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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Longest day

Thank you everyone for so many messages wishing me a Happy Birthday today using one or more of the social networking services. Amazing!

So a bedtime story. One which I have to say helped get me interested in the subject of transport and left an indelible memory.

I was entranced by the story of Silver Star Motor Services originally of Dorset which was formed in September 1923. There were two partners, Eddie Shergold and Ben White and they started with new Ford T which had a local canvas-hooded 14-seat body. The origin of the name is unclear – Eddie Shergold had served on the destroyer ‘Morning Star’ in World War I and the first, and subsequent vehicles were all in silver livery – until the end of World War II this was unpainted.

Their business target was the regular movements of members of HM Armed Forces in the Wiltshire/Dorset area. This included conveying them to other locations during their leave and also for moving the military bands to and from events.

The Road Traffic Act 1930 required them to apply for licences, and unlike now (and since 1986) they had to prove the need for them to be approved. Abstraction from other road and rail services could be a cause for refusal.

In the 1950s Silver Star (and competitor Wilts and Dorset) after a fight in the Traffic Courts started running directly to London rather than the nearest railway station, where they could board the London trains.

Initially the Traffic Commissioners and the operators had accepted that each camp was to be considered the preserve of one particular operator. This led to Silver Star being the dominant operator at Bulford Camp, whilst Boscombe Down was regarded as Wilts & Dorset’s.

In the mid-1950s Silver Star realised that the future of express services lay in connecting a dozen or more camps to a network of express services - to Newcastle upon Tyne, Glasgow and Edinburgh. All coaches were fitted with heaters (still not a standard feature) and radio which was popular with the troops.

In due course the competition had to follow.

Later that year the company became the first independent operator to place the new Leyland Atlantean in service. TMW853 carried Weymann 73-seat bodywork.

They even bought a former London RTL (305) which sadly was destroyed by vandals when subsequently owned by prioneering preservationist Ted Brakell.

In July 1960 the second Atlantean (37 - VAM944) entered service. It bore a distinct resemblance to the Standerwick 'Gay Hostess' coaches fleet with leather trim and luxurious features. It ran constantly to and from London full of military personnel and more were to follow.

In August 1960, Silver Star applied to operate Atlanteans on the other military express services which was viewed with some alarm by their rivals since the high capacity vehicles posed a threat to their business.

Silver Star was already operating double-deckers on their London route and had been for some several years. In an amazing piece of theatre not seen today the company placed their latest Atlantean, and a tree lopper, outside the court (demonstrating high quality transport AND countering a criticism they were not prepared to deal with problems!)

But the market was in decline and in October 1962, Eddie Shergold died. The surviving partner, Ben White, had already decided to retire and it was sold to Wilts and Dorset in June 1963.

I was fascinated by this remarkable story of high quality services, taking advantage of the market, and doing a better job than the established operator. They also continued to press the authorities for licences as in another world later did Laker and Branson who also brought the latest features to their products to gain competitive advantage.

Something registered in my head even at that tender age and later, somehow, I did what I did!

Now this area of the country is rather short of military personnel AND bus services but on 3rd September this year we will again be providing a distinctly London bus service across Salisbury Plain and to the 'forgotten' village of Imber. Details nearer the time. No Silver Stars but plenty of interest nevertheless!

Fortunately one or two vehicles survive into preservation and thanks to my good friend Bruce Swain can illustrate the last Atlantean 1013MW, at Dunsfold this April.


Sunday, 19 June 2011

Polite transportation

I have been doing some careful customer service research (in my own time of course!) in Atlantic City which has a number of major casinos.

The big question is of course, especially for someone like me who does not gamble, what is it that these establishments do to keep people satisfied when there is a competitor next door?

Casinos do have sone special attributes - no windows, no clocks so it is almost impossible to detect the passing of time. But they also have numerous other customer service aspects.

The places are extremely clean; all the facilities are clearly signed and there are numerous members of staff on hand to help. A simple push of a button on a slot machine brings you a waitress and allows you to order snacks and beverages. All food and drink is very cheap so as to encourage you to stay inside. A number of venues run a special 'thermal' promotion - as the temperature outside increases, then so does the discount for services inside. In other words countering the temptation to venture outside.

For those staying in the venues themselves the rooms are huge but lacking in amenities. Yes they want you IN the hotel but OUT of your room (so you can spend some money). Inside the hotels there are numerous restaurants, bars, shops, cash machines - in fact just about anything you might need.

Atlantic City is the playground for New Yorkers so a frequent Greyhound bus service delivers hundreds of clients. Some come for the day and I even saw people arriving early evening on a 'day' trip which returned at 0130.

What can we learn? For certain the huge attention to detail, perfect signage, cleanliness and personal attention. Also the 'tricks' which keep people spending their money and at the same time smiling, happy and cheerful. And also as a popular destination a well-marketed service running 24 hours a day with incentives for when you get there.

