Well, I must confess that I did in truth have high hopes that the Uk Bus summit held yesterday in the Queen Elizabeth conference centre nestled literally next door to the House of Commons might just live up to my own high expectations…and it did. The keynote address was not given by Ministerial jokey boy Transport Secretary Chris Failing ( Yes please can I get a side order of chicken wings with my virtual ferry ticket please) A naughty reference to those who do not know that he gave a 14 million pound contract to a ferry Company that does not own any ferries and used a take away menu nicked to fulfil their terms and conditions, honestly you really cannot make it up.
Anyway ignoring Mr Graylings contribution, what really impressed me was the keynote address given by transport Minister Nusrat Ghani, to be perfectly honest she has impressed me since she came from nowhere to become the transport Secretary. She seems to have a genuine interest in the portfolio, unlike other career minded politicians who regard transport as a poison chalice and could not wait to get out quick eneough. No, this lady seems genuine and more importantly she seems to be listening to the industry voices worth taking notice of.
She announced two key initiatives the first was fine and certainly will help as it involves good hard cash, in the form of the Ultra-Low Emissions Bus Scheme designed to buy new low emission buses, and equally importanat the infrastructure required to power and manage the options, for example electric powere points. These included electric, hydrogen and bio methane powered buses. Miss Ghani announced that 19 different Bus Companies would be the beneficiaries of the 48 million quid that was loitering with intent in the treasury piggy bank. I liked the eclectic mix of different Bus Companies that won out on this investment windfall, from the large to the small, from the super groups to the small municipal and several operators in between. These grants wil play a key part in the Bus offering a real solution to the Clean Air Strategy, honestly all great stuff and I take my hat off to those involved.
However, the real icing on the cake was when she announced that a new partnership was going to be formed with Greener Journeys. Now, regular readers ( yes all four of you, you know who you are), will be well aware of my unstinting support to the Greener Journeys cause and those good souls who are behind it. The partnership supported by bus operators will play a pivitol role required by the bus industry in tackling loneliness and social inclusion. Recent research revealed that a stagering one third of people living in the UK are lonely. So Greener Journeys,along with Go-Ahead, Stagecoach, First Group, and National Express will all be joining this worthy initiative. (Rather surprised not to see Arriva in that list but there you have it..) I love that and I also love the idea that some really good proactive initiatives are being instigated to get people on buses to talk to each other.
The “Chatty Bus and “Hattie’ are two examples where bus Companies are encouraging selected passengers to encourage conversations with other bus passengers, and in an era of high tech social media, the truth is people are simply lonely. And what does that do to the well being and mental health of the nation. This does exactly what the Minister said it should do namely “ See how we can use buses to help with social interaction”. Now before the cynics start complaining that ‘ this will encourage the classic Jaspar Carrot nutter on the bus type interaction, this is the opposite, it is designed to help people feel part of society.
However, the bit that I really liked that hit me straight in the feels was when she said that ‘Over 120 years buses had become part of the fabric of every town, city and region in the UK”. The truth is that the bus has been utterly overlooked in the absolutely vital role that it plays in allowing people to access work, college, and providing connectivity to people who would otherwise be isolated.
Well said Minister, and rest assured that I for one will be doing all in my power to help Greener Journeys and the big 4, to support this fantastic initiative. After all the definition of Omnibus is simple it incorporates all people, the bus is not just a travel option, it is far more than that, it is a lifeline, it is all about inclusion for all. This is an agenda that has always been pivotal to me and I suspect it was handed to me by my dad, he saw the bigger picture and he strongly encouraged me to embrace it which I did. So, fair play it is time to be positive and vocal about the bus and the huge benefits it offers society. Count me well and truly in!