Top Independent Operator

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The Award for smaller bus companies with fleets of fewer than 100 vehicles not owned by a group or a public limited company (plc).

Winner, Gold Award

Prentice Coaches

Prentice Coaches is a family owned and run bus and coach operator based in Haddington, East Lothian in south east Scotland. Established primarily as a coach operator, the company has run bus services for most of that time and bus services now accounts for over 50% of the business. Both directors are fully involved in the business on a day to day basis, so any decisions can be made swiftly. The company constantly engages with its staff, taking on board their ideas and often implementing them as improvements to its bus services and the business as a whole. Prentice Coaches is a forward thinking innovative company that believes in running modern, eco-friendly buses, kept in immaculate condition, coupled with an old fashioned customer care ethos delivered by staff who take immense pride in delivering 21st century transport to our community. Live Bus Tracker has been available on the company's website for three years and the company's mobile app (marketed as 'App-Prentice') is under constant development. Prentice Coaches has a sense of duty to the local community, having twice stepped in at short notice to replace essential local bus services cancelled by the previous operator, and then turned around those failing services by running new, attractive vehicles driven by people who take a pride in their job, and increasing passenger numbers substantially.

The judges liked this small, but high quality bus operation, not afraid to invest in new vehicles and the latest technology to deliver a better experience for its customers.

Winner, Silver Award

Courtney Buses

Over the last year, Courtney Buses has continued to grow not only its fleet and operating area, but also its reputation for delivering high quality services, with friendly drivers and a modern fleet. After securing the contract for subsidised routes in Bracknell, Courtney's became the main bus operator in the area. A belief in good customer service is very strong and the company instills these principles into all staff by providing high quality training opportunities. Recent improvements have included Smartcard introduction in Maidenhead (with the intention of expanding the scheme), the fitting of telemactics across the whole of the fleet and using larger capacity vehicles to cope with increasing growth on the commercial Bracknell routes. The introduction of new vehicles with wifi and USB charging points on the Bracknell to Camberley route has seen passenger numbers significantly increase, requiring a revision and re-timing of the service to meet customer demand.

The judges noted the excellence of the operation and the 30% increase in passenger numbers, no doubt partly due to the company's focus on high standards of customer service.

Winner, Bronze Award

Compass Travel (Sussex)

Based in Worthing, West Sussex, Compass Travel continues to grow its bus business and is growing patronage on both urban and rural routes. It has a strong customer focus ethos, and despite the difficult climate which has seen a number of well established independent companies fail in the past year, continues to invest heavily in both its fleet and workforce. A new partnership with the organisers of the Wings and Wheels events at Dunsfold Aerodrome will result in the provision of a bus service on a permanent basis so that people can attend the event using public transport. Compass also provides five double deck shuttle buses at the Aerodrome between the car park and studio hanger where BBC Top Gear is recorded. The partnership with Brighton & Hove City Council and Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company means that Compass is now accepting Keycard and M tickets issued by the Brighton operator, which is thought to be the first such arrangement involving an independent operator. It is a major advance for passengers in the area by providing flexibility of travel. Real time travel information has been extended throughout Brighton & Hove on Compass routes and will shortly be extended to routes in East Sussex. The company believes in empowering employees to offer excellent customer service. They are given considerable latitude and flexibility to work with customers which provides high staff motivation. Compass will post, free of charge, copies of its area timetable booklets and the company has a policy of reimbursement of taxi fares should a passenger incur this expenditure through a bus breakdown or similar. A further eight new buses have been added to the fleet this year as part of the continuing investment.

The judges noted that Compass Travel is going from strength to strength, picking up routes from other operators and making a commercial success of tendered routes. It is expanding across a large geographical area, but is still maintaining its high standards and facilities like expansion of its real time information service will be appreciated by customers.


