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Thursday, 24 December 2009

The story of RTW335 - a tale for Christmas


My Christmas Eve story is about RTW335 which had been known about in France for many years. Peter Hendy had kept the contact open and since I inherited his office when he left First I got the call when the owner was ready to dispose of it. I can recall my Secretary saying “This is a call you will want to take!”

Nick Agnew, John Self and I had an enjoyable visit in 2003 and arranged to return it home. It was in the hands of a French company which provided action vehicles for film and TV work so was parked amongst American police cars and yellow school buses.

The bus had been completed gutted inside – no seats, a big hole in the floor, and the ravages of years outside. Even its Leyland 0.600 engine was not a London Transport one.

However it drove perfectly well apart from a small fuel starvation problem – the sort that affects vehicles which have been laid up for a long time. It is amazing that it can spring back into life so many years after it left the maintenance regime of London Transport.

After crossing the English Channel we drove it to the premises of Imperial Bus Company, accompanied by their RT786. The journey had numerous breaks as the specially rigged fuel arrangements were replenished.

The original plan was for Imperial to restore it but when they found themselves unable to proceed we arranged instead for it to go to the Ensignbus collection to join a splendid array of vehicles and a queue of rescued ones awaiting attention.

The process was quicker than planned as it was despatched to The BusWorks in Blackpool this month for restoration. Already stripping has commenced and shows that the structure remains very sound. It is planned for our RTW467 to join it both for some quite unconnected work and to act as a template for some of the material which has to be fabricated.

It has its own blog which is http://rtw335.blogspot.com/.

There is a video on YouTube of part of the return journey home. It’s at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBpQkcGzMek and the photo above shows her as we found her in France.

And finally - a reminder. Follow me on Twitter and I'll let you know every time I update this blog. Happy Christmas everyone and thanks for tuning in.
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Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A New Bus for London


Well the Christmas good news is the award of the New Bus for London contract to our friends at Wrightbus. I can do no better than quote the Press Notice:

The New Bus for London will feature:

• An open platform: a defining feature allowing the reinstatement of a hop-on hop-off bus service. The platform will have the facility to be closed off at certain times, such as at night.

• Green technology: the new bus will incorporate the latest hybrid technology and will be 40 per cent more fuel efficient than conventional diesel buses and 15 per cent more fuel efficient than current London hybrid buses.

• Air quality emissions will be reduced by 40 per cent for NOx* emissions and 33 per cent for PM** emissions when compared with conventional diesel buses.

• Three doors (including the rear platform) and two staircases, giving an innovative new design and aiding speedier and smoother boarding.

• Capacity for at least 87 passengers.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, said: “Londoners have waited with stoic patience as work has continued behind the scenes to select the manufacturer to make the 21st century Routemaster a reality.

Well, no sooner had I posted last night about the issues relating to bad weather than overnight there was trouble in Southampton. The rain washed away the grit and then it froze, leading to significant black ice especially on residential roads. After four collisions this morning (including one with a gritting lorry undertaking a rescue!) we had to take the whole network off until things improved.

The main road in was passable so Greyhound got going although we had to combine a couple of trips early on. No matter, we sent text messages to all the passengers and they knew what we were doing. During the morning various other transport modes shut down so we were really busy and we have had some brilliant commendations from members of the public.

So as I said last night – no heroics and get control of the information!

Attention to detail is also important so for a while our MD’s welcome message on the website no longer said “travelling around Hampshire has never been easier”!! (It does again now, though!)

The photo, by the way, is NOT the new Wrightbus Routemaster of the future but one of a number of concepts by Silvertip Designs which you can see at http://www.silvertipdesign.com


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Tuesday, 22 December 2009

It's snow time!



You’ll have noticed how bad the weather has been and how badly transport has been disrupted. The calling-off by British Airways cabin staff of their strike disappeared from the news as troubles at Eurostar and other disruptions took over.

Our staff did a tremendous job in keeping things going where we could and where it was safe to do so. By Monday it was London’s turn to really get a dose and services were widely disrupted that evening.

There is always lots of media coverage at this time – stories of people stranded, those who failed to get home and those ‘special treats’ missed. The key always is information and this is a big task, especially for bus passengers where they are spread out across thousands of stops, not gathered at stations.

Sometimes the trouble is invisible: passengers waiting on what seem to be perfectly open roads can’t understand why there is no service. Of course there is a major disruption up the line somewhere else. Countdown in London (and other forms of Real Time Information elsewhere) is always a help on those stops which are fitted and increasingly we find people check the internet for up-to-date news.

We are working hard now to make sure very up-to-date information is posted on our websites. The advent of smartphones now places internet access in the hands of many individuals in the street as well as at home or office.

Quite a lot is written in the press about keeping services running during really bad weather conditions. Last year TfL and the Mayor were hounded by the press when services were stopped (under such headlines about how even Hitler didn’t halt the bus service!).

Let’s be clear about this – if it is not safe to run we can’t do so. (Also modern buses have 60% of the weight at the back and they rely much more on electrics than the old ones did). And whilst there is some merit in ‘pressing on’ through thick and thin, at snail’s pace, and ‘getting through’, the truth is that your passengers have largely disappeared – preferring not to stay out in the awful conditions. If you are not careful, you end up with the fleet damaged and suffering from the effects of freezing up and the staff exhausted. When the thaw comes and everyone wants to get back on your services to go to work or shopping, you are on your knees with too few serviceable buses and not enough staff.

So – no heroics but we'll will do what we can. And we should be ready for when the public is demanding a full service again (which can of course be the next day!).

Meantime well done to everyone who did get people to the end of their journeys safely this week and let’s hope for calmer conditions across the holidays!


More to come? A snowy scene at Hengrove depot, Bristol from last February.


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Friday, 18 December 2009

More nostalgia


Seeing the light of day for the first time in years is GW713, a 1930 Gilford which was this week moved from the Science Museum reserve collection at Wroughton to private premises for restoration work to commence.

