Wednesday 15 July 2015

Debate - Were The Old Days Better

I was having a light hearted banter exchange with an old friend (9 months older to be precise) last night about the use of heritage liveries. He said it was living in the past, I said it was remembering when buses were a far greater lifeblood to society than they are now. He then said something I found quite surprising - that "the service was pretty poor in NBC days despite what we might remember".

So was it? I have memories of 7 day services starting earlier and finishing later, of longer routes linking more places, of tickets accepted by all, drivers not having to hide behind plastic, conductors helping people on and off, OAP special buses and being able to leave my village in Kent at 7am, travel all around the South East returning at 10pm with easy to understand timetables. Yes there were cancellations and problems in snow etc just as there are now as most of the caveats and unavoidable circumstances today were applicable then too.

So what do you think? Was it better then or now? Was NBC the glory days of buses or do I have seriously rose tinted specs on? Let's have a decent discussion on this. Apologies to younger readers who weren't around during NBC times to compare but ask your parents! Also apologies if there are any offensive comments - I'll be keeping a close eye and will be deleting any as soon as I see them but refuse to restrict comments because of one or two idiots.

Found on Google Images an Eastern Counties Bristol outside Ely depot in NBC livery


  1. In 1996 (The year of the Firstgroup takeover of Great Yarmouth Transport Ltd.), commuter bus travel from Gorleston/Gt. Yarmouth to Norwich was not possible. Now we have a First/Anglian service of seven buses an hour!

    1. I was waiting for this one as I know that's true having seen a 2006 timetable still on display at a stop in Acle the other week, which showed how limited the service to Norwich was. I was quite surprised to learn that. How did you get from Gorleston to Norwich back in 1996?

    2. "How did you get from Gorleston to Norwich back in 1996?" by catching a bus into Yarmouth and changing for Norwich - inconvenient perhaps, but not impossible.

      To be fair though, the bus service between Gorleston/Yarmouth and Norwich these days is much better than it was (unless you live in a village en route, then it's not) - just for example the last bus from Norwich to Yarmouth back in the day used to be just after 7pm Monday to Saturday, now it's after 11pm, and then there's the up to 3 buses an hour Sunday service.

  2. On a more general note:

    "Was it better then or now? Was NBC the glory days of buses or do I have seriously rose tinted specs on?"

    In my very humble opinion, it depends; the route you were on, the operator in your area, were there any competitors (post de-reg there), that sort of thing, so you're probably going to get a range of answers here. Route wise - as mentioned above Yarmouth to Norwich is served much more often these days, whereas Yarmouth to Lowestoft has degraded slightly (essentially as it's mostly if not all run from Yarmouth now I believe, as opposed to a Yarmouth/Lowestoft co-operation as it was back then).

    One thing I always remember with some fondness about buses back in the day though (something I'll probably be accused of having rose tinted glasses about myself, but there we are) - they were regularly well presented and well turned out, regardless of vehicle age, which is (sadly) something that tends not to be the case quite so much these days.

  3. Ok I'll counter the praise be the X1 corridor with what about the Ipswich - Lowestoft/Norwich/Bury corridors? What about Norwich - Thetford? What about rural services? I didn't live up here during NBC but I've seen enough old photos.

  4. In terms of specific service levels it very much depends on where you live at a very local level, many areas have far better service levels than they have ever seen but there are as many with little change or worse or even no service anymore. Many rural areas had nearly been abandoned by NBC by the end (north Norfolk & north Cornwall being noteworthy) and the service levels seen in these areas being much better than it was.

    In terms of quality, unless you were lucky to get a very good operator (largely independents but not exclusively), the delivery was widely abysmal. Lost mileage due to a lack of vehicles or drivers was at levels that wouldn't be tolerated nowadays (losing half-hourly interurban services for 2 or 3 hours wasn't unusual) - a recent report looking back at NBC/PTE eras found that NBC was reporting about 2.5% lost mileage nationwide whilst some of the individual PTEs could see over 10% lost mileage, nowadays a very bad week would be to see it above 1% & if you get above 2% you are really in difficulty and in need of rapid action.

    Vehicle presentation was probably more consistent then than now, the modern industry can offer much better vehicles for a passenger in very good condition but it can also see much more tired presentation whilst NBC may not have offered brilliant standards but it was more consistently passable. There is a risk however of a bit of rose tinted specs, partly shaped by the presentation of preserved vehicles altering our memories, because average doesn't stick in your long term memory as well very good or very bad & you have a tendency to retain nicer memories than dull ones.

    So largely service level is patchy on whether it has improved over time (core, busy corridors are better but smaller villages and away from these better areas have probably seen more of a drop off), in most of the areas I have lived in have major corridors with service levels better than anything seen for decades, but the service delivery levels are much better now with the levels of performance that were accepted in the 70's & 80's being considered unacceptable now (whether due to pressure from the Traffic Commisioners or customer expectations or both).

  5. My experience would relate to West Yorkshire and I would describe the operations of West Yorkshire Road Car (NBC red) and West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Excecutive (Metro Green) as follows:-

    Both fleets were modern with the oldest vehicles being 12-15 years old.
    The Metro fleet had a more modern feel to it, particularly with Olympians and Metrobuses coming into service.
    WYRCC felt dated in comparison with VRs and RELLs in the early 1980s.
    The customer service provided by the Leeds depot was rather poor in some cases, with one or two drivers being downright obnoxious. Shortly after privatisation, I used the Yorkshire Coastliner service and it was a culture shock for the driver to exchanging pleasantries with passengers. I suspect other garages, particularly more rural ones had a better rapport with passengers than Leeds.

    It was rather strange to see WYRCC stock painted in Metro green so I was very pleased to see Tilling(ish) red and cream make a comeback. Unfortunately, it was not to last, and was diluted with adverts and NBC red painted with a cream band and front panels painted Tilling red.

    I would therefore say the National Bus Company was the biggest lost opportunity for the industry to provide seamless travel and the privatisation/deregulation process was handled very badly.

    However, as a 2015 viewpoint, I would like the system to stay as it is (apart from an agreement for integrated tickets) as there are too many jobs and businesses reliant on the industry without it being wrecked by politicians who have no idea and stick to their respective dogma so you have to choose between them at the General Election in the same way you have to choose from a bad menu at a restaurant condemned by Public Health.