David Morris, a champion of rural bus services, stalwart of the independent sector and proprietor and Managing Director of Bromyard operator DRM Bus, died on Sunday 11 September. He was 78.
Born in 1944, Mr Morris famously described himself as “just a little country lad” despite his stature both physically and within his beloved industry. He was well-known throughout the sector and often seen at gatherings of the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), the Association of Local Bus Managers, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Passenger Transport and the Omnibus Society.
With a family history in coach and bus operation, Mr Morris formed his business under the name of DRM Coaches in 1984. As a focus on local services developed, it became DRM Bus. Such a transition was made with the assistance of retired bus MD Michael Morton, who first met Mr Morris in 1999 when he enquired about purchasing some buses from Mr Morton’s then-employer.
“Over the ensuing years we became the best of friends,” says Mr Morton, who notes that despite Mr Morris’s jovial demeanour, he was never shy about questioning politicians and other speakers at industry gatherings. That interaction famously included his kissing the hand of the late Gwynneth Dunwoody MP, which Mr Morton describes as one his most cherished memories of such events.
Mr Morris was also well known in his local community, while fellow operators and suppliers would often visit DRM’s premises for hog roasts and milestone birthdays. “David even switched on the Bromyard Christmas illuminations,” adds Mr Morton.
Unusual in the DRM fleet have been a number of tri-axle Scania OmniLink single-deckers, which places the Herefordshire operator in a highly exclusive club among UK operators. The Swedish manufacturer’s UK team often spoke of Mr Morris in the highest of regard.
While Mr Morris championed the bus sector in general, his passion was the independent area of the market, and especially those businesses serving rural areas. That commitment saw him receive the Special Award at the 2009 routeone Awards.
A book written by Gareth Calan Davies about Mr Morris and DRM (available in PDF format from the operator’s website) highlights his contribution to the Competition Commission’s local bus service market investigation of 2011. Mr Morris described the service registration process as “cumbersome and long,” according to the final report, and again highlighted the position of the small, rural operator.
Indicating that Mr Morris may have had an outlook on bus operation ahead of its time, the book on his life quotes him directly as saying: “Over the years, I have suggested a number of schemes based on a partnership of local authority, bus operator and community groups for maintaining a network of village routes feeding into a main inter-town service.
“If you are to attract people onto buses, especially in a rural area where costs are invariably higher, then you have to make the service offered attractive, interesting, comfortable, easy to use and economical.” But he did not shy away from an increasingly difficult landscape for rural bus services.
DRM Bus continues to operate a successful network of services based on Bromyard. CPT Manager Wales and West John Burch has described Mr Morris as having “a heart of gold”, while Mr Morton says he is “stunned by his passing.” Details of Mr Morris’s funeral will be shared when they have been finalised.