I first came across this vehicle in the 1970s when working for Prince Marshall who owned it. It had been receiving some attention but after his death the collection of vehicles were dispersed and I for one lost track of it. So I was delighted when Prince's son Sebastian announced that he had secured it. So this week it made its way on the back of a low-loader from the dark confines of its shed at Wroughton to a place where serious restoration can now be attempted.

You can see a picture of it when it was last roadworthy at Mike Beamish's Bus Pages - here is the link. It's a long way down so keep scrolling......!   http://www.mikesbuspages.com/thepreservationscene.htm

(And I bet you get caught up in more nostalgia on the way!)

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Wednesday, 16 December 2009

How I learned about engineering.......

The time just streaks by and it's nearly a week since I wrote last.

Tonight I've had dinner with Phil Swallow, owner of RM5, and he has been telling me more about the extraordinary lengths the Arriva team and many others went to, to deliver this superb restoration. As a starting point he had in his possession a radiator badge - he just wanted a bus to put it on!

There is a much longer story but I have promised to feature it in the Routemaster Magazine, which is the journal of the RMOOA. You'll be able to read it there.

I have a couple of clips up on YouTube which you might like to see. Back in the summer we were pleased to support the commemorative run of the longest Royal Blue service from Penzance to Aberdeen - both First locations! You can see the cavalcade of old coaches leaving Muller Road Bristol on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hHLZaZqieg.

And then in August we unveiled our splendid Greyhound coach by Tower Bridge in London and you can see this on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrGS5iBPeZk.

Visitors to this site tell me they like good old stories from the past so here is one I am guilty of - so learn the lesson of confusing facts with opinion:

Back 1979 we brought back Vintage Bus route 100 using ST922 and D142 from Covent Garden to Oxford Circus. During the lunch break the crew would park at Cornwall Road Waterloo (now the Red Arrow garage).

One lunchtime I went over for one reason or another and as I approached ST922 from behind I found a snapped fan belt. An alarm went off in my head and I opened the bonnet and yes - the fan belt was missing from the ST.

Clever me - I had saved this 1930 petrol engine from certain disaster. Called up the towing lorry, I lost the afternoon's service, and ST922 was safely returned to Nunhead Garage.

Now it was time to call our Principal Engineer Tim Nicholson who had masterminded the restoration of all our vehicles and let him thank me for my amazing performance. I can hear him now....

He roared down the phone "Leon - STs don't have fan belts - the fan is simply mounted on the front of the engine! There's is nothing for it to drive!!"

Yes - I had picked up a broken fan belt - from a Leyland National I know now - and coupled with the lack of one obviously on ST922 had put two and two together......and made five.

The lesson is - can you distinguish between the facts that you have, and what your mind has interpreted from them??

And yes I cost us an unnecessary tow home AND an afternoon's service!

Photo of ST922 at Victoria Garage - the bus on which I passed my manual PSV test and the one I unnecessarily towed home!

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Thursday, 10 December 2009

Back to back


In this chat I am pleased to bring up two issues from across at the Omnibuses blog the link for which is across on the right. Following my interview over on that site there were lots of comments but one (which you can see for yourself) talks about how there are a few examples of us at First “running small operators off the road.”

You’ll see me ask for examples – the ones suggested were Western Greyhound and Chester City Transport!

I know Mark Howarth, MD Western Greyhound, would find it jolly funny at the accusation. Western Greyhound has expanded considerably over the past few years, in many cases providing services with small buses on corridors which we used to run. I don’t think he feels “run off the road” at all!

And as for Chester City Transport – the Council decided to put it up for sale. We were one of the bidders but meanwhile Arriva registered on their routes and found themselves in the High Court. Eventually the potential buyers disappeared but we stayed in and paid the City Council real money to buy their loss-making bus company which was about to face stiff competition.

Arriva’s competitive services started on the day we took over and we remain in competition to this day.

There is room in the market for large and small operators and I assure you there are very stringent laws in place to prevent predatory activity, with commensurate penalties!

Omnibuses also features today an issue about the safety of reversing. It quotes from an article in the trade press and mentions that no trace was found of any law preventing reversing with passengers. I maintain there is - it was actually a question on my PSV driving test. “What would you do if you drove into a cul-de-sac with a bus full of people?” “Stop and get the passengers off” was the correct answer.

Think about this for a minute. You do now have umpteen passengers milling around outside for your reversing movement – wouldn't they be safer inside?

Another point is the feature of “drive in/reverse out” bays at bus stations (they have always been around but there seem to be more now). At First we don’t like them at all as it seems to introduce a risk which doesn’t need to be there at all. Try as you might unwitting pedestrians and sometimes staff are wandering about in the vehicle movement area. London has never had them and their bus stations are as crowded, busy and in a tight spot as anyone’s. We try and avoid them if possible but in many cases the design and development is in the hands of a local authority so we have to live with it.

What do you think?


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Monday, 7 December 2009

More from Saturday and some love letters too!



Thanks everyone for your photos from Saturday. I was going to replace the one as I promised but actually I have had a spectacular one from Russell Young and another great one from Bob Stanger, my conductor, who helped make the day really enjoyable so I have decided to post them both here as well.

I know you've been across to the Omnibuses blog (link on the right) to see my interview which I hope you like.

Thanks to my intrepid PR Manager and would-be sleuth in the South West (which is an area from Penzance to Leicester!) Karen Baxter we have a great story running in the West Country today which looks like it will go national tomorrow. A bag (which was lost property in 2008) contains items from the 1940s - love letters, poems, and photographs etc. from around the world. The search is now on to return them to the rightful owner.

http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/homepage/help-trace-owner-old-love-letters/article-1580323-detail/article.html is the link and Karen is waiting to hear from someone about these right now!

(The one of me is the photo by Bob Stanger and the one where I am attempting to drown the photographers is by Russell Young).


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Take a look over at Omnibuses blog

Those nice people at Omnibuses blog site have published an interview with me.

Jump over to http://omnibuses.blogspot.com/ and take a look!

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Saturday, 5 December 2009

Two areas of green



A busy week which ended in splendid fashion as it was the EnsignBus running day between Grays and Gravesend via Lakeside and Bluewater. This has become a major annual event and attracts a good many people not all of whom were planning to go Christmas shopping!

