North Western Road Car Company (1986)
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|Slogan||A New Kind of Service, From a Different Kind of Bus Company|
|Parent||1986-88: National Bus Company
1988-92: Drawlane Group
1992-98: British Bus
|Service type||Bus operator|
In the lead up to the privatisation of the National Bus Company, in 1986 the government stipulated that the larger business units be split to boost competition. Thus Ribble Motor Services whose operations stretched across North West England from Cumbria to the East Lancashire/West Yorkshire borders and Greater Manchester to West Lancashire/North Merseyside was one such company, and in the summer of 1986 its Merseyside - Aintree and Bootle, West Lancashire - Skelmersdale and Greater Manchester - Wigan depots were transferred to a new company, North Western Road Car Company.
The North Western Road Car Company name had previously been used by a National Bus Company subsidiary based in Stockport with operations in Cheshire, Derbyshire, South-East Lancashire and what became Greater Manchester until it was split up with parts being absorbed by Crosville Motor Services, Ribble Motor Services, Trent Motor Traction and the SELNEC PTE in 1974.
The new North Western was based in Bootle, later moving to Aintree with a new livery of red and blue separated by a grey diamond stripe replacing NBC's poppy red.
On 16 March 1988, North Western was to sold to the Drawlane Group, which in 1992 was restructured as British Bus. Prior to this North Western had been expanding - the most notable being the introduction of high frequency minibus services to areas of Liverpool/Merseyside like Kensington, Wavertree, Old Swan, West Derby, Broadgreen/Knotty Ash/Dovecot and Huyton which traditionally were not part of Ribble's operating territory and had seen a decline in service provision from former PTE/NBC operators Merseybus and Crosville in particular after Crosville closed its Liverpool depot after an industrial dispute in February 1987. Many expected Merseybus to retaliate against North Western, but it was under siege from new companies like Fareway and Liverline (see later) who began extensive operations in North/South Liverpool. This allowed North Western's competitive moves to pass unchallenged and further expansion in Liverpool seemed likely. However the next opportunity for expansion came with the troubled Crosville Motor Services.
Crosville Motor Services like Ribble had seen its English and Welsh operations - now Crosville Cymru, split and after abandoning Liverpool (see above) what remained of Crosville in Cheshire and in particular the Wirral was unprofitable due to increased competition not only from Merseybus but also from Staffordshire based Potteries Motor Traction (PMT) which was in a phase of expansion and began a new operation on the Wirral branded as Red Rider as well as new entrants like Busman Buses, CMT Buses, Gold Star and Wirral Bus. Crosville was sold by NBC in 1988 to American banking consortium ATL but ATL's acquisition of Crosville was thought to be a short term move for them to sell the company on for a profit and indeed ATL did sell Crosville on to Drawlane in the autumn of 1989.
Initially Drawlane claimed it wanted to develop Crosville and by the end of 1989. a brighter 1980s style green/cream livery and Crosville logos was introduced. However these operations bordered not only North Western's but those of Midland Red North which was also owned by Drawlane and in 1989, Drawlane absorbed the Crosville operations at Runcorn, Warrington and Winsford into North Western with those at Crewe and Macclesfield becoming part of Midland Red North. Additionally the Crosville depots at Rock Ferry, Chester and Ellesmere Port were sold by Drawlane to PMT who maintained Crosville fleetnames albeit with PMT's red/yellow livery.
Bee Line, Amberline and Liverline
In September 1989, Drawlane purchased Greater Manchester-based Bee Line Buzz Company from Stagecoach. Bee Line used high frequency minibuses and was a major competitor for former PTE operator GM Buses. After the Drawlane takeover Bee Line became a subsidiary of North Western who retained Bee Line branding but began to refocus the service network more towards the south of Greater Manchester with conventional sized vehicles replacing most of the minibuses. In the spring of 1993, British Bus, acquired Crosville Cymru from National Express, who in 1989 had purchased Amberline, a Liverpool-based operator.
This proved a good move for North Western as Amberline's South Liverpool operations were consolidated further when British Bus acquired of one of Liverpool's three medium-sized independents Liverline Travel Services in the spring/summer of 1993. Liverline were one of the newcomers to the bus industry and like with Bee Line in Manchester North Western retained the Liverline branding for this mostly South Liverpool operation.
Cowie Group and consolidation
In August 1996, North Western's parent British Bus, was acquired by the Cowie Group. Along with much of the bus industry it was to enter a period of consolidation which saw it acquire further bus operators in the North West of England which included:
- Little White Bus - acquired in 1994/95 and an operator of minibus services in the West Lancashire towns of Ormskirk and Skelmersdale
- Lofty's - acquired in 1994/95 although they were based some distance away from North Western's core operations in Mickle Trafford, near Chester
- South Lancashire Transport - acquired in 1997 was one of the major independent operators in the Merseyside town of St Helens
- Star Line Travel- acquired in 1994/95 was a Knutsford based operator who had built up a substantial network of services in Altrincham and Sale - exactly within the operating area of North Western's Bee Line subsidiary
- Wigan Bus Company - acquired in the summer of 1995 and one of the major independent operators in the town
In 1995, North Western also entered into a series of gentleman's agreements with other bus companies in the North West of England. The first of these was to share Merseyside's bus market with its largest operator, MTL, from which wasteful competition would be eliminated by co-ordinating the services. The second was a direct consequence of its acquisition of the Wigan Bus Company. GM Buses North had some peripheral services linking Wigan and Leigh to St Helens and Warrington and decided to pass these routes to North Western's Wigan Bus in return for North Western giving up its town-based services in Wigan. These and other agreements were subject to a 1995/96 Monopolies & Mergers Commission study which found MTL, GM Buses North/South, North Western and other Merseyside bus operators guilty of collusion, and in breach of fair trade in all the parties involved were fined accordingly.
