Obituary: Bill Cottham, transport executive

George William (Bill) Cottham, who has died at 76, was a key figure in the region’s public transport sector in the 1980s and 1990s, becoming director general of the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive and leading its transformation into a commercial company – Yorkshire Rider – after the deregulation of the bus industry in 1986.

Bill Cottham at the opening of Bramley Station in 1983

George William (Bill) Cottham, who has died at 76, was a key figure in the region’s public transport sector in the 1980s and 1990s, becoming director general of the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive and leading its transformation into a commercial company – Yorkshire Rider – after the deregulation of the bus industry in 1986.

Born in Liverpool in 1944, he left school at 15 and joined Liverpool Corporation Transport as a messenger boy and then an engineering apprentice. He gained a first class degree in engineering from Liverpool University whilst on the job and quickly progressed to senior positions at St Helens, Newport and Cleveland Transit.  

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Appointed to the West Yorkshire role in 1983, he became concerned that competition from the newly privatised bus companies could undermine the viability of Yorkshire Rider, and was instrumental in planning and leading its buyout, the first of its kind in the local authority sector. It took the form of an employee share ownership plan, unique in the industry at the time and later replicated by other authorities.

Yorkshire Rider was eventually sold to Badgerline, now FirstGroup plc. Meanwhile, Bill had become president of the Bus and Coach Council, the industry trade association.

A strong and decisive figure, he was known for his winning sense of humour. “The only mistake I ever made was when I thought I’d made a mistake and I hadn’t,” he was fond of saying.

After the Yorkshire Rider sale he retired from full time employment and became chairman of CentreWest London Buses from 1995 until 1998. He and his wife, Joan, divided their retirement between their homes in Nevis, Florida and Portugal. He also gained law degree from the University of London and joined Gray’s Inn.

He is survived by Joan and by two daughters and four grandchildren.