Tuesday 18 January 2011

Ruth Murphy and the Minibus Revolution

Transport Nostalgia par Excellence!
Ruth Murphy was the first baby to be born in Hampstead Garden Suburb, and she lived there for most of her life at 41 Asmuns Hill.    The later-to-become Mrs fbb was befriended by this wonderful Christian lady at the church they both attended.   So it was that, when fbb was "going out" with his future Mrs, an inspection was required; an inspection which fbb appears to have passed.

And what better way to pay this first tentative visit than by bus?    And what better bus to use than the first and only (?) "dial-a-ride" service ever operated by London Transport?   So fbb and the future Mrs presented themselves at Golders Green bus station and, somewhat hesitantly, requested as ride to Asmuns Hill.
The vehicle was an example of what would come to be known as a "bread van"; but this was some 12 years before the minibus revolution came to cream-tea country, viz. Devon, m'dearrr!

It was in February 1984 that a previously unknown Harry Blundred pioneered the high frequency small capacity (and inadequate leg and baggage room!) bus service, first in Torbay and later in Exeter.
The craze became unstoppable with National Bus Company operators all vying for the most successful conversion.   Brands proliferated and the concept moved into big urban areas like Manchester and Sheffield. On the Isle of Wight, managers managed to invent three different brands for three local services, although it wasn't long before vehicles were mixed up and the "brand" was compromised.

In all honesty, the vehicles, although cheap, we not up to the job of all-day thrashing around housing estates.   They were not an unqualified success for the passenger, due to poor "bum room" and the tendency of those on end seats to fall off into the aisle as "snappy" cornering became a consequence of tight schedules.   The great Harry moved on to more expensive two door not-quite-so minibuses ...
 ... and later sold out to Stagecoach.   After a brief spell with "Sunbus" in Australia, Harry (now Sir Harry!) retired to the South of France.    Inexorably, minibus routes attracted bigger and stronger vehicles and lower frequencies; the small vehicle reverting to narrow roads and low passenger demand services.

The Hampstead Garden Suburb route is now run, for Transport for London and still numberd "H2", by Deutsche Bundesbahn (sorry, Arriva).   It is no longer "dial-a-ride" and runs to a proper timetable - although Boris insists on keeping that a closely guarded secret.   But fbb knows ... every 12 minutes Monday to Saturday and every 15 minutes evenings and Sundays.   It also has genuine posh "real buses"...

with real seats and some leg room!    So much better than 1972!

It's now nearly 40 years later than fbb's inspection.   Ruth Murphy is with her Saviour in heaven and the bread vans are no doubt much recycled as fizzy drink cans.   The minibus revolution was relatively short-lived but it did teach us all about the dubious advantages of the commercialisation of what used to be "public" transport.

Good, or Bad?   That doubtless depends on whether you are on a bus-every-two-minutes road in sunny Sheffield or bemoaning the withdrawal of your last village link to the rest of humanity as a result of "inevitable" budget cuts.    And a quick political point!   Cuts are not "inevitable", they could be reversed overnight if the voting public was prepared to pay a little more in tax.    But very few turkeys vote for Christmas.

1 comment:

  1. 'Cuts are not "inevitable", they could be reversed overnight if the voting public was prepared to pay a little more in tax.'

    This is no doubt true (at least, to an extent), however, it would be better if the public used the buses provided. Then, the buses might not need the subsidies, and the environment would benefit as well!