(includes notes provided by Stuart Locke, CEO of SPS)
When World War Two broke out, David Reid (Reid’s Bus Service) and several other Melbourne operators perceived a business opportunity at Seymour, providing transport for troops between the railway station and the Puckapunyal Army Camp, about 8 kilometres away. His daughter Shirley said that they virtually squatted at Seymour awaiting developments. Most of them eventually returned to Melbourne leaving only David and also A.P. (Pappy) Withers, the operator of the original Pioneer Tours company. David asked Pappy how much money it would take to buy is interest out; a figure was mentioned, David produced the cash and Pappy departed, leaving David as the sole operator.
During the war, David operated up to 30 buses and the business was very profitable. After the war, the size of the business decreased dramatically until it was down to four buses in 1948. One of these was used for the Puckapunyal service and the other three were for school services from Nagambie, Avenel and Broadford into the Seymour schools. At this point David Reid decided to sell and looked for a buyer. He approached Norm Wright, who had been doing much of the mechanical work on the buses from his service station in Seymour, situated next door to Reid’s depot.
Norm Wright was born in 1914 and trained as a mechanic. He was employed at Ansett Motors in Hamilton as a co-foreman. By chance, George Buchanan, who came from Tallarook just south of Seymour and had a service station there, came into the Hamilton premises and said he was looking for aa mechanic to open a new garage in Seymour. He had only gone into the premises because his car had sustained a punctured tyre. Norm took up the offer with George Buchanan and moved to Seymour.
When David Reid offered to sell, Norm knew he would need a financial backed and approached George Buchanan. Norm knew that he would also require some expertise in licensing buses, so John Souter was approached. Souter already ran a service from Bendigo to Seymour. The result was that the three men joined to form Seymour Passenger Service Pty Ltd. The first depot was in Tallarook Street and the company grew steadi- ly as additional school runs were created, with others acquired from other operators. As a result the fleet in- creased to eleven buses by 1956 and to nineteen by 1970. The majority of purchases were Bedfords with CAC/ Comair bodies though there were some exceptions with Freighter bodied buses and a couple of Ford chassis.
However when Bedfords ceased to supply bus chassis after 1980, a move was made to using lightweight International buses for school services.
By this time the school run business had developed into three sets of runs, the original services into Seymour, a second set of runs into the newer Broadford High School and a third set of private school services into Assumption College, the regional Catholic college at Kilmore.
Norm continued to run the garage and the bus business but when it got too big decided to concentrate just on the buses. At this time, a new depot was built in Wallis Street, quite near the shops and railway station. John Souter ran into financial problems with his other bus services and sold out, his place being taken by Ian Johnson.
Norm Wright continued to manage and to drive buses until he reached the (then) statutory bus driving retiring age of 70 in 1984. Soon after, he consulted with his partners and they agreed to sell the business. Norm set about finding a buyer, which took some time, but on 1 September 1986 the business was sold to the Loughnan family.
This coincided with the advent of a new bus replacement scheme and soon the Bedford fleet was being phased out, replaced by new Mercedes OH1316 and OH1418 buses with Ansair and Newnham bodies followed by a pair of OC1617 coaches in 1988 to expand the charter fleet. In 1987 drivers overalls were replaced by new uniforms and the fleet livery was changed to blue and yellow. The company also won that year’s Goulburn Valley Small Business of the Year Award for that year and also the Tidy Town award Best Commended site in country Victoria.
The next significant change took place in 1989 when an industrial site was purchased in Highlands Road, on the north-eastern fringe of the town. Operations relocated here from Wallis Street once suitable conversions had been made to the existing facilities. The Wallis Street site then became a Coles supermarket.
1990 saw a significant setback for the company when SPS lost their Assumption College runs to Larry Fallon from Alexandra after a competitive tender process. This resulted in a loss of eight buses and drivers, the only upside being that the remaining Bedford buses could be retired. The event also precipitated some fleet renumbering to fill the gaps at the lower end and a reregistration of the fleet onto FTE series plates, mostly matching the new fleet numbers.
On the plus side a V/Line touring program to Cairns began using an ex Australian Pacific Denning Denair. This was followed by Central Australia and Canberra school camps in conjunction with Moreland Bus Lines from 1993.
1995 saw Peter Loughnan buy out the interests of other family members to become the sole owner of SPS.
Between 1996 and 2006, SPS operated a contracted service into Goulburn Valley Grammar School at Shepparton and in 2000 the Assumption College contracts were regained, initially with seven buses but later increased to ten and above.
2003 saw the commencement of the first special needs school bus service using a minibus. A second service followed in 2006 requiring the first wheelchair bus to be added to the fleet. The 1980s Mercedes buses have now been replaced by later Mercedes and Hino models with a number of other makes purchased second hand when the Assumption College services were regained.
2005 saw the Seymour town service upgraded and the fleet’s first low floor bus purchased for the run. This was followed by the development of route services in Kilmore and Wallan in 2006, the addition of several more low floor buses and the adoption of the Mitchell Transit (the local Shire name) branding to cover all services.
The Seymour service now comprises five routes commencing from the station. These are:
- Route 1 to Seymour East (13 weekday trips)
- Route 2 to Seymour North (nine weekday trips)
- Route 3 to Puckapunyal (nine weekday trips with an extra PM service on Fridays)
- Route 4 ex Delatite Rd (two inbound AM peak trips)
- Route 5 to Seymour North East (four outbound PM peak trips covering route 4 and most of route 2)
Puckapunyal has six trips on Saturday mornings finishing at 1400, while Route 1 runs half-hourly until 1330.
The Wallan service operates during weekday peak hours between the station and the shops only at peaks hours with two extra trips at lunchtime.
The Kilmore service connects Kilmore East Station with the town centre and Kilmore International School. On weekdays, it meets trains in both peaks and operates roughly hourly up to 1300, before resuming service again after school around 1630.
Two 2005 model Mercedes 0500RF/ Coach Design coaches were purchased from Swan Hill Bus Lines in 2008 for SPS’s part in the long term rail replacement service between Seymour and Wodonga, run in conjunction with Dyson’s and Wangaratta Coachlines, whilst the broad gauge tracks were converted to standard gauge. These now perform charter and touring duties. 2009 saw major renovations to the depot and office facilities.
Dominic Sita, the owner of Kastoria Bus Lines, purchased Seymour Passenger Services in August 2010. The operation continues to run much as it did before, the most noticeable differences being the addition of further special needs runs using minibuses. Also notable is the regular participation of SPS vehicles in Dominic’s contracted rail replacement services and at special event services such as the Avalon Airshow. Mr Sita’s subsequent purchase of Broadmeadows Bus Service in 2011 completed the circle reconnecting the Broadmeadows and Seymour operations under the same ownership once again.