In 1985 and 1986, Midland Red (West) Limited replaced existing urban networks in Worcester, Kidderminster and Redditch with new networks operated with high-frequency minibuses. At the launch of the networks there was considerable marketing spin, with slogans such as “Fast, Friendly, Frequent and Fun — That’s Citibus,” and claims that the Worcester Citibus network would “signal a revolution in city public transport” and be “the country’s largest network of urban minibuses.” The new networks were to have service frequencies of every seven or eight minutes so that, it was claimed, timetables could be ignored as there would always be another bus along in a few minutes. There would also be greater convenience with the introduction of “Hail and Ride” stopping on the housing estates. In reality, the introduction of the minibuses had more to do with the National Bus Company trying to find a cheap way to make the company more attractive to buyers in the run-up to privatisation by eliminating any chance of a competitor gaining a foothold in their territory once the bus industry was deregulated in October 1986.
For the new networks, 109 twenty-seat Mercedes-Benz L608D minibuses were ordered by Midland Red (West) Limited while under the control of the National Bus Company, to be delivered in two batches. In the end only 104 new vehicles were acquired, but after privatisation Midland Red West Limited acquired large numbers of similar vehicles second-hand from other operators.
The first batch of Mercedes-Benz L608D minibuses were ordered for use on the new local Worcester “Citibus” services, which came into operation on Saturday 23rd November 1985. The order was for sixty-one vehicles but this was not compleated and only sixty vehicles, fleet numbers 1301–1360, were delivered. The new minibuses featured a number of features that were new to Midland Red (West) at the time. These included two-way radios and a new yellow, orange and blue “Citibus” livery which the public helped choose through an “extensive market research programme.”
All vehicles from this batch featured B20F layouts from new and all except fleet number 1320 entered service with Midland Red (West) Limited at Worcester (Padmore Street) depot, on 23rd November 1985 for the start of the new minubus network, but the minibus conversions were finished by differing companies…
The missing vehicle from this batch was ordered with bodywork by Sparshatts as a National Bus Company (NBC) prototype, but it was delayed and the ordered cancelled. It was to have been allocated fleet number 1361 and registration number C361PNP in the Midland Red (West) fleet, however when it was finally finished it was sold to Drysliver of Pontypridd, South Wales, who registered it as D985ARE and operated it in Midland Red West “Citibus” livery, without brand names. Between February and May 1986, the shortfall in vehicles was made up with a Fiat-IVECO 49-10 demonstrator, registration number C240JTU (temporary fleet number 1300), which was hired specifically for the task. In late June 1986, an addition Mercedes-Benz L608D was acquired as a permanent replacement (registration number C361RUY), and details of this vehicle are shown below.
The Mercedes-Benz L608D soon gained the nickname “Tonka Toys” or simply “Tonkas” with drivers and engineers; this was partly due to the yellow Citibus livery and partly due to the indestructible Mercedes construction.
Neither the two-way radios or the Citibus livery lasted very long in the newly privitised company, and the radios were soon removed and all minubuses were repainted to standard red and cream bus livery from July 1990. Most of this first batch of minibuses remained in service at Worcester depot until they were replaced by a fleet of sixty-four Mercedes-Benz O.814 Vario minibuses in August 1998. At that time, some examples moved to other depots while others were withdrawn and scrapped, but many (including examples from later batches) were exported to the West Indies in December 1998, and found further service with Rural Transport Services, Trinidad & Tobago.
The second batch of Mercedes-Benz L608D minibuses were ordered for use on new minibus networks in Kidderminster, with the brand name Wyre Forest “Shuttle,” and Redditch, with the brand name “ReddiLink.” The order called for twenty-three vehicles to be converted by Reeves Burgess plus twenty-five converted by Robin Hood, giving a total of forty-eight. This order was later reduced and only twenty examples were converted by Robin Hood, bringing the total to forty-three.
Like the first batch, all these vehicles had B20F layouts and were converted and allocated as follows…
As noted above, the original order called for an additional five vehicles, which would have carried fleet numbers 1405–1409† (registration numbers C405-C409RUY). They were to have been allocated to Redditch depot on the new “ReddiLink” network of services, but Redditch has a number of bus-only routes that enjoy heavy loadings at peak times, and because of this there were strong objections to the introduction of minbuses from the local trade union. This resulted in the order being reduced before delivery, and the company continued using a small number of Leyland National single deck buses on the busiest routes.
