I was surprised recently to discover that National Express Coach Company have hit the grand old age of 45 years, not out. I do not know really know why but I always thought of NXC as a young Company, maybe because I have grown up with them, since my adolescent years when I used to catch the coach from Digbeth, back in the old days of the original Coach station. My formative journeys were usually punctuated by equal measures of uncertainty and fear, uncertainty as to had I actually caught the right coach? Would I actually end up at the destination I intended or end up God knows where. Fear due to the generally aggressive and very grumpy middle aged men who were the classic coach drivers.
Back then coach driving attracted a certain type of applicant, being very stereotypical and maybe very unfair, my teenage memories recalled rather big, chunky men with a fair bit of gold bling, tattoos, and in some cases a quiff in homage to the King himself (just in case you have no idea who I am talking about, I refer to Elvis Aaron Presley aka The King). The quiff may also need some explanation, (Back in the day this hairstyle was known as a DA, or Ducks Ar…, it had its roots back in the heady days of the Teddy Boy).Back in the fifties long before the advent of the Mods and Rockers, youth culture and teenage gangs consisted of the rock and roll loving, switch blade carrying young men, who selected a fashion style that interestingly chose to wear brightly coloured long coats fashionable during the reign of King Edward- hence, Teddy Boys.
To be fair the men who actually drove the Mighty coaches up and down the nations highways would have been the right demographic age wise, to have been original Teddy Boys. So, no surprise really that they carried their heritage with them. I have to say that 45 years on this breed of driver has like the DoDo become exstinct, as age and retirement catch up. Who knows in my more fanciful moments I would like to think that nestling somewhere, (probably close to the seaside) is a retirement home for such a rare breed. The Blue Suede Shoes retirement home (no Hipsters, Millenials, or Technology welcome thank you ), would cater for the whims and desires of the Dooh Wap loving, jiving, gents and their good lady wives, suitably equipped in their swirling skirts and tight head bands to dance the night away, jitterbugging their way to a time when they could rock around the clock, until it was time to meet the King himself, waiting patiently at the pearly gates of Graceland itself.
Thinking of these men, I recall one particular chap at my very first ever depot management job, at the tiny depot of Malton in Gods own Country of Yorkshire. The main man was a lovely chap who was an Elvis doppelgänger, he was a kindly man who knew what he was doing, and he made my life easy. Although a born and bred Yorkshiremen, such was his adoration for the King, that he used to talk like him. In fact when I first actually met him and was formally introduced he mumbled at me something like Uh Huh, real pleasure to meet you Sir, uh huh. At first I thought that he had some sort of speech impediment. But, to be fair I soon realised that this was him, a man comfortable in himself, the King of Malton depot, and lets be fair I was nothing but a visiting Hound dog. To be fair, I learned a lot from Elvis, he was a man of few words, often a modest uh huh, was as good as it got, but he knew his job and he knew his men and customers.
Looking back I have after everything, a sneaking fondness and respect for these men, they were from an era, children and teenagers during the war, brought up on rationing, evacuation, air raids, powdered egg, and no bananas. And after the tough dark days of the World War Two, and all that went with it. Maybe the completely alien world of rock and roll and its individual culture of colour, fashion, self identity was the exact tonic they needed who knows. Suffice to say we shall not see their like again, but they did their bit and they carried the baton. Fair play to that uh huh, Thank you very much, and uh huh. Elvis has truly left the building.
rI was most fortunate to recently visit arguably the Uk’s Best Company, I talk of non other than Nottingham City Transport, or NCT as they are known. For the last few years they have won the accolade of best bus Company in the UK at the highly prestigious UK Bus Awards. The fact that this Company has been around for so long is testimony to the longevity and contribution to the community that they have served for generations.
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.