United Counties Omnibus
United Counties Omnibus is an English bus company, operating in Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, and parts of surrounding counties. It was established in 1921 as the United Counties Omnibus & Road Transport Co Ltd, and from 1933 has been named the United Counties Omnibus Company Ltd. The company's trading name was simply United Counties until 1987, and after being purchased by the Stagecoach Group was Stagecoach United Counties until 1999, before finally disappearing. United Counties Omnibus Company Ltd is now just the legal identity of the Stagecoach subsidiaries which are trading as Stagecoach in Northants and Stagecoach in Bedford. Since 2010 it has been renamed Stagecoach Midlands and the Bedford based services given to the Peterborough and Cambridge based Stagecoach East.
United Counties Omnibus was originally established as part of the privately owned Tillings organisation. From 1948 to 1987 it was a state owned nationalised company operating as a subsidiary first under the British Transport Commission, then within the Transport Holding Company in the 1960s, and finally under the National Bus Company (NBC). In 1987 as part of the privatisation of the NBC, it became one of the few ex-NBC companies to be bought directly by Stagecoach.
The company was incorporated, on 1 September 1921, as United Counties Omnibus & Road Transport Co Ltd, to acquire the assets of the Wellingborough Motor Omnibus Co Ltd, which began in 1913. The majority shareholder was Tillings. At this time, the previous livery of blue and white with red wheels was replaced by the standard Tilling livery (green with a cream band) and retained until replaced by National Bus Company green (and always with a white band) in 1972. In September 1933, the company's name was changed to its present title, United Counties Omnibus Company Ltd.
In 1933, the company operated 154 buses on services throughout Northamptonshire, with some services terminating just over adjacent county boundaries, plus special services to seaside places and Whipsnade Zoo during the summer. In December 1933, services around Aylesbury were acquired from the Aylesbury Omnibus Company.1 The company continued to expand, by buying out smaller bus and coach operators. The garage at Stony Stratford operated by a fellow Tillings company, Eastern National was transferred to United Counties. The company built new depots in several towns, a new headquarters, with major engineering workshops in Bedford Road, Northampton and a central covered bus station at Derngate, Northampton, thus putting it into a good shape to withstand the rigours of wartime operation.
The company entered the long-distance coach service market in 1933, when it bought Allchin & Sons of Northampton, which ran coach services to London, Bournemouth, Torquay and several Midlands cities. In 1934, it acquired a route between Oxford and London from its fellow Tillings subsidiary, Eastern Counties. In 1934, it was one of the founders of the Associated Motorways consortium, to which it transferred its Bournemouth and Torquay routes.2
In 1948 the Tilling Group sold its bus interests to the government. United Counties therefore became a state-owned company, under the control of the British Transport Commission.
The new regime resulted in a major expansion of the company's area of operations. In 1952 Eastern National's operations in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, North Hertfordshire and Huntingdonshire, with some 250 vehicles, were transferred to United Counties.1 This practically doubled the size of the company. At the same time the Oxford to London service was transferred to South Midland.
In 1969 United Counties took over Birch Brothers giving it another express service into London besides its Nottingham –Leicester- London route. In 1970 they took over Luton Corporation buses. There followed a period when the company was under severe pressure in coping with the maintenance of the Luton combined fleet and had to forgo its duty to deal with recovery of fellow National Bus Company subsidiaries’ coaches broken down on its allocated and very busy section of the M1 for a while.
Towards the end of the 1970s, better relationships were negotiated with county councils and the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. The company was then able to make strides in greatly improving its maintenance facilities with major work at Northampton depot, Wellingborough, Bedford, Milton Keynes (including a 100 vehicle Winterhill depot on a green field site) and Luton.
Successive governments changed the structure of the state-owned bus sector: in 1962, the company was passed to the state-owned Transport Holding Company, then in 1969 to the state-owned National Bus Company.
In 1980 the new Thatcher government embarked on a programme of deregulation and privatisation of bus services. To make them more marketable, the larger subsidiaries of the National Bus Company were split up. United Counties was split up operationally from 1985, and three separate companies were formed:
- Luton and District Transport Company Ltd (Aylesbury, Hitchin and Luton garages)
- Milton Keynes Citybus Ltd (Milton Keynes depot)
- United Counties Engineering Ltd (The central workshops part of the head office site)
United Counties Omnibus Company Ltd retained the rest (almost its original pre-1952 area plus Bedford, Biggleswade and Huntingdon)
In 1987 Luton & District Transport was sold to its management.3 Milton Keynes Citybus was also sold to its management.
Stagecoach retained the name Stagecoach United Counties until 1999. After Stagecoach acquired adjacent operator Cambus, an inquiry by the Office of Fair Trading, Stagecoach had to sell the Huntingdon operations in 1997.,5 but in 2008 Stagecoach reacquired the Huntingdon operations, now Stagecoach in the Fens, part of Stagecoach in Cambridgeshire. The remaining part of Stagecoach United Counties became Stagecoach East in 2000, trading as Stagecoach in Northants and Stagecoach in Bedford with the legal company name remaining as United Counties Omnibus Company Ltd. In 2010, the company was split with the Bedford depot merging with Stagecoach in Cambridgeshire to form a new Stagecoach East and the Northamptonshire depots merging with Stagecoach Warwickshire to form Stagecoach Midlands. However the trading names and the legal titles remain as before.
Milton Keynes Citybus was acquired by Cambus (a privatised part of Eastern Counties), which was itself sold to Stagecoach in 1996. However, after the inquiry by the Office of Fair Trading, Stagecoach had to sell both the Milton Keynes & Huntingdon depot operations in 1997. The buyer was Julian Peddle, who formed Premier Buses and MK Metro. Peddle soon passed the Huntingdon depot operations to Blazefield and eventually sold MK Metro to Arriva in 2006. An OFT inquiry allowed MK Metro to pass to Arriva who initially ran it as a separate operation but have since started to brand buses as Arriva vehicles. Blazefield sold the Huntingdon & District operation to Cavalier Travel who sold that operation to Stagecoach in 2008. Another OFT inquiry eventually ruled in favour of Stagecoach and the operation is now managed from Cambridge.
- Arriva Aylesbury website
- Healey, K (2002) Associated Motorways Venture Publications ISBN 1-898432-57-0, pp.12-14
- Competition Commission report (1998) para 3.30
- Hansard 18 April 1988
- Details of divestment and behavioural undertakings by Stagecoach oft.gov.uk - Retrieved 25 August 2010
- Competition Commission Report (2005) para 2.4
- An Illustrated History of United Counties Omnibus Company Limited (in 17 parts) by Roger M Warwick MCIT. Volumes include ISBN 0-9505980-1-1; ISBN 0-9505980-2-X; ISBN 0-9505980-3-8; ISBN 0-9505980-4-6;ISBN 0-9505980-6-2; ISBN 0-9510847-0-4; ISBN 0-9510847-1-2;ISBN 0-9510847-3-9; ISBN 978-0-9510847-4-8.
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