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Gloucestershire’s buses in Stroud since the 1900s
Decline & Fall of the Country Bus Service
Stroud and its nearby settlements are neither completely rural nor completely urban, as a whole, but something between the two. If anything, the valley floor, its communities and industry might best be described as “semi-urban”. But the fact nevertheless is that, in general, Stroud’s hinterland is more rural than urban and, as elsewhere in rural Britain, has seen a dramatic reduction in passengers over the years. For many years, Bristol Omnibus’ preference in safeguarding its commercial position had been to increase fares rather than reduce service levels. This trend started after the Second World War and accelerated sharply during the 1970s. It was nevertheless inevitable that there were times when routes were cut. Latterly, with Cheltenham & Gloucester Omnibus and Stagecoach, minibuses had operated more and more services and this, for a time at any rate, buoyed mileage. Stroud of the early- and mid-1950s was very much self-contained. Many worked in shops and offices locally, in cloth manufacturing, engineering or in chemicals, all in enterprises in town or along the valley floors. Local shopping was the norm, with trips to Cheltenham and Gloucester centres important. Car ownership was low and along the valley floors bus frequencies high. Even villages away from the valleys on the Cotswold Hills enjoyed a good service, with some up to half-hourly. From the end of the 1950s and during the 1960s to the present day, increased disposable income resulte din the widespread use of the motor car. Separating work and home, many of the village settlements otherwise inaccessible became popular with those commuting by car, not any more to Stroud (as was possible by bus) but to Gloucester, Cheltenham, Swindon and even Bristol. Improved road access was another factor. These journeys were either impossible by public transport or required a change of bus or train; either way, it was obvious that the choice of location was a deliberate one based on car availability and not the bus. Further erosion of the bus service was inevitable. From the 1970s, services such as medical facilities centralised. Many facilities shifted from Stroud's hospital to the general hospital at Gloucester, itself at  an out-of-town location. Likewise, out of town shopping began to flourish with the growth in car ownership. Stroud’s population could not support edge of town retail units to the extent of those in Gloucester, Cheltenham, Bristol and Swindon. Shoppers began to drift away to those centres accessible only by car. The trend in the 80s and 90s for town centre food shopping—even in small towns—to move to locations less accessible by bus dealt a further blow. The major food retailers in Stroud—Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury's—are each less attractive to public transport users. Stroud enjoyed four town centre supermarkets in the late 1960s.  Perhaps the culmination of the out-of-town retail sector was the purpose built mall known as Cribbs Causeway, north of Bristol, and only about 40 minutes from Stroud by car via the M5 motorway. Add to this mix the increasing popularity of Cotswold villages from the 1970s as commuter dormitory settlements (where once populations were more-or- less self contained), with the associated steeply rising house prices, and there began a so-called gentrification of hill top villages. From cradle to grave,  older residents whole lives revolved around their village and journeys to Stroud but as they died or moved away, newcomers able to afford the area's housing moved in, with their two or more cars. No longer could such villages support even a skeletal bus service. In the villages particularity, the bus therefore tended to become a transport service for a residual group of people who were unable to unwilling to drive. It reached the stage where it could not possibly compete. This is illustrated by the reduction over the years in the numbers of bus departures from Stroud. Post Second World War timetables were steady throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Taking 1960 therefore as the base (100%), departures had fallen by more than half in the year prior to Stagecoach involvement, although the low point had previously been 1983 (=40.63%). Passenger numbers would have dropped by more than that. The number of vehicles obviously fell during this period and their capacities reduced save for a period from the early 80s when deckers were reintroduced, principally for school loads. Nearly 40 years later, this had reduced to 26.26% of the 1960 level. However, a reduction in departures does not tell the full story: at the same time, some longer distance journeys were curtailed in favour of a “shuttle” service to local estates (e.g. terminating at the Cashes Green estate rather than at Randwick or Ruscombe villages as was traditional). Buses to Randwick and
Ruscombe, in the early 1960s each seeing and 17 and 13 weekday journeys respectively plus Sunday buses, now have a journey only once a week. Cashes Green estate has settled on weekdays at three per hour, having previously been between two and five per hour. Indeed, the pre-Stagecoach 1992 network showed some improvement but this was solely owing to the conversion of Cashes Green estate's service to higher frequency minibus operation. Between 1997 and 2001, however, there was some cause for optimism. Stagecoach doubled the daytime frequency from Stroud to Gloucester, reintroduced hourly through running between Forest Green, Stroud and Cheltenham, operated hourly between Stroud and Dursley and half-hourly between Stroud and France Lynch. In April 2002, the France Lynch service saw hourly through running to Gloucester, although this switch in favour of Tetbury and Minchinhampton a year later. France Lynch continues but was halved, ostensibly owing to problems with free concessionary ravel reimbursement. Minchinhampton now sees just a half dozen journeys whereas, in 1960, there were up to three an hour. Changes to town services in May 2001 ensured that Mason Road, Uplands and Kingscourt all enjoyed at least hourly services and even with retrenchment in May 2002, particularly over the Dudbridge and Sainsbury's section, daytime levels of service were still similar to or better than their 1970s level. Mason Rpoad continues at broadly hourly. Two years later, however, following a string of changes, the decline had again set in. Services to Gloucester reverted to largely hourly, the timetable to Minchinhampton and Tetbury became messy and more services became the responsibility of other operators. The timetable tidying up associated with the last few years was set aside for complicated schoolday/holiday journeys. Changes that had previously been for the better slowly began to unravel. In the summer of 2004, departures from Stroud were no more than 42 per cent of their 1960 level. Whereas Stagecoach locally was experiencing considerable growth and investment—in Gloucester, Swindon and Cheltenham—could anything stop the rot in Stroud? By 2018, a gradual whittling away of services has resulted in some startling facts. Even on the Stroud – Stonehouse remnants of the former Track service which in 1960 enjoyed three buses an hour through the day and evenign plus six an hour on Sartudays was reduced to 21 departures from Stroud and hourly on and after 1535. Villages, of course, have faired much worse. Once enjoying good levels of service to upper Thrupp, Box, Amberley, Frocester, Slad, Edge, Ruscombe & Randwick; and Frampton and Saul from Stroud, all these are now once-a-week services. Meanwhile, car clutter associated with gentrification outside renovated Cotswold stone terraces at such places such as Butterow Hill and Bisley High Street in any case preclude the safe—or, indeed, any—operation of buses.
Graph showing the number of departures
from Stroud from 1960 to February 2018,
with 1960 = 100%
Cotswold Green RED & WHITE RED BUS _____
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Departures per annum from Stroud to four key settlements, comparing 1958, 1983 and 2018. Note, in particular, the decline in departures to Chalford
Village bus services have
tended to suffer most
“I was lucky, I know, to have been setting out at that time, in a landscape not bulldozed for speed”—Laurie Lee
“The motor-car has begun to cut the landscape to pieces, through which the hunched up traveller races at gutter height, seeing less than a dog in a ditch”—Laurie Lee