A talented industry – Young Bus Managers Conference 2017

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Stagecoach Enviro 400MMC bus
The delegates sampled two Stagecoach Enviro 400MMC buses for a brief tour around Liverpool

Jade Smith attends the Young Bus Managers Network Spring 2017 conference in Liverpool, with speakers offering advice and praising the young talent within the industry

The Young Bus Managers Network Spring 2017 conference was held on March 29-30 at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Liverpool, with views of the River Mersey and the city’s waterfront buildings.

The event attracted a record attendance of 105 delegates, beating the previous record of 95 to last year’s conference in Glasgow. Enthusiasm from both the experienced speakers and young managers radiated throughout the event, and set the tone for talks about the challenges and opportunities ahead.

The speakers at the conference were:

David Brown, CEO of Go-Ahead Group – who talked about his 10 rules of leadership

Giles Fearnley, MD at First UK Bus – with three reasons to be cheerful

Jane Cole, MD of Blackpool Transport – about making improvements

Matt Goggins, Head of Bus at Merseytravel – who provided a view on the city the conference was held in: Liverpool.


The 10 rules of leadership

The after-dinner speaker on Wednesday was David Brown, CEO of Go-Ahead Group, who set the tone for the event with some sound advice.

“I want to speak to you because the industry needs you [wlm_nonmember][…]

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[/wlm_nonmember][wlm_ismember]– the baton will be passed to you,” David began. “We need smart people for this industry and I hope I can nudge some of them in the right direction this evening.

“Training programmes are one of the best learning processes you can go through. Personally I still call on some of my experiences. Some of it gives you credibility and some is about understanding what other roles are like as a full-time job. It’s important to understand how you were managed in that role and learning the good from the bad.

“You have to grasp the opportunities you’re given and do the best you can. If you are given that trust you have to go for it – you can’t wait for yourself to be 100% ready, you have to jump in.

David Brown, CEO of Go-Ahead Group
David Brown, CEO of Go-Ahead Group, was the after-dinner speaker on the Wednesday night and shared his 10 rules of leadership

“Every business has their DNA, and in Go-Ahead it is about being local and working in partnership. We have locally-empowered managing directors who are held accountable and recognise that they are part of their local community. We have to understand our customers and local politics.

“The biggest problem with buses is that it doesn’t have a voice. More people commute by bus than any other mode of transport but we and our customers don’t have a voice. We have to create that voice for them.

“Don’t forget that transport is political and about scarce resources. We have to work with politicians at a local, regional and national level. Behind the scenes of the Bus Services Bill Giles Fearnley, the CPT and myself have been heavily involved influencing the Government to do the right things in a very diligent and professional way. Transport services affect the quality of people’s lives which is why it’s political.

“Businesses have to be sustainable – you need to be here for the long term. My mantra is that you have to balance the needs of customers, employees and shareholders. They all have to be in balance for it to work. It’s only by making a profit that we can invest in the business, as we have done in the North East. We’ve spent £71m in the last six months just on vehicles and depots, and we spent a further £20m on investment in training people.”

David explained that industry challenges can be described in three areas: technology, societal and regulatory changes with the Bus Services Bill.

“In terms of technology, invisible automation is taking place all the time behind the scenes. Everyone has a smartphone and that accesses information in ways that four years ago we hadn’t envisioned. We’re only really scratching the surface with what they can do in terms of mobility. Running information and live timetables need to be available to everybody which allows people to make informed decisions about their mobility.

“There’s also electrification which is inevitable – the internal combustion engine will disappear and we need to be ready for that. Electric buses have proved they work. We need to be promoting the bus as something better than the car which we have been doing for years, but suddenly Euro 3 buses are being perceived as dirty vehicles.

“The city is changing and urban densification is taking place. More than ever, goods are going to the people rather than people going to the goods. Doubling the population of a city requires doubling the productivity of each square foot, which you can do with buildings by building up or down, but you can’t do that with transport. How do we help city authorities deal with urbanisation and densification of cities from a transport perspective and with no money?

“What do you need to know? It’s not about buses – it’s about people. The whole of our business is about people and the behaviours of the people who work for us. Being a manager is about inspiring teams of people, listening to them and respecting them. The industry is only constrained by the quality of the people it can get in. If we can’t get good people in, our businesses will not grow.”

David finished his speech with his 10 rules of leadership: “Praise motivates, criticism deflates. Make sure your team is clear about objectives. Give accountability, responsibility and ownership within perimeters and then give people the space to actually deliver. Carrots are generally better than sticks. When things go badly take the blame, and when they go well give others the credit. Take opportunities and be enthusiastic, as a leader you can’t light a fire with a wet match. Be open and communicate, both up and down. Stay positive and if you can, add a bit of humour. Act with integrity. Finally, look after yourself – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

“This is a wonderful industry which is all about the people: the people we attract, the people we manage and the people we serve.”

