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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

New job

OK now I know the gossip is out there because hits on my blog have picked up a bit in the past few days.

However I am able to confirm that it is announced today that I am leaving First after over 12 years to become Managing Director Surface Transport at Transport for London, succeeding David Brown who is, in turn, becoming the Group Chief Executive of Go-Ahead plc.

I am leaving First having spent over a third of my working life there. Little did I know when Moir Lockhead asked me to stay 6 months, in July 1998, I would still be here over a decade later. I had just sold my bus business, Capital Citybus, to First and everyone rather assumed I would set up again with my close friends and colleagues.

I am rather glad I didn't. I have had a most wonderful time at First looking after all of London and the South East, then as Commercial Director for the whole of UK and more recently as Customer Service and Communications Director.

I have led some great adventures including our acquisitions in Dublin, Chester and Truronian in Cornwall; I have looked after Germany, worked with the USA teams, met some brilliant people and attended some outstanding events. Perhaps the most spectacular was the First reception on board the aircraft carrier USS Midway anchored in San Diego harbour.

No greater moment was when my team won us the spectator transport contract for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Now the frequent excursions to Aberdeen HQ and other places in the UK will conclude - over 10 years of trains, planes and hotels. Fond memories of being marooned in odd places, searching for a mobile phone signal and balancing my laptop on my knee will all join those great people I have worked with in my oft-threatened book. (No - I still don't have time to write it).

There will be those who try to look behind these events to uncover a deeper reason. So for the record I have had nothing but the closest of relationships with Sir Moir Lockhead and more recently Tim O'Toole. I have worked closely with my fellow Directors and it is with some regret that the timing of this vacancy - which was announced last autumn - co-incides with the arrival of Giles Fearnley only a couple of weeks ago. His is an excellent appointment and having known him for over 20 years, I am sorry we will have not worked for longer together.

I am thrilled to take over as MD Surface Transport at TfL. I started my career in what is now the Department of Transport but have spent over 30 years in the private sector. Having learned a considerable amount, largely the hard way, I go back to the public sector to pass it on. I return to my London roots and am looking forward to this new challenge.

Personal friends will know I am entirely ignorant about sport but I am delighted to now lead a great team - the one which will deliver the London Olympics and, at the same time, keep all of London moving, just like it does every day.

Wish me luck!


Sunday, 20 February 2011

A day out of service

Thanks to Bruce Swain for the photo from his archive!
There has been some chatter in the trade press recently about the value of the Driver CPC training which is now a couple of years old. More importantly we are approaching the deadline in 2013 when all staff who were employed in the industry at the start of this process have been trained and have 35 hours of it under their belt.

Well yes, it is of value. Whilst the arrival of another piece of Brussels obligation is always tiresome and potentially costly this one has galvanised the bus and coach industry into action. Because whilst we often think of ourselves as communicative with our employees the truth is that bus companies typically spend 80% of their time dealing with the 20% of staff who appear to be failing and very little time with the rest. We also often rather assume our staff know what we know, whereas in fact they only know what we tell them.

So the Driver CPC has presented us with an obligation which we have all too frequently forgotten in the past. Just once a year, one measly day for just a few hours we take our hard-working, downtrodden and often abused staff out of the fire of daily bus (or coach) operation and have them together in small groups to discuss issues, receive feedback and sharpen up their skills and knowledge.

Put that way it sounds like we should be doing it much more often!

In fact, until dCPC arrived, it was entirely possible that a driver could pass his PCV test aged 18 and carry on regardless until 27 years later when he would, by law, have to submit to his first ever intervention by the state - his obligatory PCV medical examination. During that time no obligation to invest in his skills at all.

The one day session has to comply with certain requirements but generally operators are free to 'open the door' to safe and efficient driving, the environment, road skills, customer service and so on.

And the scheme is flexible enough to change the rate of training. We have been able to slow it down a little during times of staff shortage or other priorities and can speed it up similarly.

At First we've taken bus drivers UNDERNEATH a bus for the first time. Some had no idea how vulnerable some of the components were and what really happened when you turned the steering wheel or applied the brakes. Most said they were amazed what went on down there.

So, as you have gathered, the Driver CPC is bringing a welcome new understanding to our hard-worked bus (and coach) drivers and I hope everyone is now seeing the benefits.

And a hark back to much older training times - my old Obsolete Fleet Training Bus T2, in service 1981-3. It was a properly converted Bristol FLF with the front staircase removed and a tricky and temperamental manual gearbox!


Monday, 14 February 2011

Guided hybrids in Leeds

There are still relatively few hybrid buses outside London. Nearly all are being ordered under the Government's Green Bus Fund which seeks to 'top up' the additional costs which these vehicles attract.

What will bring the costs down is more volume. At present they are being built in small numbers so unit costs are high. The finance companies are taking a cautious view so they are expensive to lease. And lastly the technology is moving so fast that each new iteration of hybrid is different to the last and so the performance/reliability/cost index is again reset to zero each time.

London is leading the way with increasing numbers being delivered and in service but so far there are few outside. We are however on the brink of introducing a batch into Leeds and the first ones are being delivered. They will look really smart and there are two batches which will bring the total to 22. They will, I think, be the first ever hybrid buses used on a guideway! Two examples of public transport innovation.

