Merseybus/MTL

 

Merseyside Transport Limited, the direct successor of the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive which was one of the first to be formed in 1968, commencing operation in late 1969. The 1968 Transport Act paved the way for the combination of transport in Liverpool, Birkenhead and Wallasey. 

 

Despite being joined together, different liveries were chosen for operations on opposite banks of the Mersey. A livery incorporating Birkenhead blue and Wallasey primrose was adopted for services on the Wirral, while Liverpool green remained in the city.

 

Local Government reorganisation in 1974 saw the formation of the Merseyside Metropolitan County Council, which took over some of the powers of the neighbouring councils of Southport and St. Helens. The red and cream liveries of these two operators survived for a while until it was decided to standardise the livery. The one chosen was the Verona green and cream livery.

 

With the infamous deregulation in 1986, the operator became a company and traded as Merseybus, with the only shareholders being the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority. Inevitably, changes had to be made, as moving from a high-cost, low fare and heavily subsidised public sector to a private company was not easy. Revenue fell, and there was a 55% fare increase along with garage closures and fleet cuts. In 1988 came the first new buses; 30 Leyland Olympians, 15 with Northern Counties bodywork for the Wirral and 15 with Alexander bodywork allocated to Green Lane, Liverpool. These buses confirmed the choice of new livery for the company; a combination of maroon and cream.

 

In 1989 the future of Merseybus looked uncertain, but in a MPTA meeting in the November, they gave permission for negotiations to commence with regard to selling the company to its employees. Eventually this went ahead and the employees who bought shares remained the only owners until mid-1996 when they voted in favour of allowing people from outside the company to invest. This was in the hope of floating the company on the stock market, an event that as of yet has not happened.

 

In 1993/4, war broke out in the North West bus world. MTL moved into Manchester as 'MTL Manchester', and in turn, GM Buses (as they were still known then) moved into Liverpool. Competition began as GM Buses focused on the 79/14, 20, 26/27, and 17 as these were considered the 'money makers'. Probably the most eventful thing about their operations was their misspelling of the destinations which made front page news on the local paper. Eventually both companies pulled out of each others 'territory', only to be investigated by the Office of Fair Trading with regard to allegations of price fixing.

 

The first major takeover by Merseybus (or Merseyside Transport Ltd as it was lesser known; the buses and letters still carried the Merseybus logo) was of North Liverpool rivals Fareway in about 1993/94. They operated routes from Kirkby to the city centre and had been set up by four ex-MPTE employees back in 1986. Nothing changed for a few years until Fareway routes were taken off one by one, and the timetables being undertaken by Merseybus. With only a handful of buses left, consisting mainly of ex London Titan's, Volvo B10B's and Scania N113's, they were repainted into the newly adopted livery of all over cream, red skirt and black trim around the windows. By this time another independent company had been acquired in the form of Liverbus of Huyton.

 

The livery became standard with every MTL owned comapny with the only change being the name on the side. Fareway and Liverbus became 'MTL Fareway' and 'MTL Liverbus'. Buses operating from the Southport depot became 'Southport & District Buses'. Similarly, buses from the Wirral became 'Wirral Penninsula Buses'. Merseybus in St. Helens became known as 'Lancashire Travel'. In June 1998, one of the final remaining independents in Liverpool was purchased by the MTL Group. Village Group Tours of Garston had grown quite rapidly over a couple of years and was in fierce competition with Merseybus. As seems to be the trend in the modern bus world, when an independent threatens a major company, it gets bought out.

 

While MTL was expanding in Liverpool and the North West, the company, like many others, bought its way into London with the acquisitions of London Northern and later London Suburban Buses. New buses seemed to be continually bought in order to win more tenders, and the Titan's that were no longer needed seemed to be palmed off up here to Liverpool. In August 1998, however, MTL's London business was sold to neighbouring Metroline in a deal worth £49.1 million.

 

The withdrawl from London started many months of speculation as to the future of MTL. Hopes of floatation had gone but a refinancing deal was negotiated with Barclays Bank at the end of 1998. The company still hope to float on the stock market in the next two to three years, while the refinancing deal allows the company to remain independent. A new holding comany, MTL Services plc, was established to aquire MTL Trust Holdings. Shareholders in MTL Trust Holdings each received one share in the new business for each one held in MTL Trust Holdings, plus 66p in cash or loan notes. Employee share ownership has been extended across the group to include the company's two rail franchises.

 

With the restructuring of the company came a revised livery. Instead of varying fleetnames there is now just the standard 'MTL North', with exception to the Wirral and Southport retaining their localised names.

 

Not only did the MTL Group operate bus services in throughout Merseyside, but they also ran services in Cheshire and Lancashire. They also have two rail franchises. Merseyrail Electrics in Merseyside was acquired in 1997 and despite MTL's strength in the Merseyside bus market, the acquisition was not reffered to the Monopolies & Mergers Commission. The other rail franchise was Regional Railways North East.

 

With the new millennium came the news that the MTL Group were £50million in debt. The Arriva group came in with an offer of £34million as well as taking on the outstanding debts. This was accepted by the shareholders on the 18th February 2000.