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Wednesday, 29 December 2010

"Nunhead Garage.....put your money in...."

In my last blog on Monday I mentioned our resident Obsolete Fleet conductor, Harry Cook.

A former Croydon Corporation tram driver he converted to motorbuses and in due course, as a senior and permanently affable man ended up one of the high quality staff chosen as a driver to be in charge of London's first minibuses - Ford Transits - in 1972, in his case from Stockwell.

At retirement age, Harry was called into the Stockwell Garage Manager and thanked for his 40 years' service, 250 private hires to his credit, never sick, never late, and no complaints.

Sharp as ever, Harry brought out the Croydon Corporation takeover agreement which provided for all its employees to be retained for as long as they were fit and capable. Despatched to Chiswick he passed a driving assessment, and to Baker Street to pass his medical - they had to keep him on.

By the time he was 69 or so he indicated his intention to retire from driving, so was thanked for his 44 years' service, 255 private hires, never sick, never late, and with no complaints - as the Garage Manager said "we will miss you"

"Oh no" he said cheerfully, "I said retire from driving - I want to go conducting!" (Which he did).

Eventually with pressure from the Trade Union he did indeed leave Stockwell to come and work for us. He was exactly the right person to work 'on the back' of ST922 where his cheery disposition was a hit with tourists.

But his work ethic was astounding for a man in his 70s. Every morning he would open up Nunhead Garage and check all the buses for oil and water. He would sign in all the staff and send them out on time. Then he would go out on ST922 and work the first half of the duty on route 100. During the lunch break he would come to our office at 17 Air Street, balance yesterday's takings (all coin of course) and take them to the bank. Then he would work the second half of the duty on route 100, go back to the garage, see everyone in, lock up and go home.

Seven days a week.

In about 1979 he achieved another first. Route 74Z between Baker Street and the Zoo was doubled in frequency and used two buses. They were to be one-man operated with two AEC Regent Vs we bought from Devon General (507 and 508 RUO). However they weren't quite ready so we used two D9s instead.

Sadly we only had one conductor so Harry would travel to Baker Street on the first bus, collect the fares and send it off. He would then board the second bus, collect all the fares until he got to near Lord's cricket ground. Then he would get off, cross the road and catch the first one on its return journey! Back to Baker Street and start again. And to give you an idea the journey was about 7 minutes' long so that shows you how intensively he was working.

Thus he conducted two buses simultaneously for a whole day - probably the first and last time a London bus conductor ever did such a thing! The only change was that for the afternoon he worked from The Zoo end southbound, with the peak flow, rather than from the Baker Street end.

He lived a very long and happy life. He put this down to his smoking of Capstan Full Strength cigarettes which he believed warded off all possible germs and diseases. He also wore his London Transport cap at all times - he considered it a passport to international recognition and free travel.

A work ethic we rarely see today, and one which we really miss, of course.

And as for today's title. Well you have to remember there were no mobile phones, and calls from staff were generally made from public callboxes. You dialled the number, and when it was answered there were rapid pips whilst you inserted coins. Once enough money was paid then you were connected. Many of our old staff will remember Harry's voice as he said "Nun'ead Garidge.....put yer money in....."


Monday, 27 December 2010

The Birmingham Routemaster

This is another nostalgic holiday blog and is about the Midland Red D9 - a vehicle which I came across professionally at Prince Marshall's Obsolete Fleet.

Seven D9s had been purchased and converted to open top for operation on the Round London Sightseeing Tour. Initially this was done by basing them at Stockwell Garage, but in due course they were replaced by convertible open top Daimler Fleetlines from Bournemouth. The D9s moved to Nunhead Garage which was rented by Obsolete Fleet and were operated by our own staff.

The D9s had something of a parallel history with the Routemaster. Midland Red also designed and built its own vehicles at the time and the D9 was its integral double-decker designed for low weight and fuel economy. It has been called the 'Birmingham Routemaster' although it was rather less sophisticated and more spartan than the London model.

One important difference was that the power assistance for the brakes and steering had no Routemaster accumulators to store energy. What you got was what the engine was delivering at the time. That did mean you could get going the moment the engine was started, without waiting for anything to build up. And on interurban work they had powerful brakes and light steering. However that lured you into a false sense of security. In city traffic after a good brake application, the bus slowed and when you applied the same force this time the assistance had more or less dried up. And if now a motorist or pedestrian got in your way the brake pedal was rock solid, you used every ounce of your strength and grabbed for the very robust handbrake which came back many clicks.

If you banged your elbow on the cab window you knew you had as much handbrake effort as there was as well.

Steering was equally uneven. As you turned a corner, if you were less than firm with your actions part way through the assistance dried up and once again you found reserves of your own strength to avoid disaster.

No little wonder the Stockwell crews soon lost their enthusiasm for them especially since internal documents describing them to the Trade Union said they were "broadly comparable with the RCL".

They were very reliable in operation - mean miles between failure in the 10,000+ range which is many times more than we enjoy today and their main weakness was in the electrics which we rather made worse when we removed the roofs and exposed the upper deck floor to the elements.

I very much remember by first outing on the RLST with one. A quick explanation by garage staff and off I went. I recall being very tired at the end of the day!

A more traditional bus operation was also provided by D9s. London Transport's own staff shortages meant that the seasonal enhancement to London Zoo was provided instead by us with a D9 outstationed at Guards Coaches in West London. We went to Wandsworth each day to collect a conductor.

In time we bought a further three D9s and used them as closed tops. We also bought the stock of Midland Red spares and kept these amazingly reliable vehicles going for many years. A number are preserved including one of our open toppers.

I always thought they looked better after conversion - those side windows were made by cutting the main side windows in three and using the tops and bottoms. And the front windows could open - not that there would be any point!