The day dawned very bright and clear and I was lucky to have RLH61 for my part in the day. This particular vehicle was brought home from Canada some years ago and restored to its current high standard - all in great secrecy for a special occasion at the time. It was hugely popular and we were frequently very busy. I know one of you will be sending me a good photo of it in action today which I will use - meantime we'll make do with the one above. Driving an RLH is like driving a quirky RT - it looks vaguely familiar but things are not quite in the same place - the trafficator switch is mounted on the offside cab wall, so neither it nor the handbrake are where you would normally put your hand to. It has small sliding cab door windows, not the vertical one of the RT so again when giving the essential busmen's handsignals you have to remember not to put your hand through the glass!

You'll hear about it anyway so why not now. Yes, I missed my turning in Grays Town Centre so arrived at the railway station from the wrong way. Everyone seemed to enjoy the extra five minutes journey (except for those photographers who were facing the wrong way when I turned up!).

This is a great event - very popular now and doing what buses are supposed to do and carry lots of passengers!

I couldn't stay all day as I had another engagement in Bristol later so left at lunchtime for a railway trek across country and, it has to be said, very much worse weather.

Looking back on the week we had the important announcement from the DfT who have provided £30m for new vehicles across England from a competition called the Green Bus fund. The awards were distributed as follows:

Independents - 84
 Local Authorities & PTEs - 41
TfL - 46
Stagecoach - 56
First - 36
NatEx - 20
Arriva and Go Ahead - zero

Most of the vehicles will be hybrids but 55 of them will be electric vehicles. More details of the specific orders will be following later. Our 56 are split between West Yorkshire and Manchester (22 and 14 respectively).

Lots to do and not long until Christmas so looks like two busy weeks coming up - do keep tuning in and thanks, once again, for all your comments. There will be a special message on Monday 7th Dec so do look in again then or as soon as you can.

If you are wondering about 'two areas of green' in the title that is the old green Country Bus area of London Transport and the Green bus fund!

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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Great Greyhound customer service


I am amazed just quite how many visits this site is getting every day and thanks for all the comments - both here and the ones sent privately. I know there are lots of staff checking in as I keep on meeting them on my travels and I'm glad to know you find it interesting.

"Travel's a curse" they say (in Les Miserables) and not always glamorous (he said having recently dragged his suitcase across a windswept provincial runway at 0630 in the dark) but that is our business and we are seeking to transform it in all its various aspects.

I have today had an enjoyable visit to our Greyhound operation starting this morning on the coach from London to Portsmouth. A perfect journey, on time and well delivered, power and wifi for the technology, leather seats and plenty of legroom. Have you tried it yet? Attention to customer service is paramount and when an unavoidable problem beset a Southampton-bound coach the passengers were picked up by a spare vehicle and ferried home, and I mean home!

Yes - we made our way down narrow residential roads and delivered passengers to just where they wanted to get to, and no - this wasn't stage-managed for my benefit! On a door-to-door basis this took no longer than if their planned coach had operated normally. Good customer service involves empowering staff to make local decisions like this and tonight word of mouth will be spreading Greyhound good news in the area.

So well done to Managing Director Alex Warner and his top team at Greyhound, specifically Shaun and David who I left at Southampton Central Station giving out Greyhound information to passengers who have no rail service any weekend in December.

If you are interested in transport and have a few spare surfing seconds do check in at http://www.busesonscreen.net/screen/screen.htm website where the starring and "walk-on" roles of buses and coaches on TV and in films are comprehensively documented. Lots of footage from past decades as well as the attempts by film makers to recreate the past (some more successful than others). I'm adding a link to this site from here so do take a look. I used to be involved in quite a lot of film and TV work and it is amazing to see some of this again all those years later. As you will imagine these assignments took hours or days to make and often then appear only for a few seconds.
Nevertheless film extras are always well-fed so the waiting around wasn't too bad. I think The Great Muppet Caper was the worst - we turned up on Monday and waited until Thursday before we were used. You can still see me in that - I'm the one in the rowing boat in the lake in Battersea Park whilst Kermit and Miss Piggy are riding bicycles and singing......

Friday, 27 November 2009

It's not easy being green

In about 1850 the principals of the five main horse bus companies in London were women but for much of the time since then our industry has been dominated by men. Interesting given that there are fewer men in the UK's population than women and that the latter (probably) are a larger share of our passengers.

In FirstGroup we actually run contrary to the industry trend since the Managing Directors of our bus and rail businesses are women - Nicola Shaw for bus and Mary Grant for rail. Nicola gave a speech at this week's Transport Times conference and made a clear point about the effects of the continued march of Euro-engine requirements. Comparing our Euro V standards with pre-Euro, they emit 1/30th of the particulates and 1/4 of the NOx. Improvements from here on in are very marginal and probably very expensive. Do we really want to continue on this road given now a huge focus on carbon reduction much of which can be achieved by modal shift and energy saving measures?

Take a look at greenerjourney.com for how the industry is planning to work together to reduce the total of carbon emissions. Our own DriveGreen programme, in which drivers are encouraged to use less fuel by smoother driving, monitored on board, is already delivering actual fuel savings.

In short the less fuel we all use the longer it will last and the lower amount of carbon will be generated.

I am fascinated when talking to people from other walks of life just how car dependent they are. I actually don't see my car (we only have one) from Sunday to Saturday and there are few places in the UK where I need to go that are not accessible by public transport (which, of course, must include some taxis in difficult places). In fact my thought process automatically starts with public transport.

However very many other people I meet socially cannot believe this and their natural 'first response' is using their car. I should say this reaction is much worse outside London than inside. Indeed in many of our towns, cities and suburbs, it seems there is often one car per adult in the household - at least two, if not three or four. And our non-London friends appear to have no comprehension of the public transport options available to them.

I fear many have become so reliant on their personal transport we may never tempt them back - but we certainly have to try!

