18 October 2009

Plympton Coachlines

"John Preece doesn’t intend giving up his desire to operate Plymouth city services, not without a fight”

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At Omnibuses2.0 we aim to reflect in bite-sized pieces, the many facets of the UK bus industry. The first posts date from 2003 and since the summer of 2005, we’ve been examining the bigger picture almost daily...
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John Preece doesn’t intend giving up his desire to operate Plymouth city services, not without a fight. Though it appears the council has rejected his bid to buy Plymouth Citybus, he threatens court action. Preece himself says he’s been waiting for Citybus for 21 years. It was in 1988, one year after his Plympton Coachlines bought Western National (with a little help from Badgerline) that Preece as MD began what was to be a doomed combative action, throwing at Citybus much that was second hand, plus a half-dozen or so brand new Leyland Lynxes. But that wasn’t the first time Plympton Coachlines had tried. No, the first time was back in regulated 1983…

Back then, Preece didn’t appear as Plympton Coachlines’ front man. Plympton Coachlines was one of a handful of operators who tried to exploit the Transport Act 1981 that made it easier for operators to gain stage carriage road service licences (as they were then called). Though the 1981 Act is famous for deregulating express coaches and for trial bus service areas, the forgotten provision was that it allowed start ups to challenge established operators, through the traffic courts. Stagecoach famously tried and only marginally succeeded. Plympton Coachlines completely failed.

Plympton Coachlines applied for two licences, one from Plymouth to its airport and the other between Plymouth & an area in outer Plymstock. Both offered something new. Opposed were Plymouth council and Western National, (partners in the then Plymouth Joint Services) and Devon council.

There were concerns, too, about abstraction. The only way, for example, that Plympton Coachlines might make either service pay was by abstracting along its route. Solicitors were successful in persuading the traffic commissioners that Plympton Coachlines’ lower fares and hourly frequency would force PJS to lower theirs. Since the city council expected PJS to break even, there would inevitably be compensatory cuts elsewhere, between £375,000 and £1mil worth per annum. The traffic commissioners were not prepared to see such damage inflicted upon Plymouth and refused Plympton Coachlines’ applications.

One of defendants’ main arguments was Plympton Coachlines’ zero experience in operating bus services. To think that in just four year’s time, Plympton Coachlines would have all the knowledge it would ever need, upon the take-over of Western National and the 1988 bus war that ensued.
HFX 424V (by TGPhotos) ©Terry Partridge. Plympton Coachlines HFX424V Ford R1114 Plaxton at Bretonside

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