Sunday, 15 September 2013

When one bus company just isn't enough...

I was walking through Sheffield City Centre with a good friend of mine, when her very streetwise five year old granddaughter Ruby stopped us in our tracks.  “Oh my god, did you see what that woman was wearing?” she announced, her face a mixture of disgust and astonishment, “red and purple just do not go together!”

I hope that’s not true, because my job is to make them go together!  As if running one bus company wasn't enough, I now have two!

My latest adventure started about two months ago, when I was appointed by Wellglade (best known as the parent company of trentbarton) to run their TM Travel subsidiary.

This is a part-time mission occupying about half my week, the other half continues to be devoted to Velvet.

So what possessed me to take a second job two hundred miles away from home?

I’d been looking for a fresh challenge for a while.  I love Velvet with all my heart, I bleed purple, and have no plans for the business to do anything other than grow and prosper.

But I have a fabulous management team who take care of the day-to-day service delivery, and they need space to do their jobs and develop themselves, both individually and as a team without me micro-managing every detail.

For my own part, I love change and hate routine, and my brain needs fresh stimulus all the time.  With Velvet approaching six years old (the company that wouldn’t last six months, I remember being told repeatedly at the time), it has already more than doubled the longest period I had spent in any one job previously.

I had therefore been on the lookout for some consultancy work on the side, or something similar.  The opportunity - when it came - was rather grander than I was expecting!  Two meetings a year apart and a couple of phone calls led me to a discussion with the Wellglade board at their Heanor offices, at which I was presented with the chance to be General Manager at TM Travel.

I must admit I jumped at it.  The downside with consultancy is that you can suggest and advise, but ultimately you can’t make anything happen, you’re relying on others to share your vision.  I crave responsibility, so the opportunity to run something of my own was too good to pass up.

And it is difficult to imagine a better opportunity anywhere in the UK bus industry.  As a parent company, Wellglade’s credentials are beyond question – an unrivalled track record of innovation and sound management.  As a board of directors, it is hard to think of three greater guides and mentors than Brian King, Ian Morgan and Graham Sutton.

Meanwhile TM Travel is a compact business that has been through a tough time since coming into Wellglade’s ownership.  Small enough to be manageable alongside my existing commitments, but big enough to be a meaningful player in South Yorkshire and the East Midlands, and with the board keen to see it play to its full potential, I couldn’t ask for a better opening.

In my first two months there, the scale of the opportunity has become clear.  For a start, the company is in better shape than many people acknowledge.

In the eyes of many industry commentators and enthusiasts, the company is seen as a complete basket case.

While these opinions clearly have some basis in the reality of the turmoil the company has experienced in recent years, such perceptions are rapidly becoming outdated and the truth is that the standard of service delivery is up there with the rest.

Not just our own monitoring, but also figures supplied by South Yorkshire PTE, show that our punctuality and reliability is generally in line with the big operators in the area, and with industry norms.  While the fleet age may be higher than we’d like, the standard of maintenance belies this, with a run of clear VOSA encounters leading to a green OCRS score and a MOT pass rate approaching 100 per cent.

Also in our favour is an incredibly positive and committed workforce.  Outside of Velvet, by far the best I’ve encountered.  Virtually everyone I’ve met wants the company to succeed and is brimming with ideas and suggestions on how to get there.  Yes there is work to be done to get the best out of the people and structure, but even in my short time there I’ve seen a real sense of people wanting to work together to move the company forward.

I’m under no illusions, there is a lot to do.  There are far too many rough edges operationally.  The financial performance is not where it should be, with too many marginal routes, and this has undermined any business case for fleet investment with the result that the fleet presentation is not great, with too many different liveries and hand-me-down vehicles that haven’t been properly integrated into the fleet.

Until we sort those issues out, and prove to the board that we have a company worthy of sustained investment, we will continue to hand ammunition to those who would talk us down.  But that is the challenge I’ve been put there to address, and it is exciting beyond measure.

Of course, commuting between Southampton and Sheffield is not for the faint hearted, and I simply wouldn’t do it if I thought it would damage Velvet.

But the team here know what they’re doing, and we’ve strengthened the management structure to make sure we’ve got all the bases covered.

After eighteen months in which we’ve struggled a bit following swingeing cuts in public sector funding in November 2011 and the associated loss of the C, we’ve suddenly hit a new groove and are powering forward with a vengeance.

The extension of Velvet A into Southampton last December has been steadily building in popularity and has firmly established itself at the core of our commercial offer.  The morning peak service into Southampton will be strengthened next month – filling the only real gap in service provision – and the new wave of college students and the highly popular extension of our young person fares to 5-19 year olds has opened up another new market.

To capitalise on the growth, we’ve bought five Volvo B10BLEs from Ensign, ex-Stagecoach North East, which are being refurbished as we speak.  Apart from one line which has to remain double deck due to lunchtime capacity constraints, these will sweep away the motley collection of Darts, DAFs and Solos that make our current offer on the A look rather disjointed.

