More problems for heritage operators

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A well-known operator of heritage vehicles has identified problems he says are having a major impact on the sector. Retired doctor Chris Dobbing operates immaculate AEC Routemasters at Peterborough, Cambridgeshire-based A1bus.co.uk.

Chris Dobbing (right) and conductor Dave Smith with the A1bus fleet. NICK LARKIN

Several factors were having an adverse effect on heritage bus operators, he said. “Firstly, since the Government closed ‘ministry’ test stations and replaced them with ATFs (Authorised Test Facilities) it’s been very difficult to get test appointments. You have to book them months in advance and there is very little flexibility if last minute changes are required. Change in maintenance advice means vehicles over 12 years old should be inspected every six weeks. Previously it had been agreed that because my buses do such a low mileage they could be inspected every 10 weeks, and the change has added to my costs.

“Competition in the heritage vehicle sector had also increased. There are now more larger operators running older vehicles for private hire for weddings and special occasions, and as they already have their own staff and maintenance facilities, there isn’t a huge increase in their costs.”

As previously highlighted by Industry Heritage, Chris agrees that there is also a problem with preservationists illegally operating historic vehicles for hire and reward.

Chris had been fascinated by buses since riding on AEC Routemasters in London as a child. “I can remember these buses arriving,” he recalled. “It was very exciting.”

He bought AEC Routemaster RM471, which had been re-registered as KVS601, from International Coachlines in 2004, followed by RM2213 (CUV213C) from a private owner. A third Routemaster, RM238 (VLT238) had been stored in a field for some years. This bus was converted to semi open-top by London Transport, but has since been re-roofed. It has not yet been certified for private hire. A fourth vehicle is former London Transport Guy Special, GS17 (MXX317) which is also not use commercially.

“Although the Guy dates from 1953, just about everything on it is of 1930s design,” said Chris. “Yet the first Routemaster, built just a year later, was an incredible leap forward in technology.

“Although we love the work we do, the factors I’ve mentioned have definitely made operating the buses for hire and reward less enjoyable.”

A1Bus.co.uk’s website is www.a1bus.co.uk or phone 01733 890816.