The first week or so of the new, deregulated era of bus services didn’t start well in Coventry! Namely because there wasn’t one! Well, nothing from the main operator West Midlands Travel anyhow, as they were on strike! In order to survive the commercial pressures of the new era, certain drivers conditions were changed, namely the out of factory hours payments that drivers at evenings and weekends were paid. The new, arms length company felt that this was no longer affordable now that the company was forced to pay it’s way….the Coventry driver’s thought differently!
Not knowing the extent of the strike, I travelled to Coventry on the Birmingham Central garage operated 900, on the Wednesday of that first week, only to find that it was terminating at Allesley, on the edge of the city, so I had no choice but to get on the bus in front, enjoying a much extended dropback, for the journey back to Birmingham!
When the strike was resolved, a streamlined network began, which saw the end of the remaining ex Coventry City Transport East Lancs bodied Daimler Fleetlines (those renumbered in the 1xxx series in 1982) as well as those ordered by CCT but delivered to the Passenger Transport Executive in 1974 (those numbered in a 44xx series). The oldest survivors were the latter East Lancs bodied Leyland Fleetlines (also ordered by CCT but not delivered until 1977, illustrating just how long it took for buses to get built back then!) which were numbered in the 67xx series and were identifiable from their older sisters by virtue of the various PTE features that had been incorporated into the design, most notably the front, upper deck opening ventilators but also the use of the red PVC and formica in various shades of blue that were identical to that used in the PTE’s Metro Cammell & Park Royal bodied Fleetlines (those delivered from 1973-or bus 4243-onwards.), as well as Metro Cammell bodied Bristol VRs and Alexander bodied Volvo Ailsas. Coventry’s only batch of standard PTE Metro Cammell bodied Fleetlines, 1979 vintage 69xx series examples, remained largely intact (some went into the reserve fleet, returning to service at other garages, i.e 6962 would resurface at Quinton and 6963 at Washwood Heath.) and were joined by Park Royal bodied Fleetline 6598. The Metrobus fleet was also largely unaffected.
Sandy Lane garage closed on the last day of the regulated era, on Saturday 25th October 1986, leaving just the brand new Wheatley Street garage that had opened very recently, having replaced the city’s oldest garage at Harnell Lane. Being in the shadow of Pool Meadow bus station, Wheatley Street couldn’t have been more conveniently sited operationally!
Despite the slimmed down operations, WMT had some luck winning tenders, which provided a degree of extra work for the garage. The main service won was the two hourly 735 from Coventry to the North Warwickshire village of Ansley. This replaced former Midland Red South service 737, which ran through to Nuneaton, this section still being covered commercially by Midland Red South’s 740. The regular buses on the 735 were usually Dual Purpose Leyland Nationals 1854 & 1856, with other members of Coventry’s small fleet of Leyland Nationals also appearing. In common with the company’s other tendered services that ventured outside the former (abolished in 1986) West Midlands county (see blog “Tendering Afar”), as well as the few commercial services that did so (including the 20 & peak 50 from Coventry-Bedworth), WMT’s Travelcard was valid over the whole route, meaning I had the opportunity for several round trips on the service, before the tender was lost to Vanguard Coaches (more on them latter) and extended into Nuneaton around 1988.
Less regular was the 537 from Burton Green-Kenilworth, which WMT had also ran, again using Nationals. I’m not sure how long this service lasted. More prominent was the return of the 192/192A/193/194/194A Coventry-Solihull services to West Midlands operation. As explained in the blog “Sent To Coventry” WMPTE had started these routes in 1984, integrating the Solihull-Balsall Common via Hampton In Arden services of the failed Mid Warwickshire Motorways company with the PTE’s 24/34/44 Coventry-Balsall Common services. They had suffered a topsy turvy two years, with Mid Warwickshire Motors successor Heart Of England Tours winning the right to run services over the corridor in 1985-before failing themselves signalling the return of the PTE routes! Then, having not been registered commercially by WMT to continue beyond deregulation, the routes had been chosen by the PTE to be the prototype for the new tendering regime, with the services being won by Birmingham Digbeth based Midland Red Coaches. who bought some Ex Fife Scottish Alexander bodied Daimler Fleetlines to run the services alongside the 1982 vintage Willowbrook bodied Leyland Leopards that the company already possessed.
