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Nottingham’s ‘nonsense Bus War’ brought chaos to the late 80s streets

todayJune 12, 2022 1

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Nottingham’s public transport system has a pretty good reputation these days – you can do a lot worse in a big city, for sure. You don’t have to look too far back to see chaos on the streets, though.

New legislation by the government in the late 80s threw open the doors for new bus companies to challenge the established big dogs. A bit of healthy competition was supposed to improve services and offer options for cheaper travel – win-win, right?

It wasn’t long until you started seeing the term “Bus War” crop up the papers. “Carve up on the buses”, “Police called in over Bus War”, “City faces new Bus War crisis” – what on earth was going on?

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A Post front page from March 1987 was a sign of things to come. It spoke of bus drivers “blocking the road to rivals”, smaller companies being “consistently bullied by larger concerns”, and operating on “airy-fairy timetables” to pip other buses to the stops.

One complaint even went that drivers were “refusing to pick up pensioners who didn’t have the full fare” or using cheaper bus passes. It was war, alright – and nothing seemed to be off the table.



Waiting for the bus on a cold day in 1987.
Waiting for the bus on a cold day in 1987.

The police were asked to step in and investigate the battle between rivals on the Nottingham and Lowdham route. Pathfinder Coaches claimed an elderly customer suffered an arm injury after its bus had to swerve twice to avoid a Trent Buses service’s roadblock tactics.

“It is not a bus war,” claimed then-City Transport traffic manager, Cliff Fletcher, in April. “It is just part of a settling-down process after deregulation.”

Ever remember getting on the bus for free? That’s what happened between Nottingham and Hucknall for a few days in November, as fares plunged for Trent Buses and Camm’s in the fight for bums on seats.

Chop-and-change fares on all sorts of routes was one weapon of the bus war, sometimes changing day-to-day. All the while, companies had to smile in public and say they “welcomed the competition”, while seething in private.

The Post tried to talk to drivers to figure out the “nonsense of the bus war”. Companies banned their drivers from talking to the press, circulating their descriptions on the radio.

Things went quiet for the “bus war” over the next few years as everyone adjusted to the new reality – but it would roar back to life by 1993. Omnibus came out swinging against Nottingham City Transport.

They flooded routes with vehicles, with one Bilborough resident claiming to have see 96 buses, on one street, in one hour – not far off two every minute. Both companies were blasted when a three-year-old was injured in a collision between two buses on Mansfield Road.

It was a bonkers time for the city, and thankfully things have settled down today. If you’re ever stood there in the pouring rain waiting for a late bus, just remember things could be worse – and a whole lot stranger.

Do you remember the heights of “bus wars” in Nottingham? Comment below, and join us on Facebook for more.

See more history and nostalgia here!

Written by: thehitnetwork

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