In Reading, at the end of 1950, the future for the transport undertaking seemed secure but staff shortages, increasing traffic congestion and falling passenger numbers through-out the next decade would challenge the hopes generated during the early post-war boom years. Looking back, it can be seen that, despite the difficulties, the immediate post-war years, the years of austerity, were the classic days of bus travel, with an unprecedented passenger demand of bus rides for both shopping, entertainment and other leisure activities, and for getting to and from work.
1950 had seen the abolition of petrol rationing for private motorists and this freedom, coupled with sufficient cars being permitted by the government to be built for home use (instead of nearly all being exported, as in the early post-war years) produced a growth in private car ownership throughout the 1950s. This, in turn, became a significant factor in the decline in bus traffic thereafter.
In many ways, 1950 was the turning point for the bus industry – and for Reading Corporation Transport. The undertaking had already seen the end of large numbers of its over-worked pre-war motorbuses and all of its wartime utility vehicles, with the fleet, both bus and trolleybus, being largely renewed – and its buses and trolleybuses were no longer threatened with nationalisation! As the nation moved out of the bankruptcy and austerity of the immediate post-war years, it became more affluent and spent its money on cars, televisions and other electrical goods, keeping up with the Jones’s, developing a liking for holidays abroad and generally ensuring that it had what had been promised after the Great War but which had never materialised – a utopia – a land fit for heroes. A decade later it was told that it had “never had it so good…” Not, however, for the bus industry, for in retrospect the seeds of decline were being sown by the very same nation from 1950 onwards….
If you would like to discover more about life in Reading, Berkshire during World War II and the years that followed, then take a look at our newly published book entitled War & Austerity.