One from my traffic signs collection - as you can see vehicles wider the 15' are banned from this road. Since the legal limit is just over 8' if you see anything vaguely likely to contravene this please let me know!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Return to Dagenham Dock



I must start with an omission from the route 9 story. We did have "50 years of Routemasters on route 9" special destination blind labels made - these were in the main route 9 fleet from mid-November onwards and were specially made for us by McKennas and at not much notice. The great thing about Vin and Malc at McKennas is that they entirely understand what you are trying to achieve and get it right first time! Do check in with them at http://www.mckennabrothers.co.uk/.

As for this week, well one interesting co-incidence. We do have special staff forums ("Question Time") at our locations every month and Bus Board Directors are scheduled into some of them. The luck of the draw got me to one at London's Dagenham depot this week - my hold home from Capital Citybus days although it is now half a mile away and a spanking new site and not the old Portakabin and shed we used to have.

A great turnout and many of my old colleagues and team were there and I learned a lot about experiences with new mirrors, cabs, GreenRoad, iBus and so on.

Several had come prepared of course but one or two of my oldest friends and colleagues also had some memorabilia for me - photographs, video and sound recordings which was really nice. I also got a question answered. In another place I had told the story of my earliest PSV test which was done under the auspices of the LBPG at Cobham in 1977. We did our learning on RT1320 and in the fortnight before our tests (with Bruce Swain from RTL453 and Terry Stubbington from RT190) the late Alan Allmey discovered RT1320 was out of test and incapable of passing a new one! As a result we were hurriedly loaned another vehicle which none of us had driven until the day of our test.

I had entirely forgotten which bus it was but my old friend, and Dagenham driver Bruce Swain confirmed it was RT4497 and in addition sent me a photo (which is shown above).

This of course only gave you an automatic licence so I had to go through the whole stressful experience again with ST922 to get my manual licence. A task made harder because (certainly in those days) if you did badly on your upgrade test they could revoke your existing one!

(By co-incidence I was able to touch ST922 as well this week - it is currently undergoing some restoration work at Cobham Bus Museum. Lots going on there and a story for another day).

Further changes are proposed for PSV driver licensing and consultation is now being undertaken. One of the anomalies has always been that you can get your licence as soon as you are 18 (of course it was 21 in my day) and it is not until you approach 45 that you need your first medical. Thereafter at five yearly intervals. More frequent and regular medical tests are being proposed in measures to tighten up on this. PSV drivers do have the highest standards of safety delivery - the numbers of fatalities and injuries are very small by comparison with other types of road users. Nevertheless it is quite right that these standards are reviewed and areas of weakness, such as this one, remedied.

(At a point in this story "PSV" became "PCV". I have used the old term throughout. Using olde worlde terms sometimes conveys the impression of wisdom whether it is deserved or not).

Packing to head to the North West - thanks for following this and glad you are enjoying it!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

50 years of Routemasters on route 9




It is 50 years since Routemasters first arrived on route 9. The trolleybus conversion at Poplar in November 1959 enabled RMs to venture out on Sundays on route 9. Now 50 years later there are still Routemasters on the route thanks to the heritage overlay between Royal Albert Hall and Aldwych.

So what better way to celebrate it than with another ‘new’ Routemaster. This time RM1005 which was the first Marshall refurbishment (their “M.RM001”) which last worked on route 13 for Sovereign on 21st October 2005 and today re-entered service on route 9 from Westbourne Park.

Newly painted and prepared, it ventured out today with its owner Commissioner for Transport in London Peter Hendy at the wheel and me as its conductor. The bus is currently on loan to First.

On a bright November Sunday London was teaming with tourists and we were very busy on our trips between Royal Albert Hall and Aldwych. Great to see so many friends come and join us too.

Passengers are still raving about the heritage routes – we had them taking us even though it was off their planned journey and also to get them half-way to where they wanted to go. Some asked if it was only for today!

Peter Hendy and I with RM1005 during the briefest break between trips. Silver Routemaster SRM3 was also in service on route 9 today and for one brief moment they were together too!



Saturday, 14 November 2009

Lord Mayor's Show


Well I did say it was a busy weekend and it started on Friday as our Managing Director for First Rail Support Maurice Duckworth received his MBE from HM The Queen and I was delighted to join him and his family for a celebration in London last night.

Not too late for me as this morning I was off early to Westbourne Park to take RMC1510 out to the Lord Mayor’s Show. Although I have been to this event many times the last time I drove a bus in it (Obsolete Fleet’s D142 with the Chelsea Pensioners) was about 1979 so it was great to do so again today.

The weather was dreadful – it was howling at dawn but the main parade itself was fine and it only started to pour down again after the lunch break at 1pm.

What a great thing to continue to celebrate the new Lord Mayor of London each year with this splendid pageant. It’s a shame it’s in November with the attendant weather risks but there we are.

I saw a few First uniforms in the crowds (we were going really slowly!) so well done team for being there.

The coverage on BBC1 was superb and we got tremendous exposure on television.

Brian Wadsworth, Master of the Worshipful Company of Carmen, was my conductor and he took great care of my priceless £sd Gibson machine and it is back home safely once again. (So is he, I think!)

Timebus’ RM479 also took part as did RM644 – a great event and we know now, it really is only 40 days to Christmas.

Another busy day tomorrow – keep reading.......!

Photo - I am dressed for battle (and weather) - Brian my conductor is in ceremonial mode, despite the Gibson machine! My very old friend Michael Banfield was there and that's his Austin Taxi on the left.





Thursday, 12 November 2009

UK Bus Awards 2009


I’m told that one should update these sort of sites at least twice a week and I am doing my best but it is my first night at home for ages.

The week started in Aberdeen and has been through London, Preston (nothing to do with the Competition Commission requirement on Stagecoach to sell the local bus company – honest!) and Bristol.

The flight down from Aberdeen on Monday night was 30 minutes late but thanks to those clever schedulers at BA we arrived “on time” thanks to the padded schedule. Everyone on board felt we were late but the statistics will say otherwise.

Anyhow – to the important part of the week it was the UK Bus Awards this week at the Hilton in Park Lane and we at First were delighted to win two prizes both in London. The Greenford team won a prize for their outstanding efforts in taking over route 195 from Ealing Community Transport in four days as did Winston Dotting who is Top London Bus Driver of the Year and who has 38 years’ service.

