Linked-up services key to survival

West Coast Motors bus.
West Coast Motors bus.

Some people are always anxious to remind us that more people travel by bus than by the train.

This may be true, however the length of the journeys made by bus are comparatively short compared with those journeys that are made by train so that the number of passenger-kilometres travelled is much greater for the train.

Bus services reached their peak in 1950.

As cars became more readily available after the war years, during which time factories had been devoted to armaments and military vehicles, the number of bus passengers steadily declined.

And it has gone on doing so ever since, except in the major cities.

A distinction must be made between buses and coaches.

Most people instinctively know the difference between the vehicles. The most obvious difference to people who use both forms of transport is that coaches are more difficult to get in and out of, they are slightly more comfortable when you are in them, and they are quieter. The last point can be summed up as ‘buses rattle, coaches don’t’.

The biggest decline in bus services has been in those that serve local communities in rural areas.

The smallest decline has been in those which link towns frequently and regularly – in other words, those that behave like trains.

The accompanying illustration shows one of these. The service runs between Glasgow and Campbeltown as part of the Scottish Citylink coach network.

It remains a bus because it will take passengers locally along parts of its 135-mile route, which takes four-and-a-quarter hours to complete.

It also serves communities that are near, but not on its route, as shown in the picture, where the local minibus has dutifully fallen in behind the coach.

The picture is particularly appealing because it seems as though the passengers who have alighted or are waiting to board are standing around with the air of people who do not know what to do next, or perhaps they are just waiting for their cases to be brought out of the hold.

The service functions as a major connector for the area, as it connects with the ferry to Islay at Kennacraig, on its way to Campeltown.

It is the inter-dependence of services, whereby they prop each other up, which leads to their survival.

The policy of the Government in 1980 was to break up the national network.

However, the people who ran the buses knew that within a short time there would be a re-connection.

And before long, there were several large groups, rather than many individual operators.

In the case of West Coast Motors a policy of gradual acquisition has led to it owning about 200 buses across the South of Scotland and into North Northumberland.

Many of the remaining local bus services in rural areas are supported by local authorities, which have to have evidence of the need for them.

Some authorities provide excellent information at the roadside about the services available, but regrettably, some are having to work down to a price, rather than up to a standard, because of the financial pressures imposed on them.

This then affects the use made of the services and, ultimately, this vicious circle results in the reduction or even total withdrawal of services.

John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp? This book is priced at £14.95, post paid and signed by the author. Also Experiments in Public Transport Operation, at £11.95.

Order through the author’s website at www.john-wylde.co.uk or from Grieves on the corner of Church Street in Berwick.