Three reasons to be cheerful

Giles Fearnley, MD at First UK Bus
Giles Fearnley, MD at First UK Bus, began the presentations on Thursday morning

Giles Fearnley, MD at First UK Bus, kicked off the presentations on Thursday morning.

“The industry is facing hugely tough challenges at the moment, we all know that,” he said. “Congestion, the lower cost of motoring, disruptive aspects such as Uber and the movement from the high street to online, to name a few. We’re also seeing public funding reductions and the consequential impact on local services in some areas.

“Despite all those challenges I’ve always operated on having the principle of having my glass half full. Where the industry is at the moment I would actually say it’s two-thirds full. Having a positive attitude has helped me massively through very tricky times in the past. If you have confidence and believe in what you’re doing it makes all the difference.

“There are three facets to having your glass two-thirds full. Firstly, the industry is truly transforming the way we communicate and transact with our customers. We are embracing the digital world with apps, journey planning, ticketing and so on. Mobile ticketing is massively successful and contactless is being introduced.

“The contactless pilot in Bristol has been going on for seven weeks with now 20% of passengers paying by contactless and our drivers are helping to spread the word. We want to take cash off the bus. In an experiment we did comparing passengers paying with cash and contactless, contactless reduced the boarding time by 75%. This is what our customers and stakeholders want.
“Historically the bus has always been lacking behind when it comes to technology, but everything now is state-of-the-art thanks to the manufacturers and the work we have all done to help them deliver the products.

“My second point is the political background – we have got the Bus Services Bill. My view is that if we allow other authorities to look seriously into franchising than we have failed as an industry because we can get there first and deliver what is needed.

“Why am I so positive about politics? In 44 years in the industry I’ve never known a time when buses were so understood by politicians, both nationally and locally, as the tool that delivers economic and social success in our communities. There has really only been flashes of it in the past. At First we are having deeper conversations at council leader executive level that we’ve never had before around the role of the bus and what the bus can do. We have to capitalise on that. Engagement with politicians is so critical to us, you can never do too much of it at all levels.

attendance of 105 delegates
The event attracted a record attendance of 105 delegates

“Alternative fuels allow to change the perception of the bus from the point-of-view of customers and non-users. Euro 6 is extraordinarily clean and has overtaken Euro 6 cars, but the wider perception isn’t quite there as it is still seen as diesel and politically there is an anti-diesel feel which leads to reduced endorsement. We can move so quickly, implement change and do what politicians want to meet local agendas that other modes of transport, such as rail, cannot. We are the only real solution to city needs in terms of congestion, clean air and improving access.

“We are far more effective when facing local authorities when we work together as an industry rather than having separate conversations. We have to be capable of delivering solutions and need to keep ahead of agendas that are out there by coming up with ideas and beating expectations.

“Thirdly, I am excited about the great talent and skills within the industry, which is clearly abundant in this room. We are all doing something so worthwhile that really helps improve society as a whole.

“I believe the industry can and will be rewarded if we are bold. We will continue to prevail very significantly and we will contribute to change the perception of the bus over the coming years. It is a tremendous opportunity, one which the industry hasn’t had for a very long time. It is an industry which is right at the heart of major agendas facing the UK.”

Making improvements

Jane Cole, MD of Blackpool Transport
Jane Cole, MD of Blackpool Transport, went into detail about what plans are in store for the operator

After a short coffee break Jane Cole, MD of Blackpool Transport, took the floor. She went into detail about what plans are in store at Blackpool Transport.

“A lot of the people I inherited at Blackpool Transport had worked there for many years and hadn’t been taught how to manage as a business brain,” Jane said. “There was no business plan in place, so the first thing I did was to get them onto strategic management tools training so they could start looking at the processes behind what they were doing. We discovered that 85% of the problem was the process and not the people. For example, in the stores we found parts for buses we no longer owned worth nearly £500,000. Changing people through culture is a very difficult thing to do and we’re still only two years in, but improvements have certainly begun.

“The plan is to renew the whole Blackpool Transport bus fleet by 2019 so there’s never a bus older than five years old in the town. That’s the bigger picture and what we’re aiming for.

“We currently have 134 buses in our fleet, with the average age of the fleet around 12 years. To refurbish them is £25,000, which covers the cost of a new engine and gearbox, new buses cost £167,000 for a single-decker and £216,000 for a double-decker. It’s worth modernising the product and replacing old vehicles to attract new customers, which is the direction we are heading in.