More importantly, the B10BLE has a reputation for reliability and robust mechanical performance, as well as being smooth and comfortable for drivers and passengers.

Our aim is obviously to be able to afford much newer kit for the A in time, and if we can get three or four years of solid reliable performance from these buses while the patronage continues to grow, we will be well placed to make the business case in due course.

We have won the contract to take over the S1 route from First in Southampton in October, so we have extended our shopping spree to include two further Solos.  Having established a very good reputation with the customers in the area since taking over the S2 in 2010, this new contract is a great opportunity for us to extend our presence, while leaving our bigger cousins free to concentrate on their core commercial networks.

Completing our summer shopping has been a fifth low-floor DAF double decker from Dawson Rentals – Spectra T124 AUA - complementing our existing batch and allowing the withdrawal of our infamous orange Olympian – a bargain priced purchase that has served us very well but whose condition towards the end was directly at odds with the image we wished to present.

Indeed, we now only have three step entrance double deckers remaining, and realistically these will probably be fine for the college routes they serve until rather nearer the DDA deadline.

The other notable service expansion this summer has been our re-entry to the Ringwood – Southampton market that we tried briefly in 2008.  The issues that caused us to withdraw from the route at the time were more to do with the constraints on the timetable imposed by the associated contract for route 35, and we have been looking for a way back into the market ever since.

The opportunity has arisen with the acquisition of a school contract in the area that gives us a solid revenue base, and early signs are that the new improved 300 will quickly establish itself as a solid performer.

As if all that weren’t enough, the 67 has also had its share of the excitement with an improved Saturday service, and with the route showing growth we’re hopeful of more improvements to come.  And last but not least our Marwell route has really found its feet this summer, with regular driver Jeff getting into the spirit with his game hunter’s costume and toy animals strewn throughout the bus.

To say there is a lot going on would be an understatement, but it’s all positive and that’s exactly how I like it.  I work much better under pressure, and after a year and a half in which there are times when life in Eastleigh has seemed a bit mundane, the challenge of leading all these exciting new developments while shuttling 200 miles each way between two offices has me once again fired up with enthusiasm.

And that’s without even mentioning a certain modest interest in a local night club that has arrived completely out of the blue and means that my weekend nights are as action packed as the days in between.

It’s a good job I don’t really do sleep!


  1. Hello there, I have to say, that was a very interesting read! TM are a very highly looked upon brand in Sheffield and I think that many, including me, will wish you the best with the company and your success with Velvet. Principally, one thing that would raise the image massively would be the ability to provide more capacity where needed. Especially, the Line 30 which at several times throughout the day suffers huge overcrowding. I agree, you will have a great set of staff, who like you say want the company to ride up. That is the favorite thing among passengers - the friendly drivers! I am a regular user of TM services and I and many others look forward to what you bring to the company! Regards, Chris L

  2. An interesting read with regards to the new appointment at TM Travel. The company reputation in the last few years has plummeted from being a well respected independent operator to a complete joke - all the newer buses vanished, replaced by knackered second hand Solos with scruffy old Olympians regularly appearing on services that are meant to be low floor. Most of the commercial services lost patronage and got withdrawn and it is notable that TM's single fares are higher than what First and Stagecoach charge.

    However - you are right - despite the poor image the buses are actually reliable and with a bit of motivation and support the drivers could potentially be the most customer focused in the area.

    TM could well be a sleeping giant - a bit of investment, network development beyond SYPTE and DCC tenders and an overhaul of the commercial offer could see the business become a big player in the City.

    I'm sure there are some missing links in Sheffield and North East Derbyshire that could be catered for and made a commercial success.

  3. Good luck with TM Travel. Even though I work for Stagecoach and cannot use my staff pass in the buses, I hope it works for you. The New Cherry Red Livery makes the buses look a lot smarter.

  4. Are you talking about the same TM Travel I know ?
    If you think their reliability is good I suggest you have a couple of days in the Peak District, try catching a few 218's, if they turn up they're late.
    Good luck in the job, you'll need it !!

  5. Good luck with TM. You need a "consistent" brand / livery. How about Red, White and Blue - very British.

  6. Wow. What a blog. I must admit I had to read it twice as I thought it was a bizarre, rather surreal joke. A few points should be cleared up: Firstly on reliability, a recent Freedom Of Information from SYPTE shows that almost 11% of monitored journeys operated outside of VOSA's "window of tolerance", and my own monitoring currently shows almost 600 instances of late, early or failed operation in just over a year, and they're just the ones I know about. Service 218 in particular has to rate as the most unreliable service I have ever known (may be if there was an award for such things Wellglade could add to their trophy cabinet). Secondly the "positive" attitude of the workforce... again an FOI request to SYPTE shows that they received 1,584 complaints over the last 5 years - many about drivers' attitude, driving past people at bus stops and so on, and again the trend shows the number of complaints increasing year on year. Finally we move onto maintenance: I'm pleased the author acknowledges the elderly, tatty state of the fleet but when buses are operated in service with an upper deck window hanging out or turn up for an MoT with it's exhaust dragging on the road one has to wonder where the green score came from, and only yesterday one TM bus spent 16 minutes trying to engage reverse gear. If the maintenance was so good then so would the reliability. I admire the author's enthusiasm and I can understand why he's written his blog, obviously intended for his workforce to read and feel empowered. But he himself admits he had no power to change anything. Sadly I fear that he's been brainwashed so much by the kind of turd-polishing nonsense I'd expect from a Wellglade suit he's started spouting it himself. Sir, I wish you well.

