NORTH Herefordshire MP Bill Wiggin's call for thinner buses on country lanes may not have been as revolutionary as some might have thought.

It turns out that the idea – or something very similar – has been tried before.

Gareth Davies, in a report for the Rail and Bus for Herefordshire newsletter, says that the late 1970s and early 1980s the Midland Red bus company ran several services in North Herefordshire and Hereford.

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The rural services were partly financed by profits from the urban and peak-time routes. But in an effort to make them more profitable the company experimented with smaller buses based at depots such as Hereford.

Garth says: "Some of these experiments were unusual to say the least. Perhaps the most interesting was the decision to modify in size some conventional buses."

The buses chosen were lightweight Fords that had been bought during a period when there was a shortage while the new Leyland National bus was being developed.

They were supplemented by Ford Transit buses with Dormobile campervan bodywork.

But the experiments were a failure. The bus firm ended up with two fleets – big buses for peak work, and small buses for rural work – along with the extra costs that entailed.

The system of making use of big buses on country routes worked because they and their drivers would have otherwise have been sitting uneconomically idle in a depot waiting for the day's next peak travel time.

Gareth says: "So when you meet a bus on a country road carrying a handful of people, consider that when the same bus arrives in the city will probably be carrying upwards of 40 passengers. Think of those rural passengers who could lose their service if a smaller, ‘thinner’ 12 rural-only bus was used.

"History may well be repeated if the MP's comment is taken seriously!"

Speaking in the Commons last October, Mr Wiggin, a Conservative, said: "I have been appalled by the way that bus companies treat each other and seek to compete against one another to put themselves or their competitors out of business.

"We need reliability in our buses, and preferably slightly thinner buses so they fit down country lanes."

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