Having become incredibly fond of the ex Fife Fleetlines during their brief stay, I was rather disappointed to see the WMT Metrobuses return! The previous three bus allocation of two Coventry buses and one Acocks Green bus was reinstated.
Midland Red South
Probably the only notable deregulation cutback by WMT was the withdrawal of several services on Sunday, including the 5 to Coundon, the 7 to Brownshill Green and the 27 to Wyken, which Midland Red South won on tender and ran for several years, using Leyland Nationals from Nuneaton & Leamington Garages.
Unlike WMT’s Coventry network, Midland Red South made considerable changes to their network. The company had been the only ex Midland Red fleet to have not adopted the minibus for local Town services but this changed at deregulation, with a fleet of Rootes & Carlyle bodied Sherpas introduced onto Town services in Leamington, Rugby, Nuneaton, Banbury (in Oxfordshire) & Stratford On Avon, the later restoring the Stratford Blue name to the town, after the former Midland Red subsidiary that operated from the town until it’s absorption into the main fleet on 1st January 1971. In latter years, more reliable Ivecos and Mercedes would be purchased.
The main trunk network was also modified. The 512/513 Coventry-Warwick services were cutback to terminate at the Kenilworth estates and transferred from Leamington to Nuneaton garage, interworking in Coventry with the new 651/656 services to Hinckley, which had replaced the 658 through to Leicester, which had been joint with Midland Fox, that company running the 158 from Hinckley-Leicester.
Of the other two joint services with Midland Fox, the two companies registered a joint agreement with the Office of Fair Trading to continue running the X40 (Rugby-Leicester) on the existing two hourly, one bus each service, whilst the X67 (Leicester-Stratford via Coventry) became solely operated by Midland Fox, being rerouted via Kenilworth in lieu of the previous route through Stoneleigh. This provided competition for Midland Red South’s new X16 from Coventry-Stratford via Kenilworth & Leamington, which replaced the Coventry-Leamington section of the long established 517, which had been running through to the Leamington suburb of Whitnash since the introduction of the Leamington & Warwick Market Analysis Project network by Midland Red on 31st May 1980, Whitnash now being served by one of the new minibus routes, as was Sydenham, the terminus of the 516, the other Coventry-Leamington route, which was cutback to run from Coventry-Leamington Town Centre (ironically, the original route of the 517). The X16 also served the village of Snitterfield between Warwick & Stratford, replacing the withdrawn 519 from Leamington-Stratford via Hampton Lacey, through that village. The 1984 & 1985 vintage Dual Purpose ECW bodied Leyland Olympians were the mainstay of the X16 which, despite it’s number, observed all stops along it’s route!
Warwickshire County Council filled the gaps left by the X67’s rerouting through Kenilworth and the 512/513’s Kenilworth-Warwick section with new services 539 & 540. Won by Midland Red South, these services were regularly operated by ex Trent Alexander bodied Daimler Fleetlines 950 & 951, which had been transferred from Stratford to Leamington garage and I would have several trips on them , plus the ex Greater Manchester Northern Counties bodied Fleetlines that the company bought in 1988. Sadly, though probably sensibly, minibuses would takeover from the double deckers from 1990 onwards.
But the main Coventry-Leamington corridor would soon have competition from two Leamington coach operators! Central Coaches (not to be confused with the then Walsall based, West Midlands Travel owned Central Coachways) used quite rare ex Lincoln City Transport Alexander bodied Bristol REs, which would not last that long, and G&G, which used ex London Metropolitans and various second hand single deckers, these latter being supplemented by new Leyland Lynxes. Late 1987 would see Midland Red South respond to this by increasing the Coventry-Leamington service to every twenty minutes. The X16 remained unchanged but the 516 was replaced by two new, hourly services. The X18 was simply a Coventry extension to the 518 Stratford-Leamington via Wellesbourne, in effect recreating the 518 of earlier Midland Red days, which ran through to Coventry before the Leamington & Warwick MAP project (the 516 replacing this), whilst the third service was the X17, which ran through Leamington to the delightful village of Bishops Tachbrook, probably most famous to Midland Red enthusiasts for the photograph on the cover of Mike Greenwood’s early eighties book “Midland Red Buses” of a BMMO D9 passing the village’s church.
