The tale of Twickenham

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The Twickenham garage has around 145 vehicles operating in service. MADALINE DUNN

Madaline Dunn visited UK Bus Awards winner Abellio’s Twickenham depot, to find out the key to its success as ‘London Bus Garage of the Year’, and discuss the future of Abellio as a growing power in the London bus market

Visit Abellio’s Twickenham garage, and you will immediately be struck by the warm, family feeling of the place, with drivers laughing and chatting and a general sense of positivity in the air. It is no surprise then, that the depot’s teamwork, can-do attitude and dedication to the job, earnt it national recognition at the UK Bus Awards in 2018.

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I sat down with Managing Director of Abellio London Bus Tony Wilson, Head of Commercial Alastair Willis, Operations Director Lorna Murphy, Senior Service Manager Peter Pagan, Performance Manager Lucasz Wiechowski and Jacinta Faley (Jessie), the Operations Manager at the time of the win, to get their different perspectives on how and why Twickenham secured gold, and to further discuss the future of the depot and Abellio’s plans for expansion.

Abellio currently has six depots across Central, South and West London – Twickenham being the heart of the West London operations, with around 145 vehicles in its fleet.

Abellio recently updated it’s ‘3 Sees’ to encourage the high performance of its drivers. MADALINE DUNN

I asked Jessie – who was Operations Manager at Twickenham for five years, culminating in the award win – to set the scene of the lead up to the UK Bus Awards.

“At the time of the win, we had a team of seven senior staff: our Operations Manager, Staff Manager, Driving Standards Manager, our Head of Administration, CCTV Analyst, LMRA, and our Allocator,” she said.

Alastair explained the working dynamic within the depot, functioning in a triangular structure. The engineering team ensures that the buses are ready for service and the operations team looks after the drivers and all of their allocations, which is supported by the performance team which takes responsibility for the bus once it leaves the depot, looking after the service quality.

“We were very lucky that we had an amazing team that worked together – if there was a problem, we’d tackle it together as a unified group,” Jessie added.

Speaking about the day-to-day operations, Jessie said that besides their excellent Driver Customer Service scores (DCES), Bus Customer Experience Scores (BCES) and the performance of their drivers, the win was down to a collective effort. “The engineers ensured that all of the buses were ready for service, and our performance team made sure that whenever there was an accident or mechanical breakdown the situation was controlled and resolved.”

I asked Jessie the secret to staff engagement in the depot, which she explained was a combination of informing bus drivers of the depot’s expectations and having an open-door policy.

“An open-door policy is essential,” said Jessie. “We have a business to run and a service to provide, but at the same time we need to ensure that we are there for the people that work for us – it’s about getting people to want to come in to work. Flexibility is also key to a successful work environment.”

The win

The engineering team works harmoniously with the operations team and performance team. MADALINE DUNN

When the 2018 win came, it was the culmination of years of hard work; the depot had received silver the year before and was shortlisted prior to that. “It was fantastic,” continued Jessie. The team filled three tables and was stunned by the win. “When it was announced the team erupted with excitement.” She said that it was a reflection of the different components of the company coming together and working harmoniously.

The road to the award win wasn’t without its challenges however, as Alastair explained: “Driver recruitment is an issue that we have, combined with the tough challenges of delivering the performance requirements of Transport for London (TfL). It’s all about achieving balance.”

Jessie added: “We started one route 30 drivers short for example, and that was a huge challenge. That’s where it becomes essential to have a good relationship with the drivers, because sometimes you do have to ask them for that little bit more. Maintaining a good rapport is essential.”

Another way in which the depot ensures good communication with its staff is through its ‘3 Sees’ campaign, which was first introduced in 2012. The first ‘See’ is ‘See three’ which encourages drivers to keep a three second gap between them and the vehicle in front, so that they have the time they need to brake without hurting anyone on-board or damaging the vehicle. The second ‘See’ is ‘See me’ which encourages their awareness of their environment, and the last ‘See’ is ‘See mirror,’ reminding drivers of the need to always check their mirrors.

Alastair noted that while the ‘3 Sees’ campaign has been around for years, and is by now well embedded within the business, the team updated it last year. “We saw that it needed to evolve, so rather than reinvent it, we refreshed it, to ensure that the drivers fully understood its meaning.”

An engineering perspective
Peter Pagan, who worked in the engineering department at the time of the victory, said: “I have worked here for 18 years, so I have seen it all since the beginning. He told me more about the evolution of the depot: “From an engineering point of view, it’s always hard to get everyone on-board with where we want to be. It wasn’t an overnight change; it took years of development and progression to create the depot that we have today. Once you have the team together, however, it’s a lot easier to focus your effort on one goal: success.”

