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Monday, 31 May 2010

Nostalgic about engines

You will have noticed I've not touched on the New Bus for London, which recently had a launch here in London to unveil the current impressions of the design.

Trade magazine New Transit did ring me for a quote but you'll have to wait until it is published!

It did get me thinking a bit about "what night have been" and also reminded me of a time when the bus industry was drawn to Workington in Volvo's early days of owing Leyland to discuss more about what it wanted in future.

I remember saying "weight reduction" without realising quite how important weight saving would be many years later when the real price of fuel started to hurt.

Somehow you are often led by what you were used to. At EnsignBus we had been highly satisfied with our Gardner 6LXB DMSs so it was only a short step for us to buy brand new Metrobus II Gardner/Voith vehicles as well. When MCW ran into difficulties, it was a short hop across to the Gardner/Voith Dennis Dominator - in many ways what the Fleetline might have become.

Over 1000 Dominators were made before it gave way to the Arrow - again a lighter weight and simple machine which filled the gap really well before the first generation of low floor double-deckers. Some are still giving good service.

Along the way a few ideas fell by the wayside - perhaps the most disappointing was the Gardner LG1200 engine which we really hoped would follow the 6LXB. How surprising that after many years of being the mainstay of British bus and truck engine manufacturing industry (even London Transport was persuaded in the 1970s), changes in commercial and marine requirements in the 1990s would mean the cost of development would overwhelm the major UK engine manufacturer.

I, too, had been brought up with the notion that engines had to be big and slow, hugely fuel-efficient and lasting a lifetime. Now, of course science has brought us smaller engines, running at faster speeds, but with fuel delivery, oil technology, and computers giving us the economy and early warning of impending failure.

Ah well - clearly shows the need to keep up to date. Now where's my iPad?

Two shots I am sure you haven't got! Our first Metrobuses were from South Yorkshire and here is 298 on the Aldenham tilt test mchine, newly operational at Ensign's Purfleet premises. And 181, the LG1200 Dominator which we had set such hopes by, at the annual Bus and Coach Show at NEC in 1991.


Tuesday, 25 May 2010

England T shirts

I am writing this carefully once again as the issue is live but I wanted you to know about it and, if you want, participate in spreading the word.

Some newspapers have carried a story about a little boy who was, with his mother Sam Farndon, asked to leave a bus operated by our Potteries subsidiary, because he was wearing an England T shirt. The driver, it is alleged, is from Eastern Europe.

It's been in the papers, and there is even a Facebook site with 1100 'friends'. There has been an outbreak of extreme comments about what they would like to do with the driver, and from the other perspective what should be done to people from overseas. All very nasty and horrible comments.

I have been in the midst of this today and let me tell you what I know.

Firstly, no Eastern European driver was working any of the journeys anywhere near when this incident is supposed to have taken place.

Secondly despite the alleged issue being resolved following the intervention of several passengers, no real witness has come forward at all.

Thirdly, a few people have called to say they witnessed the event but their story fails to pass even the most elementary of tests - they even get the date of the incident wrong.

Fourthly, a lady called Sam Farndon was once prosecuted for theft and deception in Wiltshire.

Here is the link

It may be someone different but she is the same age and the person in the news story now also lives in Stoke on Trent.

I can assure everyone that any such incident, were it to take place, would be most seriously dealt with. Behaviour like this is never acceptable and anyone making racist comments in the workforce - either to colleagues or passengers - has no place with us.

The company is, indeed, supporting England. As you all know, all our English buses are currently getting pro-England window labels during World Cup time.

However we do not much like it when people make up stories designed to attack our staff and get compensation from us. Fortunately these days we have equipment like CCTV to protect our staff from such allegations and you will remember it did so most recently when someone accused a totally innocent driver of throwing her off a bus whilst she was breastfeeding.

We are keen to ensure our customers are treated properly and put things right if things go wrong. However we are also determined to ensure our staff are protected from those who would try and use them as some sort of device to extort money and cause trouble.

This particular case is still being investigated but, as I have said, no further evidence has so far been forthcoming. If it does I assure you we will act.

If you're on Facebook , I am sure some of you reading this might like to drop in and, if they wish, add a comment or a link themselves!

