Coventry Corporation Transport Society

The History of the WMPTE Era in Coventry

Local Government re-organisation in 1974 saw Coventry County Borough absorbed into the West Midlands Metropolitan County.  The City Corporation bus fleet was transferred to the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive on 1 April 1974. 

1974 - 1979 Consolidation

In preparation for the takeover, vehicles being repainted from the end of 1973 received the WMPTE livery of Oxford Blue lower panels and Cream.  Coventry was awaiting delivery of 20 East Lancashire bodied Daimler Fleetlines, which were painted in WMPTE colours and received Birmingham registration numbers on arrival in the Summer of 1974.  These buses were due to replace some of the 1958 Daimler CVG6s.  In the event they did, but many of the older, inherited Coventry buses due for withdrawal still had life in them and were drafted in to other garages in the WMPTE empire.  In a couple of cases, this applied to vehicles which had already been withdrawn. 

On formation in 1969, WMPTE had inherited a diverse group of fleets in which the condition and intrinsic quality of the vehicles varied greatly.  In simple terms, the older vehicles absorbed from Birmingham (and later Coventry) were still in excellent order and as such, long service lives would be extracted from these buses.  Throughout most of the 1970s, new WMPTE deliveries were concentrated in its North Division to replace vehicles inherited from Midland Red and the municipalities of Walsall, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton.  Surplus ex-Coventry buses could be found assisting, or even permanently transferred to, garages in Birmingham, Sutton Coldfield, Dudley and Wolverhampton until the late 1970s.  The largest scale transfer involved Coventry Daimler CVG6s posted to Acocks Green Garage, Birmingham.

Back in Coventry, little changed in the early years.  The process of repainting the Coventry fleet into WMPTE colours was slow and the need to use up old paint stocks even resulted in some Daimler CVG6s being treated to new coat of Marshall Red and Shetland Ivory.  In 1977, the Birmingham garages finally converted to one man operation which led to the return to Coventry of some of the Acocks Green loan vehicles.  Their return was little more than a swansong as the WMPTE would now make a concerted effort to complete the replacement of halfcabs with front entrance/rear engine buses everywhere in the region.  Coventry was the last outpost and 1978 saw a large intake of Daimler Fleetlines with an attendant collapse in stocks of the Daimler CVG6 at the city's garages.  A few from the 1963 batch soldiered on until August 1979, Service 9 being the last route on which these buses were used.

1979 - 1985 Integration and Standardisation

While Coventry's buses had been a useful resource to aid the fire-fighting misson elsewhere in the WMPTE empire, many of the traditions and policies of the old Coventry Transport fleet had been retained.  Efforts were now being made to bring the fleet and the route numbers in line with WMPTE practice.  The WMPTE livery, fleet and route numbers and ultimately its new standard vehicles all unashamedly had their origins in the old Birmingham Corporation Transport system, which was largely unchanged on transition to WMPTE.  The other operating areas outside Birmingham were given new route numbers and the inherited buses kept their old fleet numbers but with an appropriate suffix.  In this way, for example, ex-Walsall buses had a fleet number followed by the letter L.  A bus would retain this number plus suffix until withdrawal.  Coventry's buses had a Y suffix to the fleet number but given that the fleet had only been absorbed in 1974, a substantial element of the ex-municipal fleet not only survived, but also had several years' service left.  With this in mind, in late 1979, all surviving ex-Coventry buses had 1000 added to their old number and the y suffix was dropped.  Coventry was allowed to retain a separate route numbering system but non-standard versions of routes (e.g. 8a/9a) were not tolerated, leading to the creation of new numbers for certain routes.

With the rear entrance Daimler CVG6s gone by the summer of 1979, attention would turn in the coming years to replacing the rear engined ex-Coventry buses, a process which had begun at the end of 1978.  Through 1979, the majority of the 1-22y batch of Fleetlines with East Lancs and Neepsend bodies were withdrawn.  The only six vehicles to survive the cull were those which had been repainted into WMPTE livery, enough to see them through to 1981.  The last Coventry liveried bus to operate in normal service had been 22y in September 1979.  For all the headaches they had caused the maintenance staff, most of the troublesome Atlanteans, built in 1964, hung on until 1980 when they finally succumbed along with the last of the 1965 Fleetlines with similar Willowbrook bodies. 

The new vehicles coming on stream were locally produced MCW Metrobuses, an integral design.  These buses, along with the Standard WMPTE MCW bodied Fleetlines of 1978 plus a small number of Leyland Nationals, were starting to give Coventry a taste of the type of vehicles found in quantity elsewhere in the region.  However, Coventry's substantial allocation of East Lancs bodied Fleetlines (examples new to Coventry and the WMPTE) still gave the city's fleet its own identity.

The First Metrobuses had arrived towards the end of 1979, dislodging the last of the nomadic ex-Hull Atlanteans of 1961 which the WMPTE had purchased to ease vehicle shortages and which had seen service at several garages.  By 1982, the MK2 metrobus had been launched, Coventry receiving some of the earliest examples.  The casualty throughout this process was the variety of vehicles which for a short time, had typified bus operations in Coventry.  The following year saw the introduction of more Metrobuses and sadly, the demise of the last of the 1968 ECW bodied Fleetlines, 1023 being the last, making its final journey on the Allesley Park service.  This coincided with its fleetnumber but it was also the 23 route which had seen these buses make their debut 15 years previously.  This pioneering batch of vehicles - the first designed for one man operation - had fared much better than slightly newer East Lancs and Park Royal bodied Fleetlines of 1969/70.  Withdrawals of these vehicles had begun in 1980 and they were all gone by early 1983. 

Away from the fleet, plans were in place to replace the city's two garages with a new facility on the site of the old Wheatley Street school, next to Pool Meadow.  This would lead to a reduction in vehicle mileage but also the loss of the paintshop and overhaul facilities at Harnall Lane and Sandy Lane garages respectively.  The new facility was complete by March 1986.  The previous year, had seen a large shake up of the city's routes and many services were dropped, curtailed or realigned.  Most noticeably, many cross city services were altered to match the demand at both ends.  For example, it was determined that the cross city route matching Whitmore Park in the north of the city and Green Lane in the south was no longer sustainable.  The Green Lane end retained the number 15 and the Whitmore Park side became one half of the revised 13 service, with Willenhall at the opposite end. 

1985 - 1986 The Approach of De-Regulation

The most significant change looming in the mid 1980s was the Transport Act 1985.  This would lead to the privatisation of bus operations and lead to the creation of a new company, West Midlands Travel.  From 26 October 1986, all of the WMPTE routes, garages, staff and vehicles would transfer to the new entity, although many cutbacks were made prior to this process.  In terms of the fleet, six years of steady Metrobus deliveries (at the rate of around 20 per year) had reduced the ranks of the ex-Coventry Fleetlines to a tiny rump by the end of 1985.  Although no new buses would be received in 1986, the last few of these buses dwindled away throughout the year.  However, some did hang on long enough to operate from Wheatley Street, the oldest being 1105 of 1972.  And the last laugh was had by 1135 and 1136, which hung on until deregulation with the satisfaction that the WMPTE only managed to wipe away the ex-Coventry buses in the last few hours of its bus operations.