BRITISH BUSES AT THE CROSSROADS
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by Derek Moses
DESPITE all the gloomy reports of the troubles encountered by the bus industry during the past months and the pessimistic predictions for the future, the total number of buses and coaches operated by State-owned companies and local authority undertakings in Great Britain has dropped by a mere 1,329 vehicles during the period since September 1: 1968. And with the total number of buses recorded on order on December 1, .1970 standing at 4,699, an increase of 1,511 compared with 1968, there is every suggestion that the industry stands a good chance of holding its own in the years to come, given the right environment in which to operate.
This is revealed by the latest CM analysis of buses and coaches operated by local authorities, including Passenger Transport Executives and London Transport Executive, together with those in service with the National Bus Company and the Scottish Transport Group. The total number of vehicles is 50,684 (52,013), comprising 23,560 in local authority hands and 27,124 in the State:owned sector.
Admittedly, late delivery of new vehicles, clearly highlighted in the analysis, together with a tendency to order buses several years in advance, in order to overcome this problem, has inflated the number of buses on order, particularly for local authorities. One development which may have an important bearing on the future is the extent to which the National Bus Company carries out its threat to withdraw unremunerative rural services, unless it receives local authority grants. There is already evidence that these grants will be forthcoming in many cases, now that the authorities have the pistol to their heads.
A major reshaping of the psv industry
has taken place since the 'last analysis was published (CM, November 8 1968), and the first PTEs have been established. These are included in the former municipal part of the tables as they still represent a form of local authority Control. London Transport, now under the financial control of the Greater London Council, has also been transferred to the local authority section—where its presence is more logical than among the "company" operators. The tables have been drawn up to take account of this move, and show a correct comparison with 1968, together with the new figures.
The NBC and STG are now fully established State-controlled enterprises, and some of the rationalization of operation in this sector is reflected in the entries. Further moves planned by the NBC to take effect on January 1 will lead to the end of such undertakings as United Welsh, Thos. Brothers (Port Talbot), Rhondda, Stratford Blue, and Neath and Cardiff as separate companies. Former municipal operators now embraced by NBC are Luton (part of United Counties fleet) and Exeter (part of Devon General). The former undertaking has lost its identity, although the latter retains its green and yellow livery, together with fleet name "Exeter".
New companies acquired are Gosport and Fareham, now part of Hants and Dorset; Jones, Aberbeeg (Red and White); and Venture Transport (Northern General). Gosport's • special buses with air-cooled diesel engines have led to the introduction of a new make in the tables, namely Deutz.
Turning to vehicles themselves, the continued popularity of the double-deck bus for city and urban work is confirmed by the analysis with 20,171 such vehicles in service (15,668 in 1968), and 2,120 on order. The State-owned undertakings continue to prefer single-deckers in the majority of cases, although the double-deck bus will survive, with 12,342 examples in service, and a further 613 on order_ The most popular bus for double-deck work remains the Daimler Fleetline, and in the company field this model has overtaken the Leyland Atlantean, with 1,163 in service compared with the Atlantean's 1,093. Rather disappointing is the progress of the Bristol VRT rear-engined double-decker, and only 24 examples of this model are in serviee with local authority undertakings and 327 in the service of State-owned undertakings. Of the 657 Bristol buses recorded on order for the latter undertakings, only 76 are double-deckers. A further 48 are on order for local authority work, compared with 1,200 Fleetlines and 872 Atlanteans. It would appear that British Leyland's dream of making the Bristol Commercial Vehicles' plant the main producer of double-deckers in Britain is at present somewhat removed from reality.
Top of the league totals for buses in service are: 15,089 Leyland (including two Routemasters)—down 555; 13,558 AEC (including Routemasters)—down 1,087; 11,478 Bristol—up 395; and 6,247 Daimler—up 666. Totals of buses on order are: 657 Bristol; 505 Leyland; 347 Daimler; 270 AEC; 100 Seddon; 50 Ford; and 22 Bedford.
Note: Throughout the analysis the following symbols are used: S—number of seats; F.E.—front entrance; 'C.E.—central exit; F—front engine; U—underfloor engine; R--rear engine; RU--rear underfloor engine; and RV—rear vee engine.