top of page
  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Municipal Pride = Public Ownership & vv

In the aftermath of local transport de-regulation in 1986 when the rules and constraints covering Britain's public transport operations were lifted many local authorities opted to sell out their assets to the private sector. Ostensibly this was to encourage competition between operators. The end result however was much different with just a handful of companies ending up owning large swathes of UK urban bus services with their own corporate branding. The days of seeing town or city's coat of arms and individual livery style distinguishing localities, and the unique evidence of community public ownership went straight down the drain.

Epitome of 1950s' municipal transport pride. Rochdale Corporation with its very striking colour scheme and a General Manager who would shortly be taking over at Rigby Road, Blackpool : J.C. Franklin.

Fortunately some local authorities deemed it in the interests of their ratepayers and voters to retain public ownership and control - albeit through a requisite arms-length enterprise which took on management of former municipal transport departments. However as years progressed their number became fewer and fewer, with today only eleven such urban transport operations under local control. The rest gradually had been given offers they couldn't refuse. In the case of the former Lytham St Annes and later Fylde (Blue Bus) system this fortuitously came under the ownership of Blackpool Transport Services Ltd. thus ensuring a public interest in much of the Fylde coast bus services. Perhaps regrettably the distinctive blue and white fleet livery of that proud operator went into the history books.

Blackpool's Council have, on several occasions, toyed with the idea of selling out the transport operation to one of the predatory large companies which now dominate UK urban transport. The especial responsibility in maintaining a tram service as part of the larger bus system has to some extent been a deterrent to wannabe buyers. Indeed Blackpool shares with Lothian Council the UK distinction of being both a bus and tram operator - the latter being a newcomer to electric trams after a particularly bad experience in cost overruns and contractual issues arising from Edinburgh's reintroduction of trams on its streets.

Whilst the private operators have provided design studios with plenty of business coming up with weird and not necessarily wonderful branding of their vehicles - much like the train operating companies forever slapping on new paint jobs to cover the lack of new rolling stock and hand me down carriages - the end results are a far far cry from the conservative but tasteful fleet liveries of the former municipal systems both large and small. Lytham St Annes being but one example.

Blackpool adhered more or less to the Corporation green and cream introduced by Walter Luff in 1933 up to and beyond deregulation. The sight of a green and cream Atlantean still in service on the Catch22Bus route - draws attention; whilst the heritage trams, similarly endowed, stand out from the now tired Blackpool Council branding on the light rail fleet.

Where transport operators have retained traditional fleet colours through successive generations they provide longstanding stability for users and their communities. Zurich springs to mind, as does Vienna, London of course, Lisbon (on those trams which aren't disfigured by all over advertising), Hong Kong similarly, and many other examples around the world including New Orleans. There was an air of local pride when one could immediately identify a Glasgow bus (or tram) from any other Scottish town or city. Blackburn's olive green (lined out) contrasted sharply with Accrington Corporation's unique navy blue and maroon buses. Bournemouth was forever associated with primrose and dark brown, whilst Ipswich favoured green and white. Bury and Oldham used very unusual shades (pea green and cream the former and pommard and white the latter). Sheffield's buses and trams always seemed to be turned out in immaculate condition with pale cream and dark blue colours, and Liverpool was forever known for its green and pale cream fleet of trams and buses. All of this has been swept away in favour of designer fantasy styling, representing nothing more than their fat fee and busy paint shops. Below : Bolton Corporation and Sheffield City Transport. Stockport Corporation and Bolton's groundbreaking new bus design and fleet livery (in a style later adopted by Blackpool's Atlantean fleet).

Blackpool went further than most in the decade from 2001 to 2010 when it ditched the green and cream tradition for buses of many colours - so many in fact that no one seemed to know what bus went where; while Rigby Road paint shop went into overtime repainting buses from one colour to the next in very short order. The trams weren't much better. Wrap around vinyl sponsor/advertising put paid to any semblance of local pride or public ownership. Plus of course the sameness that bedevils town centres these days, with all the usual outlets dominating main streets, aided and abetted by the latest corporate styling of one of the big six (or is five?) bus operators dominating local services (except thankfully for Blackpool).

Distinction in the sunlight - still going strong in 2016 - Number 334.

Featured Posts
bottom of page