Friday, 24 September 2021

And Two Turn Up At Once (5)

Marketing, What's That?

Faced with The Perfect Storm of clawing one's corporate self out of a highly subsidised bus operation under the auspices of the Peoples' Republic of South Yorkshire, of coping with being a business, not a public service, and of the distinct possibility of competition, the arms length South Yorkshire Transport (SYT) had to learn lots of stuff very fast.

A Marketing Manager was appointed! Shock Horror!

In the late sixties and early seventies, a youthful fbb was on good terms with some of the Head Office staff at Sheffield Transport; and on into the very early years of the PTE. He remembers chatting over a glass of lemonade in a local hostelry (OK, half a pint of Younger's Tartan).

"Shouldn't bus operators be selling their product like these new-fangled supermarkets do?" he asked, provocatively.

Glazed and bemused expressions were the order of the day.

One lad proffered "We have the bus guide ...".

Sophie Mitchell, a redoubtable lady of uncertain years, was Miss Bus Guide. She wrote out (by hand) the timetable pages and sent them off to Sheffield Corporation Printing Department for typesetting. The process was similar to the John Bull Printing Outfit of fond childhood memory.

Except it used metal type rather than rubber!

If you wanted a logo, a map or, heaven forfend, a picture, you had to "have a block made". The process was slow but effective and the bus guide (a k a timetable book) appeared several times a year - and it was free. Publicity leaflets were merely pages from the timetable with a heading.

The set-up was similar under the PTE, but the price had increased.
The last timetable book appeared in 1985; a service never to be repeated!

In the early days of the deregulation storm, marketing remained with the PTE as did a regional "saver" ticket!.
But clearly the new company would need to do something special to keep its customers happy and prevent their straying to the competition. They had a slogan!
Hmmm? They had pin badges ...
... and even adverts on the telly!
The above is a page from the staff magazine, "Transyt" ("Transit" - geddit?) which only lasted a couple of issues. There was a promo bus which toured the area, promoting the "stability" and "heritage" of the new company.
There was even the revolutionary idea of advertising buses on the bus!
If you are facing competition, a good idea is to ensure that your passengers don't just go with you, they come back. So, tada ...
... return tickets. This valid marketing device was always rare in municipal or urban operation, but holds on to your passenger when there is side-by-side competition. 

Or how about playing Bus Bingo?
A series of on-the-road brands also emerged. For the busy cross-city routes there was "Mainline" ...
... in striking red and yellow for Sheffield ...
... less striking blue and yellow in Rotherham and ...
... very un-striking grey in Doncaster. The book tells us that the Donny management were aghast at the garishness of Sheffield vehicles and vowed to have something more "distinguished". In the end they just looked tatty!

Little Nippers proliferated on lesser routes where minibuses (operated at lower wage and running costs) could maintain a good frequency and still make money - in theory!
Then who should arrive at management level in Sheffield but Bob Montgomery, fresh from "Little Buzz" in Manchester ...
... but he had a bit more hair then. He was a vehement enthusiast for minibus operations in the style of Harry Blundred (of fond (?) Devon general fame) and arrived full of determination to convert busy "Mainline" routes to very high frequency minibus services.
Eager Beavers arrived on the cross city Route 52 - but soon departed!
Sheffielders didn't like the minibi; they were cramped, with no room for shopping bags, and although they were supposedly frequent ...
... they were famed for clustering in little bunches followed by anything up to a 15 minute gap. It doesn't take much nous to interpret the authors' attitude to Bob the Minibus Man's policies as being less than enthusiastic.

Bob retired as big boss of Stagecoach a few years ago.

The 25 was suffering from resolute competition from Yorkshire Terrier ...
... and the Stagecoach "Magic Bus" idea was tried - but in purple.
According to our authors in review, the colour faded quickly and they, once again, looked tatty.
And so the battle, the turmoil and the commercial uncertainty raged. 

The privatisation via an employees buyout scheme eventually happened, with the help of 20% cash injection from Stagecoach, and the whole company was named "Mainline"; but the challenges continued. No sooner had SYT/Mainline bought up a competitor than another one appeared.

And the Competition Authorities were less than happy that Mainline was destroying "competition" by eating it.

So in came First Group with a big bag of pennies - and the rest is history.
Very soon, the region's favourite became a different sort of "favourite", namely the one we love to hate, and Sheffield settled down to boring barbie, no innovation, no marketing and poor publicity.
There was competition, sort of, between First and Stagecoach, but you would hardly notice it. Stagecoach would increase its fares and, lo and behold, a few weeks later First would increase its fares. Then next time it would be the other way round.

Of course there was no collusion!

The above blog is drawn from snippets taken almost at random from the year by year chapters of the book.
It is published by The Omnibus Society at £29.50 and worth every penny. (Easy for fbb to say as his was a generous gift from a good friend!). The book is hardback with 260 pages (excluding the cover) in full colour.

But, be warned, it will take you ages to read it (fbb is on his second reading thereof) because there is so much in it.

To arrange a purchase, please email ...

... and he will organise payment and delivery.