As with the first batch, all of these vehicles were repainted to standard red and cream bus livery from July 1990. Withdrawals started in October 1995 when four examples passed to Western National, but most survived until 1997 and 1998 when they were replaced with either N-reg Dennis Darts that had become surplus following the loss of subsidised Shropshire services, or other Mercedes-Benz L608D minibuses displaced from Worcester (Padmore Street) depot with the arrival of new Mercedes-Benz O.814 Vario minibuses. Examples that had seen service at Redditch depot tended to be withdrawn before those from other depots due to the high mileage they built up on the town’s bus-only roads. Most of the 1998 withdrawals were exported to the West Indies in December 1998, and found further service with Rural Transport Services, Trinidad & Tobago.
† The fleet number 1405 was later allocated to a Mercedes-Benz 508D (registration number A669XDA) that was acquired by Midland Red West Limited on the merger with Midland Red Coaches Limted in December 1986, while the registration number C405RUY was used on the Redditch depot manager’s Vauxhall Astra company car. Fleet numbers 1406–1409 were later allocated to part of the first batch of Mercedes-Benz 609D minibuses that were delivered in 1987.
As stated above, the first batch of Mercedes-Benz L608D minibuses should have contained sixty-one vehicles, with fleet numbers 1301–1361 (registration numbers C301–C361PNP). Two of these vehicles, fleet numbers 1320 and 1361, were ordered with bodywork finished by companies that had not previously carried out minibus conversions for the NBC, and both were delayed. Fleet number 1320 had bodywork by Alexander and was delivered about two months late, entering service in January 1986, while the vehicle that should have carried fleet number 1361 had bodywork by Sparshatts and the delays were so great the ordered was cancelled and the vehicle was not delivered at all.
To replace the missing vehicle, Midland Red (West) Limited placed an additional order for one Mercedes-Benz L608D minibus with bodywork finished by Robin Hood. This vehicle was delivered in late June 1986, and entered service at Worcester (Padmore Street) depot in July 1986 in Worcester “Citibus” livery. The vehicle was allocated fleet number 1361 and registration number C361RUY, which placed it in the fleet numbering sequence before the vehicles from the second batch used at Kidderminster and Redditch, but in reality this vehicle came some six months later and was the last Mercedes-Benz L608D acquired new by the company.
This vehicle’s service at Worcester (Padmore Street) depot was relatively short and in August 1988 it was repainted to Wyre Forest “Shuttle” livery and moved to Kidderminster depot to replace one of two Mercedes-Benz 609D minibuses that had been moved to Hereford (Friars Street) depot for changes to the Hereford “Hopper” services. It was moved again in March 1991, this time going to Redditch depot, where it was operated for some time still in Wyre Forest “Shuttle” livery, before being painted to standard red and cream bus livery. In April 1997, it moved to Hereford (Friars Street) depot and continued in service there until being withdrawn and scrapped in September 2000.
C475BHY was numerically the first Mercedes-Benz L608D minibus to be operated by Bristol Omnibus Company Limited (trading as “City Line”). It had B20F minibus conversion by Reeve Burgess and was new to Bristol Omnibus Company in March 1986, as fleet number 7475, carrying yellow, red and blue livery with “City Dart” branding.
Bristol Omnibus Company Limited became a subsidiary of Midland Red West Limited on 18th September 1987, but the two companies continued to operate independently of each other and vehicles rarely passed from one fleet to the other. There are always exceptions to the rule and C475BHY became the first “second-hand” Mercedes-Benz L608D minibus acquired by Midland Red West Limited, arriving at Worcester (Padmore Street) depot from Bristol in late July 1988.
She was repainted into yellow and green “Shuttle” livery and entered service at Kidderminster depot with the fleet number 1440 in September 1988. Revisions on the Hereford “Hopper” services at that time had called for more vehicles so two Mercedes-Benz 609D minibuses (fleet numbers numbers 1410 and 1411) were moved from Kidderminster depot to Hereford (Friars Street) depot. Kidderminster received this vehicle from Bristol Omnibus Company, and fleet number 1361 (registration number C361RUY) was also moved from Worcester (Padmore Street) depot to replace them.
Later, 1440 received the standard Midland Red West red and cream bus livery, and saw service at Worcester (Padmore Street) depot from August 1994, and Hereford (Friars Street) depot from August 1998. She returned to Kidderminster depot from April 1999 to September 2000, and finally back to Hereford (Friars Street) depot before being withdrawn in March 2001 and scrapped.
