SRP'FA CONFERENCE 1970, AVIEMORE
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central control with boarding points by telephone, helped to rectify disruption of frequencies and to keep intending passengers informed. More sophisticated vehicle location control equipment was being studied, but so far no one had worked out the optimum operating strategy for this type of equipment. SELNEC had obtained union acceptance of the use of such equipment, and was now analysing causes of service disruption to assess what improvement might result from more sophisticated control.
With such equipment it would be possible to introduce a demand-actuated service such as the Dial-a-Bus. Busmen tended to reject the viability of, say, 16-seaters under such conditions because it was difficult sometimes to make even an 80-seater pay. But Mr Harding believed that a demand-operated service in certain areas might well give the public confidence in the undertaking's ability to give the service required, and indeed such services might be economically viable if carefully planned.
The inherited parcels service, shortly to be expanded, could also benefit from modern control equipment. Mr Harding said the PTE had several projects to increase the profits of the commercial division and they could see nothing wrong or immoral in using profits from other activities to reduce the cost of public transport.
Turning to vehicles, Mr Harding said that the maintenance position was not satisfactory in respect of rear-engined buses, which were a source of trouble. So much labour had to be continuously expended upon them that the maintenance situation of the fleet was steadily becoming worse. A ridiculously high level (20 per cent) of spare vehicles was needed, so that something like £120,000 worth of excess buses had to be kept available for every 100 buses on the road. On a 121-year-life replacement policy this meant that about 200 more of these vehicles would be needed each year. "The cost of the additional maintenance staff this will require is almost unthinkable even if they could be recruited," said Mr Harding.
The operators were not blameless, because stocks of replacement power packs had not been kept available; but even if they had been, spare bus requirements would still not have fallen to the level associated with front-engined buses.
The most worrying single engineering problem was centred on the transmissions of rear-engined buses, and much data had been collected. To see whether bad driving was a major cause, engineers travelled incognito (with union knowledge) as passengers for a month and although some driving habits no doubt contributed to transmission failures the driving level was by no means as low as some people had suggested. It was still not possible to say what the causes of the transmission failures were.
The PTE felt 33ft double-deckers overloaded their transmissions and were disproportionately costly to operate, so future orders would be for 31-ft models. For stage carriage single-deckers, 33ft had been chosen, and 36ft for coaches. They were aiming at as near as possible a single specification, midway between the most expensive and least expensive previously purchased in the area. Oneand two-door buses were still being bought, but the majority were likely to be single-door types in the future.
No decision had been taken on centralizing maintenance.
Turning to the labour aspect, Mr Harding said: "On acquiring 11 municipal undertakings we learnt the hard way the extent to which the rules laid down nationally had been differently interpreted or bent over the years. The result of this was that the only aspect of wages and conditions which our acquisitions had in common was that they were all different." As an initial move, all employees had been entered into the Manchester Corporation superannuation scheme, free commuting travel had been provided and a single new uniform had been designed. A new procedure for the avoidance of disputes had been agreed, and the executive was keenly aware of the need for good staff communications and consultation.
Looking to the future, Mr Harding felt that the Executive had an enormous opportunity to do many things that no transport organization had had a chance to do before. Substantial savings within the organization might keep inflationary tendencies in check, though fare increases would still be needed to keep pace with wage rises. The PTE did not see the extension of one-man operation as a means of substantially reducing costs, but it did reduce manpower requirements and improve job conditions.
Bus priorities, better control of services, frequent measurement of demand, the introduction of new types of service, the proper organization of joint services, the development of rail /bus interchanges and well-controlled feeder services, and reliable vehicles, should go some way to ensuring that orthodox lines kept their importance and usefulness in the life of the conurbation.
The basic task, he said, was the co-ordination of public transport throughout the conurbation. Far from having answers to all their problems, Mr Harding felt that he and his colleagues had asked a lot of questions, and the answers had provided an indication of their proper task and the magnitude of their future problems.
One problem was to find a pricing policy, when they were not even convinced that bus fares should be based on distance, and when difficult financial problems arose from the fact that the NBC had a capital and revenue structure different from that of the municipal operator. This, coupled with cross-subsidization of rural services, created differential fare levels between municipal and company operators in most areas. Even in such matters as the definition of a proper fare structure, said Mr Harding, they appeared to meet a need for some radical thinking.