But perhaps the most serious lesson is the personal attention which is given by staff at all levels. Shop staff, security people, just everyone is working to keep you sufficiently happy so that you continue to part with your money in their establishments.

All this translates into public transport. I appreciate that people are travelling with us because they have to, rather than want to, but we do want to keep them and keep them happy. The difference between all this and a disgruntled customer is the customer-facing operator, be it counter staff, road staff or supervisor.

For our industry to deliver success we must do all we can to raise the quality of service our passengers receive. Their demands have risen dramatically over the years and industry leaders like Apple, Virgin, John Lewis and others have demonstrated the effects of this. To help them do so we must invest in training and empower them to do what they need to do 'in the field'.

Short distance public transportation in Atlantic City is provided by Jitneys - a generic word used here as a marketing name.


Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Aboard the Greyhound

Well it certainly is a first as I write my blog on a Greyhound bus travelling across New Jersey.

Although I have frequently seen 'behind the scenes' at this operation this is my first experience as a passenger. So with my 'customer service' hat on, how was it?

Very good! Booking on line was simple enough although on the day the system clearly had got out of sync with the day of the week and it was only a double-check that made sure I wasn't booking on the wrong day. With my on-line booking in my hand it was simple to use the 'will call' facility at the terminal ticket machine and is gave me my travel tickets and also some vouchers to use.

I was early so I was allowed on board an earlier departure with no trouble at all.

The coach ('bus' out here of course) was clean and tidy. Hmm, no announcements, but as boarding gates are used it was unlikely I was on the wrong vehicle. The driver was really good, answered the odd question and got us to our destination inside the schedule.

So the only improvement I would want is perhaps a nice announcement, welcome aboard, this is where we are going, this is how long it will take, things like that.

And for journeys in the USA which are under four hours city to city you'll be just as well off as on a plane since many airports are some distance from the cities that they serve and by the time you have dealt with check-in, security and delays as well as the transfers to/from the city then the bus is a good alternative.

Sorry - still don't have the hang of adding photos when mobile. Facebook has it!


Sunday, 5 June 2011

418 days to go

Today's blog is one which really is designed for you to spread to everyone you know who might be interested or affected.

It's about the Olympics and whilst it's a bit about people getting around the city it is mostly about getting supplies and goods to and from premises in London during the summer of 2012.

Dealing with people is slightly easier as they think for themselves and can respond to information. London is going to be VERY BUSY during the Olympic Games. It is far more than just the events themselves - there will be all the preparations, large numbers of one-off events (like the Queen's Diamond Jubilee), and then also the Paralympic Games afterwards. The latter extend into school term time (until 9 September) when traffic gets busier anyway.

The Olympic Route Network will be a series of major roads in London where significant amounts of roadspace will be given over to Games Family vehicles. These will be carrying athletes, officials etc. Not only will there be reserved lanes, many turns will be banned and crossings removed. Similarly spectators and others not allowed to use the ORN will be on public transport - Javelin trains from St Pancras, the Jubilee and Central lines and the Docklands Light Railway. So the roads and public transport will be busy indeed.

So my question for you (and for your friends, workplace colleagues, employees, neighbours etc etc) is have you considered how you (and everyone you are responsible for) will get to work in London during the Games? This is a good time to consider it - for example if you can work at home, can your company server withstand large numbers of people logging on remotely? And don't think of it like a Royal Wedding type event. These only last a day, whereas the Olympic Games is every day from 27th July.

Whilst the ORN is the obvious issue, there will be very many other streets in Central London affected. And also don't forget Stratford is not the only Olympic venue - Earl's Court, Wimbledon and other places will also be critical so it will affect a large number of people.

There is lots of useful information and help available - make a start at

Now dealing with freight is harder as there is an infinite range of materials, in all shapes and sizes and it relies on humans to think for it. So again, thinking about your own job, business, premises and so on (and those of your friends, neighbours, colleagues etc), how are you going to get your supplies in, and your products out?

The major corporate organisations are already thinking about this so supermarkets and banks are well advanced. If you work with non-perishable items you can stock up early. But what about London's individual restaurants, snack bars, small shops and so on? If your deliveries in and out are time critical (for example because they are perishable) then you do need to think now how it can be achieved.

At TfL we are doing all we can - with 18 hours a day of kerbside loading restrictions on the ORN and restricted access to other streets we are working to make it possible for night time deliveries to be easier to make. We are also working closely with as many organisations and businesses as we can.

But the best way to make progress is for everyone to find out what the proposals are and consider how they themselves might be affected. Raise this inside your companies. Make sure they discuss with their suppliers, logitics providers, transport organisers and so on how they can arrange to keep their businesses supplied. By asking the questions now, everyone can be well prepared for 2012.

So next time you are talking with your friends, neighbours or colleagues - at dinner, in the pub or on the golf course - spread the word that the time for preparations is now and get them to really think about it.

Point them to the huge amount of material on the internet, including

London is going to be open for business in 2012!