The legacy of taxibuses

Thirty years ago this month, in August 1986, a completely new form of public transport started operating in the area, on both sides of the border around Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Saturday, 13th August 2016, 13:05 pm
Taxibuses at Reston and at Branxton in the late 1980s.

The deregulation of bus services happened earlier here than in the rest of England.

This is because the Scottish school term starts in mid-August, and it was expedient for the changes to happen before the start of the school term.

One of the provisions of the 1985 Transport Act was to allow licenced hackney carriages (taxis) to operate bus services.

A taxi, by definition, cannot have more than eight passenger seats, and so it was obvious that such a use could have only a very limited application.

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By national standards, of course, Berwick is a small town, and the surrounding countryside is thinly populated.

Demand for public transport in this area, especially in the evening, is so small that full-size buses are just not economic.

However, 30 years ago there was just enough demand on certain strategic routes to justify the use of a taxibus.

The arrangement at deregulation was that bus operators would run whatever they could at a profit, and that the local authorities would commission whatever services they deemed necessary to fill the remaining gaps in service provision.

In this area, due to its nature, there were even gaps which could be filled by very small vehicles during the day.

All was not sweetness and light, however.

The Government encouraged the use of taxibuses by making them legal, but they omitted to tell HM Customs to give them a level playing field.

This meant that the taxibus operators suffered financial disadvantages, which eventually led to the failure of the taxibus operations in this area.

However, the taxibus services that were started 30 years ago, and finished some 20 years ago, did leave their mark.

It is noticeable that the only bus routes within a very wide area that have regular hourly services even now through the evening are between Berwick and Spittal, and also between Berwick, Eyemouth and St Abbs, and that is the legacy of the taxibuses.

Berwick was at the farthest flung corners of the networks of the English and Scottish bus companies, and it is noticeable that both of which have largely withdrawn their interest in this area.

The two remaining routes from Berwick to Newcastle, however, have resolved into a very satisfactory operational pattern.

But one hears that they are apparently not economic to run north of Alnwick so we can expect some modification after the summer holidays.

Within the town, and on the Scottish side, almost all services are now in the hands of the main local operator, which is now in the ownership of the excellent West Coast Motors company of Campbeltown.

We may, therefore, dare to hope that we shall see, in due course, a more comprehensible route pattern and timetable of town services, which, it follows, should then be even better used than the present ones.

Moving on to consider the rails, the Rail Action Group East of Scotland (RAGES) is continuing with its campaign to elicit firm commitments from both the Scottish Government and Scotrail to build and provide services to Reston station, which, unfortunately, seems to recede ever further into the future.

The Chairman of the Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) Allan McLean has reminded us that, having achieved great success with the re-opening of the Borders Railway, the campaign is putting its weight behind Reston too.

Let us hope for success before too long.