(And unlike the Marshall-refurbished Routemasters which look like they can but can't!)


Monday, 20 December 2010

This weather reminds me of a trip over 30 years ago

Looking back exactly a year I see there was a snow story then as well so no surprise that we are back into the bad weather. Once again well done to all the staff who have braved the elements to keep services going. As it happens the media has been very focussed on the effect on air travellers especially with the Christmas getaway being so badly affected. There are, however, lots of good local stories which in many cases demonstrate just how hard people have been working to keep bus services going.

Saturday should have been and end-of-season excursion with at least one Routemaster bus to the village of Imber. (For when we were last there see the blog on 18th September). Imber, you will recall is one of those villages requisitioned by the MoD during World War II and never given back. A carol concert in the still-standing church was planned for Saturday afternoon but when the roads became impassable it was cancelled, and so with it the bus service.

It has been customary to have a few tales from the olden days in these Christmas blogs so this one relates to a day in about 1978 when Bruce Swain (of RTL453), Terry Stubbington (RT190), the late Alan Allmey and I went to Wombwell Diesels to collect RF362 and a collection of parts. We drove RF332, the Cobham towbus, to up South Yorkshire through the night.

In those days the interior of the Cobham towbus was very spartan and we slept on the floor in sleeping bags in and around various 6V batteries which were aboard. Alan had a free-standing paraffin heater on the go as well. Alan drove the interesting bit from Cobham to the M1; after that we all took it in turns to sit in the slow lane of the M1 in the blizzard for a couple of hours at a time.

Arriving in the Barnsley scrapyard area in the early hours we tried to get some sleep - Alan pointed out that if the zip of my sleeping bag made all the right connections with the terminals of the batteries and the paraffin heater I would briefly be very hot and then very cold in perpetuity.

The following day we worked in thick snow removing components from RTs and RFs, loading them onto RF332 before setting off with RF362 in convoy.

An expedition (of which there were many) in the heyday of volunteer preservation efforts and in very similar weather conditions to today.

Luckily Bruce Swain has kept the photographic record of those trips and that means our seasonal photographs are indeed of RF332 and RF362 on this very mission and demonstrating the weather!

This story was also related by me in the programme which accompanied the events on the last public day of the old Cobham Bus Museum at Redhill Road in October.


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

New engineering training unit

I was in Aberdeen on Monday for the launch of our new mobile engineering training unit.

The bus is the unique East Lancs Vyking bodied Volvo B7 which worked for us in London for some years. It is now transformed into a state-of-the-art facility on both decks with computers, teaching aids and some bus components all wired/plumbed into a test rig. It is powered by a marine generator which runs amazingly quietly powering all the systems.

Very soon it will set off on its everlasting national orbit of engineering facilities across the country. The vehicle has been designed to offer both Managerial and Engineering training utilising two classrooms (one upper and one lower), providing training to up to fifteen people at any one time. Wherever possible training offered will be aligned with a recognised National body such as the IRTE thereby offering a professional development for our engineers and managers.

For practical training we have a fully functioning electrical training board provided by PSV and J Lewis Auto Electrical, which covers a complete charging and starting system including-inhibitors and engine bay micro switches. Secondly we have a fully operational air braking system board, provided by AP Group. – this provides for training to be delivered on both basic brake and more complex advanced air brake systems. In the near future additional boards will be developed to cover door systems and high pressure common rail fuel systems.


Thornton Brothers for the conversion
AP Group for the Air Brake board
Volvo for the supply of Air Brake products and training material
PSV Transport Systems for joint supply of the Electrical board
J Lewis Auto Electrical for joint supply of the Electrical board
Streamtec for the supply of the White Boards
Alexander Dennis Door and Ramp systems plus training material
Wrightbus Door and Ramp systems plus training material


Friday, 10 December 2010

New Hydrogen

Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse performs
the official fuelling ceremony on WSH62991

Is it so many years since we first embarked on the Europe-wide trial of Hydrogen Fuel Cell buses using specially-built Citaros from Mercedes Benz? These vehicles made their debut on route 25 before moving to the RV1. They were so successful that the two year trial lasted three.

Today at our Lea Interchange depot on the edge of the Olympic Park Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse launched the new generation of hydrogen vehicles.

Two vehicles were available for use and after the launch gave all of the assembled guests a short trip in which, as is the case with this technology, there were absolutely no tail pipe emissions. The white cloud which could be seen on the cold day was nothing more than water vapour.

There are eight of the vehicles in preparation and they will shortly enter service on route RV1 – an ideal central London single-deck route which travels through some of London’s most polluted areas. This trial will allow the entire route to be operated by hydrogen fuel cell buses unlike the previous occasion when usually two were in service.

The launch was something of a relief – one of the key manufacturers, ISE, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in USA during the time the vehicles were being built and this has caused a slight delay in the vehicles being completed.

Unlike the previous operation the hydrogen fuelling is not at a remote site but actually inside our Lea Interchange depot. The vehicles can be fuelled faster and they will easily operate for a full day in service, unlike before when we were limited to about eight hours.

Inside the buses use our traditional purple handrails but the seats are in a special red moquette each declaring the word 'Hydrogen bus'.

BBC and other television news covered the story and Kit Malthouse and representatives of all the main partners – Ballard, Air Products and ISE, as well as ourselves and TfL – enjoyed a ride on one of the vehicles around the Olympic site to Stratford.

We can expect the first vehicles to enter service next weekend and then progressively as further vehicles are delivered.

The offside rear of WSH62991 on the fuelling island
Kit Malthouse and TfL"s David Brown welcome the guests
in front of WSH62992 which was in the new purpose-built
hydrogen workshop

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Nearly Christmas

Despite several long journeys last week I lost only 45 minutes on all of them together which was remarkable given the dreadful weather which I came back to in England.

