There is an old expression that has been doing the rounds across the UK, since before Pontious was a pilot. And it is this, normally said by comedians looking for a quick, cheap gag, but also universally popular with many others. And this is it; “Typical, no bus for ages then three come at once”. Now to be perfectly fair to bus Companies there is a simple reason for this. It is called congestion, and year on year it just gets worse, and this can now be proved. Today’s technology gives us accurate data like never before. Poor bus services are in my experience rarely down to poorly managed bus Companies, indeed the vast majority of bus Managers and their staff move mountains to keep buses on the road and on time. How do I know, because that was what I used to do myself, and I have the scars to prove it, as they say.
So, what the Charles Dickens I hear you say has that got to do with Transport Focus. Well let me enlighten you my dear reader chum. Hot on the heels of my invitation to attend the Heathrow Coach Presentation, I have received a second invite to attend a second event which is the publication of their latest Transport Focus Bus Passenger Survey, a glittering array of speakers including my dear chum James Freeman MD First, West of England, Graham Pendlebury, Director, Local Transport at the DFT, (and all round big cheese at the DFT in all bus related matters), and Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, who has done remarkable things over the last couple of years in trying to create a workable public transport strategy in a city that has suffered hugely for decades with congestion.
The purpose of the day will be for the excellent team at Passenger Focus to interpret the latest bus passenger Survey results across England and Scotland. These events are truly of the highest calibre, I know this because I have attended several of them across the years, they interview literally tens of thousands of bus passengers across the length and breadth of the UK. It a bit a painting of the Forth bridge kind of exercise, as soon as one survey ends another one starts. Transport Focus are fair and impartial they say it as it is, and for some worse performing Companies it can be an uncomfortable experience, as the best and worst are revealed, warts and all.
They will also be having a long hard look at what the good old bus passengers think of local bus services in Bristol and the South West. It has been a tough time recently for James and his team with social media campaigns being launched about unreliable services to the Universities when they went back for the academic year, and problems with rail replacement services. So, I will be really interested to understand what passengers say and think, and spot the trends and challenges that emerge from well let’s be frank about it,what the most important people think. The equation is simple no passengers means no bus industry, and with mileage and patronage plummeting year on year across the UK due to Local Authority cuts in bus subsidy and reduced reliability due to ever increasing congestion.
Clearly a vicious circle that needs seriously addressing and Transport Focus do a brilliant job as the honest brokers of the passenger and the bus and coach industry. In fairness they are equally vocal celebrating the positive as well as rightly highlighting the negative. I remain an unabashed supporter of the excellent work that they do, and am looking forward to this worthy and vital event. I will as ever report back on progress dear chums. Onwards and Upward!
I have been to visit NCT several times over the years and it is a great combination of old and new. The depot itself is very old school with original long since gone tram tracks still lying where they were laidback in 1928. Interestingly today Nottingham is a City with a new tram network, as well as an excellent bus network. But do not be deceived whilst it properly pays respects to its rich heritage it is also crammed full of cutting edge technology. The new control room and drivers despatch cerntre are as state of the art as they get, and what I really liked was that the staff who manage them were also part of the design and construction team.
However, what really struck me about the Company is the attention to detail, small things make all the difference, the spotless floors, and the banter that bounces off the walls as you walk around. Everyone has a smile and a nod both in the depot and out on the roads, NCT have embraced the best of all elements to make their Company a stand out business. It has achieved that balance of high professionalism with good employee engagement and people feeling part of the family, rather than just a Company.
Along one of the walls in the maze of its head office, is a really excellent tableaux showing the history of the Company. It covers all the key milestones from the very earliest days of Trolleybuses, electric trams, the first buses, and every iteration since over the decades with all the Companies key milestones including at one time the biggest fleet of electric tram trolley buses outside of London (106), in 1969 it operated the first park and ride site in the Uk. With deregulation in 1985 with the advent of the Transport Act it became a Municipal Bus Company with its distinctive green and cream livery and bright red wheels, a stand alone Company owned by the Local Authority. And keeping to its spirit of innovation it today operates the UK ‘s biggest fleet of gas fuelled buses.
Today it has a fleet of 330 vehicles which operate over 50 routes, they carry a million passengers every week, driving over 12 and a half million miles every year. The Company is owned by Nottingham City Council who own 82% with French owned Transdev owning 18% and they operate out of 3 depots within Nottingham, with a workforce of 1070 so quite a large employer in it’s own right. The introduction of colour coded routes was started in early 2000’s and today the entire network is colour branded in what I have to say are very smart and distinctive brands.
The Companies performance is second to none with excellent scores for Passenger satisfaction at 94% as confirmed by Transport Focus the respected independent Industry watch dog, they also scored very highly with Punctuality 84%, Journey TIme 89%, and Value for money 73% However, the killer statistic is a staggering Overall Journey experience score of 91% clearly a lot of bus Companies would be proud of such a score. The secret is that the Company have mastered the art of operating an intense urban network of “ Turn up and go” services with low prices ( average at £1.00 ) with smart, state of the art buses and well trained and friendly drivers, as I found out when I caught the bus into and out of the City..
A vital part of the success of the Company is down to the culture of the business, all staff from CEO and DIrectors to cleaners were genuinely warm and friendly. Having known the key senior people this is no surprise, good Companies require good people values, being empowered and valued is key to this. NCT operate a really good staff reward scheme, where every quarter a staff member wins the accolade of best employee. Then at year end the grand champion is announced at the pantomime that NCT sponsor every year. Just walking around and talking to me, all those that I met from cleaners, to drivers, and Directors, they all appeared relaxed and happy.
So, all in all an excellent experience, NCT represent all that is good in today’s modern bus industry, they invest heavily in staff training and encourage strong community engagement, which is quite simply in my view absolutely vital. This is born out by the clearly excellent scores that they repeatedly achieve, truly worthy winners of the best of the best.