“The council sees a future in Blackpool Transport and we’re going to go on an £18m refurbishment programme now, replacing all the buses. This allows for the opportunity to stay on top of technology, the needs of the local people and future-proofing for the possibility of electric buses in a few years time. If you turn over every five years you’re keeping your product fresh, your costs down and ensuring you have a bus fleet to be proud of.

“Ten Palladium single-deckers were introduced to Service 5 in June 2015; these were Mercedes-Benz Citaros which were purchased before I joined the company. Nine buses were refurbished to Palladium standard in 2016. Those buses are five years old but are to the same standard as our new buses. Ten double-deck Enviro400 City buses have been introduced in July 2016 on service 9. They have helped to increase revenue: on service 5 revenue is up 7%. We now have 25 double-deck Enviro400 City buses which are due to launch in April 2017. They have tables upstairs because we wanted social seating as we have a massive youth network.
“We have been suffering from vandalism in Blackpool with nine of our USB ports being damaged. We have the CCTV footage and we can name and shame three of the culprits, which we’re hoping will have the desired effect. We’re hoping that by introducing school and colleges to the new buses personally we can win hearts and minds around the product. We want the school routes to have the new buses to encourage continued bus use in later life after such a good first impression.”

Bus Alliance

Matt Goggins, Head of Bus at Merseytravel
Matt Goggins, Head of Bus at Merseytravel, provided a view on the city the conference was held in: Liverpool.

Next to speak was Matt Goggins, Head of Bus at Merseytravel, who provided a view on the city the conference was held in: Liverpool.

“People are starting to understand the link between buses, society and economy,” Matt began. “We’ve spent a lot of time with politicians explaining these links.

“We have over 137m bus passenger journeys every year in the Liverpool City Region. 80% of public transport journeys are by bus; it is really the workhorse of the public transport network. Buses are critical to economic growth in the City Region, which is crucial to everything else we’re trying to do with social capacity and access to education. Here, like in other areas of the UK, we’ve seen long-term decline in bus patronage. It’s too important to society and the economy to allow that to happen.

“In Liverpool twice as many people as the UK average use the bus to commute to work and the bus takes 60,000 people a day to their place of education. Buses play a key role in tackling congestion through efficient use of road space and keep cities moving. Access to the bus network leads to reduced employment deprivation and income deprivation.”

Matt went on to outline the new Bus Strategy that was published last year and was adopted by the combined authority: “It replaced a 200-page document which went into minute detail into plans which were probably never going to happen. We wanted to set out a really clear vision about why buses were important and what we wanted to see from our bus network. The new document is around 20 pages long which does that job really well and is very accessible to all. It is part of a multi-modal approach developed in sync with the LCR Bus Alliance.

“Some of our ambitions for bus services are: a thriving, affordable and sustainable bus network that leads to fare paying patronage growth; a mode of transport for all; a comprehensive, integrated and easy to understand bus network; a more punctual service, that people can rely on; affordable, straightforward tickets; increased levels of customer satisfaction and successful and high-quality bus operators, continually investing in their product.”

Moving on, Matt explained the Bus Alliance: “Our Bus Alliance is a new deeper, formal partnership between the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and Merseytravel as well as bus operators. Initially that’s Stagecoach and Arriva who make up 90% of the bus market, with ambition for smaller operators to join with dialogue ongoing. It took around 12 months to develop and was created along the lines of the Bus Strategy. The Voluntary Partnership Agreement was signed in September 2016. We wanted something robust so we have a contractual agreement between ourselves and the operators so we could ensure everyone is delivering the commitments we’d set out. It’s a long-term partnership in place until at least 2021, so operators have comfort in investing and getting behind what we’re trying to do.

“The aims and objectives of the Bus Alliance are for Merseytravel, bus operators and the City Region to align behind common goals and work together to drive social and economic growth. We have two aims: to grow fare-paying patronage and to quickly and significantly improve the experience for bus customers. We specified fare-paying passengers because we want more revenue coming into the industry to drive investment and keep fares low.

“The outcomes we want out of that is 10% fare-paying passenger growth and increased customer satisfaction levels. We wanted to set targets that would change behaviours and make a difference.

“In terms of our approach we will deliver through a programme of joint work, monitored by a Joint Alliance Board and Programme Board. A Stakeholder Board provides input and challenge to the Alliance. Six workstreams focus on key work areas which map across to Bus Strategy (Network Design, Growth, Customer Experience Off-Bus, Customer Experience On-Bus, Punctuality and Reliability, Smarter Ticketing). The Annual business planning process ensures continuous improvement and ongoing investment.”
Matt finished with some key lessons from the Bus Alliance: “Trust is crucial, be open and honest about objective and challenges, establish your common ground, respect each others viewpoints and different positions, understand local objectives and priorities and take a leap of faith.