The bad weather once again reminds us that the public is desperate for information whenever there are problems and all the major transport companies were recording record numbers of 'hits' to their websites as people searched for details. Some websites wobbled under the weight of traffic.

As ever there were those who ventured out in appalling conditions clearly determined to catch a bus or a train. Somehow, they must have thought, it will get through perhaps without thinking how the driver would manage to do so himself.

So here let me pay tribute to all those hardy and dedicated staff who got to work and got going to try and serve the public. I have heard numerous cases where this was gratefully received, although, as ever, there are some unfounded and misguided criticisms especially on some of those more outspoken social media sites.

Yes there will have been delays and problems but the staff were doing everything they could.

I hope you read about 'Iris from Billericay' over on the Omnibuses blog on 1st December where a customer rang Radio 4 to complain the bus services were being withdrawn due to dangerous conditions. Click on the link and read it for yourself.

There will be more bad weather this winter and we will be doing everything we can to keep things going.

Now look over on the right. Phil Stockley's blog is back. Click on it and go take a look.

Now a busy week next week. TWO new launches. Stay close and you'll see them as they happen!

This wintry scene is in fact April 2008 - RM1397 at the very nearly-abandoned Cobham Open Day when there was also unprecedented snow! I now know that Mark Pitman sent me this great photo - thanks!


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Not done this before

No this is not Photoshop! Peter Tork, me and Dean Friedman
in Bordentown NJ this weekend
Now this is an entirely transport-free story. If you aren't interested, look away now.

Whilst I was in New York at the weekend I went to a concert some 65 miles south west down I-95 to see my good friend and famous chart-topper Dean Friedman.

He still tours UK every year and produces new CDs - in fact back on 26th June I ran a story letting you know you nostalgia-fans could get tickets.

But this weekend he was doing two concerts in Bordentown, NJ - "deep in the bosom of suburbia" to quote him and his lyrics. Yes I did get the prize for the person who came the furthest (by about 3000 miles).

The Interstate was very busy with homegoing Thanksgiving traffic so I was navigating along ordinary roads with my iPhone which is a bit scary - I wonder what we did before that?

Now Dean was playing with Peter Tork - if you are my age you will recall he was one of The Monkees which was a US television show which manufactured a four-man pop group and who went on to have successful records and tours in their own right. Peter was, perhaps, the most accomplished musician of the group - an exceptionally good guitar and keyboard (and French horn) player. Not only is he an intelligent and well-read person, he still enjoys playing and singing even though he is now 68. His group - Shoe Suede Blues - still makes CDs and plays around the US. Peter has suffered a rare form of cancer in these past two years - as often with talented people it has affected a place which is critical - in his case his tongue.

But yes he has fought it and was singing (and playing) with great energy at the weekend - still displaying the same musical talent.

So the audience - all native New Jersey people apart from me - lapped up this great line-up of Dean Friedman and Peter Tork. A hugely successful event and one which I am sure the venue wants to repeat as soon as they can.

Now - some websites for you to look at:

If you are a fan of music of this era - be brave and go buy a CD from these guys. They rely on their sales to keep making music.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Experience THE RIDE

Now you do have to see this.

New York's latest sightseeing offering is a fleet of coaches all specified (at what is quoted as $1.3m each) for a brand new visitor experience.

The coaches have glass roofs and deep side windows on the offside (that's facing the road not the pavement). The whole interior is like a cinema or theatre and the three rows of seats are arranged longditudinally so the whole audience sits facing sideways.

There are 3000 mood-enhancing LED lights, state-of-the-art surround sound and floor shaker system. It's like an IMAX theatre on wheels and you are watching a show.

There are three tours daily on the current schedule which start in Times Square - competing with more traditional sightseeing tours using double-decker buses. Tickets cost from $59.

It certainly is odd to see a window of people sat theatre-syle drive past you whilst the experience on board is sensational.

This is a brave attempt at a new, more dynamic sightseeing tour. We know that in world-class cities there is an insatiable demand for traditional tours and where more specialist ones have been tried at higher rates they have had a high failure rate. This one comes with huge technology to help.

Take a look at the website and see for yourself!


Saturday, 27 November 2010

New York, New York

Dawn over Manhattan
 Well I'm sorry there has been such a long gap since the last blog but thanks for all the hugely positive comments about the Safe Journey Card all of which are being fed back internally for the future.

Passenger Safety Month ends this week and has been a great success.

I am in New York so thought I would start this message with a picture of dawn over Manhattan this morning which I took at about 11am UK time. Yes my day is just starting.

As you will know the UK Bus Awards took place last week - indeed we won London Bus Driver of the Year which was a great boost for us and for our winner Phil Hiett. Paul is a 26 year serving bus driver. He has a record of commendations, including being awarded our own Superstar award for dealing with an elderly lady pedestrian who, clearly disoriented, he took to the nearest Police Station.
Phil Hiett and Regional MD Adrian Jones

There are a number of awards during the year. We just had the RouteONE Awards during the Euro Bus Expo and there are also the National Transport Awards, London Transport Awards and others. What do people think of these? it is a great boost for the staff involved, it highlights our achievements in a world where the negative stories nearly always are prominent, and it inspires others to do better. On the other hand is there a risk we convince ourselves things are good when in some places they are not? And what about a notable and regular award winner where citing such continued success, the Trade Union went for strike action as the spoils of success were clearly not been shared with them, they said?

I would welcome all our views - privately or on this blog - as we prepare for another season!


Thursday, 18 November 2010

Passenger Safety Month

Yes it is PASSENGER SAFETY MONTH here at First and our companies all over the UK are doing it.

