Iam a firm believer in private enterprise – after all can anyone running their own company be anything else?
Three years ago, the above statement would have been true, but since the disaster for the industry that Covid was, this has all changed. The way that bus networks were structured was fairly simple and hadn’t changed significantly since deregulation in 1986. Those routes that could support themselves were operated commercially by the operator and if they were exceptionally well used, more than one could compete on the same route (quite often generating custom between them through increased frequency and lower fares). The other type of route, more often, rural or at quieter times of day, were then subsidised by the council. The operation of these was usually let on a tendered basis, where generally the cheapest quote won. Many of these tendered routes were the mainstay of smaller independent operators, as a lot of the best commercial routes were and still are in the hands of the big boys through legacy operation dating back to NBC/PTE and before. Through council cutbacks over the years, many tendered routes have been lost or reduced in frequency, reducing the work for the independent. Covid itself was a respite for the smaller independent as most staff were furloughed, and the government thankfully supported the services that still operated. We managed to tidy some of our fleet up, catch up on numerous jobs that we hadn’t had time to do beforehand, and still get time to ourselves, which is unusual in this industry.