Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The British Bus (4) : PTEs and OMOs

As we say in part three of this history of the British bus the industry had been pretty much completely nationalised by the end of the 1960s. The Transport Act of 1968 created five Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) in the provinces. These PTEs, such as WMPTE in the West Midlands, which took over bus operations from their relevant local authorities. WMPTE for example took over bus operations in Birmingham, Walsall, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton [1]. The PTEs were also responsible for local rail networks and there was an attempt at transport integration with bus-rail tickets and the like.

Bus operations remained in public hands until the 1980s and deregulation. All bus services outside of London and Northern Ireland were taken out of public hands under the Transport Act of 1985. The National Bus Company was split up into smaller units and local authorities and PTEs had to dispose of their bus fleets to private companies (though some remained under the control of local authorities). London followed suit in 1989.

History tends to repeat itself, as with the early days of the horse and motor bus the early says of deregulation saw many new smaller bus companies start up and then gradually concentrate into a smaller number of larger groups like Stagecoach and National Express. To take an example of how the bus industry has changed since the 1960s in Birmingham buses went from Birmingham City Transport to WMPTE operation before being privatised into West Midlands Travel, later Travel West Midlands when it was taken over by National Express and is now National Express West Midlands [2].

Pretty much all buses now are rear engined. The pioneer of this type being the Leyland Atlantean which appeared in 1958 and remained in production until 1986. Other major types of rear engined bus in the pre-regulation era included the Daimler Fleetline, Metro-Cammell Metrobus and Leyland Titan. Thousands were built to form the mainstay of municipal and PTE fleets before being transferred to private ownership.

With the engine at the back this left the front free for a flat front and gave ample space for the driver to also sell tickets. One Man Operation (OMO) as it became known was a major cost saver in the bus industry throughout the 1970s as conductors were no longer required. In London the conductor remained in place longer after the job was virtually extinct elsewhere, not only because the capital remained a last bastion of the half-cab (Routemaster) but rear engined buses often remained crew operated. Some reverting back to crew operation from OMO due to problems with the fare collection machines used [3].

Greater use was also made of single-decker and minibuses in the late pre-regulation and early post-regulation eras. Greater competition for a time did seem like deregulation would be a good thing with a greater variety of services trying to match demand. However the consolidation of the industry and reductions in subsidy has left many areas with inadequate services. Buses have suffered from an image problem for a long time compared to other forms of public transport like light rail which are considered "sexier". Time will tell if this will ever change.
Metrobus of Travel West Midlands, the private successor to the WMPTE bus service

London Northern Leyland Titan

Chase bus Leyland National

West Riding Leyland Lynx

Three Metrobuses in Travel WM, Travel Coventry and WMPTE liveries

[1] Malcolm Keeley, Birmingham Buses Route by Route 1925-1975 (Ian Allan, 2012) p. 11
[2] Andrew Cole, West Midlands PTE and it's Successors (Amberley, 2017) p. 4
[3] Matthew Wharmby & R.C. Riley, London Transport 1970-1984 (Ian Allan, 2013) p. 42