Interestingly public perception and actual efficiency are diverging. The series hybrid product uses effectively a diesel engine as a generator. The bus is moved along by electrical power created by the generator and stored in the batteries. The really behaves like an electric vehicle and on our one in Bath you can turn the engine off altogether and run silently through the city centre with zero emissions.

However, on the face of it, it is so far less rewarding in terms of fuel consumption than the parallel hybrid in which the engine and the battery together work to drive the bus along. Of course since the engine is behaving 'normally' (going up and down as demands are placed on it), to the passenger it sounds like a normal bus.

And so, since we are on the cusp of more hybrids outside London, we are working on a pro-environmental message for the new vehicles in Leeds. They are in standard First livery but the normal white will be silver. They will carry a version of our usual livery but the 'swooshes' will be bolder and not along the skirt panels. But more importantly we do need to think of a word which conveys the pro-environmental attributes of this type of vehicle. Early market research suggested 'hybrid' would do but I wonder if there isn't a cleverer word? This is your chance. If you would like to suggest a word which is a catchy name and which will convey this environmentally-friendly concept, I'd be glad to hear from you.

There will be a prize if it gets adopted!

Even though the livery and branding isn't settled yet, no reason not to show you this photo from James Eastwood of 39201 on delivery in its base silver livery.


Sunday, 6 February 2011

A return to February 1956

Today we celebrated 55 years since the first Routemaster RM1 entered service on route 2 from Golders Green to Crystal Palace.

After well over a year of testing it made its first tentative steps in service in the snow of February 1956.

So, over half a century later, there are still some Routemasters in service in London and over 2800 examples have been built. Quite a few are now in one form of preservation or another and today nearly 20 of them made expeditions from the north and elsewhere to recreate that first journey. Herded together by the Routemaster Association the main group rendezvoused at Scratchwood services near the southern end if the M1.

But I had the greatest honour of all as I was able to bring the original RM1 from its home at the Acton depot of the London Transport Museum and close on 0940 this morning re-enter Golders Green bus station.

Aboard were various volunteers and friends of the LT Museum, plus supporters from the wider preservation movement. Graham Smith was turned out in period Conductor uniform complete with Gibson ticket machine of course.

We managed to get RM1 placed in Golders Green bus station in as close a place as we could to where it was on 8th February 1956 and made a 10am departure for Crystal Palace. The journey was photographed and filmed extensively and we made a photo stop in Vauxhall Bridge Road to try and replicate the ones taken at the time. We also stopped on Vauxhall Bridge itself to allow the convoy to catch up. Whilst we were there one of the DUKW vehicles passed us then made its way down the slipway alongside MI6 and into the water. More than one person remarked what an odd scene it was. A collection of historic vehicles lined up on Vauxhall Bridge but everyone stood with their backs to them and filming the river instead.

RM1 sported its brand new destination blind set made by Mike Welch and team. It has panels for routes 2 and 260, plus a period PRIVATE panel of the era and special displays for the Museum. All were displayed during the day.

We made it to Crystal Palace and later retired to the coach park and posed under the transmitter aerial. Eventually the entire group was lined up. Many thanks to Adam Conner who is the Routemaster Association's Event's Officer for organising it, to all those who brought their vehicles to this tremendous occasion, and to L T Museum for making it possible for RM1 to come.

The route 2 of 1956 is rather different from today's so yes I had my iPad propped up in the cab (you might see the black square in the photos!) to use its GPS and mapping capability. Who would have thought 55 years ago anyone would be using satnav in a Routemaster!

John Lidstone and Mark Kehoe captured the day on video and in digital photography. John took the top one of me at Golders Green and Mark the one with Graham Smith before we left Acton.


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The next generation

It seems only yesterday that the fledgling Cobham Bus Museum was installed in an old World War II Vickers building on an unlikely site in Surrey.

Closer to Weybridge than Cobham (some early supporters, like Ted Brakell, never stopped calling it "Weybridge"), at first it was hard to find enough owners and vehicles to occupy the building.

In those days many preserved London Transport buses were housed in LT garages and for some the longer-term security in a distant corner of Surrey was unattractive.

However, before long the building was full of preserved vehicles - not all of them from London. Indeed before too long the entrepreneurial activities of its leading lights had vehicles parked outside as well - mostly for resale or awaiting attention inside. In the genteel and leafy countryside this was nearly too much for the residents of large nearby homes. However Cobham Bus Museum survived the troubles of planning as well as the untimely death of its driving force Alan Allmey in the mid 1970s.

Now, some 40-odd years since its inception, the Museum is on the move to new purpose-built facility at the nearby Brooklands attraction - the previous home of BAC, and now a Museum in its own right and home to many historical vehicles and aircraft.

For the first time, when completed, the new London Bus Museum will be open daily and its audience will be those who have made the journey to Brooklands. Sited close to the famous racing track it will be in close company of Concorde as well as a Vickers Vanguard and VC10. How many visitors will recall, as I do, combining the excitement of a day at the (now demolished) Queen's Building Spectator Area at London Airport with a ride on some of those London bus types now preserved?

So here is a photograph of the new London Bus Museum being constructed with the proud shape of Concorde 202 (a pre-production example and the fastest ever to fly) in the background.

It will open later in 2011!
Photo: The new London Bus Museum under construction at Brooklands by David Kinnear