The future of the industry is in the hands of the next generation, of which more than 100 got together in Liverpool
“This industry needs smart people,” Go-Ahead CEO David Brown told the 105 delegates at the Young Bus Managers Network Spring conference in Liverpool.
As the after-dinner speaker, he is the latest of the industry’s leaders to address the bi-annual gathering. This time around one-third was attending the event for the first time, and a similar number are in their first year of being in the industry.
Open to all people under 35, who are managers; the free network enables people who’ve chosen a career in the industry to hear an unrivalled panel of speakers, along with access to those at the top of the profession.
Supported by all the groups, plus representatives from 25 independents, municipals and smaller companies, it again proved to be illuminating – indeed older managers would have learned much too.
Top tips given
In a candid no-holds barred speech under ‘Chatham House’ rules,, David Brown set out what makes a good manager, as well as outlining his own career from being a graduate trainee. He encouraged today’s managers to get on where they can: “When you’re given trust, grasp it and take it,” he said. “You’ve got to grasp opportunities, even if you don’t think you’re ready for them. You’ve got to stretch yourself.”
He also talked about the challenges of running businesses: “Transport affects the quality of people’s lives, and that’s why it’s political. We don’t make widgets: What we do affects people everyday.”
He also cast an eye to the future: “Electric buses are going to happen. We already have the largest number of electric buses in London at Waterloo.”
Setting out 10 key tasks of being an effective manager, he also took a variety of challenging questions in a Q&A, before making himself available in the bar afterwards for further questions, alongside First UK Bus MD Giles Fearnley, who spoke the following morning
Despite the gloomy background of falling ‘high street’ footfall in some parts of the country and the headline overall decline in bus use, Giles Fearnley said: “The glass is two-thirds full,” before outlining some of the highlights, such as the rapid take-up of mobile ticketing, and the piloting of contactless payments on a route in Bristol, shortly to be rolled out across local networks.
He also spoke about the new relationships that are being forged against the backdrop of clean air demands.
With journey speeds and growth at the heart of proposed deals in some city regions, he says that there is now an acceptance that the bus can deliver rapid improvements in air quality, much quicker than other modes, such as light rail, and for significantly less cost.
He added that it “requires a leap of faith” both by politicians and operators, but that First is ready to deliver. “Our USP is that we can move so quickly to deliver major improvements, compared with other modes.”
A positive result of a business turnaround was demonstrated by Blackpool Transport MD Jane Cole, which has seen massive investment from its municipal owners in new buses, with more arriving soon, and how employees have been changed through culture.
A unique deal with ADL means that once the re-equipment plan is complete, no bus will be older than five years – currently the average fleet age is 12.
A similar transition is being seen in Liverpool City Region where an Alliance with Merseytravel, Arriva and Stagecoach has seen wholesale fleet replacement, with most buses now under five years old.
Merseytravel’s Head of Bus Matt Goggins outlined the key parts of the strategy, which at its core is 10% growth in fare-paying passengers over three years. Already, it has achieved 9.7%, on the back of fleet replacement and network reviews.
“With partnership working we are pooling our resources in areas such as general marketing, daytime cleaning and passenger information.”
He said that managers need to understand in their own areas in great detail how the local politics works and build positive relationships. “The alternative represents a risk to your business and a failure to maximise its potential for success.”
On the subject of profits, the region’s politicians have accepted that good profits need to be made in order to re-invest in the business – not just in new vehicles, but also in taking risks with revenue by reducing fares with actions such as flat fares and discounted young persons fares.
His presentation was followed by a fact-finding lunchtime trip around Liverpool, courtesy of Stagecoach.
“There’s nothing wrong with being passionate,” Transdev Blazefield CEO Alex Hornby told delegates, as he recalled his career as a young manager, initially with Stagecoach. “If we are not passionate about buses then no-one else will be: But it’s not all about buses, it’s about people.”
With a strong leaning for marketing he explained the work he led at Go-Ahead South Coast’s then Solent Blue Line ‘Bluestar’ network. “Own it, and reach for the stars. Be the best thing about your town or city.”
The result was that, along with vehicle investment and other strategies, the business was turned around from being loss-making to profitable, and award-winning.
He also spoke about the need for risk taking, with the example of a successful bid for a 10-year Southampton University bus network contract – which proved to be the catalyst for change.
His move to Trent Barton was at the time Mango – the UK’s first touch-on-touch-off bus smartcard was introduced, which quickly went from 8% to 30% of users.
He cautioned: “You need to let everyone know you’re the boss and be responsible, but be aware that not everybody in a company likes change.”
For passengers he added: “If the market doesn’t like what you’re doing, do something different. Don’t settle anything other making it as good as it’s ever been.”
FIND OUT MORE – â€‹What is the YBMN?
The Young Bus Managers Network was founded in 2008 and helps the industry breed and encourage the next generation of leaders.
Supported by the Chris Moyles Scholarship Trust, its patrons are Roger French – former MD of Brighton and Hove – and James Freeman, MD of First Bristol and West of England.
It holds two conferences every year. Details at www.youngbusmanagers.org.uk
With a host of brilliant speakers, delegates had the unique chance to hear from, and chat to, some of the best people in the industry. It was truly inspiring stuff.
For those who only hear the gloom about falling passenger numbers, the day concluded with Passenger Transport Intelligence Services MD Chris Cheek explaining the latest Department for Transport ridership statistics, and importantly the factors behind them, meaning that delegates left bang up to date with a picture of how the industry is.
The event concluded with a rapid-fire workshop to consider the key issue that emerged from the day – that of driver recruitment and retention.
That this delivered a host of practical, easily implementable ideas from a number of workshop groups in a short timescale shows that the young managers also have latent talent.