No, this is not about hard hats or high-vis jackets, it's about reinforcing the message in these wintry months of rain, snow and darkness that we don't want out staff or passengers hurt in any way at all.

So what are our companies doing? Well we are working with schools, senior citizens, and other groups to make them aware of the hazards and make sure they all take extra care.

One of our initiatives is the Safe Journey Card. This is a neat idea. Many of our passengers have special needs which are difficult to detect - poor hearing, poor eyesight, lack of local knowledge, etc. But in the few seconds they have with the driver it can be difficult or embarrassing to have that discussion with the driver.

So our Safe Journey Card fits into your wallet alongside your regular bus pass or day ticket. When you show the driver your pass you show him this too - and it just says what your difficulty is and how he can help. He nods, and there we are. (There is nothing to stop passengers buying individual tickets using them too).

They are in huge demand and you can download them from the internet.

There are a range of standard ones ("I am hard of hearing") and some blank ones for passengers' special messages including asking to be told when to alight.

We are passionate about safety - not just this month but every month and every day and when it comes to injuries - we aim for zero!


Monday, 15 November 2010

Another five years

Yes I am going to say it again. About five years ago there were those people who said that once the huge excitement about the ending of 'proper' Routemaster operation was over the 'Heritage' part of routes 9 and 15 would be quietly dropped. Well here we are half a decade further on and those two routes start their second 5-year contract. Yes - they were serious!

In the case of route 9 the long called-for extension westwards to a decent destination in Kensington has been granted and today there was a special first journey using RM1005. It performed its first ever departure from Kensington and carried Daniel Moylan, Deputy Chairman of Transport for London who had personally supported the westward extension.

Peter Hendy and I were the crew and the bus (itself the very first Marshall Routemaster refurbishment) ran to the new eastern terminus of Trafalgar Square where it meets the heritage service on route 15.

Quite a different "Monday morning feeling" for us and for our passengers, we hope!

Photo shows Daniel Moylan (who is also Deputy Leader of Kensington and Chelsea) and Sir Merrick Cockell (Leader of Kensington and Chelsea) with Peter Hendy (in cab).

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Well, what did you expect?

Today was indeed the launch of the mock-up of the New Bus for London. It is now residing in the London Transport Museum Depot at Acton where it will be used for stakeholder visits to further refine the design features for the first prototypes which are being built.

The Mayor of London, TfL officials and the Directors of Wrightbus all warmly welcomed this new product - the first dedicated bus for London for over 50 years.

The vehicle looks deceptively real - you really believe you could run it in service tomorrow. In fact it is only a mock up made of wood and resin and construction of the first real vehicles has some way to go yet.

Under the skin the power unit and arrangements for the new vehicle are also revolutionary and will bring the latest in hybrid technology. We can expect to see this fully tested on more conventional vehicles before long.

There is a fine selection of photographs across at

These (and the one above) were taken by my good friend and Photographer-for-Rent Colin Evans at Kapture-It and you can see more of his work across at He does  photoshoots, events, stuff like that so if you have need of a photographer give him a shout, please!


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Euro Bus Expo 3

Well, some photos from others are filtering their way into the system and I am delighted to include this shot. CPT President Steve Whiteway (left) and I are declaring open the Omnibus Systems stand at Euro Bus Expo last week.

We are on the platform of RM1152 just a few days earlier despatched from BusWorks at Blackpool after an expert restoration. It formed the centrepiece of the Omnibus Systems stand and was, yes, the most fuel efficient, lightest and cheapest bus at the show.

So what about Omnibus Systems? Well, yes, years ago schedulers toiled away at a specially-designed desk and with special graph paper, to manually prepare bus schedules. I was especially lucky during the 1980s to enlist Paul Dipper from Southend Transport whose extraordinary scheduling skills were the key to our successful tender bids in London. Across at CentreWest, Michael Steward was doing similarly. Their eye for opportunity, efficiency, and fair play gave us schedules which were economic to operate and reasonably able to be delivered.

They may be amongst the last of their generation - during the 1990s we were persuaded that computer software could deliver us the most efficient schedules and optimise them taking into account our labour agreements and desire for economies. Not only could we create one compliant schedule, we could deliver several and review their resilience. Our top team spent less time creating and more time reviewing. Across the whole of the UK we gained the capacity to review numerous schedules and benchmark them.

The team at Omnibus Systems delivered us a friendly but streamlined package. It was rolled out across UK Bus after a brief review of its value. Moir Lockhead only had one complaint - if it was so good why had we taken so long?

There are several systems available - we like the Omnibus Systems product because it is cost-effective and because the people there understand our issues and work to accommodate them.

As I said at the opening of their stand, for the last 20 years they have made it possible for passengers to have lower fares because they have helped us deliver the service more efficiently.

And it gave us an edge. When you are in business, it's good to deal with decent, honest and friendly people!

(Go take a look at

Photo - thanks to Mel Holley at RouteONE


Saturday, 6 November 2010

Euro Bus Expo 2

I wrote last time about the number of KMB vehicles at the Show demonstrating another fashion of single-deckers for Hong Kong.

There was however a double-decker on the Wrights stand built on Volvo B9 chassis.

Here we can see two quite different but equally senior representatives of the manufacturers – Hakan Karlsson, President and CEO of Volvo Bus Corporation (second left) and William Wright, now aged 83 but still very much the father figure of the business founded by his own father and now known as The Wright Group, together with senior representatives of KMB.

The Wright Group  has made extraordinary progress since it first entered bus production only some 40 years ago. It pioneered what today we call a midibus, was first to the UK market with a proper low-floor single-decker in production and also right at the front in developing hybrid technology for buses.

