Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The UK Bus Awards – Making Buses Better

Put a bunch of bus men and women in The Hilton Hotel. Feed and water them. What do you get?
Better bus services!
The UK Bus Awards are in their 17th year. It’s the kind of thing that might get funny looks if you brought it up in the pub, but for something considered so mundane as buses in the eyes of the general public, this annual event not only celebrates the very best that the UK bus industry offers us – the users – it inspires others to not only emulate the quality offered, but to improve on it! I came away pumped up, determined that my local stomping ground – the West Midlands – should work towards that moment when they are announced as “winners” of a category at the awards – a “gong” to recognise excellence in public transport.
I say “winners” in inverted commas. Everyone shortlisted for an award – over 270 entries for 20 categories – is already a winner. And on a far wider scale, I see winners in public transport every day – as a user and someone who works within it.
Buses are a means to an end. Unless you have some strange fascination in the industry itself like me, they move people from A to B. That’s it. Boring. But you can be “boring” yet absolutely vital at the same time!
There is a big prize up for grabs. Good buses are a large part of good public transport. Good public transport changes society – and the lives of all sorts of people. The UK Bus Awards celebrates innovation and shares good practice. The more “good buses” we have, the more society benefits.
The categories have a broad range. One such was Innovation – won by Megabus for something that was actually blindingly simple: putting flat beds in coaches and running them between Scotland and London. Simple? Maybe. But it opens up all sorts of travel opportunities at low-cost for all sorts of people. The bed-laden coaches might not be an earth-shattering idea, but it’s helping to change people’s life experiences – and enriching some of them.
There were environmental awards. First’s national plan “Small Changes, Big Difference” won because of targets to improve their environmental performance. For a large International company, lots of “small changes” really do make a difference. Hybrid buses were celebrated too – far from some people’s perceptions of buses being great big dirty things surrounded by black clouds emanating from exhaust pipes, today’s buses are cleaner and greener than they’ve ever been. And with more Government support to buy more environmentally-friendly vehicles, it’s important to recognise the efforts being made to advance the bus as a really genuine low-emission choice of travel.
The Awards are also very much about people.
It’s easy to dismiss an award that is “Bus Depot of the Year”, but actually, for those that tirelessly work around the clock and give large parts of their life to working “at the coalface”, one can only imagine the pride at working at Go Ahead’s Merton bus garage (London garage of the year) and at Metrobus’s Crawley depot (National depot of the year). The runner-up Burnley depot (Transdev) even has buses called “Starships”! To be recognised as being at the top of your profession not only brings pride in the job, but benefits the travelling public.
Individuals too are recognised. From Engineers to “unsung heroes”. These are the people who are there, around the clock, day in day out, keeping the UK’s buses out on the road. And none so more as the drivers. As one of the “mystery shoppers” for the awards, I see for myself the very best ambassadors of Britain’s public transport. It’s a tough job, because whatever you might think of bus driving as a profession, it is a hugely responsible job and one that can be immensely challenging.
Chatting to a colleague over lunch at the awards, we agreed that the standard of driving had improved considerably over recent years, so judging who would be crowned “Top National Bus Driver” is an incredibly difficult job! The drivers I mystery shopped (difficult for me to stay “undercover” at 6’7”!) were all winners – a real pleasure to see them obviously doing a job they loved and providing a superb professional face of the UK bus industry. Ultimately, the winner was Allan Gilmour of Trent Barton (a company collectively at the very top of its game) and it was a joy to see him receive his award – a true ambassador for the world of bus travel.
The winner of the biggest “gong” of all – “Bus Operator of the Year” – was Nottingham City Transport. Nottingham is something of a Mecca for people who appreciate good public transport. From its excellent (and expanding) tram system, to it’s innovate “Statutory Quality Partnership Scheme” (also the winner of an award) to its award-winning bus operators (Trent Barton are also big players in the City), I recommend anyone who wants to see good public transport in the UK to visit this innovative City! (see also previous blog: 
The UK Bus Awards brings together the best examples of the best in bus operation every year. For me, it was a pleasure to attend and celebrate some of the excellence in public transport that we have, and also to play a small part in helping the judges to decide who won!
As passengers, we’re ALL winners!

A full list of the awards can be seen at

1 comment:

  1. Excellent blog Phil. deserves to nr widely read, thank you.

    Sorry we didn't get a chance to catch up on Tuesday, even though we were on the same table!


    Ian Smith