boards soon appeared in Anderston X, but not for long as it was soon shut with all services returning to Buchanan.   Anderstson X still stands to this day, used as a car park.   It is not a listed site.
  • Minibus Madness
    • Thames Transit 119 (D119PTT), a Mellor bodied Ford Transit minibus.   Many minibuses were originally van derivatives and hence gained the rather derisory term "bread vans".   However Transit Holdings which was formed by Harry Blundred and started life in Devon began to push the boundaries and opted for custom built vehicles.   They found homes in his other fleets such in Portsmouth, London and here in Oxford.   Soon Transit Holdings began to experiment with two-door minibuses but eventually they sold all their companies with Thames Transit going to Stagecoach.
    • Greenock was a perfect example of how the supporters of deregulation envisaged competition being stimulated.   Anyone who was anyone bought a minibus (or two) in Inverclyde and started operating at a moment's notice.   They also stopped operating at a moment's notice - one of the supposed benefits of the act.   Here three of the early protagonists Cydeside, Avondale and Wilsons slog it out with an unmarked green Ford Transit.   It took nearly 20 years for some semblance of order to be established with the remaining few independents being swallowed up by the new McGills company.
    • Deregulation witnessed some high profile casualties, mainly former local authority companies.   Barrow-In-Furness went under after severe competition from Stagecoach, but Lancaster managed to sell out just in time.   Another unlucky company was Darlington Transport which had a minibus war waged against it by United Automobiles (trading as Roadranger) and Your Bus set up by ex-United employees.   This September 1994 view shows the three major players battling it out.   However the final twist was yet to come.   Stagecoach Busways entered the town with free services, which forced Darlington like Barrow into administration.   The final irony is that Stagecoach has now sold this operation to Arriva.
    • Unlike the rest of the UK, London did not face deregulation.   All routes were put put out to tender as today which generated a controlled level of competition.   However London is not know for embracing new technology.   And if it does it often changes its mind.   Therefore it was a surprise for the capital to invest in 134 minibuses such as MA52 (B952BMS) seen at Heathrow Airport on an Uxbridge branded route in October 1989.   They didn't last long.
  • Legacy
    • First 6750 (SN55JVA), a Wright bodied Scania in Galashiels in September 2011.   First was born out of a merger of Badgerline and Grampian Regional Transport.   They have standardised on Wright bodied vehicles, mainly Scanias and Volvos.
    • Stagecoach 27604 (SP59CTK), an Alexander/Dennis Enviro300, leaving Stirling bus station in September 2011.   Brian Souter, the CEO of Stagecoach, is one of the owners of Alexander/Dennis so they are obviously their preferred supplier.  This vehicle is on the (78) route from Dunfermline which has recently been extended to Stirling.   First already operates a Dunfermline to Stirling service.
    • Arriva 2008 (YJ09CVR), a Wright bodied VDL in Glasgow in March 2010.   Arriva are an importer for VDL (who are originally DAF from The Netherlands) so obviously they too are their preferred supplier.   Arriva grew out of Cowies who in turn had bought the British Bus Group.
    • Bullocks P483HBA, a Northern Counties bodied Volvo Olympian, in Manchester Piccadilly Gardens in March 2003.   They can be seen competing with Finglands, UK North and Magicbus (Stagecoach) on services to the Wilmslow Rd.
    • Stagecoach took a group of services that ran through Fife and moulded them into the Stagecoach Express brand.   The hub is based in Glenrothes with services connecting all the major towns in Fife with Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh.   Their 52354 (P154ASA), a Plaxton bodied Volvo, is seen in Kirkcaldy bus station about to depart for Edinburgh in August 2006.
    • Stagecoach 47097 (WA04TXM), an Optare Solo, leaving Silverton on the evenings only service from Tiverton to Exeter in May 2005.
    • Northern General 3635 (A635BCN), an MCW Metrobus, in Gateshead bus station in July 1984.   Many Northern General vehicles were painted in Tyne & Wear PTE livery as they were part of an integrated transport system that included The Metro.   This level of integration ended upon deregulation.
    • Stagecoach, Arriva and Brighton Buses jointly operated the (729) service from Brighton to Tunbridge Wells.   Their vehicles are seen in Uckfield in September 2005.   There are now only a handful of services in the UK that are jointly operated by more than one operator.


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Like the above ?
Then these may be of interest ..

Photo-Transport has been publishing themed articles about Public Transport for over 10 years.

If you enjoyed the above article you may be interested in these other articles which were first published in January 2006 and December 2001.

  Scottish Bus Group Split - Part 2
The birth of Clydeside and Kelvin
Rural Minibuses
Minibuses in rural locations


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