Ultimately, Midland Red South’s solution was to buy G&G in 1989, by which time MRS had been bought out itself, by Western Travel, the holding company of former National Bus Company subsidiary Cheltenham & Gloucester on 10th December 1987. 1989 would also see Midland Red South buy Bedworth based subsidiary Vanguard.
This Bedworth based coach company first got involved in local bus service operation in April 1987, winning Warwickshire County Council service 775 from Coventry-Nuneaton via Bulkington, which replaced that section of Midland Red North’s X76 that had been running from Birmingham via Tamworth & Nuneaton to Coventry since deregulation (replacing the Tamworth-Coventry 776, which started with the Mercian (Tamworth) MAP network on 1st September 1989, which, in turn, replaced the long established Midland Red 765/766 Coventry-Lichfield services)
The company would then expand quite quickly, firstly with Warwickshire tender wins, such as replacing Midland Red South’s X65 Nuneaton-Birmingham service, which also saw the company running a short lived West Midlands PTE tendered rather irregular Birmingham Centrebus service, numbered 100. Another tender win was new two hourly service 778 from Nuneaton, through Bedworth and around the East Coventry suburbs to serve Walsgrave Hospital before heading into Coventry City Centre. The company’s initial use of coaches on these services was soon supplemented by Alexander bodied Leyland Leopard service buses bought second hand from various operators. Soon, the company adopted what was rapidly becoming the standard West Midlands independent bus, the Leyland National. The Western Travel takeover would see the company introduce services in Coventry that competed with West Midlands Travel;
49-Coundon (the later would see West Midlands Travel start a competing service, initially with Metrorider minibuses and latter Leyland Lynxes)
Western Travel must have felt that Midland Red South’s finances weren’t very strong, as this year saw several cutbacks take place. Most services were renumbered into a two digit series at this time. The more frequent Coventry-Leamington services had seriously effected the viability of the 512/513 Kenilworth services and these were withdrawn, with Vanguard Travel introducing local services in Kenilworth to cover the estates. But the Coventry-Leamington services were altered too, with the X18 reverting to a Leamington-Stratford service, numbered 18, whilst the X17 was curtailed to terminate at Leamington, a new minibus service replacing the Bishops Tachbrook section.
The Coventry-Nuneaton corridor was also revised, with the hourly Limited Stop X77 from Coventry-Atherstone reduced to a peak hourly X47 (matching the X57 from Coventry-Earl Shilton, which had been reduced from a regular hourly service to a peak service at deregulation), the train service that had been restored to the Coventry-Nuneaton line in 1988, obviously having an effect on this service’s loadings. Replacing the Atherstone section was new service 47, which followed the Ash Green route of the Earl Shilton 657 (renumbered 57) out of Coventry, on a new half hourly frequency, bringing competition to Midland Red North’s X76 between Nuneaton & Atherstone, as well as providing a fifteen minute service between Coventry & Nuneaton via Ash Green, bringing competition to WMT’s 3 (Holbrooks) 4 (Hen Lane) & 13 (Whitmore Park).
Alternate journeys on the 57 became the 157, running through to Leicester, with Midland Fox alternating this with an hourly 158 between Nuneaton & Leicester. This restored a through service between the two places, that had been lost with the withdrawal of Midland Fox’s X32 via the M69, which had been replaced with a shortlived X57 from Leicester-Coventry via Hinckley & M69 in 1988, this then being replaced by the even shorter lived 157, which avoided the M69 but was withdrawn in 1990. I remember my friend Joe Moriarty and I making a very early morning journey on WMT’s 900 from Birmingham-Coventry in early 1990, following this with a ride as far as Nuneaton on a MRS Leyland Olympian on the 157, then waiting there half an hour for the Midland Fox 158, which turned up in the form of one of their ex London Transport DMS class Fleetlines.
The previous 651/656 services that ran direct between Coventry & Bedworth, following WMT’s 20 service between these points, were replaced by the new 58, running hourly through to Hinckley (maintaining a fifteen minute Nuneaton-Hinckley with the 57, 157 & 158) with another hourly journey being a short to Nuneaton.
