125 years of municipal transport

Nottingham City Transport 125th Anniversary double-decker 627 (YN14 MUV)

Photo: © Harriet Buckthorp

Nottingham City Transport has celebrated its 125th anniversary by decking out one of its double-deckers in a Nottinghamshire-themed livery, based on the county flag, with images of twenty Nottingham landmarks, five of which are visible on the offside in my friend Harriet’s image.

The Nottingham horse-tram services, dating from 1878, were taken over by the Corporation in 1898 and swiftly electrified from 1901 onwards. 

This modest, conventional first-generation tram operator gained a reputation for modernity and innovation.

Petrol buses were introduced in 1906, but when the tram system was life-expired in the late 1920s, Nottingham chose to retain the electricity-supply system and use trolleybuses.  The fleet continued to grow after the Second World War to a maximum size of 155 vehicles.

Thereafter, developments focused on using diesel vehicles, and the last trolleybuses ran in 1966.  The first one-man-operated bus appeared in 1951;  the neighbouring West Bridgford UDC transport service was absorbed in 1968.

NCT currently operates a bright yellow bio-gas double-decker named after Honorary Alderman Betty Higgins (1926-2019), the first female leader of Nottingham City Council, who among many inspired initiatives ensured that the city kept its municipal transport when the 1986 Transport Act forced bus services into the private sector, where they were quickly acquired by national operators such as Arriva, First and Stagecoach.

She served as chairman of the housing committee, where she cleared the city not only of unfit housing but also of the unsuitable 1960s and 1970s flats that had been hastily built to enable “slum clearance”. 

Her insight and forethought allowed the city to keep its transport system in an arm’s-length private operation that wasn’t vulnerable to absorption into a remote national network. 

In addition, she drove the initiatives to give Nottingham its second-generation tram system and the splendid Royal Concert Hall:  Remembering teacher Betty Higgins who became first woman to lead Nottingham City Council – Nottinghamshire Live (nottinghampost.com).

Although Transdev has a 14% minority share in Nottingham City Transport – a consequence of the financing of the city’s light rapid-transit network – the undertaking is one of a very small remaining number of major municipal bus operators, along with Blackpool, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Ipswich and Reading.

Nottingham is an easy city to get about.  When I visit, if I don’t travel in by train, I park at the Phoenix Park park-and-ride, five minutes away from the M1 Junction 28, and take the tram.  You hardly need a car in Nottingham.

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