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Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Bath hybrid launch


Today we launched the Bath Hybrid vehicle 39000 - it is one of only a very few hybrid buses outside London.

This one is part of the EU CIVITAS Renaissance Project which brings hybrids to a range of European cities reliant on heritage and tourism - namely Szczecinek, Perugia, Skopje, Gorna Oriahovitsa and Bath.

This is a former London demonstration vehicle is now refurbished and converted to one door for the six-month trial and brings the low emission benefits of hybrid to a city where air quality is a priority. It represents the culmination of a good deal of work by Bath and North East Somerset Council.


Joining us today for the inaugural run were representatives from the various parties involved and Don Foster MP for Bath.



The bus normally operates with its diesel engine running at a constant and optimal speed to generate electrical power to drive the bus. Power is also provided from regenerative braking.

On today's run as we approached Bath driver Mike Whitaker switched off the engine completely and it ran into the city on battery power alone so creating no emissions whatsoever.

Although this was done manually by Mike it is technically possible to do this by GPS tracking providing automatic switching between battery and generator power.

A number of other initiatives will be delivered by BaNES as part of this project including a new city information scheme, an innovative cycle hire scheme, and a freight consolidation demonstration later this year.

Bristol, Somerset and Avon MD Tony McNiff, me and Projects Director John Birtwistle pose in a glorious Bath North Parade with the bus which is also shown in greater detail.



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Saturday, 28 August 2010

Derek Giles

Well I have been off this week so no new travels to tell you about.

However Friday was the funeral for Derek Giles, the former Traffic Superintendent (now you would say "Commercial Director") for Southend Transport who led it into the deregulated 1980s. Initially launching a joint service with Reading Transport between Southend and Reading in later years the London-Southend service grew to some 66 coaches each with slightly different routes and stopping patterns for the commuters of Essex at the expense of the unreliable and strike-prone London, Tilbury and Southend line of BR.

There seemed no end to the additional demand and services were continuously added. The core service struggled on to Heathrow but it was really from Central London eastwards that demand was so strong and remained so until the railway was rebuilt and upgraded. Eventually the service declined and the coach fleet gradually sold off.

Derek played an important part in our earliest days at London Pride Sightseeing. Whilst we waited for our first DMS he gave me the opportunity to provide three round trips a day using a layover coach. We agreed a Van Hool Astromega would always be provided and a special sign was made for it. On day 1 - which was 1st April 1984 - we loaded our first passengers in Coventry Street (before the Trocadero re-opened) and celebrated with burgers and drinks. Then it refused to start. We had to refund our passengers using our own money as we had already spent most of theirs! It took all day to fix it, a Stonebridge Metrobus eventually being sent to help.

When we took over Culture Bus (buying it at the eleventh-hour from the receivers) he spent the following day running an emergency schedule from a deck chair outside our office in St James' Street, London. The bankers and Gentleman's Clubs were amazed to see him in their midst. Later he took Culture Bus off our hands and again operated it on a marginal basis using laying over X1 coaches. This may not be true but it might have been the last ever briefing to staff typed by a bus manager on stencils and duplicated on a Gestetner duplicator machine. (Those of you too young to remember need to go and see one in a museum!)

There are a book-full of stories to tell - I well recall during the heavy snowfall of 1986/7 convoying some coaches out of Southend at night to have some service from Pitsea the following day. Derek, as ever, was down at 'the Corporation' making contingency plans for all his services. We, as ever, at Ensign Bus were ready to help him do it!

Derek was a lifelong enthusiast and a long standing member of the Omnibus Society. Even in retirement he was active. I recall he came to a speech I gave and was as forthright and determined with his views as ever.

He belongs to an old generation of traditional busmen but was always adventurous in seeking out new opportunities for his company.



I know Richard Delahoy won't mind me using his photo of Astromega 243, a regular performer on London Pride Sightseeing between its return journeys from Southend. Much more about X1 at http://www.sct61.org.uk/stxone.htm. 



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Saturday, 21 August 2010

Dallas


Have now moved on to Dallas – the HQ of our Greyhound business – and where it is over 100degF.

Here Greyhound is facing its last big busy weekend of the summer and all efforts are concentrated on delivering a high level of service with duplicates to carry the huge numbers of passengers booked and expected to travel.

Over many corridors Greyhound competes very effectively against domestic air travel. Whilst many US citizens use planes the way we use buses, the increased journey times due to increased security means that the coach can match the plane city centre to city centre over certain distances.

Greyhound of course has a long and distinguished history. Formed in 1914 it has survived several changes of ownership and no longer is involved in flying planes, aircraft leasing, cruise ships, bus manufacture or meat packing. Whilst the network is not as extensive as it once was, the romance of long distance coaching is still evident. The company has a very deep interest and commitment to its own history. Items from its past decorate its locations and there is a fully-fledged Greyhound Bus Museum in Hibbing Minnesota.

The modern Greyhound is enjoying a renaissance and there is a new livery and brand. $60m has been spent upgrading the facilities and equipment. There is huge demand from its services – in many cases the opportunity to travel between cities at cheap prices has generated significant new traffic. And Greyhound has a sister operation, Boltbus, which relies on on-line bookings but provides on-board power and wifi for the new generation of travellers.





If there has been one thing which has impressed me this week it has been the incredible 'family' atmosphere of the business which is amazing considering it employs thousands across the whole of the USA and Canada. There are many long-serving employees and there is no doubt that it is their experience which helps deliver a reliable, well-planned and safe operation despite the logistical challenges of running hundreds of miles away from base on journeys which sometimes take over a day to get there!

