The unsung hero

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Jim was on holiday when the awards ceremony took place, his line manager attending to collect the award on his behalf

Jim Orr took home the Unsung Heroes Gold Award at this year’s UK Coach Awards for his work on Scottish Citylink’s 900 service. Angela Youngman found out why he was the natural choice for the award

Jim Orr undoubtedly has one of the most difficult jobs in Scottish Citylink. [wlm_nonmember][…]

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As Stance Dispatch Controller for the most frequent coach service in Scotland, he has to contend with a route linking Glasgow and Edinburgh that is famed for its unpredictable traffic and congestion issues.

Despite this, he still manages to keep services running to schedule – even when the road was closed for several weeks for the completion of the M8 motorway project.

Not surprisingly, he won the Unsung Heroes Gold Award at the UK Coach Awards in May.

This quiet hero was not there to receive it: “My wife had booked a holiday for us to Alicante – and the awards night was in the middle of that holiday,” he said.

“I couldn’t miss my holiday. My line manager went on the night and picked up my award. I came back on the Tuesday and it was handed over to me.

“They took some pictures in the bus station showing me holding my award aloft.”

Most of all, he values the fact that the award acknowledges the amount of hard work he puts into his job.

“It is a way of recognising the quality of my work and being acknowledged for what I do.”

Every day is different
Having worked in the industry for over 40 years, Jim is well aware of what life is like at the sharp end of the industry.

He initially worked in a family coach business before moving to Stagecoach, driving on the number 68 route.

He then worked in the traffic office for four-and-a-half years, before moving to London to work with Arriva.

Eventually, family concerns drew him back to Scotland and he rejoined Stagecoach, driving coaches between Glasgow and London. Fourteen years ago, he took on the role of Stance Dispatch Controller, running the Citylink stands at the Glasgow Buchanan station.

Scottish Citylink Operations Director, Peter Knight, was very impressed with Jim’s dedication to his role

“I enjoy working as a Stance Controller,” continued Jim. “My role is to deal with anything that happens. I work up to 60 hours a week in 12 hour shifts and control the movements of 26 coaches.

“I make sure the drivers are on time, deal with passenger issues – including luggage – and ensure the coaches go out on time.”

Life as a stance dispatch controller can be totally unpredictable.

No two days are ever the same. He has to be prepared to take rapid action if traffic problems emerge, as well as dealing with countless passenger issues.

“I have had some very memorable ones,” he laughed.

“Such as the time when a Chinese passenger left a three-foot live eel in a plastic bag on the bus! And then there was the girl who lost her engagement ring. The ring had been passed down from her mother and had a lot of sentimental value.

“She got off the bus and found that she had left it at Edinburgh. She was really upset. Fortunately, a chap in Edinburgh Bus Station found it and handed it in.”

Put to the test
It is this ability to deal with complex situations and provide superb customer care that led to his nomination for the Unsung Heroes award.

Scottish Citylink Operations Director, Peter Knight, explains: “Being responsible for the delivery of the most frequent coach service in Scotland, in often challenging operating conditions, is no mean feat.

“He has to ensure that there is always a vehicle and a driver in position on the stance loading in Glasgow, and that all passenger’s needs are taken care of before the vehicle leaves the station.

“Given that there are up to 18 vehicles involved in the operation of the 900 at any one time and two subcontractors operating alternate departure, this is no mean feat – especially with unpredictable traffic conditions as well as congestion that is experienced on the route.

“Jim’s task is to ensure that our customers do not experience this variability and to ensure that a smooth service operates at all times.”

Jim’s skills were tested to the utmost in 2017, following the closure of the M8 motorway during an improvement project.

As this is the key route between Edinburgh and Glasgow, closure immediately caused problems. Despite this situation, the 900 service ran perfectly to time.

This Plaxton Elite-bodied Volvo B11RT from the fleet of Parks of Hamilton, LSK877, is seen here operating on Jim’s 900 service. DAVID OAKLEY

As Peter Knight wrote in the Unsung Heroes nomination document: “In preparing for the total closure of the motorway, Jim had carefully considered the extra resource that was required and proposed that we initially trialed this for a couple of weeks given the unpredictability of what traffic volumes the closure would bring.

“Jim very ably implemented his plan and very successfully kept the service operating every 15 minutes throughout the duration of the closure. What was particularly impressive was Jim’s ability to plan, given experience of the prior week’s closure, what additional level of resource was required.

“This meant that, as a result, there was little underutilised additional resource and the company operated throughout the motorway closure as efficiently as possible given the circumstances and with the minimal amount of additional resource possible.

“I found it refreshing that only what was required was asked for, minimising cost whilst at the same time maintaining the service delivery our customers expect.

Also in operation on the Citylink 900 is Stagecoach Megabus Gold Van Hool Astromega SF13FMP. DAVID OAKLEY

“It was also impressive that with operating experience, additional resource was tailored to meet the requirements as opposed to not being utilised.”

Despite the closure of the M8, negligible lost mileage was recorded.

This reflected the way in which Jim was able to manage the service, by ensuring that the coaches were kept moving – no matter how difficult the traffic problems – using vehicle and driver graphs.

Experience certainly counted in these circumstances.

In addition to his work in Glasgow, Jim had gained valuable experience during secondments firstly to Ireland, where he worked in Service Delivery and Revenue Operations in Comfort DelGro’s Irish Citylink subsidiary, and as part of the 2012 London Olympic Transport operations.

“During the Olympics he acted as a service delivery supervisor within the media and athlete transport operations,” Peter continued.

“He also acted as part of the dispatch team at the T in the Park music festival, delivering a network of coach services from the festival site to destinations all over Scotland.”

‘Jim lives and breathes the 900 service and his commitment to his work colleagues and our customers cannot be questioned,’ said Peter Knight

Total commitment
Yet it is more than just experience that has marked Jim out as an Unsung Hero.

He is constantly open to ideas and promotions that provide passenger benefits and improve the service, working closely with the two coach-operating subcontractors who operate the service 900 coaches on behalf of Citylink.

There is little doubt that his customers and colleagues appreciate his work. Drivers seeking help with confidential issues frequently turn to Jim for initial assistance.

Many passengers are on first name terms with Jim, and complimentary feedback on his work is the norm.

His presence is so useful, that passengers immediately notice when he is away on holiday.

As Peter Knight points out: “Jim is much more than the 900 Stance Controller, he lives and breathes the 900 service and his commitment to his work colleagues and our customers cannot be questioned.

“There is nobody quite like Jim that I have come across in the industry who is totally committed to looking after the service – both for the interests of the customers and the commercial interests for Citylink – making him a very real part of the success of the service.”