    1. Your an idiot. Remember where the vehicles came from in the first place and what is on the legals on sides of vehicles. TM have done a bloody good job to run services with what they have been given. How would you know about how buses turn up for MOT? Are you at the test centre constantly watching vehicles turn up - NO! I know that TM have an excellent rate for MOT passes NOT FAILURES like you are insinuating. As for the new manager, he seems to be interested and wants to get TM back up there. TM are in a state due to the previous manager who didn't have a clue on running a bus company, was bad for company moral and he just run everything into the ground. GOOD LUCK TM, LET'S HAVE YOU BACK UP THERE!

  7. I don't know if it was your decision to cancel the 214 service in the Peak District and merely extend the existing 218 service to now serve Chatsworth House and Matlock. Having the same bus calling at both Chatsworth House and Bakewell, and only being an hourly service, just isn't good enough...there is far too much likelihood of overcrowding and passengers being stranded. There are rumours afoot though that Stagecoach has already expressed an interest in providing a new Sheffield to Matlock service through the eastern Peak District, so you may live to regret this decision.

    Additionally, some of the vehicles in the fleet are really old and regularly overheat on the journeys up to Fox House.

  8. I think by reading the replies above the general consensus is that TM are a disgrace to its passengers and the industry. At least they're starting to see sense when it comes to bidding for tenders, particularly in Derbyshire where TM used to whore themselves for coins for any tender going just to get the work regardless of how profitable it was. And that's where it all went wrong. Too big too fast with no margin, no money to invest so vehicles got older and less reliable to the point where fitters were fire fighting rather than maintain. Happily they seem to have abandoned Derbyshire, much to the delight of passengers. As for being a "major player" in Sheffield, that won't be achieved by simply hoovering up the dregs of tenders nobody else wants. Brave, innovative commercial services maketh the major players. There's no buses between Chesterfield and Meadowhall or Rotherham. Every half hour direct via the A61 and the ring road, 5 bus PVR. You can have that for free.

  9. Congratulations, Mr Stockley, on your new job improving TM Travel. Tell me please, when do you start?

  10. Totally agree with most of the above. Whist it is good to see optimism from the new Manager, I do sense a touch of the old 'rose tinted glasses'.

    As an "industry professional", regular bus user and local resident myself, I offer the following observations to inform your work Phil:

    Reliability might be good in SYPTEs eyes, but we both know they only monitor a tiny %age of departures. It is a daily occurrence for drivers on the 218 to not pull on to the stand in Sheffield until the time they are due to depart. When boarding a decent load, including tourists for Bakewell/Chatsworth etc who are unfamiliar with fares/tickets it is regular for the service to depart at least 10 mins late from Sheffield. This obviously has knock-on effects down the line.

    Presentation of the fleet is poor at best. Most vehicles appear not to be cleaned inside aside from a quick mop-out on a regular basis. There is no excuse for vehicles running for weeks or months on end with mis-matched exterior panels or minor RTA damage left un-repaired.

    The deployment of the fleet raises questions too. I recall the recent tender (which TM were awarded) for the A1 service called for either 33 or 37 seat vehicles (I don't have the details to hand now). Yet TM frequently deploy Solos with between 23 and 31 seats on most of the duties, with a larger Versa/Dart/VDL on one of the 4 duties. I agree this says more about SYPTEs inability to monitor or enforce contract requirements, but if you have a contract that calls for 33/37 seaters why are 23 seaters used? There are also too many instances of Olympians turning up on contracted low floor work - I appreciate breakdowns happen, but last week there was a Volvo Olympian on the A1 all day. Was there really no low floor available? One round trip until something else can be found is excusable, but all day???

    I must say though it is good to see a change in mentality at Halfway. The damage to the business caused by years spent going for every tender under the sun at low costs (it comes to something when you out-bid the not-for-profit Sheffield Community Transport for work...) seems to have been recognoised now.

    I wish you well in your new role. There is certainly room in the local market for another quality provider of services. What the local market doesn't really need is a cheap-as-chips scruffy outfit. Your new bosses at Wellglade seem to have stood by for too long and let TM turn from the former in to the latter. I hope they give you the support (financially and practically) you need to reverse the decline.

    As an aside - and I don't expect you to provide it here - I'd love to see the vehicle duty boards for TM. The amount of dead-running from Halfway looks seriously scary (the newer services around Retford being a prime example. Not sure if it still happens, but there used to be a vehicle end the day at Derby and run dead back to Halfway...)

