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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

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

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!


Saturday, 17 October 2009


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!

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?