The Association of Local Bus Managers (ALBUM) is on a quest to increase its appeal to ‘non-PLC’ operators as a body to bring them together and represent their interests. Growing policy work and political engagement is key to the latter, and the former is built around being able to mingle with colleagues at likeminded bus businesses.
Perhaps best known to those outside ALBUM is its annual conference. This year’s was hosted by Blackpool Transport and recognised for both the breadth of speakers provided and the supplier involvement created. But the conference is just one part of a year-round programme of work.
For ALBUM membership – still handled on an individual basis rather than as a business – the criterion is clear: Be from an operator outside the large PLCs.
It extends from large independents and municipals such as Centrebus and Nottingham City Transport (NCT) to smaller operators like Marshalls of Sutton-on-Trent and DRM Bus. Collectively, ALBUM members run over 5,500 vehicles and represent around 14% of the market. That, the Association believes, makes them “the sixth big group.”
ALBUM highlights the ongoing mix of online and in-person meetings. They cover a variety of disciplines including engineering, marketing and operations and up to a Managing Directors’ forum.
Gatherings permit the sharing of ideas, information, support and views. As examples, a larger member circulated its risk assessment policies around the pandemic in 2020 as part of widespread work by the Association during that period. More recently, members of the marketing group have been discussing concessionary patronage return among other matters.
Bus operator collaboration at ALBUM heart
ALBUM is built around collaboration between members regardless of their employer’s size.
Blackpool Transport Head of Marketing and Customer Experience Shane Grindey notes that representatives of small operators often provide useful information to those that are much larger, and vice-versa.
“We all learn from each other. Often, members from smaller businesses have the most value to add,” he says. Shane likens the sharing of knowledge to “open learning.” NCT Head of Marketing Anthony Carver-Smith agrees. He recalls the many contributions made by the late David Morris of DRM. “Sometimes I would listen to David talk about how he was dealing with an issue and think: ‘Why don’t we do something so straightforward?’”
While there are benefits to be taken from the networking that comes with ALBUM membership, the Association’s policy work aims to bring together the views of every operator represented and put them forward cohesively and constructively.
ALBUM has seen success with that approach already. It was consulted on the National Bus Strategy for England and has been active with the Bus Open Data Service (BODS) and the zero-emission transition. Policy is headed by long-time industry leader Tony Depledge. He has held multiple senior roles over a long career and his involvement gives ALBUM great credibility with government.
ALBUM role in bus industry is clearly defined
ALBUM does not position itself as a large trade association or as a competitor to the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT). Indeed, ALBUM works alongside CPT; the latter’s CEO Graham Vidler spoke at ALBUM’s Blackpool conference. ALBUM Chair Bill Hiron, MD of Stephensons of Essex, is a former CPT President. Many ALBUM members are part of CPT.
The Association believes that regardless of the size of an operator, they all face the same fundamental challenges. But how those apply can vary greatly. It uses BODS as an example. For a smaller business, it is potentially quite different than for a large operator. Revenue support funding is similar. A PLC will withstand a late payment, but for an SME it could be a major problem.
There are some things that come from government where there is one answer from the bus industry, ALBUM believes. “But there are others where things are more subtle.
That was one of the reasons why Tony was appointed. As we look to become stronger, one of the key areas that we felt needed bolstering was policy,” a spokesperson says.
Building policy comes from the approach to meetings. Those gatherings are structured formally, allowing the assembly of “a very clear picture” of members’ wishes.
Members consulted on the future of the Association
While ALBUM has already strengthened its approach, more work lies ahead. It has surveyed members on areas including what they need from their participation, and what they want ALBUM to do in the future as part of that.
On that direction, various proposals are in hand. Of those that can be shared as yet, membership of and work with Women in Transport is prominent, while availability of diversity and inclusion training is also likely to feature. For members in England, ALBUM expects to support them in managing the processes behind the pending £2 capped fare.
Supplier membership also forms part of ALBUM, allowing those organisations to work together while engaging with customers and potential customers. While more is still to come from ALBUM, it is confident that it already brings much to the table for bus operators that are outside the PLC fold.