Thursday 23 October 2014

Anniversary Special: Interview With Chris Speed Part One

Tuesday was a busy day for me. No sooner had I left Anglian Bus's depot in Beccles than I caught the 81 to Yarmouth for a meeting with Chris Speed, Business Manager for First Eastern Counties. Chris is truly a man after my own heart as he said he didn't mind where we went for the chat as long as he could see the buses. Suits me, sir, so we headed for the Troll Cart where the conversation was regularly temporarily halted by two pairs of eye swivelling round to see some six wheeled animal going past!

Obviously after the events in Norwich the previous evening the first subject up for discussion was colours. Never have eyes been so rolled as when I mentioned repainted the Purple President making its debut on the Red Line. If you haven't seen my mickey taking post click here. I apologised for laughing so much and to his great credit Chris was highly magnanimous. Obviously there was a logical reason for its appearance being the only bus available and it was only out for 90 mins, but it was still an opportunity not to be missed. I advise all bloggers to take note of what follows as it does rather supply a template for the future. Chris said he had no problem whatsoever with facts being reported - regardless of how they are reported as long as they are facts - things that have happened. It was fact that a Purple bus had made its debut on the Red route and so there were no complaints about it being reported. However, what gets up his nose is when untruths are published, such as buses missing or groups of drivers waiting for absent buses to turn up.

We spoke a lot about Norwich, which is clearly going to be the centre of attention for the next year or so. It is acknowledged all round that the fleet needs updating. The initial repaints are basically a stop gap to smarten everything up until vehicles are eventually replaced, and that led me to enquire as to the cost of a repaint. I quite like the programme Wheeler Dealers, where two guys buy classic vehicles in sorry states,and do them up making a profit. Nearly everything gets a repaint, and the cost always seems to be around the £1500 mark. I suggest that is a bit of a rip off as Chris told me that at Rotherham a single deck repaint costs around £1500 and a double decker £2000. To put that into perspective the original vinyls on Anglian's gas buses cost £2000 a time. So to repaint the entire Norwich fleet wiul cost far less than one brand new bus, and if you look at it that way it doesn't seem too bad.

One of my better pictures of the year - VA479 at Ipswich Stastion
But what of new buses. Of all news that everyone wants to get out first the knowledge of new buses is right up there, and I'm delighted to reveal. . . . . erm . . . . . . . absolutely nothing! The Streelites are finally due in a couple of weeks and I thought I had been given a scoop from a Norwich driver on Monday who told me about an impending delivery of new vehicles next year. but apparently not, as Chris told me no one has a Scooby what, if anything is coming. The hope is for the already published 50 vehicles, but nothing is confirmed yet. And they could be anything depending on the national budget for new vehicles, and what else might take priority, such as a new Park and Ride contract elsewhere in the country. I do have to say that I find that a strange way to operate, and must make planning impossibly difficult. It is a bit chicken and egg - new buses can generate extra profit but if the profit isn't there already you might not get the new buses. However, if there are new vehicles next year some will be for the Blue Line to the University and will be delivered already with the Blue Line livery. Incidentally the reason the Purple Line is being done first is as the Streetlites form part of the Purple Line, although not painted purple, they will be in new livery, so the Purple Line will be the first to have all repainted vehicles. Except when a Turquoise Line bus goes on it of course!!!

I don't envy Chris his job whatsoever with regard to Norwich. It could easily turn into a damned if he does damned if he doesn't job if the support and investment from up high isn't forthcoming. The danger is that Norwich will become a city of extremely colourful, highly polished turds that will look brilliant if you don't have to get on them. I must add that Chris was extremely disdainful about the Volvo B7l's, Scanias of a similar age, and the quality of the seating in both. Maybe Aberdeen should be quite relieved that they haven't given Chris an open chequebook. Everyone else would love it but I don't think they would!

34111 seen on an X1 in August - I'll have good news about the Olympians in Part Two
In Part Two I'll report on what was discussed about other parts of the region, including wheel cleaning at Ipswich, WiFi issues on X1, just how long will the Ollies stay in service at Yarmouth, and a rather intriguing hint about the X2 that I failed utterly to latch on to!


  1. Thought my deleted comment sounded too critical, which wasn't the intention. Congratulations to Chris and his colleagues on what I perceive is a sound, even clever, local strategy - well for the FEC part at least! I'd have liked a hint of where we are in the First league tables of bums and profitability: top (not, I'm pretty certain, too low population and too much competition), middling or nearer the bottom - which would be sad but what can be done about it, locally?

    But is that it for the "transformation" locally in the East? I do worry about First Group, corporately. Clearly they have financial objectives, but as for a medium term Corporate Strategy, it looks conspicuous by its absence, and as for where the East of England sits in it???? What do they want? (A Chairman, to replace the new one, who's leaving; obviously. But what else?

  2. I'm surprised heritage liveries were not discussed Steve. If I remember rightly there's was talk of a Yarmouth version some months back?

    1. I'll be covering that in part two, buddy - should be up tomorrow.