'Hovis', it's as good today, as it's always been!
1956 (WDA956T) was probably the most bizarre looking bus operated by West Midlands Travel. Starting life with West Midlands PTE in 1978 as 6956, a standard MCW bodied double decker ‘Fleetline’, the bus passed to West Midlands Travel in October 1986 and was later chosen for the unusual experiment to convert it into a single deck vehicle. This happened in late 1993 at a time when drivers on West Midlands Travel were effectively earning two rates of pay: minibus driver’s rate, and a separate rate for drivers of full size buses. The problem for WMT, was in a prior agreement made between the Company and the Trade Unions that forbade Minibus Rate drivers from driving anything larger than a midi-bus, even when they had the appropriate full driving licence. By the end of 1993, WMT was coming under ever increasing competition from rival operators, and was also having difficulty in covering work at many garages due to staff shortages of full rate drivers. This resulted in unacceptable amounts of ‘lost mileage’, with full size buses standing idle without drivers virtually everyday. Not surprisingly, complaints began to mount, along with a serious loss of confidence by the travelling public in WMT’s ability to provide a reliable bus service network. Coupled with the inevitable loss of revenue, was the fact that WMT couldn’t use any of its available mini-bus rate drivers to cover this ‘lost mileage’ because of the Union Agreement. Clearly something needed to be done, but WMT management didn’t want to back down from the Union’s demands for standardising drivers pay and conditions.
Having seen a picture of an old Birmingham City Transport single decker Fleetline from the 1960s, the then Chief Executive, Don Colsten asked the Company’s technical department to look at the possibilities of converting a standard Fleetline into a single deck bus, as this would effectively become a 30 seat Midi-bus and could be a partial, short to medium term solution to the problem. 6956 became the chosen vehicle and was sent to Walsall Works for conversion to single decker configuration in 1993. After overcoming many technical problems, the bus (now numbered 1956) was finally unveiled and sent to Acocks Green Garage for trials in 1994. The high roof line and the retention of the standard destination blind layout at the front of the bus, lead to the vehicle having a peculiar rising front roof dome, earning 1956 the nick-names ‘Hovis’, and ‘The Baseball Bat’.
However, its conversion was all in vain because in the meantime, WMT and the trade unions had struck a deal over driver’s rates of pay, abolishing the two-tier pay system. With this new agreement in place, there was no longer a need for any further Fleetline conversions and it was decided to phase out the remaining Fleetline double decker fleet.
1956 was now considered to be a ‘White-elephant’ and it was transferred to Quinton Garage to see its days out; often working the Stourbridge – Kinver service. The bus was finally withdrawn and put into storage in 1996, however, she was re-licenced and put back into service for the last day of WMT ‘Fleetline’ operations on 1st November 1997.
The bus survives in preservation and is owned by enthusiast Martin Lowry.
The photo taken on 1st November 1997, shows 1956 on Washwood Heath Road, Birmingham enroute to Bromford on the last day of WMT Fleetline operations.