Ensign Bus Company

Ensign Bus is an independent operator that runs a fully commercial network in difficult operating territory around the A13 and M25 Dartford crossing area. Numerous improvements have been made over the past 12 months. Four new BCI 12.5m tri-axle 98 seat air conditioned double deck buses have been added to private hire fleet, with a further 12 BCI 10.8m double deck service buses on order for delivery towards the end of the year giving an average front line fleet age profile of 5.8 years, with the oldest service route buses dating from 2008. The private hire department has continued to grow and a major source of increased revenue has been additional film work. Recent work has included Tridents in Dr Who, Scanias on the new Jackie Chan film and RT's on the new Brad Pitt film in addition to numerous commercials and period set dramas. Tilbury Cruise terminal introduced a more intense schedule, meaning thousands of additional passengers and luggage needed moving safely and securely. Ensign was approached to trial a service, which led to a contract being awarded for over 100 jobs and the acquisition of single decks branded for the docks fitted with luggage racking layout. The investment in facilities has continued with the conversion of a 25,000sqft storage area into a workshop with heating, exhaust extraction, LED lighting, a six vehicle chassis work bay with mobile column lifts, a fully equipped eight bay body repair area and a tachograph fitment and calibration facility with rolling road. Service improvements include taking route 44 from half hourly Monday to Friday to every 15 minutes in the peak, route 73 has been upgraded from a 20 minute peak service to 10 minute, and following the failure of a local operator, Ensign took over route 21 -which soon become commercial and improved reliability with newer vehicles. Also new this year is a mobile app, allowing passengers to see exactly what control staff see. This has been particularly useful during the road improvement scheme at the M25/A13 junction.

The judges noted that it has been another strong year for Ensign Bus with improvements to the fleet, operations, facilities and the introduction of a mobile app for customers. The judges also highlighted the 2% pay increase on top of 2.5% the previous year.

Uno Buses (Northampton)

Uno Buses (Northampton) Ltd, which trades under the Uno brand name, is a new bus business started four years. It is a joint venture between the Universities of Northampton and Hertfordshire and follows the Uno principles and mission in that it serves the university's travel needs but also dovetails with the travel needs of the local community and adds to the local public transport resource - a virtuous circle. It was started with eight buses and now operates 25, and has integrated the transport requirements of local further education colleges. Five brand new buses were added to the fleet this year, and an m-ticketing mobile app was launched in the summer. Also over the summer, wifi was fitted to the whole fleet.

Mirroring the successful model begun by the University of Hertfordshire, the judges noted that the newer Northampton operation is building on its success and improving its offering to its passengers. They also appreciated that staff travel regularly as mystery shoppers to monitor the service.

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” meant 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.

Subsidiaries of the groups should enter Top Shire or Top City categories, as appropriate to their operating territory.

… and by whom?

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

Criteria and Entry Requirements for all Bus Operating Awards:

The short-list was determined on the basis of the quality of the submissions, which need to:

  • Provide the full range of information requested in the Key Performance Indicators section of the entry form
  • Address as fully as possible the individual criteria headings on the form. 

It is important that all KPIs and each of the following criteria are addressed as fully as possible because the allocated marks are not transferable.

The following notes provide further guidance on the information to be provided under each of the headings:

  • Customer Relations and Performance: show how the operator maintains and improves customer relations and monitors its operations to optimise performance. For example how it uses: 
    • technology, including social media, real-time information and mobile phone apps
    • other methods of communicating with customers and potential customers including printed information
    • customer satisfaction surveys,  suggestion and complaint handling procedures and the monitoring of feedback.
  • Management of Stakeholder Relations and Partnerships: describe the company’s approach to the management of its relationships with local authorities, LEPs and other community and local business organisations. Describe the work done on partnerships with authorities and other bodies and state how it fosters and contributes to the life of the communities it serves.
    • Where operated, with the approach to and results of delivering local authority contracted local bus services should be described. 
  • Market Growth and Development: show how the operator contributes to sustaining and expanding the market for public transport in their area by
    • offering different payment methods and range of tickets including discounts for specific groups, for example young people
    • providing a range of commercial services at different times of the day and days of the week
    • introducing innovations over the preceding twelve months
    • The descriptions and examples should be supported where possible by statistics to confirm patronage  and revenue trends and by evidence of modal shift. 
  • Employee Relations and Training: provide evidence of the company’s employee relations policies and any discernable outcomes, including;
    • diversity
    • equal opportunities
    • training, including CPC progress
    • employee development programmes, such as advanced driver training and testing
    • other initiatives and/or practices that engender staff loyalty.
  • Health, Safety and Risk Management: 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.
  • Environmental and CSR Matters: describe the operator’s approach to environmental matters and social responsibility and consequential outcomes.
  • Policies on diversity and accessibility: state whether there are policies for different customer groups, for example recognising disability and diversity, and/or deprived localities and specifically describe the operator’s approach to improving or promoting the accessibility of their product for people with various types of mobility difficulty.
  • Serious Complaints and Enforcement Action: state whether or not the company was referred to the Bus Appeals Body within the last three years prior to submission of this entry. If so, the issues and the outcome need to be described. Entrants should also state whether or not there has been any Traffic Commissioner action in the three years prior to entry or whether any investigation, disciplinary hearing or known VOSA report is ongoing at the time of entry.  If so, provide a full account of the matter(s). 

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


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