His manager said: “Winston's nomination does not just stem from his excellent driving history or exemplary attendance record, but from his selfless and inspirational work for and with the community. His dedication and drive is infectious and I believe he is a true hero who is making a difference.”

Well done to our winning team and to all of the other winners. The UK Bus Awards is an excellent occasion to celebrate success in our industry and in these tough times very welcome.

And now a busy weekend to follow – watch this space !

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Food glorious food


Well I ought to be 5 stone heavier this week having had three evening dinners out.

On Monday I had supper with the Master of the Worshipful Company of Carmen. One of our topics will be the subject of something I will tell you about next week. It’s a bit secret until then.

On Tuesday I was one of a large number of attendees at a very nice dinner at Cutlers’ Hall as a guest of former Traffic Commissioner Chris Heaps. Chris remains a huge supporter of high standards for public transport generally and also champions the need for continuing progress in his native South West.

And on Wednesday it was time to say farewell to my former co-Director Douglas Downie who left FirstGroup last month. Douglas had been our Finance and IS Director for UK Bus and was a wise man and great supporter. We presented him with a caricature drawing of himself with his UK Bus Board colleagues. It is not fair of me to reveal everyone but I have no problem of showing my part of it. It shows, typically me with my phone in my ear and trademark bright tie in my soup.

I have no hesitation in recommending the artist who you can find at http://www.picassogriffiths.com/index.php .

Somehow in the middle of this I managed lunch with my daughter as well. You must think being in the transport business is all about eating - literally feast or famine as on many other days we miss several meals completely. Probably not the healthiest lifestyle but there we are.

We’re having a bit of a dust up in Dublin at present. Irish bus service licensing is still based on the 1932 legislation and getting a licence is a long and protracted process. We have just finished getting all the approvals for a service from Dalkey to Dublin Airport and the only problem is there is an operator, the Patton Flyer, there already, operating entirely without a licence.

He was actually offered a licence – sometimes in Ireland they offer to make illegal operators legitimate – but declined it. Now he is making a huge fuss as he sees us getting ready to commence operations and is describing to the media how this big international corporation is about to trample all over this small family business.

Well, we have no wish to do any such thing but Ireland has a regulated bus system, based on a 1932 Act which is a bit like we had here before 1986. Everyone has to operate under the same rules and over the years I have learned that whilst people can have their moment of fun by doing as they please, it is those who devise ways of delivering quality within the rules that survive and prosper.

And if the rules are bad – there are ways to get them changed, as Ireland will shortly demonstrate with its new transport legislation later this year.

Thanks for all your comments - your suggestions and thoughts are valued and (anonymously of course) passed to the appropriate people in the organisation.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Wednesday already


I had a funny experience at the end of last week as I headed back to London from Rotherham. With a bit of care I can do this using Hull Trains which is our open acces rail operator. During the journey we suffered one of those delays and the staff did a great job in announcing them and explaining why.

Having only sat with to Hull Trains MD James Adeshiyan in Aberdeen earlier that week I fired off an email to him saying what a great job they were doing only to discover he was also on the train! Great to see key First employees riding the service and leading from the front! In fact UK Bus Board Directors are all required to sample the bus service somewhere at least once a week and we discuss our experiences every Monday.

I don't think I've mentioned Glove Love. Take a look at www.dothegreenthing.com which is an environmental initiative we are supporting. Once of their campaigns is to make sure we use things for their lifetime and not discard it prematurely for the next new thing. As part of this orphaned single gloves which are left on buses (and indeed elsewhere) which are unclaimed are being sent by all our companies to their central location where interns sort through them and make up new pairs - to be sold again for £5.

Hectic week, three consecutive nights out, and the announcement of our half year results today at www.firstgroup.com, which was at 7am this morning so we've all been up VERY early!

Photo from my collection of interesting road signs - not much of a limitation is it?

Friday, 30 October 2009

Half Term



Thanks for checking in again.

This is a busy week as it is also school half term holidays.

On Monday I was able to see the progress on RT8 at EnsignBus. It is getting on really well and will be absolutely spectacular when it is finished next year.

However it has its own blog and you can follow its progress easily enough on

http://restoringrt8.blogspot.com/

We were all in Aberdeen this week for a Directors’ Safety Conference – a subject we take very seriously in First. The results are exceptional – we have, as a result of all our efforts, made significant inroads to injuries, fatalities and collisions but there is still much to do. Critically delivering improvements gets harder as the results get better but we are driven on in the knowledge that since we have locations able to deliver zero injuries then we can do that everywhere else.

The usual mad scramble out to Aberdeen airport in the evening peak traffic and down to London. As is so often the case we made good progress and landed ahead of schedule only to wait on the taxiway waiting for the aircraft parking guidance lights to be switched on (by which time we were late). I wonder why they don’t leave them on all the time, I wonder? All in all it caused me to arrive at the Heathrow Express platform at Terminal 5 with display I like least – NEXT TRAIN 14 MINS – which means you’ve just missed one.

Passenger Focus today announced the results of the Bus Mystery Traveller Survey – a task it has taken over from the DfT. It’s all at http://www.passengerfocus.org.uk/what-we-are-doing/bus-and-coach/

This is in addition to the new survey work being undertaken by Passenger Focus in preparation for when their role becomes formalised in 2010. We already carry out our own surveys and taken together these provide a good guide to what’s hot and what’s not in the minds of the passengers.

If you ride with us, even if you don’t get surveyed, do please tell us what you think and tell us quickly so we can attend to it. You will find contact details on our company websites.

Lastly if you Twitter than I always use it to announce new messages on this blog. If you are a follower than you’ll always know when a new message is here. Try it!



Friday, 23 October 2009

Advertising pays



I'll come to the picture and title eventually, I promise.

Earlier this week I was in what is now Derwentside, but more familiar as County Durham. The trip was entirely business but co-incidentally included the village of my earliest upbringing which was a small mining community and whilst the coal mines themselves have gone the miners' homes of my infancy are still there.

And for those who wonder why I don't have a Geordie accent I was removed south before I learned to talk.....