Stratford On Avon seemed to be the garage which suffered the most from cutbacks! Most notably, the X50 from Birmingham-Oxford, which in it’s final months suffered the indignity of Leyland National operation for such a long run, after the demise of the company’s final S28 Marshall bodied Leyland Leopards, which tended to dominate the service post deregulation, was withdrawn and the X20 from Birmingham-Stratford, previously the garage’s flagship route with late evening journeys for the benefit of attendees of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatres, was cutback, including the demise of the evening service.
In the summer of 1988, my friend John Batchelor got a job as a barman in Stratford’s Falcon Hotel, living in and I joined him on the day he moved down, catching a DP Olympian on the X20, then staying there until late in the evening, sampling various pubs (mostly serving Flowers Ale, a once local brew that was, by then, brewed in Cheltenham) in the town and, after leaving John to return to his new abode, caught an S28 on a late evening X20, enjoying a lovely run through the encroaching darkness of a late June evening. Sadly, this would no longer be possible a year latter (though John had moved on by then, anyhow). Most of Stratford’s Olympians moved to Leamington, with the X20 becoming mainly National operated, with ex Stevensons ex London DMS Fleetlines being bought for the garage’s few remaining double deck duties.
Also going was Stratford’s oldest bus, 6197, which was the last survivor of Midland Red’s large D13 class of Alexander bodied Daimler Fleetlines. It was another bus that I’d last sampled in the summer of 1988, finishing a Midland Red South bash in the town on a glorious afternoon and, after eating fish & chips from Barnaby’s chip shop, I spied 6197 operating a school journey, virtually all that was left of the 212 to Broome & Alcester. Despite the presence of a large number of school kids, I had a great journey through some deeply rural territory to Alcester. From Alcester, 6197 returned to Stratford direct as a 208, so I naturally rode it. There, an S28 was waiting to depart on the X50 to Oxford, so I caught this to Shipston On Stour, where I had around forty five minutes for an X50 to appear in the Birmingham direction, so I visited a pub for a pint of Bass before catching another S28 back to Brum. A truly halcyon day which was sadly unrepeatable from the next summer, as the 212 was another route that bit the dust in 1989.
The only bright spot for Stratford was the adoption of the Stratford Blue name for the whole fleet allocated there, with a blue version of the new Midland Red South red with white relief livery.
G & G
With G & G passing into Western Travel’s hands, the company’s direct Coventry-Leamington service was rerouted via the University Of Warwick (actually on the outskirts of Coventry) leaving the direct route to Kenilworth in the hands of Midland Red South’s X16 & X17. Now numbered X12 (not sure if the original route had a number!) the service competed with WMT’s 12 from Coventry to the University. In addition, the company was successful at winning a few tenders in Coventry off WMT, including the hourly 42 to the rather low density housing estate at Cannon Park, with a few journeys on this extended out to rural Berkswell, replacing the former WMT operated tendered 46. The company’s Metropolitan’s had gone by then, their place being taken by ex Merseyside Willowbrook bodied Leyland Atlanteans and, ironically given who they were competing against, ex West Midlands Travel Leyland Fleetlines! I managed to ride one of the later on the Berkswell extension, joining the WMT 193/194 at that point. I also rode both types on the X12 as far as the University quite regularly. In 1990, the X12 was joined by an X11 via Coundon, initially operated with Sherpa minibuses but soon gaining double deckers. This was quite short lived, with extra X12 journeys replacing it.
June 1990 saw a new, combined G & G/Midland Red South garage open on Station Approach, Leamington, replacing both G & G’s former premises and Midland Red South’s Myton Road arage, although problems with the new garage would see Myton Road re-open, not finally closing until 27th January 1991. Despite it’s relative newness, the Station Approach premises themselves would be closed in 2017, being replaced by a new facility on an industrial estate in the town.
West Midlands Travel Developments
1989 would see other new tendered minibus services start in Coventry, including the WMT won peak 44 from Coventry Railway Station-Binley, for which MCW Metroriders were moved into the City.