 Next Variety blog : Saturday 25th September 

Thursday, 23 September 2021

And Two Turn Up At Once (4)

The Perfect Strorm!
It is a "disaster movie", with George Clooney as its hero, telling the tale of  fishing boat in horrific weather conditions. The phrase has come to be used for any combined sequence of misfortunes. This picture of two engineers of the newly formed arms length South Yorkshire Transport company (SYT) as they struggle to keep the buses running.
Or is it a "still" from the film?

The book ...
... is undoubtedly a "tour de force" of transport writing with authors who really know what was going on. But their problem is what to include and what to leave out. As they were "involved", fbb does feel, occasionally, that they are over positive about the success of the company and a little blase about how it solved some of its problems.

Leading up to the dreaded day, 26th October 1986, the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (PTE), who had owned and run the buses in various forms since 1968, had to cope with a whole perfect storm of omnibological weather. Apart from the morass of legal tasks in structuring the new company, they faced huge detailed problems.

They had to register that services that SYT believed it would operate commercially ...
But how do you decide that after a period of heavily subsidised low fares such that ...
No bus services made any profit!

These initial registrations were to be fixed for a year ...
Although there were mechanisms for emergency change!

Fares would need to increase three-fold (at least) to get back to commercial rates ...
So how many passengers would jump ship? They guessed 20%!

Any non-commercial services would have to be tendered ...

Competitive services chewing away at SYT's estimated profit margin ...
Were another area of pure guesswork. Would SYT be under attack?

Large numbers of staff at all levels would be made redundant.
Chapter 2 deals with a whole two years when the storm was beginning to swirl frighteningly around SYT's staff and management.
So if the initial registrations left a gap, there would be an opportunity for a newcomer to step in a fill it - at the same time diluting the SYT revenue stream. Tricky!
In the end, Coachcraft did not last but some did.
One boy done good!
Sheffield and District (S&D) showed how to do it! They won a number of tenders, services that SYT thought could not be commercial. One of the first ...
... the Greengate Lane circular, a vintage Sheffield Transport department route, turned out to be more profitable under S&D management, paying lower wages and expecting longer hours of productive work. Many SYT staff accepted their generous redundancy package and immediately started work for S&D. A whole raft of less profitable tenders were won, all ex Sheffield Transport routes.
S&D won a load of school contracts which meant they had buses lying around at the weekends. So, after winning a tender for the evening service on route 206, S&D registered Saturday daytime journeys (X16) in competition with the incumbent.
Cleverly, young Mark missed out Swallownest on his X16, ensuring that he only need two buses for his competitive incursion. He also moved in to the busy SYT route 49 to Wordsworth Avenue.
The response to S&D route 91/98 was typical of the response to all competitive onslaughts.
Techniques included

Re-organising services
Running extra buses on existing routes
Reducing fares
Running minibuses to get closer to customers
Running "spoilers" a few minutes in front of the intruder

When S&D started a competitive service against SYT's service 60 (fbb's former local route, now service 120 ORANGE) ...
... they numbered it as 6 and extended it to the service 51 terminus at Lodge Moor
YELLOW. The 83a did not exist at that time.
SYT responded  with a branding of the 60 ...
... and, over the top of this already frequent service, running a "Little Nipper" minibus to Lodge Moor.

In a similar vein, another new arrival, named SUT, won a tender for a Minibus service to the backwoods of Darnall. This had been Sheffield Transport 46, then 96. 
In todays world the service is route 9, operated by First on a slightly different route, but still on tender.
Next came competitive commercial services as below to Crystal Peaks ...
Sheffield oficianados will, of course, know that the ultimate method of getting rid of competition was used against any that survived the initial battles. They were first bought out and later phased out!

One startup that has survived was Yorkshire Terrier. Its first route was a Crookes and Walkley loop route 15 and 16, mirroring one started by the PTE.

But it wasn't quite the same. One of the shortcomings of many traditional Sheffield routes is that they tended to trundle into the bus station (Interchange) leaving folk with a reasonable walk to, for example, the Moor shopping area. Various newcomers made much of taking passengers where they wanted to go, in the case of the 15/16 via ...
... the inner ring road, Eyre Street (IN) or Charter Row (OUT) rather than running direct to the High Street.
In the late 80s, getting maps into print was expensive, so the quality was poor compared with what can be easily done today. Indeed, Sheffield and District did not go in for such luxuries!

Interestingly, Terrier's second entry into the competitive market still runs today - even with the same route number but just a slight route variation.
The map is a much better effort in 1988 ...
... and in 2021 service 25 is "joint" with First's 24, both running every 15 minutes.
Yorkshire Traction bought Terrier then Stagecoach bought Traccy. So the intruder 25 is now the established Stagecoach 25.

Clearly, fbb has raided his own knowledge pluis a small collection of leaflets to augment this book review. That is not to say that the book is at fault - the amount of information contained even in this early chapter is staggering. Vehicle purchase, vehicle allocation, vehicle maintenance and some vexatious industrial relations challenges feature highly in this hugely enjoyable book.

fbb is well aware that most bust enthusiasts will drool over vehicle types, cherishing their knowledge of engine power, transmission types and the need for bifurcated ningle pins in the suspension.

fbb has always been ravenous for details of where and why the buses run.

Tomorrow we take a look at Eager Beavers, fares and special offers; this time via snippets from several chapters.

Hot News From The Isle Of Wight
Will that be November 1st 2021?

And Another Sheffield Book

 Next Book Review blog : Friday 24th September