(I'm not saying where I was or you'll work out who I was seeing!).

Anyhow, back out of Newcastle Airport, through Bristol, London, and today in York which brings me to the subject of today's blog.

Earlier this year I launched the two prototypes of my scheme to put double-deck advertising sites on single-deckers. The double-deckers command much better revenue than single-deckers but in some places we just don't have the numbers of double deckers in the local fleet.

Well I am delighted to learn that these units have withstood the ravages of low trees and bus washes, they have not worsened fuel consumption nor wind resistance, and have been sold out since their inception. A further eight buses are therefore now added to the York fleet and again they are fully sold to blue-chip customers - Fenwicks, York Dungeon and others.

In this difficult economic climate, commercial advertising is an easy saving so I am especially grateful to those organisations who have chosen to advertise with us. York Dungeon told me that their research shows an amazing percentage of visitors learned or were reminded of their venue as a result of bus advertising - far greater than other media, so bus advertising does work!

My greatest supporters have been the people at Wrights who designed me an advertising module which looks 'designed in' rather than 'planted on' and is light and simple; and CBS Outdoor who took the idea, ran with it, and sold it so successfully.

Thanks everyone and now we have a successful product which we can 'roll-out' elsewhere too.

Left to right, the girl who did it for us Wendy Mullins from CBS Outdoor who sold all the sites, me, and Linda Gray from Fenwicks - already one of my most satisfied customers!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Old friends

I was thrilled today to meet up with my old mate Michael Dryhurst who I've not seen in ten years even though he has moved from California.

The temptation of email and the occasional letter means you never quite get around to meeting properly but we did today at the Science Museum Reserve Collection at Wroughton.

What a good reminder that time passes so quickly and we have memories which not only fail - they can become difficult to access without the right stimulus! We are of course resolved to meet more frequently. He has for some time been retired from his glittering career in the Hollywood film business and has been taking life ever so slightly more leisurely.

Michael was, of course, "V H Darling" the respected transport author and column writer, and he was instrumental in bringing RT1 back from America, thereby allowing it to be restored here. I have threatened to strap him to a machine and download him but he has offered instead to talk freely over dinner, which I look forward to enormously.

And the lesson is - don't neglect your old frends !

That's him on the right!

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Saturday, 17 October 2009

Leicester


I was in Leicester this week for one reason or another. Quite sad to see the derelict remains of the old Leicester City Transport depot in Abbey Park Road which we sold for redevelopment some while ago. The economic climate has not allowed the development to progress and so for now you can still see most of this tremendous old depot (and still with our name outside!).

I can remember visiting it during its Corporation heyday and also to collect vehicles which they had sold.

Never mind, onwards and upwards, we have a sparkling new depot just around the corner which is very swish, excellent facilities and the staff there are doing a wonderful job in keeping it in tip-top shape.

I have also been to see the new ‘Suburbia’ exhibition at the London Transport Museum and which I highly recommend. If there are any FirstGroup staff who would like to visit it for free my office will gladly send you an admission ticket (for as long as stocks last). If you are staff you will know how to find me!

I am getting some questions about whether we are doing anything to celebrate 50 years of Routemasters on route 9. It was on 15th November 1959 that Poplar used their RMs on Sundays between Becontree Heath and Mortlake. (The whole story on Routemasters on route 9 by Colin Stannard is in Issue 80 of the Routemaster Operators' and Owners' Association Magazine which is free to members - so do join).
Our main problem is that it is also Lord Mayor’s Show weekend and volunteer labour is already a bit stretched, but we will see what we can do to try and have some sort of surprise.

Photo shows former Leicester City Transport 16 which was the last Leyland PD3 in service exactly 27 years ago!
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Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Aberdeen Monday

Tonight's first tribute is to Denise Robertson who left us today after a glittering career as my PR manager for Scotland and East England. Denise was an absolute star, never backed away from an assignment no matter how challenging, and taught me the value of social networking (like this!). She las left us to take up a much more challenging role in her native Scotland. We are sad for oursleves but pleased for her, as she moves into greater things.

I have promised not to refer to the huge glass of red wine she once spilled over me so will not do so here.

It's been an Aberdeen day - started Sunday afternoon via Heathrow so as to be in Aberdeen for our regular monthly formal Bus Safety and UK Bus Board Meeting. Despite getting a head start I then rate late all day.

In Aberdeen we have our amazing new depot and office. The staff really appreciate the new facilities and there is more to come.

I left at 5pm for the airport and down to London on BA. Lateness continued as I arrived to have supper with some friends and so missed the first course entirely. My host tonight Andrew Braddock, latterly Head of the Accessible Unit at TfL but was Field Operations Director for London Country when I first landed on him with two open BMMO D9s about 30 years ago at an event neither of us entirely recalls.....

Andrew's daughter was married in July (I missed it - I was in Germany!) but RML2735 didn't and it was driven by Peter Hendy. So tonight those of us who were instrumental in Teresa's wedding logistics (Barry le Jeune, Doug Rose et al) reassembled.

I was only an hour late. (But I did get the prize for the longest distance travelled).

I think the happy couple enjoyed a group of older folks discussing phone boxes, London taxis, Roneo vs Gestetner duplicators, Underground maps, and being mugged in Helsinki. No matter - they can choose whether to attend this periodic reunion in their name - the rest of us certainly will!

Tonight's photo - the new Park and Ride livery for Aberdeen. We saw it today forthe first time. Sorry - only had the iPhone camera. Some work to do on this but here (and only here) is the current version of the new livery!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Coach and Bus Live 2009








Two days in Birminhgam this week as it early October and so therefore the industry's annual showcase at NEC.

This is the small show - the large ones are in even years - but there were a good number of full size vehicles on show - Volvo, Wrights, ADL, MCV, Optare, MAN were all there with buses and coaches. Surrounding them were of course numerous stands from suppliers of products ranging from bus washes to GPS devices. Our own First Rail Support was there of course and I can't resist a photo of them.Well done team for staffing the stand and all you did.

