When I first moved from Manchester to Newton-Le-Willows I had been assured that the head office for our newly restructured bus company, GM Buses North, would be in Atherton, a mere ten to fifteen minutes from Newton.
The government had begun deregulation in passenger transport in 1986 but the final act in the saga came in the early 1990s when they forced GM Buses to split into two separate companies because as a whole, GM had an unfair monopoly over bus services in Manchester. The irony is that today, companies like Stagecoach and Arriva are ten times bigger than GM buses ever was.
Anyway, just after I moved to Newton-Le-Willows, GM Buses North decided their new head office would not be as previously agreed in Atherton, but in Oldham. I wasn’t amused and after some time commuting from Newton to Oldham I jumped ship for a job in Warrington. I had decided to go back to being a bus driver for a short while just so I could get settled in my new location without a lot of commuting.
My new bus company was called Warrington Goldlines and they were running buses every few minutes in Warrington in direct competition to Warrington Borough Transport. They were following a trend set by Stagecoach of aggressive competition, flooding an area with buses to overwhelm and eventually take over their competitors. These techniques didn’t quite work in Warrington. Perhaps the locals were loyal to the Warrington Transport that had served them for years, perhaps they saw through the hype, perhaps they thought wait a minute; these new buses don’t run at night or Sundays so why should we support them?
Indeed, Warrington Goldlines ran bus services from six am to six pm Monday to Saturday which is what appealed to me when I went for the job. Anyway, I learned the routes then settled down in my new role. Goldlines had a special offer ‘dayrider’ ticket which cost 99p and lasted all day so a lot of daytime travellers and workers came aboard our buses. Unfortunately we also gained a lot of passengers who felt that even 99p was too much to pay. Frequently people boarded my bus waving any old bus ticket and expecting a free ride. Well, not on my watch as they say. I soon cracked down on a whole bunch of wasters, cheaters and fare dodgers and after a month I had banned a whole bunch of people from my bus. Not that they were bothered much as there was another one in ten minutes so if they couldn’t get on my bus they would wait for the next.
One day a regular scruffy couple boarded my bus saying “we’ve got dayriders!” and when I asked to see the actual ticket they had to make a thorough search of their pockets and bags which took some time. The ticket they eventually found was at least a week out of date so I declined to take them aboard. Now, in Warrington we had a bunch of passenger helpers known as the ‘care bears’ and my rejected passengers complained to the care bears about me but no, they weren’t coming aboard without a ticket. However, our one inspector decided that at this stage of our battle with Warrington Transport, public relations were more important than the small matter of not having a ticket or paying any bus fare so he decided this couple could travel for free. I wasn’t amused and when they left the bus at their stop and turned to say, “Thanks driver!” I was tempted to say something other than “have a nice day!”
Youths larking about and swearing was another problem especially on the number 123 service which went to Houghton Green and I banned about six youths from travelling on my bus. However, as it was a ten minute service when I turned back to Warrington I would see the lads on the bus behind me giving me the ‘V’ sign from the back seat. Still, karma, as I have mentioned in a previous blog, plays a great role in the life of a bus driver. All things are connected and if you are patient and at one with the universe, like me, synchronicity will turn the hand of fate into your favour.
On day the powers that be at both Warrington Borough Transport and Warrington Goldlines decided to sit down and work out their issues. Clearly WBT had not been driven into the ground as expected and the time had come for a discussion. The result was that Warrington was divided up by the two companies, WBT had their patch and Goldlines had theirs. Gone were the buses every ten minutes. Gone was the six pm finish and soon regular Sundays off would be just a memory. Time, I thought, for a new job!
On my very last day I was on the 123 service. The foul-mouthed youths were once again declined the opportunity to wreak verbal havoc on my bus and I left on my journey. Now, this was after six pm and there were no buses every ten minutes and of course no WBT buses as this route was now part of our exclusive patch of Warrington. After six pm buses dropped to every hour and when I returned to the bus station those same lads were still waiting. One of them knocked on my door. How could they get home now? What were they to do? Well, it was my last day so I took pity on them and picked them up. As we approached their stop I waited for the abuse that was sure to come. The muttered curses. The V sign as I drove off. Instead, when the doors opened the leader of the group came forward.
“Sorry for swearing at you in the past,” he said.
“Yes,” mumbled the others as they left.
No swearing, no abuse, just a simple apology. That was my last day as a bus driver. My last day ever in fact as I have no intention of doing that job again but those lads really made my day, in fact I even felt kind of mean for excluding them from my bus in the past. Then again, if that was what made them examine their behaviour then perhaps it was a good thing.
Either way, thanks to them I still have a good feeling about my last day on the buses.