THE SELNEC PRESERVATION SOCIETY
All content is copyright The SELNEC Preservation Society.
THE OPERATING LIFE OF VEHICLES IN PASSENGER SERVICE
When, prior to 1969, various councils operated bus services across the Greater Manchester area before the formation of SELNEC/PTE, it was the case that many of the then conventional front engined rear platform vehicles were certified and re-certified and kept in service up to 19 or 20 years of age. Hence, upon the formation of SELNEC/PTE on 1st November 1969, the age profile of the fleet was quite high.
Whereas in the early days of the SELNEC/PTE it is understandable that there should have been a number of withdrawals of elderly vehicles in order to introduce standardisation, this was somewhat accelerated by the fact that the PTE were keen to extend a one man operation and replace the conventional vehicles they had inherited with front entrance, dual-door (in some cases), rear engined vehicles, particularly those capable of one man operations.
Also the Government made available a new bus grant which funded up to 50% of the cost of moving over to a one man operation and hence this process for many years saw hundreds of new Standard vehicles being delivered each year, ousting their older contemporaries.
What was surprising, however, was that even the rear engined vehicles and the Mancunians that the SELNEC/PTE had inherited were destined to be withdrawn after 13 years of service (i.e. the first seven years, followed by a six year re-certification) and apparently this was because they had been particularly troublesome and difficult to maintain as a result of them being a relatively new concept in themselves.
It was surprising to see the Mancunians with the trailblazing design withdrawn after only 13 years' service, and when questioned about this in 1984, Greater Manchester Transport said that the early withdrawal of vehicles at 13 years of age was because they had identified certain components that would cause maintenance difficulties in the future. In reality however, it was suspected that it was the dual-door configuration that was the main cause of the Mancunians' relatively early demise.
Odd vehicles over the years were re-certified for 20 years service, particularly a batch of 1962 and 1965 Daimler Fleetlines, mainly because of their low height and some problems with the supply of new vehicle deliveries, proving that it was possible for vehicles to operate for longer if there was deemed to be a need. The most surprising aspects however, in 1985, was that Greater Manchester Transport started to withdraw their very own Standard vehicles to make way, it seemed, for newer Standard vehicles which did not differ significantly in design or maintenance aspects.
Bearing in mind that the Standards now being withdrawn in 1985 were what the PTE had always wanted (i.e. Standard design across the area), were one man operated and incorporated much more reliable Atlantean and Fleetline chassis, this policy seemed curiously indefensible as some Standards were being withdrawn after 13 years of service.
By August 1985 it was calculated that Greater Manchester Transport had withdrawn 26 of their 267 "L" registered single-door Standards and 39 of the 48 dual-door Standards, because of the unpopularity of this configuration. It also became the case that various Standards would be in service one day and taken out of service the next, simply to make way for newer Standards being delivered to replace them. Whereas the earlier replacement policy, after the formation of the PTE on 1st November 1969 could be understood, this like for like replacement did seem curious.
The stated (but rarely operated) policy of bus replacement by GMT in March 1986 was as follows:
"Following upon the cessation of "Bus Grant" on new vehicles the Executive has determined that the previous policy to replace vehicles after 13 years should be changed to 15 years.
This policy resulted from a detailed analysis of the capital cost and maintenance expenditure.
Two strategies were then considered to determine the best way to move from a 13 to a 15 year life.
To defer purchases of new buses for a period of two years or more.
To estimate the fleet size in 15 years time and to continue to purchase in a smooth intake pattern.
The anticipated fleet size of double-deck vehicles in 15 years was calculated to be approximately 1600 (compared with current double-deck fleet of 2130).
The reduction results from allowance being made for planned service revisions (three Year Plan), together with a 1% per annum reduction into the future (subject to review).
To defer purchases and to replace vehicles only when they reach 15 years of age
The Executive decided not to accept his option in view of the following:
over a 15 year period the whole of the fleet would be replaced with a gap of vehicles purchases in the early years and greater numbers being purchased later. Therefore the benefit would be the deferment not avoidance of capital expenditure
the deferment of capital expenditure, although apparently beneficial, would adversely affect maintenance expenditure due to the increase in average fleet age. The increase in maintenance expenditure largely outweighs the cost of servicing and capital
the gap in purchases and consequential "saw tooth" effect on purchases would, in addition, cause difficulties in maintenance and manpower planning
the front line vehicles which operate the highest mileage would be older and outside warranty
there would be a greater incidence of ad-hoc failures on the older vehicles, reducing service reliability with consequential increases in work in progress levels and thereby escalation of fleet size.