Alastair added: “Forums are also a great contributor to the evolution of the workforce, and director forums give the opportunity for drivers to give feedback, which helps to remove blame culture, and encourages inclusivity.”

Peter agreed: “It also means that people in each department take responsibility for their own areas. I personally strive for a ‘get it right first time’ mentality, which plays a big role in the reliability of the vehicles, and the drivers’ confidence in the vehicles that they’re driving.”

Ultimately though, it appears that communication and connectedness are the strengths of this depot.

Due to the success of the business, Abellio has worked to open up a new depot in Southall

The heart of the community
When I asked Jessie about some of her favourite memories from working at the depot, her response showed just how embedded Abellio has become in the community.

“In 2016 we had a depot open day,” she said. “It took three months to arrange. I decided it wasn’t just going be about buses, but instead involve the community too. So, we got people from the community to set up stalls and made it into a fun fair.”

She said that the transformation was incredible: “In the morning it was a bus depot, but by the afternoon it had been transformed into a market. It was such a huge achievement by everyone involved.” In total they raised £3,000, which was split between the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK.

Jessie went on to tell me about the annual Christmas concert she arranged at the depot, involving local children, as well accessibility days which give drivers the opportunity to experience what it’s like for certain groups of people to travel on the bus, in a bid to raise awareness.

Break away from the pack

Lukasz said that the win was due to the depot’s consistency, and excellent customer service. MADALINE DUNN

I asked Lukasz Wiechowski what he thought set Twickenham apart from the other competing depots. His reply? Consistency. “It was through coming together and uniting forces to produce a consistently high standard of performance each year, hitting targets and coming out on top.” He continued: “From a performance point of view, we kept mileage down and our customer service is always excellent.”

Lorna Murphy agreed: “We do a lot to ensure that our drivers’ efforts get recognised. The driver forums that Alastair mentioned make sure that we come across as approachable to our employees and make them feel comfortable.”

She went on to explain the importance of local ownership. “We operate in a devolved accountability structure, because we want everyone to take responsibility for what happens in their area. Everyone has embraced this, and we know we can trust them to do what needs to be done.”

Lorna said that the 2018 win was just the beginning. “There’s definitely momentum for us. We have drug and alcohol testing being developed, road safety innovation mobilised and we have just opened a new depot in Southall.”

Speaking about the opening of the new depot, which happened on Saturday 13 July, Managing Director Tony Wilson said: “We’re investing in the future of Abellio. There aren’t many new depots opening up these days, but the environment there is extraordinary.” He explained that the depot had opened up ahead of time and under budget: “That’s unheard of in the bus industry. For certain it will transform the business. We are now at capacity in terms of vehicles and needed extra space and the depot has delivered. He added that as soon as it opened, it was over half full. We hope this proves that we are now a very credible player in the London bus market.”

Part of Abellio’s investment in the future has come in the form of new vehicles – 34 Caetano eCity Gold electric single-deckers, as covered in CBW1402. I asked Alastair to tell me more. “We’ve been working closely with Caetano for the last year now, to customise and develop the vehicle,” he said. “The most exciting and compelling aspect of this for us, was that they were willing to work with us to deliver the bus safety standard requirements. The vehicle is now going through various stages of testing and we are expecting to take delivery of them at the end of the year, ready for our route start in March 2020.”

The future of the industry

The performance team ensures that the depot reaches TfL’s tough targets. MADALINE DUNN

Speaking about the future of the industry, Tony said: “It’s an exciting time. I have seen more change in the last two years than in the whole of my 43-year career.

“There will be a lot of changes going forward. First and foremost, delivering the zero-emissions target, which could be achieved through hydrogen but will be mainly achieved through electrification. We need to completely alter our ways of thinking, as well as our infrastructure and how we operate buses.”

In terms of the new challenges that will face the industry, the team were in agreement that fatigue would also have a huge influence going forward. “Fatigue is going to massively affect the future and how we operate,” said Tony. “We will have to think very carefully about how we put people into jobs, and how the jobs compliment their lifestyles. Historically people have modified the job around their lifestyle, but now they will have to modify their lifestyle around the job.”

Lorna agreed: “Going forward, compromise and understanding will be essential, but for some people they will be unable to juggle it. Our concerns also derive from young people leaving the industry, due to being unable to balance their work and home life.” Lorna said this is where the family feeling of Abellio becomes essential. “We need to continue to make sure this is a place where people want to work.”

The team said that when it comes to these kinds of issues, working with the unions and TfL is key to maintaining the wellbeing of everyone who works for Abellio.

“We take a working party approach at all levels. It’s important from an engagement point of view,” said Lorna. “This way you understand everyone’s perspective when making decisions.”

“We’ve managed to work with everyone effectively,” said Tony, “in the sense that we go away each year on management and union conferences, with a union representative from each depot.

“In the future, working together will be the key to success.”