In the good old days, or so I’m told, bus conductors used to call out “Terminus!” when their bus reached its destination whereupon any remaining passengers would alight.
These days, it would seem, Mr Progress is shouting “Terminus!” at terminii up and down the country, signifying the closure of once-busy transport hubs in our town centres. So, just for old times’ sake, here is a photograph of a bus station in its heyday. This is Salisbury Bus Station, taken by my father in about 1954 from his office window. Just like me when I worked for the Express & Echo newspaper in Exeter, my Dad enjoyed a fine view while supposedly at work! In his case he was learning the ropes as an architectural technician at Rawlence & Squarey.
The notes accompanying this photo state that the two buses in the foreground were at the time being used as a canteen and staff restroom. The double deck bus is Wilts & Dorset no 20 (ex-Southdown 920), a Leyland TD1 with a Willowbrook body. It originally carried a Short Bros body.
Fast forward 60 years and Salisbury Bus Station closed in January 2014. I was there, regular readers will recall. With a tear in my eye, I led a cavalcade of historic Wilts & Dorset buses on the last ever scheduled departure. In this rather shaky clip (fast forward to 14:15) I’m driving the leading Lodekka.
On the same day Amesbury Bus Station closed. Salisbury Reds, the present-day operator of bus services in the area, could no longer justify the cost of maintaining the crumbling and outdated structures. Services now arrive and depart from various stops around the city centre. How times have changed.
Winchester Bus Station is another example, being closed to make way for a new town centre development. This has forced the abandonment of the popular New Year Running Day. The FoKAB-run event used the bus station as its base but, now based at The Broadway, has been re-scheduled for May 1st.
Closer to where I live, Bretonside Bus Station in Plymouth closed on January 10th 2016. The last departure was the previous day, the 17.40 service 94 to Noss Mayo. The site of this station is also due to be re-developed.
More controversially, Exeter Bus & Coach Station is also to close soon. Outline planning permission was granted a few weeks ago to transform the large site into a £100m retail and leisure complex. There has been a lot of opposition to the plans, particularly from those who use or support public transport. As part of the plans, many bus services will use a smaller, sloping terminus and long distance National Express services will be relegated to using a nearby side street. The maintenance depot, conveniently sited just across the street from the current bus station is to relocate to a new site 5 miles away. The mind boggles.
Ironically, my Dad was involved with the creation of the current station. By the time it was built in the early sixties he had moved from Salisbury and was working for architects Lucas, Roberts & Brown who were drawing up plans for the Bus Station/Sidwell Street development.
The last time I was there was in May 2015 when I was at the wheel of a 1929 Maudslay ML3, Exeter Corporation No 5.
Whatever wisdom (or lack of it) lies behind the Exeter plans, we must come to terms with the fact that most bus stations are not as intensively used as in former years. Transport systems have to adapt to best suit the needs and habits of its users and high street locations for setting down/picking up points seem to be the way forward. Certainly this trend means that burdensome infrastructure costs can be cut but whether those savings will be reflected in improved services remains to be seen.
Thankfully some town centre bus stations remain, my local one being Paignton. This is still a well used transport hub, with services operated by at least four different companies radiating out to places such as Exeter, Plymouth, Newton Abbot, Torquay and Brixham as well as local residential areas. This was the scene at Paignton Bus Station yesterday with Stagecoach deckers to the fore.