After seven years as CEO of council-owned Reading Transport, James Freeman, 58, is leaving at the end of September to become MD of First Bristol & West of England, covering Bristol, Bath, Weston-super-Mare and Wells. .
Its current MD, Paul Matthews, has been appointed to the newly-created position of Managing Director of First West Yorkshire. Mr Matthews, former CEO of RATP Group’s UK (2011-2012), is a former Go North East MD (1995-2006).
It is a measure of the turn-around at First UK Bus, led by MD Giles Fearnley, that Mr Freeman is the latest in a number of respected managers to join the company.
The move is a significant career advancement for Mr Freeman, moving from Reading Transport which operates 161 buses (including 34 Scania gas buses) with 470 staff, to First in West of England, with 528 buses and 1,700 staff.
Mr Freeman [pictured above second right] says: â€œI am delighted to be joining First UK Bus at a moment in its history when, under Giles Fearnley’s inspiring leadership, it is rapidly progressing.
â€œWhile I feel no pressure to leave Reading, I feel that the time has come for a new challenge. For family reasons I need to go back to the West Country â€“ so now I have the chance to return to Bristol where I started my first desk-based job in the bus industry as a grade 1b clerk in April 1975, with the Bristol Omnibus Company.â€
Says Mr Fearnley: â€œThese are important appointments as we look to build upon our new localised, customer-focused strategy and completes our line-up of local MDs across the division.
â€œJames Freeman has led the transformation of Reading Buses, delivering record levels of customer satisfaction and passenger growth and has also led pioneering work on alternative fuels. In James we have recruited one of the bus industry’s star performers â€“ our whole business will benefit from his experience.â€
Reading Buses is widely regarded as the best UK bus operator. The 12 awards it won during 2013 (including four at the routeone Operator Excellence Awards) are testament to its achievement.
A National Bus Company (NBC) management trainee, Mr Freeman’s first MD post was at NBC’s Shamrock & Rambler Coaches Ltd in Bournemouth in 1983. He was later MD of Bristol-based Badgerline Rapid Transit and subsequent posts saw him at Travel West Midlands (Birmingham) and Stagecoach (Warwickshire/Northampton), from where he joined Reading.