  11. I must share the view of many others. I've been brought up seeing TrentBarton develop into the company that it is today. Still slight shock when you see one of their buses with a scratch on it. Now looking at TM Travel, some of the buses look like they have been in a fight. Bumps, scratches. Even the former Allestree 02 plate Solos that have not been there that long. In terms of presentation of product (because it is just like a product in a shop window) the view is probably comparable to the sight earlier this year of Stagecoach using new Hybrid Enviro 400s whilst First used Olympians and ex London deckers 12 years old.... See it as..would you get in a car that old? Many bus passengers have a car, a choice. Why do they use a bus? Is the interaction between driver and passenger "pleasant"? In the interior environment pleasant. As for the buses, perhaps Phil would like to ask the management of sister company Notts and Derby why it took 3 months to get one of the ex TM VDL Centros into service.

  12. I think most of the above is fair comment and is what any run of the mill passenger can see on a daily basis. I think VOSA, SYPTE and DCC have been way too lenient with TM, with no contract being revoked to my knowledge mid term due to poor performance when it is obvious to anyone that reliability has been, and continues to be well beyond a joke.

    As it stands TM are the go to operator for left over tendered work. No ambition, no focus, no identity. You need to decide what you want TM to be, have everything in place by a given date, then relaunch. Drop the TM name. It's synonymous with garbage. And if you can't run services properly, tendered or commercial, let another operator who can.

    Pick an area. Rotherham. Sheffield. Pick one. Stick to it. Look at the network map of all services in that area. There are gaps in Sheffield. Service 25 was born out of improving on poor existing services and is just one example. The Chesterfield Rd side of Low Edges and Woodseats Rd are underserved. Totley has a poor service. Nothing direct to Sheffield from Norfolk Park or any point from Manor Top to Prince of Wales roundabout.

    The dead mileage point above is a very obvious one but is perfectly valid and is legacy of winning any tender going. How the previous management were allowed to get away with that for so long is completely at odds with your glowing view of the Wellglade board. Out of touch and out of control.

    Decide what you're doing and do it, and only it, well.

  13. Hello Phil:

    I see that you clicked on the link and have had a look at my hiking blog, in which my experiences with public transport feature regularly. Would you care to comment on any of the situations which I describe?

  14. Paint the buses in TM Purple & rename them Velvet, because if you take your finger off Velvet, no matter how good the current supervisors/HQ team are, the company will lose the Phil Stockley hands-on touch. You can't successfully juggle two jobs. When Velvet first came along the buses were ok a bit old but looked great, but now they are definitely looking like a 2nd rate "Cowboy coaches" type company. Orange buses with bits missing. Come back BlueStar all is forgiven!

  15. Centrebus will have some spare cash now!

  16. Have to agree with virtually everything above. TM has become a basket-case since it was acquired by Wellglade and needs a massive injection of just about everything - reliability and time keeping would be a good start.

    Can't help thinking that Centrebus (High Peak) would be better at managing it.

  17. I give it a year max!

  18. The blogger's description of TM Travel is in with a chance of winning the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, as a work of fiction it is outstanding and the comedic aspirations are pure genius !
    Trent's Mistake. Tomorrow's Miracle ? Total Mis-judgement !
    If the impossible is proved to be possible and you turn TM around then Wellglade will sell it off at the earliest opportunity.

  19. Well the feedback is certainly interesting and useful. It's probably not possible for me to go through and reply to every point individually - although some of the more measured responses probably deserve better - but I recognise all the criticisms people have offered.

    Lest there be any misunderstanding, I am under no illusions of the size of the task ahead. I stand by my assertion that the vast majority of journeys run the vast majority of times, broadly on time and with compliant vehicles, and this is backed up by statistical and anecdotal observations. But I equally accept that there are far too many instances of things going wrong, and that's what I'm there to resolve.

    I very strongly stand by my assertion that the vast majority of staff want to do a good job and have the company's interests at heart. The company has all too often failed to give them the tools to do the job and again, that's why I'm there.

    Despite some of the more hysterical observations above, there is great cause for optimism. However, several years of turbulence will not be undone in an instant and I look forward to demonstrating an ongoing and sustained improvement as time progresses.

    1. Phil

      I too have read the comments after your blog and I just would like to say Good Luck and with the excellent staff you have got, let's have TM back up there. These idiots seem to forget what TM has been through these last couple of years at the hands of Wellgrade, (or the laughable moto of Trent Barton - The really Good Bus Company). They have tried but not managed to finish off TM, they will not let them have any decent vehicles and they have done nothing for staff moral which is at an all time low. TM have done a bloody good job to run the services with what they have got and another thing, they haven't managed to break the long time serving staff who want to see it work. The idiots who only want to put bad comments forward and say nothing positive ought to shut up and start to realise that their bad comments does nothing for the staff morale, they need a boost and to start to receive positive comments and with you also now in post, I am positive that TM Travel with be back up there and back to how they used to be.

