No real surprises really, as speculation was rife some months ago in the trade press that First were going to sell their Manchester based Bolton depot to Rotala. This was suggested when it was revealed that the Queens Road depot was to be sold to Go Ahead who have already commenced operations, with a mixed fleet of new branded buses on some routes and re-labelled First branded buses on other routes, as they rebrand and impose themselves as the new operator.
Interestingly, as a local resident in Birmingham I have observed something of a reformation in the life and times or Rotala. I worked for them for three very dynamic years from 2006 until 2009, as part of the Diamond Bus Company under the leadership of the charismatic leadership of Scott Dunn. We enjoyed a roller coaster of a time as we took custody of what had been the Go Ahead West Midlands operation which had been sold on to Rotala after a brief foray into bus operations in the West Midlands. They decided that it was not the right fit for them so custody was handed over to the fledging Rotala whose routes ere firmly planted in the history of Dunn Line Motors And Hallmark Coaches.
Unfortunately Rotala suffered for a few years with their West Midlands operation for various reasons and had a number of negative Public Inquiries following a succession of negative passenger experiences. However, to be fair my own perception today is that I see a Company in transition. So, how do I judge this change? The answer is not rocket science, it simply comes down to this. How smart and clean are the vehicles, and what do the drivers look like. What is the branding like, do the vehicles promote contactless payments, and Apps. Well in truth, over the last year the image and reputation have gone from frankly poor to dire, to actually smart and professional, as they have improved significantly on my criteria above.
These transformations don’t happen over night, it starts with clear and defined leadership, in fairness I do not know who is in charge these days, but it certainly seems to be getting better. What I do know is that the Dunn family have been at the heart of the Rotala journey for some ten years. Blue Diamond up in Preston have done a good job, as Bob would. He knows this industry inside out, and in my view I always found him a fair and decent man. He showed faith in me as did Scott when he became MD at the youthful age of 31. There was a fantastic energy at the time Scott took over, the team was excellent, Scott, Trevor Hickinbottom, Johnnie Everill, Angie Bolton, Trevor Wrollaxall, and other good people one or two of which are still there. We felt that we could do anything, and that was what we did. We created Red and Black Diamond with Ray Stenning designing really classy vehicles. We attacked National Express head on in the Black Country-and started to make some good money. We attacked First in Redditch, Kidderminster and Worcester with the Red Diamond ( in tribute to the mighty Midland Red), and again did well.
My journey ended with Rotala with good memories on July 9th 2009, when I left to join uTrack, and what an amazing journey that has been almost exactly ten years to the day. But it is good to see Rotala taking shape they have brought the Hotel Hopper network from National Express down in Heathrow. And now they have taken over First Bolton, although it is interesting to note that the Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham has declared his hand to take over the bus network and operate it as a municipally owned not for profit network. Quite what that means for the incumbent operators is not yet clear. But, after patient and controlled expansion Rotala are are starting to establish themselves, and the CEO Simon Dunn has started to come into his own. I will watch with interest from the sidelines, the Dunn family have achieved great things in the past, and Bob and Simon are spearheading quality operations in the UK. And Scott has worked his magic in Australia, with both successful bus Companies and a bus building factory. Clearly you cannot keep an entrepreneur down and do not forget that Scott gave uTrack their first foothold into the UK Bus market when we tracked the 178 bus service between Redditch and Birmingham, fair to say that we have grown a bit since then. And not unlike uTrack , Dunn line, and Rotala, all these empires started off tiny, but as the saying goes from little acorns, mighty oak trees grow.