Commercially, the company began to buy new full size buses again, beginning with 150 Metrobuses to the Mk 2A specification (which, due to the failure of MCW, would end up being the last Metrobuses to enter service in the West Midlands) which were delivered between 1988 & 1990, of which a few were allocated to Coventry but more noticeable was the order of what would turn out to be 250 Leyland Lynx single deckers from 1989 onwards. Coventry received it’s batch in late 1989 and these were used on Lentons Lane Circular services 31A/31C and sister services 41 & new 51 (which served a new ASDA store, which was also served by the rerouted 31A/31C) to the Victoria Farm Estate. These new buses would see the transfer into reserve fleet of a number of East Lancs Fleetlines, some of which resurfaced at other garages temporarily, with 6758 & 6759 spending a spell at Quinton and 6728 & 6734 being allocated to Dudley for a while in 1990, the first time East Lancs Fleetlines had been allocated outside Coventry since the allocation of the first twenty when brand new to Acocks Green in 1977 (one had also been loaned to Perry Barr at this point!)
Western Travel seemed determined to strengthen it’s Warwickshire operations by attacking West Midlands Travel in Coventry, creating a strong, urban base. This was added to in 1990 with the commencement of the Metro minibus network, operated from a new base in the south of the city at Rowley Drive. Metro was the brand name used by Western Travel’s Cheltenham & Gloucester parent company for the minibus operations it had started in preparation for deregulation. A fleet of Ford Transits made redundant by newer buses, was dispatched to Coventry to operate new services C to Cheylesmore and F to Finham, competing with WMT’s 14 & 15 services respectively, on a higher frequency.
The C & F were sufficiently successful to see further Ford Transits added the following year to start route H to Holbrooks, competing with WMT’s 2 to Radford and E to Eastern Green, competing with WMT’s 10.
1992 saw the Acocks Green turn on this corridor withdrawn, with the remaining two Coventry turns providing a ninety minute service over a simplified network. All buses would now follow the formerly peak hour only 192 route via Eastcotes (as opposed to Templer Avenue) between Coventry & Tile Hill, meaning that the 193 number disappeared with journeys routed via Burton Green now being all numbered 192. The 194 via Carol Green remained but was rerouted via Eastcotes. The 192A & 194A journeys which ran direct via the A452 between Balsall Common & Hampton In Arden, missing out Berkswell & Meriden, were withdrawn.
Midland Red South’s Wright Bodied Mercedes Benz, Bristol VRs & Leyland National 3s!
Midland Red South’s only major new vehicle purchase during the Western Travel years was a batch of Wright bodied Mercedes Benz minibuses that were delivered in 1992. These were larger than the company’s earlier minibuses, having seating capacities in the twenties. Notable allocations of these were several with (rather uncomfortable) coach type seats to Stratford, painted in Stratford Blue livery and taking over many of that garage’s less remunerative journeys, including most of the X20, which was now struggling to remain viable.
Nuneaton’s bus seated allocation meanwhile, was used to commence new service 48 from Coventry-Atherstone via Foleshill Road, replacing the 58 along the direct route from Coventry-Bedworth where the route competed with WMT’s 20, then replacing the 47 to Atherstone (the peak X47 now gaining it’s third number, the X48!) The fifteen minute service via Ash Green was retained by introducing extra Coventry-Nuneaton shorts on the 57.
For journeys that needed double deck capacity, several ECW bodied Bristol VRs were bought from City Of Oxford and fellow Western Travel subsidiary Red & White (with newer, 1984 vintage ECW bodied Leyland Olympians 908 & 909 passing in the opposite direction), all of these entering service in their original livery. The VRs replaced the various second hand Fleetlines that the company had bought over the years and, frankly, gave the company a rather scruffy image!
A smarter image was given by the refurbishment of several newer Leyland Nationals, mainly at Nuneaton, into what Western Travel called the Leyland National 3 after Cheltenham & Gloucester pioneered the approach. This involved fitting a new DAF engine and a recovering of the seats in a new red mocquitte, producing an attractive, modernised bus within that nearly indestructible National body!
West Midlands Travel Fights Back!
1993 saw West Midlands Travel take the fight back to Western Travel, making two extensions out of the City into Midland Red South territory.
The cross city 3 from Binley-Holbrooks was extended north of the city via Ash Green to Bedworth, competing with Midland Red South’s 57 & 157 that had been increased in 1989 to compete with the 3 and it’s sister route 4 to Hen Lane. The 4 was rerouted into a loop terminus at this time, to cover for the 3 now heading directly to the city boundary and beyond.