  20. Hi Mr Stockley. I continuously monitor your services which shows almost 600 failures to operate within VOSA tolerances in just over a year (including 7 yesterday, one of which saw one of your vehicles laid over at Sheffield Interchange for over 2 hours before departing on the 1420 218 to Matlock... at 1453), have a list of all complaints made to SYPTE about TM since 2007. I have their performance monitoring figures over the same period, and VOSA tell me the only reason you've got away with it for so long is their lack of resources. The partially de-roofed decker on the 65 yesterday was replaced by a 20 year old step-entrance single decker after a delay of 1 hour and 34 minutes, the instances of your buses being in service with an upper deck window hanging out and going for an MoT with it's exhaust dragging along the road are disgraceful not hysterical, there was the run away bus in Clay Cross which rolled if it's own accord into a lamppost, 18 school children injured by another de-roofed decker near Barrow Hill, the Hooton Roberts fatality, the smashed up post van on the 16s, passengers reporting your 97A being "driven as if it was stolen", failure to report bridge strikes in Darnall, how many more do you want?

    If you simply dismiss facts as hysterical you've already lost. You obviously want to bury your head in the sand. Everything I have listed is fact and there's plenty more.

    Take a twelve-step programme. But I don't think even God can save TM.

  21. I think calling these posts hysterical is a little unfair.
    These posts come from people who experience TM at their worst on a daily basis, suffering missed journeys, late journeys in scruffy time expired buses.
    I hope you turn the company around and if you do I agree with one of the posts above,Wellgalde will sell it, if you don't you'll just be another name that's tried and failed.
    Every company will have breakdowns, that' a fact we all know, but it's how you respond that counts. TM seem to have the philosophy to just leave the passengers to sit and wait till the next bus comes along, however long that may be. I suppose it's the downside of having a vast operating area but it simply is not good enough in this day and age.
    You talk of the staff having the right attitude and wanting the company to work, of course they do it's their source of income, gone are the days of leaving one company and walking into a job at another, unless you get sacked from a company and go to TM !!
    tired and life expired buses do not help staff morale, it's not their fault they break down and have to sit at the side of the road for god knows how long but they are the ones getting it in the neck from the irate passengers, respect that and give them the tools they need to do the job.
    If you think things are a s good as you say then do one thing first, put the phone number back on the buses and let the public tell you the truth.

    1. Can only be described as a less than accurate account,in actual fact TM have a good turn round on vehicle breakdowns despite the wide operating area.
      In actual fact I would say compared to the larger operators,the round is better.
      Breakdowns have a response time of about 10 minutes from Traffic to Engineering, the remaining time is based on the distance from operating base this obviously can be anything up to 40 miles.
      Where possible outside contractors are used to minimize any loss.
      In a perfect world there would be a yard full of spare buses,howver anyone with an ounce of business sense would understand that that is not a viable option.
      It is a known fact that even large operators at time will struggle to find replacement vehicles.
      The majority of staff are not sacked from other operators, many work there through choice.
      It can however be agreed that in the past the company has offered little in the way of transparency, this has now changed.

  22. And say bye bye to Velvet.... or perhaps you already have & are going to sell up to Xela?

  23. Sell the 3 modern TM coaches and buy a dozen 10 year old ex London deckers with the proceeds.

  24. Sell the 3 modern TM coaches and buy a dozen 10 year old ex London deckers with the proceeds.

  25. Can't Peter Jenner fix you some DCC contracts to boost the coffers?

  26. If someone, who was a Manager at a company I'd left, set about seeing me off the road, I'd remember that when he'd left the area for his nice corporate job and act accordingly, leaving him to sort the mess out himself. I'd also remember the sidekick who assisted in the attempt to ensure my new (at the time) business was stillborn and would ensure that when he wanted a job, I ensured he'd not get one with me. People who, at the time were so happy to please their masters that they willingly put into place a programme of operation to try their hardest to ensure Velvet was seen off the road.
    I would remember something like that, five years on when I'd grown my business in spite of their efforts through my hard work.
    I doubt xela will be buying Velvet - xela are headed for a swift's a matter of time.

  27. Ah yes Anon @ 1941, but like many observers you would be reaching those conclusions with the very best of intentions but without full possession of the facts.

    Take this so called 'sidekick' for example, is this the same man who - while employed by Go south Coast - gave Velvet hundreds of thousands of pounds of profitable turnover on rail replacement, football park and ride, cricket park and ride, concert park and ride, the Olympics, Farnborough Air Show, Glastonbury Festival, the Isle of Wight Festival, Bestival, Alton College and probably some others I've forgotten about for now?

    Does that sounds like someone trying to run us off the road?

  28. Happy to accept not being in full possession of the facts Phil.
    The only question I am left with, is how come GSC no longer undertakes this special event work, if as you suggest it is profitable?

  29. Let's wish Phil and the team at TM Travel all the best for the future and forgive and forget the shortcomings of the past. What matters for the future of the company and it's customers is what happens next!!

  30. Well, Anon @ 1917, that's a very interesting and pertinent question.

    Firstly, as far as I can see, they haven't stopped doing this work at all. They were all over Glastonbury, the IoW Festival, Bestival and the recent big cricket events - so presumably they still do think they're profitable.

