Victorian Touring Coaches going strong

By: Randall Johnston

Melbourne bus industry identity going strong since starting his first operation in the 1950s

Victorian Touring Coaches going strong
Victorian Touring Coaches (VTC) managing director Glenn McIvor and founder Bill Armstrong

There are few in the bus industry who can claim more than 65 years in the game, but Melbourne’s Bill Armstrong is one of them.

At 90 years of age, Bill seems to have little interest in retiring from Victorian Touring Coaches, which he first established in the form of S.W. Armstrong in 1950.

"It’s a daily operation, there’s always work to be done and I always enjoy that interaction with people," Bill says.

"My first job at 8am every day is to check each driver’s worksheet from the previous day and get that to the office staff so it goes into each driver’s pay schedule."

While the heavy lifting duties may be delegated out, Bill will be helping with the company’s move to the new depot in the second quarter of this year, also located in Moorabbin.

"We’re pretty excited about the new depot.

"We’ve been here more than 10 years, but have just run out of space here really."

Bill has seen some tremendous change over the last half century, but insists the core responsibilities of a good bus operator have not changed and he hopes they never will.

"It always comes down to people.

"Having the right people helping you in the business and making sure you always look at things from the customer’s perspective.

"They have all these different operators they can choose from, why should they choose you? You have to give them a good reason."

It’s hard to imagine a bus operator coming from much more humble beginnings.

Bill was still a teenager during the Great Depression, delivering milk in a horse and cart seven days a week.

He drove a utility for Con’s Radiator Service in South Melbourne, before running a stall at the South Melbourne Market in the late 1940s, while also driving a furniture van and a 1951 Federal 31-seat bus for his employer.

After a year of this, Bill purchased the business as well as the two vehicles, and S.W. Armstrong was established.

Operating from Brunswick, Bill’s early jobs involved mostly charter work for church and social groups and Sunday picnics in suburban Melbourne.

He operated a casual service transporting Carlton AFL fans from Princes Park to Flinders Street Station after the match on game days, and another service to the races at Flemington and Caulfield, at a time when the trams couldn’t keep up with the demand.

Fast-forward 65 years and school runs are the bread and butter of the 31-vehicle operation Bill started, now known as Victorian Touring Coaches (VTC).

ABC spoke to driver Ian Cranston, who has worked at Victorian Touring Coaches for over 25 years.

He says Bill is one of the last remaining true gentleman, and one of the most respected figures in the industry in Melbourne and a man who puts in the hard yards himself, which is one reason why drivers enjoy working for him.

While the depot move will make life easier by doubling the organisation’s capacity to accommodate its coaches, Bill’s work ethic won’t budge as he continues to apply the same exacting standards and sheer determination to the business he has built from the ground-up.

Read the full profile in the January edition of Australasian Bus & Coach Magazine.

Click here for a FREE subscription to ABC’s weekly newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up to receive the ABC e-newsletter, digital magazine and other offers we choose to share with you straight to your inbox

You can also follow our updates by liking us on Facebook