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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Special Post - Meeting With Matthew Arnold

Had you been walking through the old Pentagon Bus Station in Chatham 35 years ago at around 8am you would probably have seen a couple of schoolboys frantically finishing their homework, normally Maths or French, resting on the not yet open sweet stall. These two boys would also be keeping a very close eye on Bay 15 of said Bus Station, making sure that the opportunity of a ride on a favourite vehicle, or a chat with one of the numerous drivers they knew didn't go unnoticed.

Fast forward those 35 years and those same now fast approaching 50yo boys are chatting about buses over a hot drink in Maidstone as though the time had evaporated. However the two lives have gone in different directions before touching all too briefly again yesterday. One of them is awaiting yet another eye operation and passes the time by writing a few words about transport and winding up other enthusiasts. The other has come up through the ranks and is now Area Chairman of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which is the industry's  social club, so to speak, where the great and the good in transport get together for a good chinwag, and at times come together to protest against a common enemy.

Matthew Arnold isn't a name that will mean too much to many of those reading this, but believe me there isn't much he hasn't done. He started in the transport industry with London Country in the scheduling department, and also did a bit of part time coaching with West Kingsdown Coaches, and other coach companies in Kent and Sussex. He has worked for Virgin Atlantic, spending 100% of his time there chatting up air hostesses, and run his own bus company before selling it and moving toTfL at their head office at 55 Broadway. It was one morning while on the commute that Matthew learned via a phonecall from his wife he was going to be a dad - in the guard's van of the train I was working up to London! I don't think either of us will forget that moment! After leaving TfL Matthew joined Arriva.  He is now Commercial Manager based at Arriva Southern Counties HQ in Maidstone covering an area from Ipswich to Camberley

Arriva Maidstone 7008 Volvo B5LH Gemini 2 KX13 AVO. Kings Hill is the site of the old West Malling airfield
It must be said the most of our chat was about the old days, characters we had known, and plenty of anecdotes. However we got onto the subject of Borismasters and there was a big difference of opinion. You will all know by now that I am a massive fan of the Borismaster. I know they are expensive but in my view they are beginning to prove themselves. That is my view as a passenger and rattle hater! But Matthew looks at them from a purely industry view as they have less capacity than conventional deckers, and are longer and heavier.

However, it seems the industry are united about one thing - the engine itself. Now I have to admit all this Euro 5 engine and Euro 6 engine talk leaves my eyes a bit glazed but basically it's down to emissions - Matthew told me that a Euro 6 engine has a little wizard in it that turns the air the engine pumps out cleaner than the air it sucks in. Very clever - wish my cooker was fitted with one. TfL think so too, which is why their new Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ), which they are consuting on and which is planned to come into force in 2020, is going to demand that all PCVs entering the zone must be fitted with an Euro 6 engine. With one exception. The Borismasters have an Euro 5 engine, which is clean but not clean enough for other companies who won't be abe to enter the EEZ unless they want to pay a handsome fine for the privilege.. The Borismasters, however won't be affected and only TfL funded Borismasters will be allowed in the EEZ with anything less than a Euro 6 engine.

Now the CPT are a little nonplussed about this. Smaller coach companies who have been operating in London for decades now suddenly have to replace their coach fleets in under 5 years, which most companies do so on an 8 - 10 year programme. So why should their investments be any less respected than TfL's? What about foreign coaches? It's a good story this one, and I think one to watch over the next few months to see if the CPT can force TfL's hand into concessions. There has to be a compromise somewhere surely.

Matthew does redeem himself, however. Having gone to town over the Borismaster he then proclaimed that the best bus ever built ever was the Volvo Olympian. I cant argue with that, even if I personally prefer the old Leyland Ollies with the Cummins engine. The sound of one of those engines is like a Beethoven symphony to me which gives me the perfect opportunity to show you one I saw yesterday in the open sided Igloo that is the new Chatham Bus Station!

Nu-Venture's ex Lothian and Central Connect Leyland Olympian 3558 RU (formerly F359WSC)
We did talk about current policies such as the 50km rule. I was saddened to see one of my favourite routes as a boy has all but disappeared. I have happy memories of the 5 between Maidstone and Hastings - at one point it even extended to Gillingham - but now it runs to Sandhurst near Hawkhurst, where a change of service and bus is required to get to Hastings. Very sad. We also talked about branding, and Matthew reminded me that in Medway a few years ago they had colour branding for their routes, under the "Mainline" flag. It was dropped after not too long as buses were being put on the wrong routes and it looked daft, particularly on Sundays when they did multiple route workings. You can fill in the next sentence yourselves!

Matthew currently plays many roles within Arriva, and it was a real joy to meet up yesterday and relive the past a bit. I'm so happy to see my old detention partner doing so well for himself and in the next post I'll concentrate on some of the services and Vehciles Matthew has been instrumental in bringing to the part of Kent we spent hours talking about what we'd do to the bus services given the chance as boys, and now he's got to do it for real. 

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