    The only difference I can see is that they no longer have a central resource to organise at all, leaving it instead to the local depot teams. Now my opinion is that this will worsen the quality of service to the client, but that's purely my opinion and I certainly have no evidence to back it up.

    Having said that, there are many companies who deliberately shy away from such work. They argue that diverting management and staff resources away from the bread and butter day to day work affects the quality of the core service, which consequently affects patronage and therefore a reduction in profit which offsets the short-term value of such events.

    So there is a whole range of valid opinions on the subject, and probably no way of definitely establishing the right approach.

    That diversity of approaches is part of what makes it such an interesting industry to work in and observe, and on this occasion I'm the direct beneficiary of GSC's change in management approach, I'm certainly not complaining!

  31. Phil, I love reading your posts both on this blog and on other websites. When you learn why something is the way it is, it gives you a better appreciation of how things are.

  32. Regarding Mr Sanders' comment, it is very difficult to forgive and forget year after year of behaviour by DCC and VOSA which could best be described as astoundingly lenient and jaw droppingly incompetent to such an extreme one could be forgiven for thinking one or both organisations have a severe integrity problem. People who have worked for these organisations, particularly DCC in the recent past, either full time or on a consultancy basis, should take their share of the blame for being complicit in allowing TM to go unpunished for so long for operating services with staggeringly dreadful reliability using poorly maintained, elderly and often dangerous vehicles. These same people should also be investigated by the Police as I find it almost impossible to believe this sort of behaviour went unrewarded.

    1. Whilst, as a former officer of DCC, I would like to respond to your comments I will not enter into a debate with an anonymous correspondent!

  33. To know TM Travel you must take a long hard look at the inner workings of the operation.
    While it can be agreed that the view from the outside is far from perfect,there is a lot now going in the background that the over critical do not see.
    It is made up of a strong dedicated team that are passionate about what they do,the driving staff have many years of experience in the industry and have a strong focus on customer service.
    Yes it can be agreed that TM have over the years suffered many set backs and undergone some radical changes,this however has not prevented its staff from displaying the loyalty and dedication to the company that they do.

    There is not a single person at TM that is under any illusion that we still face a hard and long journey to get us where we want to be,and they continue to deliver every time.
    Given the fact that staff are working under difficult,sometimes impossible conditions with the odds constantly stacked against them.....they still continue.

    I constantly see outdated figures produced and a form of valid argument,constantly gathered over a number of years with the aim of making things seem a lot worse than they are.

    I quote from a recent post:
    "staggeringly dreadful reliability using poorly maintained, elderly and often dangerous vehicles. These same people should also be investigated by the Police as I find it almost impossible to believe this sort of behaviour went unrewarded"

    Highly critical and unfounded comments such as this do nobody any favours "often dangerous vehicles" I see no evidence of this nor do I see any evidence to back it up "poorly maintained" a fleet of vehicles that are legal in every aspect would not constitute a poorly maintained fleet.

  34. Whilst dangerous vehicles takes some clarifying poorly maintained is another matter, I agree with the above post, these sort of comments do no-one any favours. Many TM buses, particularly the old olympians smoke badly, i've been in Bakewell when one has been left running (including one morning this week when the 0930 depatrure was on stand at 0855 and had the engine running from then, take note from Hulleys, the driver of the 0915 171 was there at the same time and immediately switched his engine off) and then pulled away in a cloud of black smoke, drivers know this happens so why do they leave them running, probably because they don't have the confidence to turn them off for fear of not starting ?
    The number of breakdowns I would say adds credence to the poor maintainence regime, as does spending 16 minutes trying to reverse off the stand in Matlock as one poster above has put and the general state of the bodywork. If the bodylooks rough and that's the bit the public see, what's the underneath like?

    1. Anyone can be assured that should any vehicle no be legal it would not be on the road.
      I cant argue that the double decks have certainly seen better days.sadly lack of ivestment is an issue in this area.

  35. Re Anon 1159: wasn't the bus that ran out of control in Clay Cross and fortunately only ran into a lamppost dangerous? The one that ran in service from Bakewell to Sheffield with an upper deck window hanging out, was that perfectly fine? As for outdated reliability figures, YESTERDAY the 1020 218 from Sheffield left half an hour late, the following trip got to Matlock 24 minutes late, and the 1850 215 left 15 minutes late (that's just 3 of many similar failures yesterday). The best thing you and your General Manager could so is to take your collective heads from wherever they are and open your eyes to the reality of what's really going on: old buses on unreliable services.

  36. I would support the above commenter that poor reliability is still very much a current issue, particularly on the ridiculous 218, some more observations from the past few days include the 16:40 ex Sheffield journey running some 35 minutes late by Baslow on Thursday; the 14:50 ex Matlock leaving 5 minutes late after an elongated cigarette break (there's the "strong focus on customer service" shining through!) on Friday despite arriving early off the working from Sheffield (eventually making it back to Sheffield nearly 20 minutes late...); and finally the 12:50 ex Matlock arriving in Sheffield over half an hour late yesterday.

