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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A short night

So Wednesday morning dawns and the survivors of my official farewell party last night at the LT Museum awake to face another day.

There seem to be numerous photos and even an official video so for posterity the tremendous speeches by Giles Fearnley, Nick Vane, Sam Mullins (and me) are there for all time.

The team had put together a series of embarrassing photos from the years gone by which flashed past on the overhead screens.

The LT Museum is a superb venue for events like this combining the tremendous setting, fabulous catering, the chance to deliver your speech from a tram and of course perfectly situated in the centre of London.

I am wading through the cards, messages and gifts and am grateful to everyone who attended or who has sent messages. At Covent Garden there was a video booth where all sorts of people went and recorded messages. I'm looking forward to seeing those! Thank you!

And somehow overnight we also released our new vehicle order - £160m of investment over the next two years. The two year commitment gives certainty to the manufacturers and of course includes the 200 new double-deckers required for the Olympics which will commence delivery in January 2012.

Take a look over at for more information.


Saturday, 26 March 2011

Great night, shame about the cabaret

On Friday night it was the Exclusive Preview and Fundraising Dinner for the new Scottish Riverside Museum in Glasgow.

This is an amazing building on the banks of the Clyde (where it meets the Kelvin) and inside slowly being unwrapped is the replacement for the old Transport Museum. Although many exhibits are still in their protective material the new street scene is laid out and most exhibits are in their allotted positions. Over 1000 new items will also be displayed. It will open in June and will undoubtedly be well worth a visit.

As for the evening itself, a huge fundraising dinner with auctions and raffles to raise funds as the Museum prepares itself for opening. Carol Smillie hosted the proceedings.

The first auction item was one of the very last Mini Cooper S models ever built went for £15,000 and although I was at the other end of the hall it looked for all the world to me that Ann Gloag won it. Eventually after 17 lots in the live auction and 36 more in the silent one and with the clock approaching midnight the final speech was from TV motoring correspondent Quentin Willson.

Well, I have to tell you it was a long and ill-informed diatribe against public transport and in favour of the motor car. He broadly indicated that outside London public transport was dead or dying and was not a suitable way for people to travel. There were some rude remarks about the policies of the previous Government with respect to public transport not surprisingly symbolised by the rise and fall of the M4 bus lane.

The mooted £25 'gas guzzler' special London Congestion Charge was proposed as the reason why Ken Livingstone was voted out in 2008.

Well not surprisingly this fell rather flat on an audience many of whom were guests of the sponsors, including First, BAe Systems and SPT. As a result there were lots of murmurings and not much co-operation in acknowledging the odd funny line. With the event already running late quite a few people chose not to stay to listen to the end of this and considering the content it was not surprising.

Whilst we are used to the outspoken views of the presenters of car-based TV Shows like Top Gear mostly they are regarded as simply clever television. Last night Willson injected a dose of those views into the heart of an audience which are not anti-car, simply pro good public transport.

It didn't go down well and I'll not be inviting him to any event of mine!


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Over the Irish Sea

On Tuesday I was in Dublin which I have been commuting to and from since 2003 when I acquired Aircoach for FirstGroup.

Maybe it was the nice weather bit there seem to be some signs of improvement in the economy with busier shops, more tourists and certainly more activity on the industrial park where we are based.

In my eight years of regular visits I have witnessed how this economy has shifted from one of huge growth, into one which suffered 6% deflation and now a new Government which is facing some harsh economic decisions.

Right in the middle of this we have the new Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport which is an outstanding building but sadly lacks any proper information or facilities for passengers wanting to use any public transport including our frequent luxury coach services into the City, the suburbs and to Cork. In addition the road network has made it difficult to serve both terminals without protracted loops around the airport's road system. A reminder how critical it is to involve public transport operators whenever there are plans for new residential, business or retail projects so the journey experience is a good one.

I see in at least one of the magazines it is being wondered whether my arrival of TfL will bring forward one of my frustrated ambitions which was to deploy 3-axle double-deckers into the capital. This was my plan for route 29 in 1992 and whilst our bid failed we did secure nearly the entire Walthamstow network from London Forest so we weren't unhappy.

Well Dublin uses an increasing number of tri-axle double-deckers on its services They clearly do move significant numbers of people in an ordinary city environment. They also manage with only one door as well. However that might be about to change - the new National Transport Authority is seeking to acquire new vehicles as they make progress to more liberalisation of the transport network. Their intention is to own the vehicles so that at some point in the future contracts might be awarded to the private sector. However it reintroduces the vexed issue of two-door operation in Dublin which was for very many years 'blacked' by the Trade Union until in the event only single-door buses were purchased.

Here is a case where the company and its labour relations is behind the times. It is, for certain, the job of the transport professionals to determine whether the buses need two doors on the basis of whether it is justified in terms of speed and convenience. Multi-door vehicles are widely used around the world including in London and millions of passengers use them every day without incident.

Greater liberalisation in this market has been on the cards for some time and lets hope the new Government pushes it along some more.

Which brings me back to the start - perhaps you have already picked up on the good work done by a company called U-Track. Not only are they nice people but they are cleverly providing a service which picks up any GPS feed and marshalling the data so operators can have excellent real time information and passengers can have it on their smart phones too. What makes this different from other products is that it does NOT involve fitting another box with another SIM card on your vehicle.

If you want to see a working example of this pioneering project take a trip over to Dublin Coach or even better download the App for your iPhone. You'll see good real time information for their service and other helpful information including links to flight times and so on.

