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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 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

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 .

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 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, 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?