It also has developed a huge reputation for excellent quality products, great styling, and outstanding customer service. Deservedly, it won the TfL contract for the New Bus for London and soon we will see much more of how it will look.

And at long last the story has been told – Jack Kernohan, now retired, but who served Wrights for 50 years latterly as Sales Director – has written the definitive Wrights story and here at the show we can see the book being launched. (The real book, by the way is not this big!).

More Euro Bus Expo pictures and news across at the Omnibuses blog site (link right).


Thursday, 4 November 2010

Euro Bus Expo 1

Now I do have some rather good pictures from Euro Bus Expo but they are all taken by others so I am afraid they will have to follow. Until the photographers are home and connected to their systems I don't have them to use!

Meantime however the end of a great show, hugely tiring but very rewarding. In the middle of it the RouteONE awards just to make sure everyone was on the go until well past midnight. So just a quick update tonight and more to follow.

There will be various claims to be the 'star' of the show - in fact there were several. Particularly notable were the examples of new single-deckers for KMB Hong Kong. Many years ago we (as one of the bus operators there at the time) introduced single-deckers but before long as part of a Government desire to reduce the actual number of buses they were replaced by a smaller number of double-deckers. The First New World air-conditioned Darts came back to UK. We demonstrated one to London Buses in Victoria Coach Station but in the end they were spread around other First UK subsidiaries.
Now again Hong Kong is introducing single-deckers - some 70 examples for use at less busy times to save fuel and maintenance costs.

Also at the show was the first MCV double-decker on Volvo B9 chassis. You have seen this vehicle before - it is a rework of the two-door example built to London specification earlier this year. It is quite notable to have a new double-decker product into the marketplace.

But of course you've guessed it - the lightest, cheapest and most fuel-efficient bus at the show was a Routemaster - this was RM1152 and it was the centrepiece of the Omnibus Systems stand having just been outshopped from Blackpool BusWorks following an excellent restoration.

Here we have, then the oldest and newest models at the show and in a couple of days I'll have some more photographs and stories from the show.


Sunday, 31 October 2010

VERY nostalgic day

Cobham Bus Museum's Open Days have had their fair share of extreme weather events. I think it was 1977 when it was so wet we had no power. In 2008 it snowed even though it was April, and today, at the "Farewell Redhill Road" event, it rained reasonably steadily all day.

Nevertheless several hundred people came to see the inside (and outside!) of this famous building for the last time and patiently queued for vintage bus rides to Stoke D”Abernon (where a further display was provided) and to Weybridge Station.

The first Open Days weren’t quite like this – the bus service was run on an ‘ad hoc’ basis with vehicles and drivers pressed into service as demand required. I can well recall running between the Museum and Weybridge Station not knowing for how long it would be for.
In due course the services became more prolific and were scheduled in great detail. If visitors queued whilst numerous buses and crews were in evidence waiting for their booked times then they were indeed experiencing London Transport of the 1960s.

The Museum is closing and moving to brand new premises inside the Brooklands site where it will be alongside numerous other exhibits including Concorde.

There are mixed feelings about the move. The Redhill Road site has been occupied by buses since 1972 thanks to the pioneering efforts of the bus preservation pioneers of the time and especially due to the personal contribution and sacrifices of Don and the late Alan Allmey.

The building was one of three hastily constructed during World War II and was a ‘temporary structure’. It has its own place in history as part of the Vickers Works’ efforts during the war. Not surprisingly, the building is now time-expired and the site itself sits in the middle of a very affluent Weybridge suburb.

It was a place where bus owners could come and get help, enjoyment and secure facilities. There are those who regret its passing as the new Museum will be much more visitor orientated as it will, for the first time, now be open every day and not just on a few. 

However, sitting inside what is already a popular venue, it will reach a much wider audience which is of course that is what we are doing this for - to make it possible for people to see these wonderfully-preserved items from our past. By amazing luck it is only a short distance from its old home, so hopefully it will still be a magnet for volunteer members.

I have already had a visit to the site of the new Museum where construction is shortly to commence. I must admit to having my back to the wilderness which is to become the new Museum as my attention was completely taken by the splendid Vickers Vanguard which is parked alongside – one of those I saw whenever I stood on the Spectator Area platform on the Queen’s Building at London Airport……

As I imagined again the unmistakable smell of propeller aircraft aviation fuel from that very terrace I remember drifting across to the small bookshop and found a small paperback book by Ian Allan on London Transport buses – the first I’d ever seen.

That’s interesting I thought…..little did I know where THAT would lead!

T792 was a resident at Cobham for all of the years I was involved and has now been restored to an extremely high standard and lives elsewhere. However it came back for today's event.

And the Vanguard which will be the Museum's nearest neighbour.


Friday, 29 October 2010

Last week of October

A long week this week and so much news!

Firstly on Monday we learn of Keith Ludeman's retirement as Chief Executive of Go Ahead; we've had business announcements from Arriva and Go Ahead (our own interim results are next week), and then today Friday we recognised the last day of Sir Moir Lockhead as Chief Executive of FirstGroup plc.

In a surprise event in Aberdeen our new Corporate HQ was named "The Sir Moir Lockhead Building" in his honour. Opened earlier this year by HRH Princess Anne our new building is now able to house all our Aberdeen staff including those previously in offices elsewhere in the city.

Besides being in Aberdeen I have been in Germany this week in glorious sunshine. We have just taken in some more Citaros from Berlin (see photo) and imminently some brand new vehicles for our contract in Bad Vilbel near Frankfurt.
I couldn't be there myself but we have had one of our existing Citaros based in Slough on the site of the new Slough Bus Station. The old 1970s building is being demolished and in its space a new swish bus station is under construction. A rare photo here shows Citaro ES64038 on site testing clearances.

