Well, who would have thought it my dear chums, after all this time it appears that according to the latest report from the guru who is my good friend Chris Cheek, the UK Bus industry has finally turned a corner. In fairness the positive signs have been sprouting for a while, and while things have got progressively worse in terms of congestion and declining passenger numbers, at last it seems that for whatever reason passengers are starting to get back onto the bus. Praise the Lord, how and why is probably a debate in itself, but I ask the question who cares?
I have been banging on for years now as some of you kind folk know and the reasons for decline are already clearly chronicled, but, and this is the point. Because if the truth be told its about time that the humble bus began its new life as the answer to the problem of congestion and air pollution and not as has been perceived by many as the actual problem. Interestingly if you have a look at what is happening at just what is going on in Europe the revolution of the bus solution is starting to be recognised. Some more enlightened Cities are advocating free travel on buses as the answer to modal shift, Germany and the Nordic countries are starting to experiment with free travel for all. Surely this must be a solution for the bigger problem, it is increasingly apparent that climate change and even worse the real cost of air pollution are being recognised across the world.
Indeed when I look back on my bus career I recall having to spend several days alone in my good old and much loved depot at Friar Street in Hereford where I had to stay awake all night on especially cold days to keep all 35 buses engines running all night. As my MD big Ken Mills would call me and say well young one the weather forecast suggests that its going to be a bitterly cold night, there is a danger that the engines wont start in the morning so someone needs to stay up all night and keep those engines ticking over. Can you get someone to stay up and sort it out son?
This was of course code for that means you son as frankly we are not going to pay anyone anyone any extra money, you are the gaffer mate, so crack on. So I did and I can still remember the feeling in my throat of sharing an old shed with 35 diesel coughing buses which every hour I had to ensure that they were still sputtering along as I avoided coughing out my lungs. Ah yes happy days and of course this was well beyond the days of health and safety, whatever that meant. Mind you I loved those 7 years, as that depot was my depot and every single person who worked there was part of our family. I cared for them, and in return they cared for me, back then , although hard to imagine now we were fighting bus wars, and sometimes it was war.
Seriously fights would happen between bus Companies and the people who worked for them, and maybe I should not admit it, but as a young man who loved his depot and cared for his family of staff, I had a few scraps myself. One in particular was memorable, I used to drink in a pub called The Saracens Head, its a famous pub been around for decades and is situated at the end of the old bridge. It was my local pub, and I was living a few doors down with my 2 mates Eugene and Phil, as it happened a man who started to compete with my depot, and was especially aggressive decided that he needed to find me, and as they say call me out. So, one night there I was having a pint when he walked in, he looked at me walked over and was very aggressive and made it clear that he wanted to fight me. The landlord, my mate Des immediately intervened and told him to go, but he was having none of it.
I told Des not to worry and told the guy that I would finish my beer and meet him outside. I wont repeat what happened but he was a guy in his fifties, fat, out of condition but he had a reputation for being very aggressive, As it happened I was back then a shodan or first dan black belt in Shotokan Karate do, I was training hard and regularly and lets just say that it was all ok I punched him twice and he fell over, that was it I made sure that he was ok and asked Des to get him a taxi which he did, that was it. Funnily enough his Mickey Mouse bus Company did not last long and a couple of years later he asked me for a job, I told him that we were fully staffed, which we were but I got him a job at a different depot.