On Saturday 1st April 1989, the Worcester “Citibus” network expanded to include Malvern Town (“Citibus Takes to the Hills!”). To meet the extra demand on their minibus fleet, Midland Red West Limited acquired nine Mercedes-Benz L608D minibuses, registration numbers C581–C589SHC, from Southdown Motor Services Limited of Brighton. These vehicles, all with B20F Reeves Burgess bodywork, arrived with Midland Red West at their Worcester (Padmore Street) depot on 5th March 1989, in the Southdown livery of green and yellow.
Midland Red West repainted all nine vehicles before they entered service. C581SHC and C582SHC received yellow and green “Shuttle” livery, entering service with the fleet numbers 1441 and 1442 at Kidderminster depot. C587SHC entered service at Worcester depot as fleet number 1447 in a chocolate and cream livery, carrying the name “Richard I,” to commemorate Worcester City Charter Year 1189–1989, while the remainder of the batch received yellow and blue “Citibus” livery and entered service at Worcester depot with fleet numbers 1443–1446 and 1448–1449.
These vehicles were slightly different from the excising minibuses used by Midland Red West as they were fitted with three-digit number blinds and separate destination. All Midland Red West minibuses at the time were fitted with just a single all-in-one blind, so Midland Red West blanked off the numbers and only used the destination part, causing the display to be off centre.
By the mid-1990s, all these vehicles were in service at Worcester depot and had been repainted to the standard Midland Red West bus livery of red and cream, except number 1443 which carried overall advertising for “City & County,” and later “Worcester Evening News.” With the arrival of the Mercedes-Benz O.814 Vario minibuses at Worcester depot in August 1998, most of these vehicles moved to Hereford (Friars Street) depot where they remained in service until 2000–2001 when they were withdrawn and scrapped.
In November 1988, Western National Limited, Truro, loaned Midland Red West two Mercedes-Benz L608D minibuses for use as driver training vehicles, these were fleet numbers 91 and 93 (registration numbers C788FRL and C790FRL) in the Western National fleet. Both vehicles had B20F bodywork by Reeve Burgess and carried white Western National livery with red, yellow and blue strips and NBC markings.
In May 1989, both vehicles passed to Midland Red West Limited who continued to operate them as driver training vehicles, without fleet numbers, in Western National livery. They were repainted into standard Midland Red West red and cream bus livery in November 1990 (registration number C790FRL) and April 1991 (registration number C788FRL).
C788FRL entered normal service at Worcester (Padmore Street) depot with the fleet number 1450 and remained at that depot until being withdrawn with the arrival of the Mercedes-Benz O.814 Vario minibuses in August 1998. C790FRL entered service at Kidderminster depot with fleet number 1451, and later moved to Worcester depot then Hereford (Friars Street) depot, before being withdrawn in 2001 and sold for scrap.
In July 1990, Midland Red West Limited were expanding their operations in the West Midlands County so four Mercedes-Benz L608D minibuses were acquired from Brighton and Hove (registration numbers C207–C209 and C212PCD) to cover the extra demand. These vehicles had B20F Alexander bodywork and entered service in September 1990 at Kidderminster depot, in standard Midland Red West red and cream bus livery, with fleet numbers 1452–1455.
These four minibuses did not have the modified destination dome that had been fitted to the only other Alexander bodied Mercedes minibus in the Midland Red West fleet, fleet number 1320 (registration number C320PNP), so it proved impossible to fit the standard minibus destination blinds. They therefore became the first Midland Red West minibuses, other than demonstrators, to operate with full three track numbers and separate destination display.
They remained at Kidderminster depot until November 1995 when they passed to Eastern Counties, the non-standard blind display proved their downfall.
Following the acquisition of C475BHY in 1988, Midland Red West Limited acquired an additional thirteen Mercedes-Benz L608D minibuses from the same batch, which had originally been new to the Bristol Omnibus Company Limited in 1986, operating under the “City Dart” brand.
Most of these vehicles passed to Midland Red West in August and September 1993, direct from Bristol Omnibus Co, and entered service at Hereford (Friars Street) depot still carrying their yellow, red and blue Bristol OC “City Dart” livery. However, some examples were not acquired until the late 1990s and had seen service with other operators since leaving Bristol.
The vehicles that entered service at Hereford depot in 1993 replaced the Fiat 49-10 Iveco minibuses, which passed to Badgerline Limited. Red and cream Midland Red West bus livery with “Hereford Hopper” branding eventually replaced the Bristol “City Line” livery on these vehicles, except for fleet number 1490 (registration number C490BHY), which gained an overall red livery with advertising for “Hereford Admag.”