Top Independent Operator 2011

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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) or part of a group of more than three operating subsidiaries.

Winner: Reays Coaches

Wigton, Cumbria

One of Reays' fleet in service in Cumbria

For many years Reays has provided a reliable public bus service to rural communities in Cumbria, with support from Cumbria County Council. Last year the company invested heavily in fourteen brand new low-floor buses to introduce five new commercial ‘City Hopper’ services in Carlisle in competition with the incumbent operator.

Very high satisfaction levels appear to be testament to the way these services have been received by passengers, and the judges were particularly taken with the idea of Reays Travel Centre in Carlisle city centre that provides refreshments as well as customer support and information.

Providing competitive services against large companies can always be problematic. Time will tell if such an operation is sustainable but, in investing in new vehicles and a fairly comprehensive operation, Reays have signalled that they are seeking to do the job properly.

Joint Runner Up:David Morris, DRM's owner DRM, Bromyard

David Morris may claim to be “only a country lad” but he is an extremely shrewd and effective proprietor ‘leading from the front’ and who runs an impressive operation in an area in rural Herefordshire that can by no means be called good bus territory.

A small operator serving very specific local markets with a seven-days-per-week service, DRM is a professional and profitable business delivering a top-class service that meets the existing needs of local people whilst still introducing new initiatives to encourage further growth in bus use, with publicity produced in-house.

It has a very modern fleet, some with leather seats, through levels of capital investment for new buses that must proportionately exceed almost any other bus company. DRM clearly recognises the value of the customer – “the customer is king, without them there would be no business” - and that its staff represent its greatest asset.

The Ipswich Buses teamJoint Runner Up: Ipswich Buses

A company that aims to get it right first time, every time, Ipswich Buses has a commitment to providing high quality bus services that are a real alternative to the private car in the growing Suffolk town. Municipally-owned and locally-managed, high levels of reliability and punctuality have helped the company to achieve impressive recent increases in turnover and profit margin.

As well as good basic bus operation and a strong commitment to the community in which it operates, the judges were impressed with a number of pricing and marketing initiatives designed to attract car users, such as ‘Trade Your Transport’ whereby anyone who scraps their car receives a six-month bus pass in exchange and its ‘5’ group travel ticket, as well as a ‘Don’t Be a Tosser’ campaign to reduce litter.

Highly Commended

The Johnsons fleet for the Brmingham-Stratford routeJohnsons Coach and Bus Travel

A long-standing high quality coach company, Johnsons started bus operation just ten years ago. The growth since then now sees the company running thirty-seven buses with fifty-three drivers on a range of services, most run in partnership with local authorities across five counties in the Midlands, with an increase of 17% in passenger journeys over the last year.

The motto ‘Travel with Friends’ reflects the culture of the company and its staff who have a sense of ownership, pride and belonging with the Johnsons brand. The company is proud of its involvement with the community and judges were again impressed by the rapid growth of the bus operation seemingly without losing the core values of quality and service. Its environmental credentials were also commented upon by the judges, with a £1million investment in hybrid buses following its recent electric bus trial.

One of the bespoke operations run by CourtneyCourtney Coaches, Wokingham

Courtney Coaches is a forward-thinking company that is planning and investing for its future. Its largely contracted operation in Berkshire, Hampshire and nearby areas is of a very high quality with modern vehicles, leading to a 16% increase in passenger numbers in the last year.

Its most recent expansion in its portfolio of corporate clients was the result of a recommendation made by an existing customer. The company also has a long track record of environmental initiatives and is not scared to try new ideas. Through a very clear ‘open door’ policy, it actively encourages its staff to put forward their ideas. The judges were impressed with the culture of the company, and the pride it takes in its staff and the customer service it provides to its varied portfolio of clients and passengers.

Judges' Overall Verdict

Another good crop of entries although the quality may be not quite to the standard of 2010. The quantity was certainly slightly lower. Over recent years the quality of small bus operators individually and as a group has improved dramatically and this year’s experience may well be a reflection of the economic circumstances rather than anything else. In two instances this year regular entrants are absent due to particular developments affecting their companies, and a return next year is likely.

There was very little to choose between the top three, hence the decision for there to be joint runners-up. Even in the smaller companies, the commitment to the environment, health and safety, and risk assessment was pleasing.

Who could be nominated?

This Award was open to operators of registered local bus services with operators’ (‘O’) licences for fewer than 100 vehicles which are independently owned.

In this context, “independently owned” means not in the sole or majority ownership of a public limited company (plc) or a holding company which owns three or more bus operating subsidiaries.

… 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 were determined on the basis of the quality of the submissions, which need 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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