Independent Operator 2010

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The award for smaller bus companies with fleets of less than 100 vehicles not owned by a public limited company (plc).

Winners: Norfolk Green

High quality promotion is a feature of Norfolk Green's operationWithin a largely rural operating area, a competitive market place and the recession, Norfolk Green grew both passenger and revenue levels by 21% in the last year and increased both operating profit and capital investment substantially. New buses, more journeys, value for money fares and an emphasis on selling the product continue to challenge the popular myth of poor rural buses.

The judges were impressed with the improvement in every one of the company’s key performance indicators as well as, despite its rapid growth of recent years, the continuing attention to detail, its innovative marketing, the style and quality of its relationship with both its customers and staff, and the ongoing partnership with local authorities and other stakeholders.

As its submission says, ‘very Norfolk Green!’

Runners Up: Quality Line - Epsom Group

A new depot contributes to Epsom's success in bus operationJust the name Quality Line, the bus operating division of Epsom Coaches, sums up the Group’s attitude towards its bus operation.

Having built its reputation on top-class coach travel, Epsom continues to be a leader amongst independent operators. With the recent redevelopment of its depot providing state-of-the-art facilities, the company’s key performance indicators and its substantially improved profit, coupled with its significant investment in fleet and infrastructure, amply demonstrate its continuing success.

The judges commented especially on: the close relationship with Transport for London and Surrey County Council, as well as Epsom’s involvement in a significant number of stakeholder groups - a major task for a small company - and its commitment to environmental and safety issues.

Highly Commended:

David Morris, proprietor of DRM Bus, with one of his busesDRM Bus

A small operator serving very specific local markets, this is an example of a proprietor leading ‘from the front’, and in the process developing a professional, profitable business delivering top quality bus services. In an area that cannot be called ‘good bus territory’ in the traditional sense, with a modern fleet and premises that are owned outright and publicity that is produced in-house, it has been possible to provide a frequent seven-day-a-week operation in a deeply rural area that meets the existing needs of local people whilst still introducing new initiatives to encourage further growth in bus use. The company clearly recognises the staff as its greatest asset, this no doubt being reflected in the receipt of only four complaints in half-a-million passengers.

David Morris may in his own words be ‘only a country lad’, but he is a very shrewd and effective businessman who knows exactly what his company is capable of, and delivers it day-in, day-out.

Ensign Bus Company

The old and the new mixed at Ensign BusA superb example of an operator identifying an under-served market and then ‘going for it’ with quality bus services that have generated substantial numbers of extra public transport users. The company has developed what started as a small bus service element attached to a rail replacement contract into an efficient and profitable bus operation in Essex and Kent carrying in excess of two million passengers annually, and to the extent that it has been necessary to invest £1.8million to convert some 35% of the network from single to new low-floor easy-access double-deck buses to cope with the increased passenger numbers.

The judges noted especially the close working relationships with Lakeside and Bluewater shopping centres, as well as the local authorities and other stakeholders. The mix of work, the ‘hands on’ approach of the directors and the flexibility of staff in meeting the varying commitments of the Ensign operation were also commented upon favourably.


Johnsons Coach & Bus Travel

Modern fleet in the Midlands at JohnsonsA century after first carrying passengers by horse and cart, another company with a long record of providing quality coach services, Johnsons of Henley-in-Arden, has very successfully made the move into operating quality bus services. Just ten years after starting bus operation, close partnerships with the relevant local authorities now sees Johnsons Excelbus servicing over thirty routes across five counties.

The company motto ‘Travel with Friends’ reflects the culture of the operator and its staff, taking care in what it does, and its success in generating ridership on one of its core services, the X20 between Stratford and Birmingham, has justified major investment in new high-quality double-deck vehicles.

The judges were impressed with the rapid growth of the bus operation and the effort that had gone into that without losing the core values of quality of service and attention to detail, whilst maintaining a profitable, community-minded business that continues to be successful in all its activities. Its environmental credentials were also commented upon by the judges, including the recent trial of an electric bus in Stratford.

Judges’ Overall Verdict

Yet again an excellent range and standard of entries, demonstrating how the quality of bus operation has improved dramatically in recent years, even (or perhaps especially) amongst the smaller companies.

There was only a small margin between the top operators making the judges decisions difficult yet again – further evidence of the much-improved quality standards amongst operators of all sizes in the industry.

Again, partnership figured strongly in a number of the short-listed entries and, even amongst the smaller operators, judges were impressed by the commitment to the environment, health and safety, and risk management of entrants.

Whilst simplifying the entry process and focussing entrants on key issues seems to have increased the number of entries for Independent Operator over the last couple of years, there was disappointment that some of the real top-quality smaller operators have still not entered, and the Management Committee will be focusing efforts on trying to widen the entry base for this award still further in 2011.

Who could be nominated?

This award was open to independent operators of registered local bus services with fleets of less than 100 vehicles, which are not in the sole or majority ownership of a public limited company (plc).

… and by whom?

We welcomed nominations from customers, local authorities, user groups or bus operators. Self-nomination was acceptable.

Criteria and Entry Requirements

The results determined on the basis of the quality of the submissions, which needed to:

  • Show how the operator maintains and improves customer relations. For example how it uses:
    • customer satisfaction surveys
    • suggestion and complaint handling procedures
    • customer newsletters
    • State whether it has policies for specific customer groups, for example recognising disability and diversity
    • State whether the company resolved any issues by reference to the Bus Appeals Body within the last three years prior to entry. The issues and the outcome need to be described
  • Provide evidence of the company’s employee relations policies, including:
    • diversity
    • equal opportunities
    • training
    • employee development programmes.
  • Provide statistics on timekeeping and lost mileage
  • State any Traffic Commissioners’ action in the three years prior to entry and describe the company’s responses
  • Provide information to demonstrate the financial sustainability of their activities. This could come, for example, from the most recent audited accounts for the two years prior to nomination and include:
    • Capital investment: amount per £1,000 turnover; changes in fleet age profile
    • Commercial performance: % operating profit margin
    • Movement in reserves.
  • Demonstrate the company’s approach to risk assessment in all its activities including:
    • a commentary on Health and Safety issues for the past year, supported by reports on any significant incidents,
    • showing how the company assesses the impact of its activities on staff, passengers and the general public and has monitoring and control measures to reduce risk and the level of the residual risks.
  • Describe the operator’s approach to environmental matters and social responsibility.
  • Submit evidence on matters such as any partnership working, describe how the company responds to the policies of its local transport authority and how it fosters and contributes to the life of the communities it serves.
  • Show how the operator contributes to sustaining and expanding the market for public transport in their area, including joint working with local authorities and integration schemes. This should be supported by statistics to confirm patronage and revenue trends, and statistical evidence of modal shift.

Shortlisted entries will be assessed by “mystery travellers” to monitor the standard of service delivery.

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