Roy McCarthy Coaches
Probably obsessive about maintenance
Born in 1926, Roy McCarthy was 45 in 1971 when he started his own coach company with a Duple Super Vega bodied petrol engined Bedford SB3
He had already amassed a lot of knowledge and experience driving for Fred Lomas, a small Macclesfield based operator, although it was with the North Western Road Car Company that he had originally taken his PSV driving test. Driving Lomas’s new Bedford SB5 Plaxton Panorama he finished second in the Coach Driver of the Year competition at Blackpool in 1970 but Fred was already looking to finish so Roy decided to go it alone, basing his coach in what was effectively a lay-by just up the road from the current premises on Snape Road in Macclesfield
The McCarthy family was an industrious one, the coach business representing a new strand to an empire that already included a grocer’s shop in Hurdsfield run by Roy’s wife, Margaret. This served workers at one of the silk mills for which Macclesfield was once famous. They manufactured parachutes during the war but the entire operation has now gone. The couple had three children, Andrew, known as Andy, born in 1959, his elder sister Sue (Lomas) and his younger sister Chris (Pratt).
Roy, who was a fastidious cleaner of coaches, gradually built up the business, soon acquiring a Ford Transit minibus too. The 41 seat Super Vega was replaced by a 45 seat Bedford VAM5 Duple Bella Venture, which in turn was replaced by a G-suffix Plaxton Elite bodied Bedford VAM70 that was probably around four years old at the time. With this coach the first school contract was won, helping to supplement the private hire work that had been the main work up to that point. From the outset, private tours had been operated, Roy having built up a clientele while with Lomas that included the local Derby & Joan Club.
A second used Transit was acquired and together with the first the minibuses took old people to a day centre and carried children with learning difficulties to another day centre, as well as doing private hire work to theatres and night clubs, the latter something the company no longer takes on.
As well as the private hire and state schools work, the company took on a contract to Mount Carmel, a private school, through a third party, and this type of work has become a speciality, with the company geared up to provide the quality it demands. Seven private school contracts are now undertaken, six of them into Manchester. The last county schools contract was lost on price 18 months ago after the company had been doing it for 25 years. It prompted Andy to comment, ‘Councils can’t quantify good value for money. The cheapest isn’t always the best value in my opinion. They’re not interested in quality.’
It was the Derby & Joan Club that Andy took to Cliftonville in April 1981 on the first tour he ever drove. He had taken a party of scouts to Halifax the previous day and snow had closed the M62. He left school at 16 and undertook a commercial apprenticeship at Ben Goulden & Sons – Commercial Motor Engineers, a specialist Bedford garage. ‘It was a great grounding, we did major engine jobs all of the time,’ he recalled. It always was the plan that he would work for his father, ‘I knew what I was going to do from the age of ten, though I’ve burned out now,’ he said. When he did join his father around 1980/81 the fleet stood at five large Bedford coaches with 29, 45 and 53 seats and two Transits.
Bedfords continued to prevail until the mid 1980s, when the first brand new full sized coach was purchased, a YNT Plaxton Paramount 3200. Collected on 21 February 1986, it is still in the fleet today, of which more later. The first new minibus, a Transit, had been bought in 1978. 1986 also saw Bedford announce its withdrawal from the market and the first heavyweight join the McCarthy fleet, an 11m Volvo B10M Plaxton Viewmaster that came from Brentwood Coaches though it had been new to Everton of Droitwich. ‘It was a brilliant motor,’ Andy recalls. More Bedfords were purchased including two YNVs, one a Laser 2 ex-Arun Coaches that was the first 12m coach operated and the other a Paramount 3200 from the Rainworth Travel fleet of Peter Rogers, also known as Marksman, whose system for calculating the Tour Operator’s Margin Scheme Andy is still using. He commented, ‘We had to re-register for German VAT this year,’ adding, ‘we don’t do as much to Germany as we did.’
