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Catching the bus
Why did it take an open business session of the PRTA Conference to bring bus operators and bus manufacturers into some accord on the vexed question of the rear-engined double-decker? As delegates pointed out, the trouble has been around in one form or another for about 12 years, and has been acute for the past two. Now, if makers and users have not exactly agreed to kiss and make up, at least they have come a great deal closer to taking joint action on curing the chronic unreliability of the present vehicles.
It was an operator who constructively suggested a small, high-powered working party to tackle the problem in liaison. with the makers, and we were heartened to see this welcomed by the spokesman for the manufacturers—a senior executive whose word carries weight. He did warn, however, that some large users, such as LTB and the PTEs, cherished their individual purchasing position and might not agree to participate. Such isolation would in present circumstances, be churlish. Sensibly, British Leyland's representative did not pretend that the vehicles and their makers were faultless—but operators should take note of his insistence that if engineering development had been skimped in the past it was largely through a readiness to yield to operators' demands for individual modification. And if blame for the present engineering situation has to be shared, so too does the responsibility for making the working party scheme worth while. Operators will also note the spokesman's plea for more information about operational requirements, though they may wonder why the makers have not made a greater effort to obtain this themselves if it is so vital to design.
There is a third party in all this—the Government, of whatever hue. Manufacturing investment, design effort, operational planning, rolling-stock reserve funds (and hence, indirectly, fare levels) are all keyed to the seven-year life of the standard bus grant scheme. The industry needs urgently to know whether this period is to be extended. It deserves a "yes", but almost anything would be better than the present uncertainty.