I returned yesterday from my first trip to the biannual Young Bus Managers Network Conference, held on this occasion in the Birmingham Jury’s Inn. The conference, as the name suggests, gives Young Bus Managers the chance to network, and it was fantastic to meet so many up and coming managers in the industry, alongside hearing from experienced busmen and women.
We started on Wednesday evening with a very civilised conference dinner with Dean Finch, Group Chief Executive of National Express, who spoke in his company’s home city of the excellent partnerships which they have enjoyed with local authorities and bus and coach operators, focusing on their local bus operations and express coach services respectively. After dinner drinks provided the perfect setting for networking with other young managers, discussing the challenges of revenue generation, scheduling and the ever-present challenge of driver recruitment and retention.
A potential solution to this problem was offered the following day by a National Express bus driver named Darren Dunbar. One of many National Express West Midlands drivers to have undergone an IAM-approved advanced driver training course, Darren is now proud to call himself a “Master Driver”. He spoke enthusiastically of the pride that he and his colleagues take in their work, and explained that the additional training and smart uniform that he received for completing it enhance the job by making him feel like a valued professional.
The importance of engaging with staff was further espoused by “bus industry legend” Bob Dunn, founder of Nottingham-based Dunn Line (previously sold to Veolia Transport). Bob is now a Director at Rotala, who have bus operations throughout the West Midlands and also in Preston, and he discussed many of the challenges that he had faced during his many years in the industry. His final piece of advice to us was to consider very carefully what we wanted from our career in public transport; many of us, he said, would have a fulfilling and enjoyable career working at management level in established companies. But he then went on to say that there would be a few of us who would thrive best setting up shop on our own, and to these select few his advice was to do it from day one.
Of course, there are substantial benefits to being an established operator, not least the ability to summon additional resources from other group companies. This was highlighted by Stagecoach Midlands Operations Director Jim Mortimore, who told of the challenges of coordinating the bus and coach services at the Silverstone Formula 1 event every year. He emphasised that forward planning and excellent teamwork are both essential ingredients of a high quality output, and also pointed out that mistakes offer a valuable learning experience. After the event his team meet with Silverstone for a concluding meeting where they analyse what worked and what didn’t, enabling lessons to be learnt for future events.
I was also delighted to be given the opportunity to showcase Vectare and explain exactly what it is we do, presenting our VecTive School Bus Service Management software to the delegates. Many were very interested, recognising the significant potential it has to improve the travelling experience for parents and pupils whilst also reducing administrative costs substantially.