Monday 24 October 2016

The Great 38 Debate [1]

It Goes Back a Long Way
The story began in 1968 when, to comply with the that year's Transport Act (one of many to follow!), on 1 April 1969 the SELNEC Passenger Transport Executive was formed. SELNEC stood for South East Lancashire North East Cheshire, a joint authority of the various local councils.

It was a very big deal as, in theory, it absorbed bus operations in the following areas:-

Manchester, Salford, Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale and Stockport;
In Cheshire
boroughs of Altrincham, Dukinfield, Hyde, Sale and Stalybridge;
urban districts of Alderley Edge, Bowdon, Bredbury and Romiley, Cheadle and Gatley, Hale, Hazel Grove and Bramhall, Longdendale, Marple and Wilmslow;
rural districts of Disley and Tintwistle;
part of the rural district of Bucklow (Carrington, Partington and Ringway)
part of the rural district of Macclesfield (Poynton-with-Worth)
In Derbyshire
borough of Glossop;
In Lancashire
boroughs of Ashton-under-Lyne, Eccles, Farnworth, Heywood, Leigh, Middleton, Mossley, Prestwich, Radcliffe, Stretford and Swinton and Pendlebury;
urban districts of Atherton, Audenshaw, Chadderton, Crompton, Denton, Droylsden, Failsworth, Horwich, Irlam, Kearsley, Lees, Little-borough, Little Lever, Milnrow, Ramsbottom, Royton, Tottington, Turton, Tyldesley, Urmston, Wardle, Westhoughton, Whitefield, Whitworth and Worsley;
in the West Riding of Yorkshire
urban district of Saddleworth

Phew, some area of responsibility! Not all of these areas ran buses of their own, but the PTE absorbed the operations of 11 Corporation Transport departments, namely:-

Bolton (249 vehicles)
Bury (96 vehicles)
Leigh (57 vehicles)
Ramsbottom (12 vehicles)
Rochdale (130 vehicles)
Manchester (1,250 vehicles)
Salford (271 vehicles)
Ashton-under-Lyne (60 vehicles)
Oldham (180 vehicles)
Stockport (145 vehicles)

and finally, the delightfully named
Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley & Dukinfield Transport & Electricity Board

fbb could not possibly have remembered all that; and is grateful to the ever informative Wikipedia for the difficult bits.

It would be fair to say that many of the Corporations were very unhappy at losing control of their pride and joy. Others were struggling. fbb well remembers a trip to Oldham (in 1966?) to see Sheffield Transport buses running around as the Corporation had run foul of the Traffic Commissioners for dodgy maintenance.

The tale continued with the renaming of the organisation as Greater Manchester with a new logo (absolutely essential to ensure the smooth running of buses!) and a more orangey orange.
This was all part of the creation of the Metropolitan Counties, new mega municipalities which gained control over local rail services ands begat trains in orange.
fbb's model pacer is also an example of this period.
The PTE had expanded over the years.

Back in 1972 the PTE had absorbed the rump of the former North Western Road Car bus operations ...
... branded as SELNEC Cheshire.

Later came Wigan Corporation ...
... where orange replaced maroon.

And Lancashire United ...
... where orange replaced red and grey.

The PTE was renamed GM Buses in 1986 and restructured as an "arms length" company.
In 1993 the company was split into two, GM Buses North and GM Buses South.
The idea of the split was that it would encourage competition as one buyer would not be allowed to own both. Quite how drawing an artificial boundary across Manchester could encourage competition was never explained.

Politics has continued to provide a challenge to the PTEs but with privatisation the over-riding organisation lost its buses and its trains, leaving a large monolith with the more "political" funstions of subsidised services and transport development. There are those who, today, ask "what are the PTEs for?"

But, back to our story.

North was sold to First Bus and South to Stagecoach and for nearly ten years the two biggies kept very much to their own areas. That was until First sold its Wigan depot and operation to Stagecoach in 2012.
But this was amicable. What follows, less so.
In January 2014, First bough Finglands, a thorn on the flesh of Stagocoach Manchesster along the busy (and lucrative? or just over-bussed) Oxford Road.
The take-over did not increase competition as such but the competitor had more pennies in its piggy bank and, as we shall see, the consequences could become more threatening.

A few months later, Stagecoach responded to this potential threat by First. Route 38 began.

 Next Great 38 blog : Tuesday 25th October 


  1. Arguably Stagecoach upped the ante with the takeover of Bluebird, which took them into north Manchester at the end of 2012.
    The First takeover of Fingland's (which did not include any vehicles) was seen by some as a "tit for tat" response.

  2. Thanks M of K. I heard a rumour that First were approached by Bluebird but would not proceed because of CMA "concerns". But, I agree, Bluebird should be added to the mix.

  3. Don't forget that Stagecoach originally set up a competitive Stagecoach Manchester operation which they then sold to East Yorkshire's Finglands subsidiary (with a bit of horse trading around Hull to compensate) to clear the way for them to buy GMS. ken.

  4. Stagecoach also took over what remained of JPT just after it had bought Bluebird

  5. Not sure that the citizens of Manchester and Salford would like to see their "cities" described as mere "boroughs"!

  6. I don't entirely understand why you'd buy a bus company without the vehicles. If you want to take over a route, just register yours over the top of the existing one and undercut the fares until the incumbent gives up.

    1. Many reasons - you may be unable to agree a price, you may not be keen on the type(s)/age of vehicles, the owner might want to move them elsewhere, perhaps they're leased and not owned, maybe you have spares of your own....

      Buying the business gives you a ready-made operating centre, a load of drivers and avoids the need to wait 56 days to start your service, giving the incumbant plenty of time to prepare and introduce fares offers etc.

      Finding enough buses, drivers and having somewhere to run them from is not always easy depending on the number of vehicles involved, plus there's the cost of lower revenue whilst the war is on-going and you may not win it anyway. There's also the risk of reputational damage if it all goes pear-shaped.

    2. You are also purchasing the history and links to the passengers, termed goodwill on balance sheets. If you set up a fresh you have to establish yourself in the area which takes time as passengers in many areas are creatures of habit but if you take over an existing operation, even if you immediately rename it, you are seen by passengers as the heir to that business with the loyalty and established traffic that comes with it. It is easy to lose loyalty by not offering a good service but very hard to build it up as it takes a long time to prove yourself so if you can buy your way in to an established reputation it is always a positive.

      It is one of the big issues over QCs that pro-regulationists see routes as being without value as anyone can start one whereas operators see all the goodwill & loyalty they have built up as having a value that is important to them. Most operators change hands for more than the value of their assets and some of this is this concept of goodwill.