The Award for operators the shire areas of the UK, covering all areas outside our major cities.
Winner: Thamesdown Transport
Having been in the top three operators in the 2010 Passenger Focus surveys, Thamesdown Transport, the main bus operator in Swindon and North Wiltshire, consistently delivers very high levels of customer satisfaction. Whilst not traditionally a high profile company, it has committed itself to a number of market-leading initiatives. Real-time information is standard and the company is a leader in ITSO-compliant smartcard technology.
The company’s service fleet is 100% low-floor and two-thirds of passengers travel on buses with an audio/visual bus stop announcements system. These, the company’s very high level of reliability and punctuality, growth in passenger numbers on the back of strong marketing and publicity despite the severe effects of the recession on Swindon, and a strong commitment to the environment, safety, training and the community convinced the judges that Thamesdown would be a worthy winner of Top Shire Operator for 2011.
Runner Up: Yellow Buses
Yellow Buses, part of the RATP Group and the Top Shire Operator for the past two years, has continued to grow through creative and smart ways to encourage travel. Its commitment to new initiatives as well as basic good reliable bus operation despite major road works this year has enabled it to further increase passenger numbers and revenue in the recession and the very competitive Bournemouth market. Yellow Buses believes that, in a difficult operating and financial climate, a bus company needs to “stand up and be noticed”.
A number of strong marketing initiatives like its Glo-card and a ground-breaking operator-developed passenger journey planner, further investment in new buses and proactive involvement with the community it serves, as well as an emphasis that the services deliver the quality that is promised, impressed the judges that Yellow Buses continues to be an innovative and customer-focused company.
As well as already being acknowledged as one of Britain’s most innovative bus companies with recent investment in a large number of hybrid buses and a ground-breaking new ticketing system, Reading Buses has started to reap the benefits of a massive change in staff attitudes brought about by a combination of enhanced communication, training and a new support structure which has impacted on service quality and customer relations.
On top of a fleet that is totally low-floor easy-access, with strong marketing and its dedicated colour-coded Premier Routes, and a creative way of providing services on its network outside urban Reading, this has brought about a vastly-improved financial performance and other favourable key indicators that, despite the effects of the recession on the Thames Valley, bode well for greater passenger gains and modal shift in the future.
Stagecoach East Midlands
Stagecoach East Midlands runs bus services across Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire and since 2006 has brought together four separate operating companies under a small management team to share expertise, develop the staff, build stakeholder relationships, invest in service quality and grow bus patronage.
The judges were impressed with how, despite the major structural changes, the company has been able to develop effective quality partnerships with four major local authorities. With these, by being imaginative and innovative, the company has developed bus services that better meet the needs of local communities, and have grown bus use strongly and encouraged modal shift in areas not traditionally viewed as good bus country.
Alongside the high profile projects and despite the recession, the company has maintained its traditional market with improving levels of service, reliability and punctuality, all contributing to a significantly improved financial performance..
In a very challenging economic environment, Stagecoach South has continued to build on its success by investing in its area, looking for innovative, customer-focussed ways to develop its network across Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, and by maintaining its strong partnerships with local authorities and other stakeholders. The company has a quality partnership in every major town and city in which it operates.
The judges noted especially the ongoing record of investment and promotion, with regular new vehicle intake, strong marketing and high levels of customer satisfaction. Good punctuality and strongly improving reliability brought its rewards with a return to significantly increased passenger numbers, turnover, and profitability – an impressive performance.
Stagecoach West employs 645 staff operating 234 buses from four main depots at Gloucester, Cheltenham, Stroud and Swindon. It operates a multitude of services including urban, inter-urban, rural, rail replacement, speciality/wedding private hire and one luxury Stagecoach Gold service. It also operates coaches for National Express and provides drivers for Megabus.com.
A number of commercial developments (the judges were particularly impressed with its Route 66 Swindon to Oxford and Greener Journeys initiatives) as well as a commitment to reliable and punctual services brought about a 5% increase in passengers in the last year, leading to a significantly improved turnover and profit margin.
Western Greyhound, Cornwall
A previous multi-award winner, Western Greyhound has continued to be innovative in revitalising and operating a quality inter-urban and rural network in the challenging area for public transport that is Devon and Cornwall.
With services tailored to the communities it serves and despite the difficult economic conditions, the company has again delivered increased patronage and turnover on the back of excellent marketing and publicity, investment in low-floor accessible buses, and a commitment to reliable and punctual services.
The judges noted the 97% customer satisfaction level in the 2010 Passenger Focus surveys (the highest of any bus operator), built on the extremely strong customer-focussed culture within the company and its staff, and despite the pressures created by such a rapidly-growing operation and a very lean management structure.
Judges' Overall Verdict
The quantity and quality of entries in this category just keep increasing! Based on the standards of only a few short years ago, the judges could easily have short-listed a dozen entries. A couple at least were extremely unlucky not to reach the final stages in 2011, the judges having an extremely difficult task in settling on a final seven. That final seven were separated by just 4% in their scores – and the top ten entries by only 6.5%.
Again it was apparent that the quality of what were, a few years ago, just the very top operators is now becoming almost standard amongst many entrants in this category. Despite the recession which has inevitably taken its toll on some key performance indicators, the judges felt that this should not detract from some significant achievements which are a real credit to the industry and augur well for the future.
Again the entries of a number of the top operators were strengthened by effective partnerships with their local authorities, and there was also strong commitment amongst them to health and safety, risk assessment and the environment.
Who could be nominated?
This Award was open to bus companies operating service networks wholly or mainly outside the major conurbations. Operators who are independently owned, and have 'O' licence discs for fewer than 100 vehicles, are recommended to enter the competition for Top Independent Operator.
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 is acceptable
Criteria and Entry Requirements
The results were 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:
- equal opportunities
- 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.