Today, Roy McCarthy Coaches remains a traditional family business, with Andy at the helm, Chris running the office and, when she’s not on holiday, Sue driving, as she has for more than three decades. Sue’s husband, Mick Lomas, was a partner in the business for 30 years until coming out of it three or four years ago when the business became a limited company. Andy’s wife, Lyn, looks after the accounts and their sons Danny and Max are both now with the company.
Danny took a mechanical Engineering Degree at Coventry when he left school and had a ‘proper’ job as a Design Engineer at JCB before joining the company. His time there included six months working in India. Max did a Transport Management degree at Loughborough and a one year work experience placement with the Oxford bus Company under Philip Kirk. After finishing his degree they asked him to go back to run Thames Travel for one year, which he did. He is still only 25.
Drivers are important at Roy McCarthy Coaches and most have been there for quite a number of years. There are five full timers which with Andy, Danny and Max goes up to eight and in addition there are six regular part timers, including Mick Lomas.
The Company has a team of very reliable drivers, most of the full time staff have been with the Company for over 10 years and some over 20 years. Three drivers have driven with all three generations of the family.
‘It’s feast or famine,’ said Andy. ‘In the school holidays you’ve got too many; in peak periods you can’t get enough. It is harder to get people interested and it’s so costly to get someone through a test. We pay for our driver’s CPCs.’
Fourteen licences are held but the fleet strength has never been higher than the current level of 11. ‘Having enough drivers is the biggest problem,’ said Andy. ‘It’s not a poor area and people don’t seem to come into it. They won’t until operators realise they have to put the rates up and pay drivers more.’
He believes it is crucial to have the right wages to attract the right staff. ‘All of our school runs are to private schools and when the end user is paying for it they demand a good job. You’ve got to be on the ball. There’s always either me or one of my sons here to make sure they go out on time, not that we’ve got any drivers who’d let you down. We have a rule: check what you’re doing, check your vehicle and fuel up before you stand and talk,’ he said.
Since the acquisition of a new Dennis Javelin in 1994, most purchases have been of new coaches, an exception being a very low mileage 2000 Paramount 3500 bodied B10M from Blagdon Lioness that stayed until 2012 and was the last manual in the fleet.
Volvo is the dominant brand in the current fleet, though there are still three Dennis Javelins owned, one Bedford and a BMC. Carrying 59, 60 and 61 plates, all of the Javelin trio have Plaxton Profile bodies with two seating 57 and the 60-plate coach seating 70. Andy likes his Javelins commenting, ‘They’re brilliant motors; for the work we do they’re perfect. If I could have more new I would.’ However, he admits, ‘the drivers don’t like the 70 seater because it has too many belts, it’s more difficult to clean out and it’s guaranteed to have kids on. It’s something to whinge about.’ There is a lot of demand from schools for the 70 seater and it means sometimes they can get away with hiring fewer coaches.
The last minibus, a Mercedes-Benz 408D, was sold in 1993 because the contract was lost and there wasn’t enough private hire work to justify retaining it. A few 29-seat Bedford VAS/PJK models have been operated over the years, among them a Moseley Sintra described as ‘over-bodied and heavy.’ The only smaller coach currently owned is a 35-seat BMC Karisma which is a recent addition to the ranks. Andy explained, ‘We found we were losing business because people weren’t ringing us as they knew we didn’t have anything small. If it doesn’t increase our market share it helps keep us where we are.’ He hasn’t been at all disappointed in it, ‘it’s done really well. I didn’t want a converted van and this is a real coach. The value for money is excellent; it was less than £100,000.’
The six Volvos operated are of three different types. There are three B12M Plaxton Paragons, there is one B12B Paragon and there are two B9Rs, one with Panther 2 coachwork and the other with the new Leopard body.
Hartshorne Potteries is the local Volvo service dealer and Andy is very satisfied with them. ‘They’re very good,’ he said, ‘if I ring them it’s “when do you want to bring it in?”’