Travels in the Valleys
by Robert McCloy
Here is the illustrated story of the neglected but ubiquitous bus in the half-century following the First World War, told not through rose-tinted glasses but by an ex-council chief executive seeking to put the record straight. The focus is south Wales’s largest towns, whose councils generally succeeded in their stewardship of public transport.
As a moving barrage, attention first fixes upon Merthyr Tydfil in depression, when the bus helped to make life tolerable by providing cheap mobility. Then to wartime Swansea where, amidst blitz and debris, the bus sustained essential movement. Thence to Cardiff in post-war austerity where, in the absence en masse of car and television, passenger numbers peaked as the population travelled to more widely-dispersed employment and recreation. Lastly, the focus is on Newport in ‘prosperity’, with the car usurping the bus, as equity of provision, of a sort, yielded to economy, of a sort.
Throughout, mincing state regulation is castigated as malign, except in wartime austerity. The popular calumny of councillors suborning officers is challenged. The stringencies of war are shown to have produced benefits to which an environmentally-concerned age can only aspire.
The bus helped to change society. For good, it provided freedom of movement; and for bad (possibly), compromised local communities with their hitherto relatively stable institutions of chapel, local amenities and confined social networks.
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