Saturday 25 October 2014

Anniversary Special: Interview With Andrew Pursey

It's fair to say I would ideally have entitled this post "And now for something completely different", because this is one of the most different, and pleasantly difficult posts I've ever had to write.

I was looking forward to meeting Andrew Pursey, who it is fair to say I'm a bit of a fan of. It is he who purchased the MAN Ecocity Gas Buses for Anglian, which earns him a place in my own personal Hall of Fame anyway, started a new route in the village I lived in at the time before it was summarily, and in my view in a rather kneejerk way, zapped the moment he left Anglian, and was responsible for building Anglian Bus into a company of the size and stature that a major company like Go-Ahead would want to purchase. That is quite a legacy, and over the last 6 months or so his new company Borderbus have quietly yet effectively slotted themselves into the local bus scene.

And so at 1350 I caught one of their smart E200's on the 146 from Norwich. By lucky chance that one runs into the depot (until November when it won't), so I was taken by one of the area's friendliest drivers, Malcolm, up to Ellough, and taken straight through to meet the man himself.

BB62 BUS at St Stephen's St a couple of weeks ago
As I walked into the building I could sense something and couldn't quite put my finger on it. It took a bit of time before it hit me what it was. It was contentment. Peace and tranquility, almost relaxation. Not something I have experienced many times at a bus depot in the 35 years I've been involved one way or another with them. Let me explain why this Utopian state exists.

When Andrew Pursey left Anglian after a year of working with Go-Ahead he had no intention whatsoever of starting another company. Life was his to enjoy, and enjoy it he did. Right until, as he told me, the kids went back to school and he was left twiddling his thumbs. After all "there are only so many times you can mow the lawn". And so proving that once transport is in your blood it never leaves it Borderbus was created and a couple of buses purchased for Sir John Leman High School work in Beccles. Or rather three buses purchased, as was explained: If you need two buses, only have two buses and one of them breaks down you're a bit buggered so the third was bought as cover. The strategy paid off, work increased, and now Borderbus carry over 400 children a day in 6 Plaxton President Volvo B7tl's to and from John Leman, with vehicles dedicated to the school and even advertising school events.

A mobile school noticeboard. That is flash!!
Of course one man can't do it all on his own, and Andrew brought along Dave Marshall, former Chief Engineer at Anglian to do the maintainence side of things. Borderbus's vehicles have turned out to be incredibly reliable, which means Dave is another smiling chap, although I suspect the reliabilty is down to his hard work in the first place. Drivers wanting to work with Andrew again followed, and a team was formed.

The first public service arrived in April with the contract won to operate the 521 between Halesworth and Aldeburgh, sponsored by Suffolk County Council. After much thought and evaluation it was decided to get a little E200, brand new at a cost of £114,000. Ouch. But apparently the little bus (should be called Bertie after the bus in Thomas the Tank Engine) hasn't missed a beat. Part of the contract was to employ the former Nightingale's drivers on the route and that too has proved to be a great success.

The success of the school work meant that Andrew could indulge himself, and look at starting a commercial route up. It was decided to run the 146 from Southwold to Norwich, deliberately targeting the more senior passengers, as their peak travelling time fell quite nicely in the gap between school runs. I was pretty quick to criticse the lack of afternoon runs during school term when I saw the timetable but now I know the audience Andrew is targeting it actually makes sense. The more extended timetable operated in the Summer proved such a success that new journeys are being introduced from November, and thanks to another achool contract an Enviro 300 has been acquired, which will occasionally see 146 work too.

The fleet of Plaxton President bodied Volvo B7tl's for Sir John Leman High School
And that's just about it! No stress, no unhappiness, no huge turnover of staff - in fact the majority of staff have been working together for over 20 years and it truly has that family feeling. There is no pressure to expand either, in fact Andrew rather determinedly stated that he has no intention whatsoever to ever have a fleet of more than 20 buses. Obviously he won't look a gift horse in the mouth if one presents itself, but if Borderbus stays the same for the next 5 years you get the impression that everyone will be happy as Larry. It's as though they have done their time in the rat race, and management and drivers are now just taking it easy, relaxing after a hard career. And that is what has made this post so hard, yet enjoyable to write.There is so little to write about because the company is ticking over with no fuss, no bother, no targets or quotas set by up high to achieve, no multiple absentees everyday and no pressure to economise, develop or justify every single action. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, and hope it won't be the last, although future visits will be for my own pleasure, not to get a good post from!

Dave Marshall cheerfully took me back to Lowestoft in the sparkling company maintainence van, not seeming to notice the horrendous Friday afternnon Lowestoft traffic, just saying how happy he was with life, as everyone seems to be there. What a great way to finish the first anniversary of this blog.

Before I left I told Andrew that this would be a hard post to write and I only had four words in my head to write. Maybe it's right that I finish with those four words, as they came to mind while I was watching and listening to Andrew proudly talk about his company as others would talk about their child's achievements at school.

"He's a happy bunny!"

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