On the 26th October 1986, Barrow Borough Transport became an ‘arms-length’ limited company under the 1985 Transport Act, inheriting the fleet of the former municipal operator, although by this time the fleet numbered just 40 vehicles (around half that of the fleet at its peak). The Borough Council remained the major shareholder.
Following de-regulation, Barrow, like so many of the smaller municipalities, suffered a series of attacks on its local routes. The main protagonist in this case being Ribble Motor Services, who registered its own local routes in the borough and brought in ten minibuses, which operated from a depot in Emlyn Road.
Return fares were introduced that were generally about the same as Barrow’s single-fares. Previously the two operators had worked together on routes to Ulverston, but Ribble (through the tendering scheme) were now the sole operator on these routes, which hit Barrow’s revenue.
In January 1987, five Dodge minibuses (Nos. 82-86) were purchased and put into service to compete against the newcomer. A new service was started to Kendal in November 1987 where, for a short period Barrow joined forces with Lancaster City Transport which was experiencing similar problems but in February 1988 Barrow withdrew.
In an effort to reduce costs and to increase passenger traffic, a number of Talbot minibuses were leased in June 1988 with which to increase basic services and the majority of Barrow services were converted to minibus operation.
Ribble’s immediate reaction was to step up the competition and a fleet of similar vehicles, taken over with the businesses of United Transport’s Zippy (in Preston) and the Bee Line Buzz Company (in Manchester) was rapidly deployed.
The minibuses proved popular and for a while Barrow’s fortunes looked as if they had taken a turn for the better. However, a strike at Vicker’s Shipbuilding caused an economic slump to hit the town and Barrow Borough Transport (by now trading as BBT Ltd), began losing money.
Although a proposal for a management buy-out was put forward in October 1988, the writing was very much on the wall. An examination of the accounts showed that the Company was steadily losing money, and, indeed, had been since it was ‘privatised’ in 1986, with an accumulated loss of nearly £1 million.
A few months later in January 1989 an Administrative Receiver was appointed and on 26th May 1989 Barrow Borough Transport Ltd ceased to trade.
The depot and 24 vehicles were taken over by Ribble and the famous blue and white livery quickly disappeared from the streets of Barrow. Today, that livery is perpetuated only by a handful of preserved vehicles that serve to remind us of the heyday of public transport in Barrow.
See also: Barrow Corporation Transport 1920-1986
This history covers the period of operations of Barrow Borough Transport Ltd. an ‘arms-length’ limited company, which effectively commenced trading on 26th October 1986 with the enactment of the 1985 Transport Act (de-regulation).
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
Cumberland Motor Services 1921-1996 (Chapter 6), (Harry Postlethwaite, Venture 1996); Barrow Borough Transport by Roy Marshall (Buses Extra No. 62 (Dec 1989-Jan 1990); Cumbrian comings and goings (End of Barrow Borough Transport) by Andrew Jarosz (Buses No.415, October 1989); Buses (various editions).