Warrington bus war
In January 1995, North Western considerably expanded their Warrington operations. A large fleet of Plaxton Pointer bodied Dennis Darts were drafted into North Western's Warrington depot and Warrington Goldlines - later renamed Warrington Gold Line along with MTL's Lancashire Travel duplicated the service network of local authority owned Warrington Borough Transport (WBT) with high frequency copy-cat services. This tactic had previously been employed by Stagecoach when its Stagecoach Ribble and Stagecoach Busways subsidiaries flooded Lancaster and Darlington with similar high frequency operations that in turn put Lancaster City Transport and Darlington Corporation Transport out of business.
It was thought the Cowie Group/North Western and MTL to a lesser extent were using these tactics to acquire and/or put out of business WBT. However the people of Warrington remained fairly loyal to WBT who campaigned for them to support the 'locally owned' company. WBT also began competing services in Cheshire and Merseyside to irritate North Western and to a lesser degree MTL who were the first to retreat from Warrington in the summer of 1996. A few months later a peaceful agreement was reached with WBT which saw North Western considerably scale down Warrington Gold Line.
Mid-90s re-branding and Arriva
In 1994, North Western replaced their post deregulation red, blue and silver stripe livery with a new red and blue livery with the associated Bee Line and Liverline having a similar yellow and red and light and dark blue schemes. White was later added to Liverline's livery and a minibus livery of mainly white with blue relief was added. With acquisitions and competitive changes within the company North Western began to trade under different brandings and company names including:
- Bee Line - in Greater Manchester
- City Express - used from 1995 on a new fleet of Plaxton Verde bodied Dennis Lances that North Western introduced on inter-urban services including H5 Warrington - Liverpool, X5 Runcorn - Liverpool and X30 Chester - Runcorn - Warrington
- City Plus - used from 1995 on a new fleet of East Lancs EL2000 bodied Dennis Darts based at Bootle for cross city services 82 Speke - Liverpool City Centre - Netherton and 86 Garston - Liverpool City Centre - Thornton
- Dee Line - a re-branding of the acquired Lofty's company (see above)
- Little White Buses - a branding used from 1994/95 on minibus services in the West Lancashire area
- Leigh Line - a short-lived branding used from 1996 on services in the Leigh area following North Western's acquisition of local operator Heatons Travel, Leigh to Warrington services were moved to this section
- Liverline - in Liverpool
- No Fuss Bus- a short lived operation which began in the spring/summer of 1997. It used white liveried Leyland Nationals with low fares on popular Liverpool service 86 Gasrton - City Centre akin to Stagecoach Manchester's Magic Bus concept
- North Western - used as a fleet name for all un-branded vehicles/operations
- Premier - a branding used from 1995 on services linking Altrincham to Warrington
- Runcorn Bus Ways - in the summer of 1994 some of the North Western vehicles based at Runcorn depot were branded Runcorn Busway, in 1995 the entire Runcorn operation was renamed Runcorn Bus Ways although no major changes or expansion of the service network occurred
- Skelmersdale - a branding used from 1997 onwards on a new fleet of Northern Counties Paladin bodied Scania L113s based at Skelmersdale depot
- Warrington Gold Line - used from 1995 on a network of competitive services in Warrington (see above)
- Star Line - used for the former Star Line Travel services generally in and around Altrincham
- Vale Line - village services around the Northwich area, in similar livery to Star Line services
- Wigan Bus - used from 1996 on former Wigan Bus Company and North Western inter-urban services in/around Wigan, this operation mostly comprised a new fleet of Wright Axcess-Ultralow bodied Scania L113s
North Western increasingly became a secondary fleet name to these brandings and in the summer of 1995, a new yellow, red and blue livery was introduced fleet-wide except for City Express which used white instead of yellow. South Lancashire Transport was one notable exception to this re-branding as North Western acquired this company in the autumn of 1997.
In November 1997, the Cowie Group was renamed Arriva, with North Western rebranded in 1998. North Western Road Car Company became Arriva North West, the Bee Line operation becoming Arriva Manchester and Liverline became Arriva Merseyside.
- Companies House extract company no 523376 Arriva North West Limited formerly North Western Road Car Company Limited formerly Mexborough & Swinton Traction Company Limited
- SELNEC's price Commercial Motor 17 March 1972 page 30
- NW Mersey move Commercial Motor 9 March 1989 page 22
- Hansard House of Commons 18 April 1988
- North Western Road Car flies National Bus Company nest Commercial Motor 24 March 1988 page 17
- Drawlane splits CMS Commercial Motor 2 November 1989 page 17
- PMT snaps up last of Crosville Commercial Motor 8 February 1990 page 29
- Companies House extract company no 2405437 Arriva Manchester Limited formerly Bee Line Buzz Company Limited
- Bee Line Buzzspreads wings Commercial Motor 5 October 1989 page 18
- Competition Commission report 1996 paragraphs 3.5 to 3.7
- Cowie Group plc and British Bus Group Limited: A report on the merger situation Competition Commission 31 October 1996
- Companies House extract company no 1990871 Arriva Merseyside Limited formerly Merseyside Transport Limited