This is the "grand prix" of the UK Bus Awards.
Pre-eminent amongst bus operators in the UK, the UK Bus Operator of the Year, more than any other, delivers consistently excellent customer service. The company will demonstrate its success through sustained effort over the long term.The creme-de-la-creme, the winner of the UK Bus Operator of the Year was selected from the highest-scoring contestants of the Independent Operator, Shire Operator and City Operator awards.
Winner, Gold Award
Nottingham City Transport
Nottingham was victorious in the contest to find the Top City Operator this year, and went on to win this Gold Award following a very strong performance in our Mystery Traveller checks.
Customers on Nottingham City Transport's (NCT) buses are the most satisfied in the country, with an overall rating of 97% in the most recent Transport Focus survey. Nottingham has the second highest bus use per head of population in the UK, despite a very challenging couple of years as new tram lines were built, the ring road was upgraded and the A453 was expanded. Partnerships with local authorities have also brought benefits to customers including 1,400 bus stops with real time displays in Nottingham (the highest outside London), direct access to Nottingham's Traffic Control Centre cameras to allow NCT Control Room staff to manage the network, and over 50 junctions now fitted with bus traffic light priority guaranteeing a green light for late buses. NCT instigated a Roadworks Consultation Regime to ensure that bus operators are involved from the planning stage of street works, something that has been vital through the recent A453 widening, tram works and ring road upgrade. The installation of next stop announcements has continued and they now cover 80% of the fleet, whilst the whole fleet now offers free wifi, which is thought to be a first for an operator in England. The first 'Oyster' Pay As You Go system outside London has also been added this year.
The judges noted that despite difficulties with roadworks, NCT has continued to offer an excellent service. The Free Travel Fridays on routes affect by tram works is a nice gesture to keep customers happy. The company clearly ticks lots of boxes with investment in new vehicles and facilities for passengers such as next stop announcements and free wifi across the whole fleet. The judges also commented on the way drivers are looked after with extensive training in customer service skills and offering the highest pay rates in the region.
Winner, Silver Award
Despite their strong performance in winning the contest to be Top Shire Operator, Reading Buses did not quite make it two in a row in the overall contest.
Even so, their network of brightly-coloured and branded buses, together with a big focus on customer service and innovation, have made the company a real success story. It aims to be the best bus company in Britain and a role model for best practice across Europe and beyond. The company is well known for its innovative approach to engaging new customers with its strong partnerships with the university as well as being in the forefront of compressed natural gas powered bus operation alongside its electric hybrid and diesel fleet. Despite ever challenging congestion in Reading due to the re-building of town centre over the past three years, it has tried very hard to keep its passengers moving. Reading Buses continues to innovate, inspire its staff to be better, invest in environmentally friendly buses or and improve its routes - always finding new ways to delight its customers and champion bus use!
Reading Buses continues to be an excellent bus operator. The judges noted that it strives to be as good internally as externally with various benefits and encouragement for staff development. It's colour-coded network is easy for new customers to understand and the company scores well on free wifi and next audio and visual displays, both of which cover 70% of the fleet. It continues to sustain a double digit growth in passengers.
Winner, Bronze Award
A very strong performance in the mystery travelling scores meant that Prentice Coaches, this year's Top Independent Operator, was a really strong contender in the overall contest. In the end, though, the family owned and run bus and coach operator just missed out on the top two prizes.
Based in Haddington, East Lothian in south east Scotland, the company was established primarily as a coach operator. Even so, it has run bus services for most of its existence and bus services now account 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.
How it works
The Independent Operator, Shire Operator, City Operator and UK Bus Operator of the Year Awards all use the same criteria, which are described under those categories. Separate entries were not therefore sought for this category, and there is no list of finalists.
The winner will be selected from the winners of competitions for Top City, Top Independent and Top Shire Operators, and announced at the Presentation Ceremony on 23 November.
In selecting the overall winner, the UK Bus Operator of the Year, judges will consider the different circumstances of operators of varying sizes and operating terrains: 'mystery traveller' assessments will be very important and may well be a deciding factor.