More notable however, was the extension of alternate 12 journeys from Warwick University to Leamington via Kenilworth, competing with G & G’s X12, even down to that service’s cross Leamington extension to Gainsborough Drive in Sydenham, an area where a lot of students rent accommodation.
Coaching At Wheels
I simply must mention this independent, set up by former Midland Red employee and enthusiast Ashley Wakelin. Although it’s most notable bus was BMMO D9 5418, used for vintage private hire, the company also won several tenders in the mid nineties, using early seventies vintage ECW bodied Bristol REs, quite a rare sight by this time! I travelled on one on service 685, what had previously been Midland Red South’s 585 from Coventry-Rugby via Brinklow, not registered commercially at deregulation and passing amongst tendered operators since then.
Wheels tendered services didn’t last long and the company reverted to private hire operation, eventually rebranding itself as Midland Red Coaches (having purchased the name) before Ashley Wakelin decided to retire.
December 1993 saw the Western Travel Group purchased by the expanding Stagecoach Group. On the negative side, Stagecoach’s, in my opinion bland, white based livery swept away all the colour (if sometimes rather scruffy) of the three Warwickshire fleets of the group but the positives overtook this, as the new owners began to take a more positive outlook over it’s acquisition!
Almost immediately, ticketing between Midland Red South, G & G and Vanguard was integrated. Back in 1992, I knew a guy who used to commute from Kenilworth-Birmingham using a Midland Red South season ticket as far as Coventry, then a Centrocard for the rest of his journey. Bizarrely, he was unable to use his MRS Season Ticket on the evening G & G service that covered the route at night, despite being part of the same group! Anomalies like this were soon eliminated!
More Bristol VRs would find their way into the fleet, coming from other Stagecoach subsidiaries and often in Stagecoach’s livery, although I once rode a Nuneaton allocated example on the 57 in Cheltenham & Gloucester’s dark blue City Of Gloucester livery. Incidentally, I’d reached Nuneaton on this occasion on a Vanguard Leyland National on the 775 from Coventry via Bulkington, taking advantage of the fact that the Midland Red South Explorer tickets were now valid on both Vanguard and G & G services. Soon, both of these subsidiaries would be fully merged into the business.
But this was a curtain raiser to more investment in the fleet in 1994 and beyond! Stagecoach’s standard minibus, the Alexander bodied Mercedes 0709, would be allocated to Coventry Metro service H, whilst the group’s new standard midibus, the Alexander Sprint bodied Volvo B6 (although more of this body would appear more successfully on Dennis Darts in other parts of the group) would be allocated to the G & G side of Leamington for the X12. These would be relatively short lived on here, as the growth of Warwickshire University at this time would see the need for double deckers, eventually culminating in the delivery of a batch of Alexander bodied Volvo Olympians to Leamington for the route in 1997, the only batch of step entrance double deckers to be delivered to the Stagecoach owned Midland Red South. More Mercedes 0409 minibuses would be added to Nuneaton, Rugby, Leamington and the company’s one Oxfordshire garage, in Banbury.
1995 would see the Stagecoach standard full size single decker, the Alexander bodied Volvo B10M allocated to the fleet, the first batch being dual purpose examples allocated to Nuneaton for the 57 & 157. Further, bus seated examples were also allocated to Nuneaton, these enabling the first three of the DP examples, 201-203, to be transferred to Stratford, as well as the reallocation of many of the National 3 conversions to other garages to replace older Nationals
Despite the investment in new buses, the rural nature of the company meant that it was more economical in places to use depreciated, second hand buses, particularly double deckers that were needed to cope with school traffic. 1996 saw a fleet of ex Tyne & Wear Busways (by this time, a Stagecoach subsidiary) Alexander bodied Leyland Atlanteans, in full yellow and white Busways livery, allocated to Stratford, Leamington & Rugby. As they were mainly allocated to school time workings, I only ever got the chance to travel on two of them. One Saturday in late 1996, I was wandering about my native West Midlands with my friend Steve Hutchinson from Leicester and we spotted one on the X20. We took this from Birmingham-Hall Green, despite the fact that the service shouldn’t have carried local passengers within the City of Birmingham! Despite this, the driver didn’t seem to mind dropping us off!