  37. TM do seem to have a knack of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The revised 218 is a piece of potential commercial brilliance (loadings look especially healthy) but it is let down by the scheduling and some of the detail operation. As another correspondent rightly noted, they often leave Sheffield very late due to not enough time having been allowed to load the passengers (often a decker-full) and there is no real slack in the timetable and only minimal recovery time at Matlock.

    The use of the older deckers on the 218 and other Peak District services is no great issue to me (I'm enjoying them while they last!) and they are probably much more reliable than any newer ex London stuff that could be drafted in, but the standard of presentation is generally awful. Some of them have ten different moquettes on their top decks and many have badly faded paintwork, dented panelwork etc. Take the two I caught today - one had to do a circuit of the parking area at Chatsworth (with the driver informing anyone in earshot that reverse gear didn't work) and another was making some awful grauching noises under forward braking. Now I know that the former is probably just a fulty interlock and the latter is not that unusual for a Leyland, but how does it look to Joe Public, especially when the vehicles look down at heel, too.

    It's going to be a mamouth task, I do hope you succeed, though!

  38. This is all good and interesting stuff.

    I will say once again that no-one is claiming that everything is perfect, and I said in my original post and again in my comments above that there are many areas where we have a great deal of work to do.

    Some people may find comfort in harking back to incidents that occurred over three years ago as evidence that we are somehow an unfit operator, but I can't do anything about that - all I can work with is what is there now, and that is a compliant operator with an excellent recent run of MOT results and VOSA spot check results, and lots of loyal, positive staff like my anonymous colleague on here who want to be part of taking the company onto greater things.

    But Jeff T displays great insight when he talks about snatching defeat (and indeed his whole comment, because every word he says hits the nail on the head), because I can wax lyrical all day - and truthfully - about our much improved maintenance record, but it will always be hard to make the case when a J-reg Olympian masquerading as a moquette showroom is what many of our customers see on a daily basis.

    So no-one is denying that there is a fleet investment issue to be sorted along the way, and it is also clear that we have issues of presentation and reliability to resolve on 218. This is a long way from being the showcase product it really ought to be, but I can reassure all those who have made valid criticisms that we are well aware of the issues here, and this route is high on our list for attention.

    There won't be any knee jerk 'quick fixes' though - I won't be taking any retired ex-London double decks because they wouldn't last five minutes in all day service in the Peak District; reliability would fall through the floor. Instead we will evaluate what changes we need to make for the long term success of the product and proceed accordingly.

  39. Reliability would fall through the floor? Er...

  40. Hi Mr Stockley. Whatever people's personal views of TM I think there is a consensus proven by evidence from many years ago right up to the present day that there has been and continues to be a serious problem with service reliability brought about largely by a lack of investment in the fleet.

    I wonder whether or not this is symptomatic of an industry wide problem. Since the Concessionary Bus Travel Act was introduced in 2007 bus operators such as TM have been subsidising the fares of over 11 million pass holders throughout the country, being paid only a few pence per passenger by the relevant local authority and having to subsidise the rest of the fare by either increasing the bus fares of hard working people who make a contribution to society, or by cutting back on maintenance and fleet renewal.

    The vast majority of these free pass holders believe that they have already paid for their entitlement (they haven't) and that bus companies are properly reimbursed for the list revenue (they're not).

    Do you think that free pass holders are a cancer to the industry, taking free or scenic journeys that are completely unnecessary, leeching off bus operators such as TM and trying to justify their irresponsibility by saying if it wasn't for them the bus companies wouldn't have any work whereas in fact if it wasn't for the bus companies subsidising their fares they would be paying full fare (this is the only industry on the planet where businesses are obliged in law to give away products or services for below cost reimbursement)?

    Or do you think that it is right that private enterprises and hardworking taxpayers have a responsibility to ensure that even the dregs of society can integrate and use bus services like everyone else, regardless of cost?

  41. 'There won't be any knee jerk 'quick fixes' though - I won't be taking any retired ex-London double decks because they wouldn't last five minutes in all day service in the Peak District; reliability would fall through the floor. '

    I would have thought floor level would be a target !!!

  42. i travel on tm services a lot and let me tell you some of the busses are a joke and as for the drivers on the sheffield routes are grim

    good luck please make a difference

  43. Has a regular user of your Bolsover town (b2) service i would just like to mention what a delight the 2 regular drivers who do half a week each on that route are they are always on time and polite and can never do enough for us lets say mature passengers i hope to they will be on here for a long time to come has many drivers that do it has a 1 off day just seem to grunt and moan . The past few weeks i have noticed the buses smell very fragrant which is a delight and a most pleasant change to the normal sweaty smell of buses . Also the buses that we now get are much better than we was getting a few months ago we used to get double deck buses with big steps now we get the low floor buses it much simpler getting on and off.

  44. nothing on here for over a month, have you realised the challenge is too great and gone home or have you been working so hard there's not time to report on progress, not that we've seen a great deal yet.