I did have to find a picture of Potteries buses in action and what better than this foggy, freezing day just before Christmas 2006 when I was negotiating the purchase of Chester City Transport so have one of them and one of ours side by side in the bus station.


Saturday, 22 May 2010

Germany and Customers

Sorry - been a long time and indeed a busy week.

I wanted to make a customer service point and highlight the great work being done by our people in Germany. The two stories are linked.

Our German subsidiary FirstGroup Rhein-Neckar runs some 150 buses on school bus, local service and charter work and is growing strongly each year. This past year we started services in Zellhausen and we are now working on our new premises and fleet for Bad Vilbell.

These guys really know about service delivery - 99.9% of their mileage each month, hardly any collisions or lost time injuries and a great reputation in each of the locations where they operate, including Spyer, Heidelberg and Langen.

We bought a smaller, but well-run business. As we have expanded it we have been careful not to lose the excellent credentials which came before. The trick is to continue delivering such quality with each quiet expansion.

Now - about customer service. Now we've all been there before but I got it first hand on Thursday. On my way back from Frankfurt I was on a perfectly respectable Airbus A321 of Lufthansa. The only moan from the crew was they were booked to go to Nice but were going now to London. It was busy and I always book an aisle seat (so I can get in and out easily. I don't know why people like window seats - for 95% of the time there is nothing to see and for a 100% of the time you're hemmed in).

Lucky me, despite being very busy the seat next to me was free. Was this going to be ultra comfortable?

Oh no, the very last passenger: on he came. The size of a house. He needed his armrest, my armrest, my foot space, and when it came to food he put his tray table down but he was so large he had to eat his supper downhill.

Now I know that modern technology allows major corporate customers to glean customer insight from social media like this. So, in the hope the Star Alliance search engine finds this, please. You have attractive customers, intelligent customers, thin customers, delightful customers, inventors, politicians, and celebrities....

To paraphrase Fiddler on the Roof: Would it spoil some vast eternal plan of them was in the seat next to me?

Sorry - there has to be a customer sevice point: as popularity goes up sometimes customer satisfaction goes down. A rail passenger whom pays £200 for his ticket will be doubly delighted if he gets a table for four to himself. And he'll be a a bit peeved if he has to share it with three others (unless they are delightful!).

One Sunday evening I had to go up to Chester (the night we completed on the sale actually). I sat opposite Frank Carson on the Virgin train. I was in pain from laughing when I got off over two hours later - and he's in his 80s!)

Picture: a line-up of the Zellhausen fleet this week at their splendid new facility

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Good Luck England!

I don't know anything about football but there seems to be some big tournament this summer and England is playing in it.

We know our passengers will want us to join in, so our English subsidiaries will be supporting the World Cup - across the country our buses and publicity material will be saying so.

The campaign starts on Monday and this weekend the bus window posters are going into position. The message will be echoed across the country for as long as England remains in the game!

Well done Matt Wooll and team in Berkshire who kicked off early with getting the window labels into position already.


Friday, 14 May 2010

Really good news from London

Yes it's true, two great tender successes for First's London subsidiary is that the Routemaster heritage contract for route 9 is retained for a further period.


Route 25, which we first won decade ago in June 1999, returns to First again under the latest announcements this week.

When route 25 came to us from Stagecoach it represented the largest contract ever to change hands. Those subsequent five years slipped past very quickly and before long conversion to artic and transfer back to East London.

To me of course it seems like only yesterday we won it for the first time - an early success in the days of First Capital shortly after acquisition by FirstGroup.

And we mustn't forget that our Routemasters on route 9 will now continue for a further contractual period. There were those who said, back in 2005, that they had it on 'good authority' that these heritage routes would be quietly dropped when the hubbub of discontent had died down following the end of 'normal' operations.

As you can see nothing could have been further from the truth!

Shown here SRM4 when in use on route 25 during the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977 and our own RML2735 performing on it in June 2004 and photographed by Trevor Wright.


Monday, 10 May 2010

Running for the bus

Sorry we're late. I know I promised Sunday but actually the Bristol 10K run lasted longer than expected (not the run - getting out!) and it was a bit of a quick turnaround before heading out to Aberdeen.

