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Public passenger transport in inter-war Britain: the Southern Railway’s response to bus competition, 1923-39

Davies, Reg (2014) Public passenger transport in inter-war Britain: the Southern Railway’s response to bus competition, 1923-39. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Scholarly criticisms of the quality of British railway management between the world wars have focused partly on the allegedly inept reaction to the threat of bus competition. By contrast this thesis shows that the Southern Railway (SR) developed policies and practices with regard to the bus industry that were rational and broadly successful given the legal, political and economic circumstances. The SR was probably atypical of the four major inter-war railways. Because of the social and economic geography of the areas it served, it suffered less from bus competition and a smaller decline in receipts from passenger trains. Nevertheless in common with the rest of the industry, management action was greatly hampered in the 1920s by political opposition to direct bus operation. A key finding is that legislation in 1928 had the unintended effect of determining that the railways instead entered into partnerships with bus companies. In the SR’s case this policy produced considerably greater returns on capital than historians have hitherto thought. The SR influenced rather than controlled its associated bus companies, allowing them considerable commercial freedom. Even so the SR was largely able to shape network development to its advantage and to introduce measures, such as through ticketing, that were seen by contemporaries as key elements in reducing public-transport competition and thus enhancing consumer benefits. However, in practice such measures probably proved more advantageous to the company than its passengers. In sum the SR’s policies and practices in relation to bus competition were much more adroit than scholars have previously allowed. This study cannot demonstrate that the quality of the SR’s management was equally good across the company’s multi-faceted business. Nevertheless in this limited sphere, the SR achieved the most advantageous result possible, an outcome reflecting considerable credit on its managers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Bus, rail, inter-war, competition, management, Britain, inter-modal collaboration
Academic Units: The University of York > History (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.647062
Depositing User: Mr Reg Davies
Date Deposited: 22 May 2015 15:03
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2016 13:32
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/8905

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