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07 May 2021
As part of our celebrations for 60 years of Fife's own buses, we've pulled together some historical fleetlists designed to give a feel for the vehicles operated, the size of the fleet, the age of the vehicles and the respective size of the depots operating through the years.
These fleetlists demonstrate the initial move away from the pre-war and utilitarian buses of the second world war towards an era where drivers collected fares (always referred to in those far off days as One Man Operation, such was the rarity of female bus drivers). They show how legislation changes allowed vehicle development to allow 53 seater single deckers to replace double deckers of equal capacity. And so it continues to the era of minibuses and finally tri-axle coaches.
What they don’t show so readily are the stresses and strains on the business as travel habits changed. The 1970’s and early 1980’s were dark times for Fife’s buses. Loss of patronage, coupled with the decline in Fife’s mining industry, saw changes to the route network and closure of four depots in just over three years (Kelty in December 1978 with Anstruther, Cupar and Lochgelly all following by early 1982). Many longstanding services were withdrawn completely with others reduced in frequency or coverage following the national SCOTMap analysis of travel habits.
Fleet strength had reduced by over 45% between 1961 and 1984, the low point for the fleet. The advent of deregulation and minibus networks in urban areas in the mid to late 1980’s proved a turning point service levels improving and fleet strength likewise increasing.
"Fife has also been witness to a number of firsts or unusual vehicles within the fleet."
With a geographic area such as Fife the company’s performance in the school bus tender market is always going to dictate the fleet strength and it can be seen on many occasions where additional contract wins result in the sudden purchase of secondhand vehicles, frequently of a type that is not common on the Kingdom’s roads.
Having spent thirty years in Government ownership (primarily through the Scottish Bus Group) and then thirty years in the ownership of Stagecoach (the Perth based transport group), it is interesting to contrast the two eras. There is no doubt that the ‘town service’ networks have declined in tandem with the decline of our town centres that they serve whilst the Stagecoach Express network of services linking Fife to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Livingston has largely been very successful at attracting more passenger demand. Frequencies in North East Fife in particular are much higher than ever before both provided on a commercial basis and with support from Fife Council. Of course Glenrothes and Dalgety Bay as new towns didn’t exist back in 1961 so the network has developed to serve them. All these changes influence the number of buses required and the types of vehicles being used.
Fife has also been witness to a number of firsts or unusual vehicles within the fleet. The first company to purchase the Volvo Ailsa these powerful double deckers were fully automatic and turbo charged so a considerable difference to the old manual gearbox double deckers they replaced. Twice in the 1980’s the company opted to buy super high capacity single decker buses with over 60 seats whilst the late 1990s saw a brief dalliance with articulated coaches that offered over 70 seats on a single decker coach. Many of our coaches now have over sixty seats without the need for articulation. The Dunfermline to Edinburgh service has seen unique batches of triaxle single decker Scanias in the 2000s and then the first low floor Plaxton LE coaches in 2018.
"Throughout the last sixty years the company has faced different challenges, and it has always recovered."
Secondhand purchases have been a feature of the fleet throughout the last sixty years. From wartime Guy Arab double deckers that served London before moving to Fife, through purchase of nearly new Albions from the west of Scotland for use on frontline services in the 1960s, aging Leylands for school contracts in the 1980s and on to more former London double deckers in the late 1990s and 2000s. Whilst Fife has always had large numbers of secondhand double deckers joining the fleet we have generally been a provider of good quality single deckers and coaches that leave the Kingdom for a second life in elsewhere in Scotland or further afield. Many of our secondhand vehicles have stayed with us for a brief period so much so even taking a look at the fleet once ever five years misses many of them. We’ve missed completely the aged Bristol LD double deckers that came from Central SMT in 1969 and we all gone by 1972. Likewise in a more modern era the many minibuses that arrived from Southdown in late 1991 were all gone by the time we look at the fleet in 1996.
What does delving into the archive prove? It shows that throughout the last sixty years the company has faced different challenges, and it has always recovered from the worst of them. What it doesn’t really show, but is obvious to anyone that knows our business is that it’s the story of people rather than buses. It’s an impossible challenge to even estimate how many member of staff the company has employed in sixty years but without each and every one of them the story would be incomplete and the service to the people of Fife would be diminished. We can’t claim to have anyone working for us that was here sixty years ago but we have so many team members who have 25, 30, 35, 40 or more years serving our communities.
The buses have changed considerably, as has the paint on them, but at the heart of it all we remain a Fife based business, managed locally by local people that draws our team from our communities and continues to serve our communities. Given all the changes we are fundamentally the same sized business now as we were in 1991 when Stagecoach bought the company (and larger than we were in the 1980s under Government ownership) which is no mean feat when compared to many of our contemporaries.
[Photo credit: Historic timetables and vintage vehicle photos courtesy of Douglas]