The show is of course a huge opportunity for networking and there is the chance to do deals on every corner. On Wednesday night it was the annual RouteONE Operator Excellence Awards dinner which was packed to overflowing. My special congratulations to long-standing friends EnsignBus who won Small Operator of the Year and to Phil Margrave of Go-Ahead who is Bus Engineer of the Year.

Networking carried on until the early hours and there were a few late on parade this morning (not me I should add!).

A lack of orders is really the main story for the manufacturers and they all have their fingers crossed for 2010. Despite this they have made considerable progress - more developed hybrid products were in evidence even though there is as yet hardly any being produced other than for London trials.

Photos show the FRS team prepared for action plus also our vehicle on the Volvo stand with Steve Dewhurst MD Bus for Volvo, me and Mark Nodder Chief Executive Wrightbus.

Monday, 5 October 2009

National Motor Museum


I have just been to the National Motor Museum for the first time for well over 40 years so I'm afraid I can't comment as to whether it was better or worse than my last visit.

It is, nevertheless, an exceptional Museum and of course Lord Montagu has done much to promote the rights of vintage vehicle owners in the UK. This has been done despite a continuing barrage of threatening legislation especially from Brussels. He has also, of course, amassed an interesting collection of vehicles and it is tremendous to see them displayed so professionally.

(I like him better now - when I was there as a boy he refused to sign my autograph book unless I bought something in the bookshop!)

For bus enthusiasts RT1808 is there as a mobile cinema although its Routemaster moquette and inconsistent destination blinds will attract criticism from the purists. There is also an imitation B type bus on a lorry chassis giving rides.

Perhaps more importantly the history of the motor vehicle is depicted from the earliest types together with motor cycles and some oddities as well.

A reminder, as always, that the physical preservation of old vehicles requires huge resources, energy, dedication and effort. Private preservation is to be commended but a view as to the long term security of the vehicle is also essential.

Some are not sure how this helps us going forward - perhaps it is best summarised from the rather useful comment made by one of my previous employers and owners who were Chinese:
"The answers to the troubles of the present, and the future, are all contained in our past"

A little prosaic perhaps but was good Customer Service invented by Tesco, or did we have it in London Transport in the 1940s and 1950s?

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

First Rail Support



Tuesday night and Wednesday I was at First Rail Support which is our rail replacement specialst business based in Simonstone in Lancashire.

FRS is the largest provider of rail replacement services nationally and I set it up some years ago to bid for, and then later run, the West Coast Mainline replacement bus services during a major shut down. Since then, under the expert leadership of MD Maurice Duckworth it now provides hundreds of buses and coaches for rail companies.

We have come a long way from our small fleet of dedicated single-deckers (photo above). Most of the coaches are hired in but some First vehicles are used if they are available in the area.

Buses are provided for many of the Train Operating Companies, not only our own. FRS has a team checking routes, devising instructions and hiring coaches plus station co-ordinators and supervisors for all of the affected lines.

FRS also provides a significant number of taxis for rail companies - for both routine staff and emergency passenger movements.

All pre-planned rail work for buses and taxis is let by competitive tender - usually on a 'call off' basis by the TOCs. In addition FRS responds immediately to emergencies - indeed yesterday they were arranging coaches to replace trains in Wick, Scotland, following an incident which closed the line for the rest of the day.

But that is not the end of FRS' activities. It is the central control point for the Greyhound operations - if you call our 09000 number that is where the call is answered. And in the event of a problem between Portsmouth, Southampton and London it is FRS which is dealing with it and providing a replacement coach if necessary.

And if you order a period bus ticket on-line from any of our company's websites those purchases come into FRS which then despatches the tickets.

FRS has organised some huge special movements of people. This summer several hundred young people enjoying a Youth Hostel Association initiative were moved by FRS on First GreatWestern trains and in coaches. They have also provided all the transport for several major concerts and of course the Farnborough Air Show.

The team was hard at work last night and today as usual with several rail replacement assignments coming up this weekend. The operation is open 24 hours a day ready and waiting to provide an instant response for any developing emergency.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

RTWs return to route 41



In my last message I briefly mentioned Saturday's celebration of the introduction of RTWs now some 60 years ago.

RTWs 75 and 467 reinacted the class' introduction to route 41 in 1949 in glorious sunshine to the huge enjoyment of all who were able to take part and those who came to see it.

The introduction of London's first eight-foot wide buses was initially restricted to the suburbs until a series of trials convinced the Metropolitan Police that they could be deployed to the busy central London routes where their extra room was to most benefit.

These two buses have shared the same space on several occasions before. One of my earliest memories of RTW75 is it running in convoy with 467 on one of the first Manchester-Harrogate runs circa 1971 although on that occasion it broke down on the M1 returning to London. RTW75 was carrying LOTS members and subsequent criticism of it by the London Bus Preservation Group for 'abandoning' it led to a chilly relationship between the two organistions for many years.

Ted Brakell owned RTW75 at the time and in those days it was often used on film and TV work. Indeed for some time its interior green rexine was painted maroon to resemble the interior of the Routemaster so as to make it a little more acceptable. You will see it in countless episodes of 1970s television series. Both it and 467 came together again in "Who Dares Wins" starring Lewis Collins which I worked on at the time. More details of how this was done is at http://www.busesonscreen.net/screen/screenfmw.htm. Interestingly 467 was used for interior shots in this film - the Director not being interested in the colour scheme at all!

Thanks for all your comments - various emails are telling me you are enjoying these periodic notes so please tell your friends!

Friday, 25 September 2009

London Transport Museum


Some of you will know I am a Director and Trustee of the London Transport Museum and last night was our annual fund-raising dinner at the Royal Opera House.

Since its third reincarnation at Covent Garden in November 2007 visitor numbers have remained strongly ahead of where they were previously. This is undoubtedly because the Museum has a wide-ranging appeal both in terms of interests and age. Transport in the context of the history of London is fascinating and we have extraordinarily high levels of satisfaction from visitors who come from all over the world to see it.