To continue to purchase in a smooth pattern
The anticipated fleet size of 1600 double-deck buses is consistent with our current purchasing plan which averages at 105 double-decks per annum (subject to review). Simple arithmetic shows that this rate of purchase will result in a double-deck fleet of 1575 in 15 years.
The attendant advantages when compared with Option 1 are:
cost of servicing capital is largely outweighed by reduced maintenance costs
the smooth intake programme facilitates maintenance and manpower planning
the front line service with high mileages will be operated by the newer vehicles taking greatest advantage from warranty
service reliability is consequentially improved
passengers benefit resulting from the operation of front line services with modern vehicles viz...air suspension, improved entrance/steps, greater reliability
The manufacturing industry is already hard-pressed and, if all operators were to adopt a moratorium on bus purchases, may fail to survive in view of lack of orders.
This prospect would have dire consequences for bus operators in the future and the foreign competitors would benefit from lack of bus-building capacity in this country when operators seek to place orders for larger numbers of replacement vehicles in the future.
Different (foreign) vehicles would create major difficulties in terms of:
increased stock investment
continuity of spares supply for existing fleet
lack of familiarity of maintenance staff with consequential reduced service reliability
There are significant financial and operational advantages to the Executive's selected Option 2 to continue to purchase new buses."
In reality, if one considered that the individuals responsible for purchasing at Greater Manchester Transport and Maintenance (i.e. in charge of ordering new vehicles and withdrawing them) were also Directors of the company supplying the new bus bodies (i.e. Northern Counties Ltd), considerations of a conflict of interest arose and whether or not the best use was being made of public resources by keeping vehicles in service until they really did, mechanically, have to be withdrawn.
Bearing in mind that in London it has clearly been proven with the Routemaster that by good maintenance techniques sound vehicles can be kept in service for many years, it seemed extraordinary that perfectly satisfactory Standards would be in service one day and withdrawn the next simply to make space for new Standard deliveries. Hence, even the Standards were allocated a 13 year life (with a first seven year certificate followed by a six year re-certificate) and were simply being withdrawn when their MOT certificates expired without any apparent consideration of their condition.
To make matters worse, because of the forthcoming deregulation that was due in October 1986, withdrawn Mancunian and Standards, which were in perfectly good condition and could have been sold to second-hand operators, were taken out of service, and had their engines and gearboxes smashed up so they would not become available to act as competition when deregulation arrived, although once this practice had been made public it ceased.
The very fact that at deregulation in 1986 approximately 600 Standard vehicles were sold and some of them are still in service today, 15 years later, proves the fallacy of the policy of suggesting that Standard vehicles were not viable of being operated after 13 (or 15) years of age. Some of them are still in service now at 29 years of age, undertaking passenger carrying duties for different operators, large and small, up and down the country.
By 1985/86 Greater Manchester Transport were receiving some 110 new buses each year and upon deregulation on 26th October 1986, the publicly owned private company, GM Buses Ltd, was set up. Bearing in mind that this organisation no longer had the opportunity to receive public funded vehicles every year, and had to maintain a profit, it is interesting that in the next eight years, between deregulation on 26th October 1986 and the split into the company's North and South and proper privatisation on 1st April 1994, only 53 new double-deckers were received. Also during that time and subsequently, since the North and South companies have been operated as employee owned business and more recently as part of the large fleets of First Group and Stagecoach it has been noted, quite sensibly and properly, that vehicles appear to be operated for much longer lives than the arbitrary 13 years under the GMT regime. Also, generally when vehicles are withdrawn they are selected on the basis of their mechanical condition and viable future life or due to changes in operational requirements and technological advantages, such as the widespread introduction of step-free, low floor buses. Hence, some vehicles last a considerable length of time, such as 8151 (VBA 151S) that remained in service for 20 years and other newer vehicles are withdrawn relatively early because of major mechanical defects or because of the high costs maintaining or repairing them, or because of investment in low floor buses.
Consequently, across the fleets there are a range of vehicles of different ages, as withdrawal is now based on mechanical condition and operational costs, as it always should have been, and not simply being withdrawn numerically to make way for the new vehicles, as had been the policy in the days of Greater Manchester Transport.