And next week? Well on Sunday I am sure I will see you at the closure event of Cobham Bus Museum. I have been associated with this since its inception in the early 1970s and indeed was a Director for a while. The current team has secured a new site and a new building at nearby Brooklands where it will be one of several attractions and open daily. It will be sad to see the old place go but the new one will be beyond the wildest dreams of the original founders.

And then of course it is Euro Bus Expo, our major trade show at NEC Birmingham for three days Tuesday to Thursday where we will see the latest offerings from the manufacturers. This is not just whole vehicles but also everything that goes with it in terms of technology, components and systems.

So you'll get a couple of updates early in November for sure!


Friday, 22 October 2010

Success in the east of London

The news that London bus routes 26 and 30 are following route 25 from East London to First marks a change in direction for bus route contracts over the past couple of years.

Route 26 (Hackney Wick - Waterloo) is the direct descendant of the eastern end of route 6 - the creation of the 1992 scheme to sever cross-London trunk routes for reliability reasons and to concentrate them in areas from which they could be more easily be tendered. Until then these routes were often run by two or three garages on opposite sides of London.

Route 30 (Hackney Wick - Marble Arch) has a very much longer lineage and has grown shorter - its western terminus retreating from Roehampton, Putney, West Brompton, Trafalgar Square and to Marble Arch over the past 30 years.

There has been considerable competition in east London for bus route contracts over the past few years and after considerable incursions by Ensignbus, Capital Citybus and subsequently First London East in the period from 1986 quite a bit of that market share has been lost as a result of the arrival of Go-Ahead in this area and the aggressive contract bidding policies of the former owners of East London Bus Group (who of course made the bids for which the results have just been announced).

Good news for the taxpayers of London, of course, holding contract prices down.

Now, the tide has turned just a little and as capacity has become available in depots opportunities to make competitive bids has enabled First to win three key trunk services in Central London and all now scheduled for commencement in June 2011.

The London contracting system has grown from being employed for isolated routes with poor cost recovery performance, to the entire bus network. The basic formula has delivered against a requirement for no subsidy and the availability of significant sums. It was weathered net and gross cost contracting regimes, incentivisation, several economic cycles and control by central and local Government. Not a bad record for the mechanism originally created inside the London Transport of the mid 1980s.

In 1986 Jim Blake captured RML890 on route 30. Passengers on this bus were all listening to Capital Radio being broadcast to both saloons. It was advertised on bus sides, on the destination blind, and of course passed their HQ and studios at Euston towers.


Sunday, 17 October 2010

A pair of fives on the nines

Firstly what an amazing flood of visitors to this blog since Friday's news about East London - several records broken and lots of discussions about the future of the company stimulated. And I know the readership is growing - however one of my good correspondents (and respected industry journalist) wonders if there will be anything new left for my book!!

A different sort of day - one to blow away the stresses of the working week. Today, in a long planned event, RM5 and 1005 came together to work on route 9 between Royal Albert Hall and Aldwych. They both 'signed on' at Westbourne Park and ran in service during the day apart from a break for lunch.

Some invited guests were welcomed aboard and as the day (and the news) unfolded several of our other friends came along and joined in as well.

Peter Hendy and I had RM1005 whilst Arriva Directors Mark Yexley and Peter Batty were paired with Phil Swallow who conducted and indeed whose wife owns RM5 (so it is all thanks to her!). Later we would swap over which certainly reminded us all of the many differences between an original AEC Routemaster and a modern Cummins/Marshall one!

There are numerous photographs but here is RM5 overtaking RM1005 at Hyde Park Corner on a carefully orchestrated short working to make this possible.

So I've been driving and conducting, delivering first-class customer service of course, and enjoying a really busy sunny Sunday in Central London. It seemed like everyone was out enjoying some of the last sunshine of 2010. A sign of the times - we took hardly any cash at all all day. Everyone had an Oyster card, a Freedom Pass, or a one-day Travelcard. You know what that means? Those hand-held electronic ticket machines may be the last ones ever able to issue printed tickets!

Very soon route 9's heritage operation shifts westwards a bit and serves Kensington High Street for the first time so a new opportunity. Now I seem to remember about 5 years ago, some people said these Heritage routes were just designed to draw the fire from the end of ordinary Routemaster operation and when things had quietened down, they would be quietly dropped. Ah well, their second 5-year contracts start imminently!


Friday, 15 October 2010

East London

The announcement of the sale of East London Bus Group back to Stagecoach today is remarkable for the industry.

Stagecoach successfully targeted the strong East London at privatisation, taking the weaker Selkent business in the same process. MacQuarie Bank acquired this business from Stagecoach in 2006 for £263m. At the time it was the high-watermark for the value of bus businesses in London catching the segment, and the market, at its peak. Today it bought it back for £59m.

Brian Souter correctly judged that he had extracted the most from his London bus operations and the expansionist phase of the Livingstone-era was over. With his exit he banked funds which would make his Group relatively cash-rich and well equipped to invest in other parts of its business empire.

The new owners were determined to preserve their company's market share despite the increased activity in the area brought about by Go-Ahead's acquisition of Blue Triangle and bidding was fierce. To the benefit of taxpayers the cost of bus contracts in the area was kept down as the companies in the area did their best to win contracts as they were offered.

However, the London bus business requires close attention to detail whilst retaining a continuous competitive advantage and of late it seemed all was not well at East London. This was confirmed when the business parted company with its hugely-respected Chief Executive Nigel Barrett who had continued to try and balance the expectations of the owners with the requirements of TfL, which, it has to be said, is only achieved by the performance of the staff.