The second time was much latter, towards the end of the type’s lives, around 2000. I’d travelled from Leamington-Rugby on a Leyland National on the 63 and, upon arrival in Rugby, I noticed the next 63 in the Leamington direction was an Atlantean! By now in full Stagecoach livery, I couldn’t resist a ride, despite being inundated with school kids, obviously the reason a double decker was allocated to this journey.
West Midlands Travel’s 1994 Revisions
The main Coventry network had been unusually stable since deregulation but that would change in 1994 when a major rationalisation took place, almost nine years to the day since the big 1985 revisions, which were the main reason why the network didn’t need any major reworking at deregulation itself! Interestingly, since then, the Coventry network has had major revisions at roughly ten year intervals!
The revisions had the effect of reducing the total fleet based at Coventry, allowing the transfer of the remaining East Lancs bodied Fleetlines to Walsall, where they would remain for the rest of their lives! (see blog “West Midlands 1994”)
Many early morning, evening & Sunday services would be rationalised, combining several daytime routes. Unfortunately, this had a negative effect as, although being more economical to operate, the revised routings were confusing to passengers.
Main features would see WMT expand the competition with Stagecoach, rerouting the 14 & 15 to more closely follow the F & C Metro services, whilst the 2 was extended from Radford to Lythalls Lane to parallel the H and new route 9 was formed alongside the 10 & 11 Eastern Green services, to serve some of the roads on the E.
WMT would also send more services outside of the city, with a new 112 service following the more direct route out of Coventry along Kenilworth Road and the A45 to Warwick University that had been adopted by most G & G’s X12 after WMT had extended the original 12 to Leamington, with the 12 via Earlsdon only heading for Leamington on evenings & Sundays. The 112 would be short lived as both it and the X12 reverted to the Earlsdon route after a time.
Complementing the 3’s 1993 Bedworth extension, the route was extended at the other end from Binley-Brandon, competing with Midland Red South’s 86 Rugby service. I would come to Coventry to ride the new network on a beautiful summers day a few weeks after it’s commencement. First off, I wanted to sample the 3’s new Brandon extension but decided to reach the village on the incumbent Midland Red South 86. I paid a fare on one of the route’s standard Leyland Nationals, leaving the city behind at the Binley boundary that was the former 3 terminus (and where the 4 still terminated), then passing the outlying suburban housing at Binley Woods before entering a brief stretch of countryside that lead into the sleepy village of Brandon. I must admit, the village seemed such an unlikely place for an urban bus route to turn around and the fact that I couldn’t find a stop with any West Midlands Travel publicity on it aroused my suspicions. I walked back towards the edge of the village but still nothing. So I walked over the half mile or so of country road that bought me to Binley Woods, where I found a bus stop with a West Midlands Travel sticker and 3 timetable attached to it, so I waited there. Fair enough, this outlying area of semi detached suburban development was a more suitable terminus for the 3 than the village of Brandon but why didn’t they simply call the new terminus Binley Woods? A Metrobus soon turned up and I travelled the route all the way through to Bedworth, returning to Coventry from there on the longer established 20.
After this, I travelled on a Fleetline on the 2 to it’s new Lythall Lane terminus, returning back to the city on a brand new Stagecoach Mercedes Benz 0709 on the H. I also travelled on a few more Fleetlines on the revised routes, included the extended Kingsbury Road 6, which replaced the 8 to the late eighties built Park Farm Estate on the edge of the A45. I also rode one of Stagecoach’s new Volvo B6 midibuses on the X12 to the University, the only one of these that I would get to travel on, as the growth in the University would see the need for double deckers to return.
1995 would see the 192/194 transfer from Coventry garage to the company’s Travel Your Bus subsidiary, based at the former Miller Street garage in Birmingham. I’ve heard the reason for this is that the company wanted to reduce the running times on the route to enable the two buses used to provide an hourly service, as opposed to the ninety minute headway then operating. Coventry’s Trade Union objected, saying the schedules were too tight for this, so the company transferred the routes to it’s low cost operating unit!