Here we are at the Dallas Maintenance Facility under a billboard proclaiming the new Greyhound brand against the impressive skyline of this Texas city.


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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

My friend Leon

I've just met up with my friend whose Mother had great taste when she named him.

He's Leon Batchelor - a 30 year serving (and collision-free) Greyhound driver here in New York City where I am at present. Leon was the uniformed Greyhound driver who launched Greyhound in the UK for us a year ago and we caught up today down at the Greyhound facility facing the Hudson River.

Greyhound and sister company Boltbus are doing great business here on the East Coast of the US especially during this busy holiday season.

Our Greyhound service in the UK is very similar to Boltbus here in the US with its Internet booking paper free system with on-board power and wifi. Of course we use the Greyhound name in the UK because of its prestigious name and high brand recognition. We've just added Poole to the list of destinations and a new Greyhound service will be starting in September.

We have a long way to go yet before we are doing as much business as the folk here in New York but as we approach the first anniversary of the UK operation we are looking forward to an exciting second year of developments.

My friend Leon and I alongside a traditional Greyhound coach and one of the sleek new Boltbus vehicles in Manhattan.
If you want to see Leon in his full Greyhound uniform launch our UK enterprise take a look at my clip on YouTube (search for "Greyhound launch")

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Sunday, 15 August 2010

Something I saw today triggered a story

Today's Brislington vehicle get-together was of course full of green buses from the former Bristol Omnibus and other Tilling companies of the area.


One surprise for me was former Citybus Hong Kong 105 which represented the huge challenge mounted by Citybus to deliver high-quality, air-conditioned buses into Hong Kong whilst the resident franchised operator China Motor Bus continued to rely on older and more primitive types.

Bus operation in Hong Kong was franchised, as as an unfranchised operator Citybus ran vehicles like these on routes such as the 62R depicted here which were innovative services from outlying residential areas to demonstrate what good quality could look like. Some inbound services in the morning even had complimentary breakfast provided.

Of course as is well known, under the hugely-influential leadership of Lyndon Rees, Citybus eventually won its first franchised service in Hong Kong, and then was awarded 26 more routes as its strategy to bring modern and comfortable buses into general service became increasingly important politically.

It was in these interesting times between 1990 and 1995 that my Capital Citybus business in London was owned by the same parent - CNT Holdings - and so there was much interchange at the time - ideas, some personnel, and so on.

I don't do the interesting era of British-led bus development in Hong Kong, and Chinese-owned bus operation in London any justice in these few words. They were exciting times and Lyndon Rees single-handedly brought Hong Kong's bus services into the 20th Century (with just a few years to go as it happened!). As I write he is enjoying a happy retirement.



I know people tell me they like previously unseen photos on this blog so, as well as the first published picture anywhere of today's event at Brislington, I am also pleased to show sister Olympian 166 when at Dagenham prior to trial service on our routes 123 and 248 in London, and Selkent's route 180 as well.

Route 62R also became famous in London when the Sunday Times Magazine ran a feature on the CNT Holdings acquisition of my business. We prepared RM429 with 62R blinds and it appeared on the cover of the Magazine. Here we are in Parliament Square with the photographer making preparations.


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Sunday, 8 August 2010

End of an era



I have thought carefully at which juncture I should tell this story and have decided with a week to go now would be right.

Next Friday, 13th August, I say goodbye to my long-serving and indeed long-suffering Personal Assistant Michele Walker after 16 years of continuous and loyal service.

She joined us in the old Capital Citybus days when we were owned by CNT Group in Hong Kong. That was 1994 and she will be the first to say the job has changed a lot since then. No email, we ran buses in East London, and I came to the office most days. Within a year we were in the whirlwind of the Management Buy-out and a few short years later we sold to FirstGroup Plc.

As my job changed so did hers. We moved to MacMillan House, Paddington and looked after the whole London and South East Division. By 2004 we were working for David Leeder and I was Commercial Director for the whole of UK Bus.

Email correspondence, video conferences, three nights away from home a week for me and international travel all transformed her job several times over. She became on first name terms with hundreds of people from Government to passengers, key stakeholders and staff.

In the past few years we became ultra-modern. There was no need for her to travel to London to talk to me by phone or send emails so she worked from the nearest First location to her home and met me in somewhere once a week.

In our next iteration my team and I are going to work completely remotely and are dispensing without fixed offices entirely. With this change Michele has chosen to step down from the very tough and demanding role she has undertaken for more than a decade and a half.

Of course we have growled at each other, she has tolerated the rants when my fuse was short, and answered my calls late at night, at weekends and on holidays when there were emergencies to sort. Against the huge imperative to get things done she was (and still is) a perfectionist.

This change allows her to get her life back, enjoy a far less stressful existence and enjoy her home, garden, cats and friends.

She would kill me if I used the word 'retirement' as that is far from her mind (and age!.

I'm going to use this very public forum to thank her unreservedly for all her attention, diligence and hard work over the past 16 years. Not only has she done all her work but she's also sorted out personal things and also those jobs on the fringe - I'm not sure sending out complimentary copies of Routemaster Magazine or looking after my children was ever in her job description.

We've spent the last few years trying to reduce the volume of emails. Not this week. Some of you will be talking to her anyway this week but if not you can send her a message at

michele.walker@firstgroup.com

(Type it carefully - there is only one 'l' in Michele. As she would say "one 'l' of a Secretary.......!!"


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