Is now Monday night so back down in London and a chance to say THANK YOU to everyone who ran, helped and sponsored the run for the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Charity and, as I write, you all have raised £22,676 - an amazing result.

Our Commercial Finance man Richard Millward completed the 6.2 mile course in just 42 minutes, just ahead of Bristol MD Justin Davies.

A great reminder that the business is about people - our passengers and our staff - all of whom are part of the local community.

The UK Bus team just before getting underway in the Bristol 10K


Thursday, 6 May 2010

Election Night

Ah, dear friends you are looking at your PCs and not the interminable pre-closure of the polling stations telelvision "analysis" of what we might have done so thank you again for dropping by this blog.

Something of great nostalgia and the very latest news all wrapped up tonight.

The news is that yesterday we did in fact start our new Aircoach service from Dalkey to Dublin Airport (photo above), the one which has caused so much upset in the press. Regular readers will recall that Ireland is a regulated environment and you need a licence to run a bus or coach service. Both we and a local operator, Patton, had applied for a licence. He applied first so was offered it first, but declined. We applied second and when he declined it was offered to us instead.

Meanwhile Mr Patton started running anyway, and the Police and the other authorities have declined to do much about it. During this time transport matters have transferred to a new National Transport Authority.

We rather hesitated about starting, since the existence of an unlicensed operator rather makes a mockery of the system and guarantees at least some revenue abstraction. We asked the authorities to enforce the law to allow us to start properly but sadly nothing happened. Meantime the Patton company made quite a lot of noise about a friendly local Irish company being downtrodden by a foreign mutlinational corporation.

Licences offered in Ireland have a date by which operations must commence or they lapse. It has always been our desire to comply with the law so we thought we had better start anyway, which we did yesterday. The day, you will recall, was the occasion when Irish airspace was once against closed due to the danger from volcanic ash! No matter, we carried quite a few passengers (some both ways!).

No doubt there will be another dose of "David and Goliath" in the media but we have played this exactly "by the book" and am delighted to share this all with you.

And then the nostalgia - following my recent story Trevor Wright has kindly sent me a copy of his new book Moving Comfortably Ahead which pictorially charts the history of Capital Citybus, its predecessors and successors in 387 colour pictures. So many things I had forgotten! So thank you Trevor, and if you would like a copy please support this venture which is courtesy Jim Blake at 8, The Rowans, London, N13 5AD - £16.95.

Now I am not usually able to predict the next blog date but rest assured you're on a safe bet for Sunday. That is the day that my close colleagues in First run the Bristol 10k in aid of the Leukaemia and Lymphoma charity you all having raised over £22,000 for them. The event finishes before midday and Nicola Shaw and I have to be on a plane to Aberdeen by tea time. There does remain a good chance that photographic evidence of the noble FirstGroup directors and managers in action together with their supporting crew bus will be on line before it is dark.


Sunday, 2 May 2010

May day news

I have learned there are things you have to do in blog-town and that is clear up loose ends from time to time.

So firstly, yet we have done it. We have now beaten the target of £20,000 for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research thanks to my close colleagues who are running in next weekend's Bristol 10K marathon - their own personal contribution in support of my wife Alice's recovery from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia which is currently at day 43 following bone marrow transplant. A long way to go but so far so good.

Secondly back in March I told you about our Bristol Superbus scheme whereby rail passengers with tickets worth £25 or more arriving at Bristol Temple Meads or Parkway can have one free direct bus journey (two if it is a return). This is a precursor to my scheme to make such arrangements available to passengers and viable for bus companies at all rail stations in the UK.

Well I'm delighted to announce that Bristol independent ABus has now also joined the scheme. Their routes 57 and 349 are now also part of the deal. This trial is being provided to all rail passengers at no extra cost so the bus operators are not getting any remuneration as we strive to prove that the ticket is valued by passengers and prove the technical issues.

Thanks to Alan Peters at ABus for joining the scheme and helping it on its way.

In another charity event from many years ago Northumberland Park staff pull RM429 through North London for BLISS at Whipps Cross Hospital