In due course the intentions of the owners to sell the business became clear and whilst many would-be entrants into the London market might have been interested, Stagecoach nevertheless did the deal.

In the same way that its exit appeared to draw a line under their interest in contracted operations, its return sends a different signal and one which must have industry pundits scratching their heads. Is this an opportune acquisition? The industry respects Brian Souter's business judgement, but in addition to the consideration paid, the financial performance of the business will be constrained by prevailing contract prices and market conditions in a time of tight financial limits. What brings Brian Souter back to London at this time?

One of the services on their area which Capital Citybus won in the early 1990s and so never was operated by East London was the 236 - a real favourite of mine as it meandered its way across North London and represented here by an MRL of the period.


Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Lessons from our past

Well this week we've had an Underground strike so here is a story from nearly 20 years ago with a moral. I would welcome your comments.

In 1984 when I started London Pride Sightseeing we used to employ a crew of two - a driver and a guide.

London Transport's Sightseeing Tour had been completely unguided but you did get a helpful map. Cityrama ran in opposition with multilingual commentaries fed into headphones.

When the competition heated up LT also offered a guide on some, and then eventually all departures.

Our guides were sourced from ordinary people - we advertised, interviewed them, and trained them to tell a story about London as we made our way around town. It was live and the guides were in amongst the passengers interacting with and entertaining them. And it was broadcast through the vehicle speakers so everyone heard it together.

As a public body London Transport used 'Blue Badge' qualified guides who were already working on the more traditional coach tours in and around London.

We didn't - firstly they were extraordinarily expensive, and secondly all the best Blue Badge guides were working on full day London tours, going inside the major attractions, or going out to Windsor, Oxford and so on. We went around exactly the same streets three or four times a day and the view, and the story, was largely the same. The Blue Badge guides we heard on repetitive London circuits were awfully dull.

And lastly, at the time, a good many Blue Badge guides spoke in plum voices and gave, it appeared to us, a rather condescending and snooty commentary.

Our people were more ordinary - in several cases guiding was new to them but they were enthusiastic, cheerful, funny and generally gave good value. (The tour was £2.50 in those days). We had high standards, checked the quality regularly and we were generally pleased with what they did, even though they didn't have the coveted Blue Badge.

We made a start in getting at least a couple of them qualified but before we got very far something else happened.

One day the Guild of Guides and Lecturers turned up and picketed the boarding point. They handed out leaflets in which they warned potential passengers that their 'safety was at risk' as a result of not using a Blue Badge Guide. They were referring, of course, to driver guiding, where drivers were themselves speaking. We didn't do that. However the safety card was being played in what was really a protest against the use of non-qualified guides. (Does this remind you of anything?)

As a result our operation was more or less shut down for most of the day as potential passengers went elsewhere. We retired to a nearby cafe to discuss tactics.

One idea came forward quite strongly and soon we had made a tape of the tour and fitted a bus with a machine where the driver could stop and start it with a footswitch. It clearly wasn't as personal as the real live guide but it was consistent, it never made mistakes, and we could add some features that the live guide couldn't deliver. Thus Big Ben always chimed when you went around Parliament Square, there was always a concert to be heard at the Royal Albert Hall, and other famous sounds were always to be heard.

We got the script checked by a qualified guide (who wished, it has to be said, to remain anonymous).

So over time the buses were fitted with tape machines and before long the guides were let go.

Later technology allowed us to move from tapes to new technology and the direct descendent of our sightseeing business uses the latest today.

We ran more tours, the tape machines never got tired, grumpy or cross. The tapes cost us just a few pence in in due course there were numerous versions - daytime, nighttime, diversions etc. Best of all they were consistent. Everyone heard the same story, delivered in the same way, every time.

Not one Blue Badge Guide got a job with us, but sadly a good number of perfectly decent boys and girls were replaced by the new technology.

Surely not the intended consequence of the action taken against us that day and perhaps a lesson which has relevance today. We hadn't started out needing to replace the employees but by the end there was a very attractive alternative.

Having long since stepped away from this business I have no idea now of the policies and people involved in Blue Badge guiding. I hope that things have changed. If they or any member of that community would like to tell us I would be happy to include it here in the interests of fairness.

And DMS816 here in Coventry Street in 1984 in its all-over advertising for Beefeater Gin. We know the date as it is still awaiting destination blinds and our proper bus stop post is not yet in the ground!


Saturday, 2 October 2010

A new look

I had 5 minutes so decided to give the blog a facelift. Hope you like it!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Into our second year together

Well since we are a year in we are getting into events which I also wrote about in 2009. Last night was one of them - the annual London Transport Museum fundraising dinner and auction at the Royal Opera House.

Again we were lucky to have Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, as guest speaker and once again he impressed the audience with his sparkling wit. He reminded us that with the final vestiges of the PPP laid to rest he had become the first Conservative politician in decades to renationalise part of the railway network and discussed his plans for a cable car across the Thames from the O2 site. He said he was sure it would be supported by Government having named it after the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills!

(I will let you work that out).

Again the charity auction raised tens of thousands of pounds for the Museum including the ever popular 'Peter Hendy will drive you somewhere in a bus' which reached £10,000 in the auction.

And lastly whilst writing this note I had been reading one of the leading trade magazines today and found the piece on Sir Moir Lockhead's retirement rather familiar. That was because it was quoting directly from this very blog! So we now know it is read by the editors of the press as well. The announcement of Sir Moir's retirement also gave this site its biggest ever number of 'hits' by internet users worldwide.

I know I have said it before but for all those of you who, like me, had been agonising about the jump from Windows PC to Mac, a quite update just to say I am three months in now and every bit of data is just where I put it, the machine starts first time every time, and I've never seen a blue screen or had a system freeze.