As was Your Bus fashion, the routes were re-numbered 192Y & 194Y, with a new 193Y variant serving Warwick University. 1990 vintage Plaxton Derwent bodied Volvo B10Ms that had started their lives on the A6Y/C6Y South Birmingham Circular service, became the regular vehicles on the route. It was soon found out that the two bus, hourly frequency was too tightly timed! Bus company’s really need to listen to their drivers occasionally! The timetable was soon altered to provide a one hour, fifteen minute headway. The merger of West Midlands Travel with National Express in 1996 enabled the B10Ms to be replaced by two Plaxton Premiere bodied Volvo B10M coaches to National Express’s Expressliner 2 specification, these having been relegated from National Express work. These survived for around a year on the service, with the cascading of Leyland Lynxes from the main Travel West Midlands fleet enabling their replacement. December 1997 would see the 192Y & 194Y (the new 193Y hadn’t lasted) regain an hourly frequency and extend to Birmingham along the Warwick Road (the 194Y almost recreating Midland Red’s former 158, which lost it’s Coventry section in 1971), forming part of a fifteen minute frequency with services 37Y (Birmingham-Solihull) & 39Y (Birmingham-Northfield via Solihull), all integrated with TWM Acocks Green garage’s 37.
I travelled throughout on this service once but it was short lived, with changes to other Your Bus services seeing the 192 & 194 return to Acocks Green garage, with the service being cutback to terminate in Acocks Green. Latter, it would return to it’s Solihull terminus and the Lynxes would eventually be replaced by Volvo B10Ls. Double Deckers, in the form of Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B7s, would return to the routes around 2008 but 2009 would see the routes replaced by the Coventry operated 19W (using Dennis Tridents) which would soon become the 82. But again, this would be short lived, as NX Coventry would deregister the route around 2010, when two tendered services would replace it. Diamond won a more direct 82, running direct from Meriden-Coventry, whilst Balsall Common would be served by Johnson’s 87, which then headed to Solihull via Temple Balsall & Knowle. Both these services survive to this day, though the 82 is now also operated by Johnsons.
WMT’s battle with Stagecoach would be short lived, the only competitive service surviving long term being the 12 to Leamington. This would survive despite Stagecoach pulling off the X12’s Coventry section, apart from on evenings & Sundays (when the X17 doesen’t run), with this eventually being renumbered University Link U1 (with the evening & Sunday Coventry journeys becoming the U2, though this would latter become the U17, when U2 was used for a daytime variation of the U1.) Still going strong today, the National Express Coventry service to Leamington is now the 11, whilst 12X is used for a fast service between Coventry and the University. Editing this in 2020, Stagecoach have restarted competition between the University & Coventry with the new U12, which has seen NX Coventry retaliate by extending the 20 from Bedworth-Nuneaton!
The remaining Metro Ford Transits would be replaced in December 1995 by Iveco minibuses made redundant by Stagecoach’s London subsidiary Selkent losing it’s Roundabout minibus tenders in Orpington to First Centrewest but the system would only have around another five years before the network was closed down. This was mainly due to staff shortages then affecting the industry, meaning pay rates had to be raised to the level where minibus operation was less viable. The former Vanguard operation was also closed down, with the competitive services in Coventry coming to an end and most of the Warwickshire services passing on tender to DeCourceys, who have become the main operator of tendered services to the north of Warwickshire (as well as several services in Coventry) whilst Henley In Arden based Johnsons run a large number of tenders to the south of the County.
Today, despite it’s cutting back around 2000, Stagecoach Warwickshire (as Midland Red South is now known) is a thriving company, investing steadily and prudently in a challenging rural area.
2002 saw what had become Travel West Midlands rebrand it’s Coventry operations as Travel Coventry, adopting a sky blue version of it’s red, dark blue & white livery. This was done mainly due to Coventry City Council expressing an interest in franchising, then, as now being suggested as a possible alternative way to run buses by the Government of the day! The franchising never happened but the local image sat well in a city that is quite separate geographically from the rest of Travel West Midlands territory. Today, the city’s operation is known as National Express Coventry and a two tone sky blue livery, applied in the same style as National Express West Midlands current crimson livery, is gradually being spread across the fleet.
So that is basically how the Coventry & Warwickshire bus network has evolved since being deregulated in October 1986.