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"My Kind of Bus" by John Wylde: Edinburgh meeting of Tuesday 27 September 2016

A select group of 15 were present to hear and participate in John's most entertaining talk entitled "My kind of Bus", illustrated with some nostalgic photographs. It was noted with regret that John Yellowlees was in hospital with a detached retina.

John began with an overview of London Transport, and how it developed and evolved into the all-embracing but rather self-satisfied organisation it had become by the 60's. Berrys Green is the hamlet between Biggin Hill and Orpington which was officially unserved even by London Transport's own criteria, i.e. being more than half a mile from a bus route, but the lanes had a size restriction making anything larger than a minibus impossible.

LT's smallest bus was 26 seats (the GS) so they could not do it. After briefly trying a service (479) by a useless route on main roads they gave it up, and gave their consent for the Orpington Rural Transport Association to do it with a minibus - the support of influential local politicians probably helped! It started on Saturdays only, with volunteer drivers, so can claim to have been the first Community Bus scheme, because it was planned and financed by the local community. Alex Nelson FCILT, stationmaster Chester-Le-Street, lived in Biggin Hill as a child and spoke about his recollections of development and transport in the area.

After the service became established, with extensions across the Valley at Biggin Hill, John moved on to a commercial scheme with his wife Mary and a friend with a minibus, linking Orpington and Croydon every two hours. This started in April 1969, gradually grew and expanded, and nowadays operates with a double-deck every 15 minutes feeding into the Croydon Tramway at Addington! Tony Francis FCILT, secretary of the Omnibus Society, spoke of his recollections of this and subsequent events. This service developed with the active involvement of other people, and by acquisitions and expansion, into what ultimately became Metrobus, and which in turn was taken over by the Go-Ahead Group in 1999.

John however moved north and after a spell in local government became associated with the taxibus scheme based at Berwick-upon-Tweed. This was an innovate concept for a licensed Hackney Carriage to operate a registered local bus service.

Following the principle of coordination the service was planned to terminate at the railway station but on the first day of operation in August 1976 a railway official banned them from using the station forecourt. The railway had two faces - as a public transport operator but also as a land owner! Common sense, with a bit of lobbying, resulted in a sensible outcome and the service developed. Jonathan Cowe FCILT gave his recollections of taxibuses, and the principles he learned from their operation, which he has applied as part of the public transport team in Northamptonshire County Council.

In a local Berwick-upon-Tweed context the example of small vehicles stimulated both "national" bus operators - Northumbria and Eastern Scottish - to try high-frequency minibus services in the town but with little if any forethought. The legacy of the Berwick taxibuses can be seen to this day in the Perrymans Berwick to St Abbs(235), and Edinburgh(253) services which operate with full-size buses.

The presentation was warmly received and created further lively discussion.

Report by Ian Carter .

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