Some people have mentioned to me that they preferred the larger collection of vehicles that were in evidence at Clapham, Syon Park, and indeed earlier iterations of Covent Garden. The truth is that the cost of running the museum is far more than the receipts from ticket sales. As a result it has to generate revenue from other activities, including the retail shop, on-line sales, corporate hire, and certain other services. Transport for London contributes a multi-million pound sum plus we have substantial contributions from the Friends, Corporate Friends, and other organisations.

To achieve all this the Museum has to be attractive to the widest possible audience of individuals and organisation and as a result it now covers all forms of transport in London, the history, the science, the people, and the future.

Which brings me to last night's hugely successful dinner. The Mayor, Boris Johnson, made a typically funny and at the same time hard-hitting speech covering the tremendous progress which has been made in London and the major projects it has to deliver over the next few years- the Olympics, Crossrail, East London Line extension, New Bus for London and so on.

Numerous corporations had paid a significant sum for a table at this prestigious event and many then took part in an auction to raise even more money. Organisations had donated hospitality packages, a hot air balloon ride, and so on but the top bid went to the ever-popular evening out by bus driven by Peter Hendy. This year the winning bid was £20,000!
Guests slipped away after 11pm having had a very good evening and having raised a significant sum for the Museum once again. Credit to those organisations and individuals for the generosity during these very tough economic times.


Whilst talking about old London buses there will be tomorrow (Saturday) a commemorative run of RTWs celebrating 60 years since they first entered service on route 41. We are hoping for a good day and a good turn out of RTWs. It is frightening to recall that their withdrawal started some 16 years later and of course the last one ever in service RTW467 last ran in service in May 1966. It went straight into preservation and I am privileged to be a co-owner of it - in fact it seems to have been around for my entire adult life! It now starts to be a contender for the bus which has been in private preservation with a single organisation for the longest time!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Smooth driving



It is always good to see our staff giving great customer service and I had a really nice trip on a bus in Bristol in the past day or so where the driver was really good. Very smooth, lots of signals, waited for the odd last-minute passenger and scrutinised passes well. When I talked to him afterwards to thank him for doing such a great job he cheerfully reminded me that whilst there are challenges from time to time the job is easier if it is done in a calm way.

By complete contrast I was going home on a bus in London (not one of ours!) where the driver made a tremendous job of getting it wrong. True he was busy but he spent lots of time talking with a female passenger, drove with one hand on the wheel and one on the cash tray, and when we were forced onto a diversion managed to make a really useless announcement without the iBus PA.

He said that we were on a diversion but didn’t know it. That caused several passengers to congregate at the front as they tried to work out whether their own destination was going to be served or not. We ended up in a convoy of three (it’s a 7½ minute frequency) with the drivers shouting to each other about who knew what about where to go.

His over-excitement spilled over into this driving and we had sharp turns, heavy braking and a generally rough ride.

We are introducing a device on our vehicles called DriveGreen – basically an accelerometer connected to a red, amber and green ‘traffic light’ box. When you drive smoothly it stays green – if you start to throw people about it shows amber or red. Each route is calibrated so that a smooth ‘green’ journey can be achieved.


I drove a coach in Cardiff with it on a couple of weeks ago (that's the photo above) and it rather does for you what your MPG read out does in your car. In the same way as you just try to get that extra 0.1mpg (we’ve all done it!) when you drive with DriveGreen you just try hard to keep that green light on. The benefits are smoother ride, better fuel consumption, and fewer collisions. The results so far are amazing but best of all you can see your own performance on your home PC or at the garage. Our drivers are trying to improve their scores without any intervention by their supervisors or managers.

Reaction has been generally positive although one or two people have tried to vandalise the system by breaking the LED light display – entirely pointless as the accelerometer and its memory are somewhere else entirely and continue to work!




Thanks for all your nice comments about this blog - people are tuning in, and my 'social media' mentor now tells me we must set up a "Follow me on Twitter" alert arrangement. I will let you know when this is working so you can know when there is a new story here.


In the meantime - go safely!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Kingsbridge Running Day

Saturday and I am on the road at 7.30am headed for Kingsbridge Devon for the 7' 6" running day organised by the West of England Historic Transport Trust.

This is old Western National territory and of course 2009 is the centenary of Great Western Railway's bus operations. Western National's retreat in this area really started in 1971 as ridership in rural areas fell and car use became more widespread.

We bought Western National as part of Badgerline and inherited the route network. Now of course quite a bit of the service is provided by smaller operators with smaller buses but First still has a major service through Kingsbridge operated with low-floor double-deckers.

First is pleased to support this event and I was under the direction for the day of Colin Billington who has personally organised and funded the restoration of a good many former west country vehicles.

I had last seen Colin in Aberdeen. He organised a commemorative run of the longest ever Royal Blue coach service- from Penzance to Aberdeen. We arranged for it to run via Taunton, Bristol, Stoke on Trent, Manchester, Glasgow and Aberdeen. You can see the cavalcade of vehicles leave Muller Road Bristol on YouTube. Search for "Royal Blue Aberdeen".

I beat them to Aberdeen by a few hours and we welcomed them into our King Street HQ site on the Friday afternoon in torrential rain.

So that was the last time I had seen Colin an now we were in Devon - he brought out for the first time his 1934 Bristol H, fresh for restoration and there were numerous other vintage vehicles in service. The local population was hugely supportive of the event and it brought back great memories of times gone by.

I drove a 1950s Bristol LWL - a 30' long and 8' wide manual gearbox rear entrance single-decker for a bit including a trip out to the former Regional Seat of Government at Soar. What a way to spend a fine autumn evening and the photo above shows it as the RAF station terminus.
People do hark back to these "good old days". I am not so sure they were quite so good - we had fog, smog, people living in asbestos prefabs, cigarettes were popular and life expectancy shorter than now. But people do miss the train and bus services of 50 years ago but that was an age when car ownership was low and people did not move about for business and leisure like they do today.
Sadly there are far too few people using the local bus services in some rural areas and someone has to pay, and it's either the user or the taxpayer. As we made our way around the villages of Devon on Saturday it was entirely clear that there is not much demand for the village bus any more and I have to say that we have been there until people stopped using it - not the other way around.
But also to say there are some outstanding places to visit across the length and breadth of Britain and with a little planning you can use public transport to enjoy it.