BORO•LINE BREAKS NEM GROUND
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Following the reorganisation of LRT, Maidstone-based Borolline has snapped up some prime routes in the Kent corner of London. • Eyebrows were raised in some quarters by the success of Maidstone-based Boro'line in winning tenders for three of the 17 London Regional Transport routes that were up for grabs following LRT's reorganisation in the Bexley and Eltharn areas.
Maidstone is a fair distance from Eltham or Bexley, where the Boroline buses are working, and only a couple of years ago the idea of a municipal bus operator running buses so far from its home territory would have seemed incredible.
Boroline, however, is not like most of the municipal bus companies that were formed as a result of deregulation: general manager Alan Price says that the company is far from typical. The 1985 Transport Act, for example, was widely regarded as something awful, but Boroline saw it as providing new opportunities for municipal operators, as did the 1980 Act which deregulated express services.
In 1980 the company looked at conventional approaches to expansion, such as commuter services to London, but it did not see a particularly profitable future in them. For a time it was involved in City Flyer, a joint municipal company/independent crosscountry service from Dover or Maidstone to Leicester and Blackpool or to Morden; the experience it gained from that has been valuable. The LRT routes at Bexley were not the first that Boroline tendered for, however: Price merely says that the company is "fortunate and pleased" to have won three of the services. Boroline took over the routes last month, and has ordered 14 new Leyland Olympian double-deckers with Optare bodies leased through Arlington, which also services them. Pending their delivery it is also renting through Arlington a similar number of secondhand Roe-bodied Leyland Atlanteans from Hull.
They are based at the Bexley council yard and, with 32 drivers, one clerk and four supervisors, are run independently.
"Our idea of expansion," says Price, "is to go for London contracts — provided they can make a worthwhile contribution to the business." Boreline's policy is to run a fairly diverse undertaking. Apart from the new London operation, Maidstone area bus services now contribute some 40% of the company's income, compared with 11% from coaching activities and 30% from engineering services, including maintenance and repair of the council's fleet.
Boroline is the new name for the old Maidstone Corporation transport operations. Prior to deregulation, services in the area were co-ordinated with National Bus subsidiary Maidstone & District. The amicable splitting of the services and success in winning some county council tenders left • Maidstone with a need for high-capacity vehicles. It bought two 92-seater Scalia double-deckers with East Lancs bodies, a similarly sourced 55-seat single-decker and three Leyland Lynx single-deckers with Workington-built 49-seat bodies. So far performance and back-up has been uniformly excellent, with a particular commendation for Leyland, which repaired one of the Lynx in record time after serious accident damage.
These buses contrast strongly with "standard" Maidstone Corporation singledeckers, which until recently were Bedfords, with Wright, Wadham Stringer or Duple bus bodies. The need for bigger buses led to a decision to phase out the Wadham Stringer bodies, but if AWD (exBedford) re-enters the PSV sector, as promised, Boro'line will certainly be taking a close look at what it has to offer.
Following the split up, Boro'line took over an area which had been operated by Maidstone & District as an annex to one of its routes. Boro'line decided it would be better organised as a separate midi-bus service, and bought four new Dodge/ Renault 25-seaters with East Lancs bodies to handle the extra work, with four old short LH Bristols as back-up vehicles.
The service has proved so popular that six buses are normally needed. The spares back-up for the Dodges has been poor, says Price. The whole set-up does not seem to be geared for bus operators, he adds, and often when the spares are delivered they are the wrong ones. Luckily, the LHs, now overhauled by London Transport at Chiswick, and Southend Corporation, have proved rather more reliable.
A Boro'line success story is its private hire section, which has grown so rapidly that at times it was quite difficult to find suitable coaches quickly. A noteable acquisition was a fleet of five ex-Ribble A-registered Plaxton-bodied Leyland Tiger coaches from Arlington. It was their success which encouraged the subsequent purchases of the Lynx buses.
As befits an operator based half way between London and the South Coast, Continental operations play a big part in Boroline's coach activities, though at first it had little experience in this area. The Continental operation has been trouble-free.
Another of its coaching successes has been the development of a modest but varied UK tours programme. The general manager's secretary is responsible for much of the initiative and choice of destinations. Already for some trips 75% of the seats have been booked.
Boro'line's main aim, however, is to provide a good bus service in Maidstone. Fares are competitive by the standards of southern England. For example, a typical fare from an outlying housing estate into the town centre is 44p; a return ticket sold after 9.15am costs 77p. "Scratch-off-date" tickets are available for some journeys: they reduce the number of on-bus cash transactions and an increasing number are being sold by agents away from the town centre. Generally bus operation in the area seems buoyant.
Engineering workers are hard to obtain at the moment. Boro'line has been advertising continually since last July, but is still short-handed. On the driving side too, there is continual turnover, and two Ley land Titan double-deckers are currently being hired from Brighton for driver training. There is, however, a substantial proportion of part-time staff, which gives a high degree of flexibility.
Boro'line offers four rates of pay for drivers who, unusually, are salaried. They work an average 46 hours a week. The four rates are for drivers of big buses; driver/ salesman (midi-buses), for private-hire and coach drivers, and casuals.
Surprisingly, there has been little difficulty in recruiting drivers for the Bexley/ Eltham outpost: most recruited have a London background, while the four supervisors came from LT, London Country and National Travel. All the Bexley staff were in place on the Monday before the Saturday launch to give them a chance to learn routes and procedures. The hired buses were checked over at Maidstone and given a brief airing on local routes in case there were any problems.
Price says the "biggest trauma" at Boro'line in recent years was setting up its own administrative organisation following deregulation — computerised systems rarely seem to work as well as promised.
Maidstone's municipal operations began with trams. The response to deregulation, the coaching and engineering units, the Bexley/Eltham routes for LRT and all the other events are, he says, "just a new chapter in a long story" I: by Michael Clements