I am a convert and can thoroughly recommend it.


Saturday, 25 September 2010

On a train at Aldwych again

Did you know it is a year since I started this blog? Looking back over the stories we’ve covered lots of ground together – literally in terms of distance but also in time. Sometimes very up-to-the-minute stories – literally as the events unfolded – and also the occasional historical or anniversary one. 

So now we have our own anniversary – one year of blogs and some very nice comments from people on the way. Also a bit of debate, too, which is good. 

So then a dip into history in a way as this weekend - the Mayor of London whas been staging a unique event at Aldwych Underground station in partnership with the LT Museum and TfL. 

Aldwych station was last used by passengers in 1994. Having opened (as Strand) in 1907 it was never developed as planned and none of the proposed extensions south of the river, or interchange with other new lines east/west such as the Fleet Line were ever completed. 

It has been used for other purposes, including for filming but this year it has joined the 70 year Blitz commemoration. 

I joined the trip last night – one of the three days it is on. Back inside the ticket hall it was amazing to remember it was 16 years since it closed. As if we were shelterers we were briefed by an APR warden and led down the 160 stairs to platform level where the Museum’s preserved 1938 Tube stock train was parked in an otherwise dimly-lit platform. We moved in groups between cars each hosted by an actor/actress delivering some stories of the time in period costume. One car ran a continuous loop of aural history from a survivor of the time.

Once all this was done we were back on the platform to hear, see and feel the effects of the bombing before, inevitably, the all-clear siren sounded.

As did the Londoners of the time, we climbed back up those 160 steps to see what was outside. Of course we were reasonably certain of what it was going to be like, unlike the sheltering residents of the time.

There was an interesting retail opportunity as we left through a door outside which was parked RT8 in its wartime partial-blackout garb.

Needless to say this event was sold out within a very short time of tickets going on sale so it is hoped it can be repeated. Meantime the mainstream Blitz exhibition at the LT Museum continues with LT165 in residence as well.

In better days the front entrance to Aldwych Station which survives more or less intact, and a view inside the old ticket hall last night complete with period posters - a couple partially disguising the old home of the automatic ticket machines of the early 1990s.

For the full story of this interesting branch get a copy of The Aldwych Branch by Antony Badsey-Ellis and Mike Horne (Capital Transport).


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Sir Moir to retire

Today we have announced the retirement of our Chief Executive Sir Moir Lockhead. 

Moir has been the ‘father of the industry’ for some considerable time having led the organisation to be the largest international surface public transport operator in the world.

He left school at 15 to become an apprentice mechanic in Darlington. He spent a short time with Tamac before rejoining the bus industry, rising to become General Manager of Grampian Regional Transport in 1985.

In 1989 he led a management buy-out of the company and subsequently made further acquisitions. Ultimately, in 1995, it merged with Badgerline Group to become FirstBus – a name which would last only a couple of years but which has stuck in the minds of many. It became FirstGroup in 1997 and has stayed like that ever since.

Moir led us into many new markets – rail franchises, an Airport, business in the Far East, Europe and to a significant extent in the USA. As a result the organisation has revenues of over £6bn, with over 2.5bm passengers a year. As he retires he leaves us the largest bus operator in the UK, the largest rail operator in the UK, and the largest single operator of yellow school buses in America.

He has had without doubt a lasting influence on the business and the industry. It is amazing to consider the size of the organisation now from its origins and even since Moir acquired my own business in 1998 for the Group.

We both tell the same story to new people we meet – he asked me to stay six months and that was over twelve years ago! Throughout that time he remained totally in touch with everything that we were doing and it is true to say at the end of any time with Moir you always came away feeling strongly about some things which needed to be done – not because he wanted it, but because you did. A special talent that few people have of sowing a couple of seeds in your mind and leaving them to grow.

A new chapter for FirstGroup indeed, and knowing Moir’s boundless energy, the industry will still see plenty of him in the future. 


Saturday, 18 September 2010

By bus to Imber

Well I might be the first person to get their Imber story on the internet but given the familiar faces in Wiltshire today there will be plenty more very soon.

Imber is a Wiltshire village with a difference: at its height no more than 500 people worked the land and look their goods to the local market town. By 1931 only 152 people were resident in the village.

However in 1943 it was evacuated and commandeered by the Ministry of Defence. As with a number of sites on Salisbury Plain vast swathes of countryside were used for training, target practice etc.

Imber was never given back and remains closed – except for the occasional day when access to the metalled roads and village is allowed. On this day the church is open, people can visit the graves of relatives buried there, and when possible a church service is held.

Today is the only day this year when Imber was opened, so following a precedent sent in 2009, a one day bus service comprising red Routemaster buses was provided. It is only the second time since 1943 that Imber has had a bus service.

The service, pioneered by London's Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy and registered by Martin Curtis at Bath Bus Company, ran from Warminster Station, across the wilderness to Imber, then on to Tilshead. For the first time the service was further extended to the Bustard Inn – a pub and a few mobile homes near Shrewton and accessed across the plains rather than the conventional way from the A360.

Several senior transport figures again joined in the day – driving, conducting and supervising – and everyone had an exceptionally good time.

I had the great fortune to drive the first journey beyond Tilshead to the Bustard Inn with RM613 and so popular was it as a destination that additional capacity was needed during the day.

We seem to miss the tanks and unexploded shells so I hope that means we might repeat the whole exercise again next year. Watch for dates as the opening of Imber is determined by the MoD and not always with much notice!

TOP  The absence of traffic allowed to us have an impromptu line-up across the road. A high-powered delegation including Peter Hendy attend to a small coolant problem on his RM1005.

BOTTOM Quite a lot of buses for a village that has no population!