  45. Ah sorry, didn't realise I was on a deadline! Seriously though I've been meaning to post for a while but time is indeed at a premium. Happy to report that there is lots going on and the challenge remains as exciting as ever. You're right, I haven't changed the world in a month, and that's deliberate because I've learnt the hard way in other places that it pays to play the long game and make the structural changes that are necessary behind the scenes first, rather than playing for quick wins and cheap headlines which turn out to be mere window dressing. But have no fear, there is plenty to look forward to!

  46. Oh Phil!

    I have just stumbled upon the blog quite accidentally.

    While you need no-one to ‘stand your corner’ in any aspect of your work, I feel I must contribute to this post purely as a non ‘bus’ man, a non-resident of some place ‘oop norf’, a non-resident of Eastleigh but most importantly a past employee of Velvet.

    To those who read this, I am a coaching man who from leaving school has worked for some pretty high-end coach companies.

    Armchair Traffic Managers, enthusiasts, customers and competitors’ staff listen up and pay attention to what I have to say:

    I have known PS for a number of years. During this time I’ve learned and most importantly seen evidence that:

    Phil loves a challenge and like a rabid Pit-Bull Terrier, he will not give in until the task is completed successfully.

    Velvet staff (from the top down), share the vision of the Board. This is only achieved by Phil’s unique, pastoral style of management. Glad fools don’t last long; loyal hard workers are rewarded by exceptionally good wages and friendly working conditions.

    Velvet rolling stock is by no means fresh off the production line. However, the livery is vibrant, current and maintenance is first rate. Vehicle wise, I am a hard Driver to please but Leyland Olympians were regularly allocated to me on 300 mile round trip Private Hire duties and never missed an L10 heartbeat.

    So with staff and rolling stock taken care of above, that really only leaves Customer Service. Well, Armchair Traffic Managers, enthusiasts and competitor’s staff, believe the hype! I’ve never experienced customer service like the service customers receive at Velvet.

    Basic things like putting a vehicle on the stand ten minutes before departure. Departing crews taking fares of passengers for their impending colleague’s trip as to minimise disruption to their passengers. Staff gladly helping the public to find buses not only of Velvet branding but their competitors also, going the extra mile time and time again. Even extra buses put in the loop when unexpected delays occur.

    All too good to be true? One would think? My advice, take a trip down to the Borough of Eastleigh and see for yourself. Not only is there a truly wonderful McDonalds in the town centre but you can catch a bus there that’s on time, clean, driven with care by a friendly crew and filled with passengers who value and almost love the service that is provided for their needs; the buses are purple in colour.

    One could also wonder Phil, how many of your critics will bang on your door (cap in hand) for a job when they get sent to the dance (The REDUNdance)?

    If TM Travel enjoys only 10% of what you have deservedly achieved at BVT then your job is done. But knowing you as I do, you will not be satisfied until that figure is 100% (with room for improvement after that).

  47. Phil, your ex employee ought to advise your drivers on some of his points.
    like the one on the 218 yesterday (i'm not saying which one, i'm not going to get him in trouble) who pulled on the 218 stand nearly 5 minutes late to load the 50 or so of us that were there, and then you wonder why we got to Bakewell over 30 minutes late !!

    you still have a lot of work to do my friend.

  48. I use the 218 frequently and to be honest I see the main issues as things that are out of the control of TM Travel.Yes I will agree that the vehicles are not the best in the world, but give or take a few trips I have always got where I wanted to go.
    Road conditions seem to be an issue frequently,with drivers constantly having battle through conditions that can only be described as dire.
    The comment from Anon on 1st of december is a little confusing, surely if the trip you refer to would have been late regardless, if it arrived 5 minutes late and got to its destination 30 minutes late then arriving on time would have meant it would have still got to its destination late.
    I am aware that there are strict guidlines regarding services arriving on the stand early in sheffield,so I would imagine the drivers only have a small window to board passengers (3 minutes im told).

  49. Hi Phil,

    Good luck with the job I use TM Travel service 218 and on the whole ave found it reliable enough.

    The main points I would raise would be: -

    1. The 218 route I believe could have the scope for expansion to passenger numbers; if TM Travel invested in some new buses with route branding and ran an increased frequency daytime I am sure you would get more passengers and not just from walkers; the 97/98 First service can be rather unreliable so a half hourly 218 I am sure would attract some passengers using it as far as Totley.

    2. Could we please have an 1820 departure from Baslow to Sheffeld Monday to Friday because the 1810 is too early for myself and others who work in the area, and if the 1855 is not funded after next year will mean a wait until nearly 8pm until the next bus.

    3. Have you thought about sending some promotional stuff to the universities in Sheffield - many students I know love the peak distict but do not have any knowledge of the bus routes to and from it - some promotional work could bring in some business for the 218.

    4. Ticket offers - have you thought about negotiaiting with SYPTE to set up a combined day / week ticket for use in Derbyshire / Sheffield.

    Would be interested to hear your views on these points especially the retiming the 1810 from Baslow to Sheffield to 1820.