Another pioneering project from Dublin Coach owner John O'Sullivan who also invented and launched Aircoach before selling it to us in 2003.

John bought a fleet of Setras for Aircoach before he sold it and some 20 of them remain. They are all well over the 1 million km mark and doing well. Normally they are blue but this is a wrapped advert one in black.


Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Two jobs

Well it seems right now like having two jobs as I am working to hand over my responsibilities at FirstGroup whilst at the same time gradually picking up more information and briefings from TfL.

As is now generally known my last day at First will be 1st April which is in two and a half weeks' time. I then have two weeks holiday and start at TfL on 20th April - just in time for Easter, the Royal Wedding and May Day!

So I am on the last round of seeing my various teams and spent Friday on a marathon one-long-day visit to Germany where our business is in good shape and, I am pleased to say, rather larger than when we first bought it several years ago.

There are signs of a loosening in the German market with certain long-standing restrictions (such as no road services allowed to complete with rail) looking like they might be relaxed. At the same time there has been a rather higher level of criticism of DB especially in terms of rail performance. All this represents a changing face in this market.

At the same time we see continued interest in the British market by overseas transport groups. The long drawn out reshuffle of the French companies has now established RATP firmly in the UK with operations in London and elsewhere plus a clear intention to expand further. Overseas transport groups often have access to cheap capital and are more relaxed about profit margins on contracted work so do pose a threat to the traditional bus companies in UK.

All this is taking place in the face of the continued economic uncertainty, rising fuel prices and the imminent publication of the initial findings of the Competition Commission which we expect in the next month or so.

In the trade press recently Giles Fearnley, our bus Managing Director gave advance notice of our imminent announcement of significant orders for new buses. I am not yet in a position to release any details of this other than to say that it will span the next two years and will include all our requirements for the Olympics.

And lastly a new story. Across in the USA our Greyhound business transports the Harlem Globetrotters wherever they go and later in April this famous team is coming to UK for a 9-day tour. So yes, two Greyhound coaches will provide the team transport and we will be having Greyhound and Globetrotter photocalls in each of the major cities where they are playing. These include Aberdeen, London, Cardiff, manchester and Sheffield. If you see coaches on the motorway in unusual locations then it is the famous Harlem Globetrotters aboard.

And a photo to launch the Globetrotters' Greyhound UK adventure!


Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Leeds hybrids

Very soon we are launching the first of our fleet of hybrid buses in Leeds.

With the Government's Green Bus funding we have placed orders for hybrid buses in two batches for Leeds and the first will enter service soon.

Today we have been making some decisions regarding the finer details of the vehicles including livery and other features. We did this working with the first vehicle, 39201 which is already at Hunslett Park depot Leeds.

What you see here is the base livery and prototype swooshes in place but before application of the skirt colours and most of the other livery details. When they enter service they will also have advertising outside and in promoting their green credentials.

This is, therefore, an early look at these high-quality vehicles which also feature leather seats, a revised interior scheme and will also include various other passenger-enhancing features which have recently been trialled in the North region.

In addition these vehicles are helping us make some further decisions over the layout and attributes of our forthcoming orders for new buses which will encompass those required for the Olympic Games. These details will also follow shortly.

These are exciting times as we raise the standard for buses - and many of these features will surely be commonplace in the future.


Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A catch up

After all this week’s news you deserve an update.

So firstly let me say thanks for the huge number of messages wishing me well which have come in by email, text, and all other forms of media from the UK and overseas. On Thursday evening it was the Annual First Dinner/Dance in Aberdeen and I was inevitably surrounded by over 250 of my colleagues and received many more good wishes. And in response to the most-asked question, the answer is “the end of April”.

I have made some tremendous friends during my time and I am taking this opportunity to make a shameless 'plug' for the book which tells the history of Wrightbus written by their former Sales Director Jack Kernohan. This is an outstanding book and available through all the usual outlets. It is A4 size and not as big as the one we are leaning on in this picture on the right!

Thank you for all of your suggestions for the naming of the Leeds hybrid fleet and which might be used beyond. There were some great suggestions and we will reveal the final name and livery scheme shortly. They will look great and I will be seeing what progress has been made early next week.

I hope you have ready page 3 of RouteONE magazine this week. If not you can see it here:

or follow the link over on the right.

It describes some goings on between the DfT, VOSA and the Traffic Commissioners. The independence of the TCs has been a critical part of the industry for 80 years but in recent times there appear to have been attempts to erode it. Not surprisingly the TCs themselves are increasingly protesting about this and before Christmas two of them actually went public deferring decisions before them pending clarity of their position.

The crux of the matter is of course that VOSA is generally the organisation giving evidence demonstrating operators' failings. The operator is equally able to defend those allegations using a lawyer if necessary. The TC weighs up the evidence and makes a decision. Some years ago the administrative staff supporting the TCs became VOSA employees and at the time it was a concern that, in effect, the prosecution was also the secretariat.

Now more recently there were further proposals making the TCs accountable in some areas to the VOSA Chief Executive who is, incidentally, already their accounting officer. This triggered the issue in December when two TCs went public. In this particular case it related to a decision in which VOSA had a financial interest so it should absolutely be the case that they cannot be involved in the decision-making process.

The RouteONE piece correctly sets out these concerns. We mustn't forget that the TCs look after all of the UK's freight and logistics licensing as well as passenger matters so it is for both industries to work to ensure that the independence of the Traffic Commissioners is maintained.