“Most importantly, if you have a bad relationship between the operator and local authority, at the extreme it’s a risk to your business, but even at a low level you’re not maximising the real potential for the bus.”

Passion is key

Alex Hornby, CEO of Transdev Blazefield
Alex Hornby, CEO of Transdev Blazefield, spoke about the importance of passion

After the delegates sampled two Stagecoach Enviro 400MMC buses for a brief tour around Liverpool, Alex Hornby, CEO of Transdev Blazefield, took to the floor.

“I think the key aspect that has got me to the position I am in now is passion,” Alex enthused. “I have been very passionate about what buses can do from a young age and I have learnt that buses are all about people. We have to be passionate about buses and there is lots to be passionate about. It’s not all about the vehicles; it’s about what they can do. We’re a strong element that keeps society together. Buses are very powerful in that respect.

“When I worked at Bluestar we weren’t afraid to put our name out. We were hungry for feedback so an email address was put out for customers to contact us with suggestions of how we could improve. Every email sent to that address came directly to myself.
“Complaints are nuggets of gold – take them and use them to make your services better.”

He moved on to talk about his first day at Transdev Blazefield: “I was very keen to meet people so I wrote a letter to introduce myself personally, which worked very well. It made it very clear that we didn’t want a hierarchy. My email was included so people could talk to me.

“When you join somewhere really excited and want to make lots of changes, remember that not everyone wants that and you have to be careful. We created ‘Route to Amazing’ which laid out the steps we needed to do in order to get where we wanted as a business. There were three main steps: create a team that was happy to work for us, customers who are proud to use us and to create a successful and innovative business. The customer always comes first, but you need a fantastic team to do great things for your customers. That then makes the whole business successful which allows us to be innovative.

“If you have an idea you can spend forever testing it – the industry is in the position at the moment where we have to make bold moves. We’ve created an app called ‘Vamooz’ which is for our crowd-funded services which we will be testing shortly. It will utilise our fleet of 70 school buses which currently do nothing when they aren’t servicing school routes. We will put journeys on the app, people will crowd-fund them and the more people who sign up the lower the fare becomes.”

As reported in CBW last week (CBW1284), Transdev Blazefield signed Bus 18, the new programme in West Yorkshire. Alex explained: “We sat around a table with the local authority and other local operators and said ‘what are our common interests?’ Bus 18 is about getting things done before 2018, which is something that is achievable when you have the right people with the right mindset.

“One of our key pledges is offering free journeys if people aren’t satisfied. We’ve also said that if the last bus of the day doesn’t turn up, we’ll pay for a taxi. It sounds big and a bit scary but it’s not: it’s a simple and inexpensive thing to do.”
After his speech, Alex was asked a question from the audience about how to convince those who control the purse strings to let you take risks and be innovative. He said that for him, a lot of it has been down to the companies he has worked with.

“The key aspect that influenced me to go to Transdev was that during my interview they said they wanted Blazefield to be the laboratory for the rest of the business,” Alex said. “They wanted to give me the freedom to do that.

“The industry is at a crossroads – if we keep doing what we’ve always done we’re just going to carry on declining. We have to try new things, and Transdev have always been ready to put their money where their mouth is to allow us to do that. Of course, we have done things that haven’t worked: if something fails we hold our hands up and walk away, but then we use what we have learnt to improve another area.”

Influencing the future

To conclude the conference, Chris Cheek provided an update on the state of the market.

“The Department for Transport’s (DfT) quarterly bus statistics are data collected by operators across the country on passenger journeys and fares charged,” Chris explained. “They are useful because they provide a look at what’s happening in the wider market, allow operators to benchmark their operation against the market they’re in, and their operation against experience in other markets. The analysis and interpretation sets the tone about how the industry is doing, can influence perceptions of the industry and provides the industry with the background to arguments it is making e.g. over congestion.

“The latest figures look at quarter three of 16/17 (October-December) which show that overall bus patronage is down 1.3%, compared with same quarter last year. In the year to December 31 2016 patronage is down 2.4% across the UK.

“Real-term fares were down 1% in December 2016, compared with December 2015. The fares freeze in London and ‘hopper fare’ is already having an impact on the statistics with a 4% reduction in real-term fares in that area.

“These statistics give us a picture of what has happened but we also need to understand why in order to manage our stakeholder expectations, to understand our own businesses better, to know what to expect in future and to be able to influence the future where we can – directly through our appeal to the market and indirectly through influencing policies of others.”

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