Well clearly not, anyone will tell you that. There's no such thing as a village McDonald's, and you don't see many combine harvesters in St Steven's St in Norwich. But they are just superficial differences. The real differences between city and rural life are a little more subtle, and having grown up in a Kent village, lived in London and now a Suffolk outpost I know the best and worst aspects of both ways of life. Hang on in here - this really is leading somewhere.
Hands up those of you who live in a town or city who know 10 of your neighbours - I mean really know them to the extent you'd investgate if you didn't notice them on their usual routine, or notice the bins hadn't been put out etc. I lived in a Kent coastal town for 5 years and never met my neighbours once. When I've lived in towns I've known very few people. However in my home village down in Kent, and particularly when I moved to Wickham Market it took some getting used to when total strangers started saying hello and being friendly. That does NOT happen in Battersea! City folks call it being nosey. Villagers call it looking out for each other.
In the country spontaneity is less readily available. If you run out of milk there isn't a Tesco Express down the road - you hope and pray the village shop (which charges 8 times more than Tesco) is still open at 5.30pm. You make sure you fill up with petrol on the way home as the nearest petrol station is 8 miles away. You might have 2 or 3 buses a day if you're lucky (I have 4 a week). Planning ahead is a necessity. But in the majorty of villages everyone knows everyone else to an extent. In fact people born and bred in the country know everyone in neighbouring villages too. There is far more sense of community, and that applies to public transport too, buses in particular.
One thing country people like is familiarity. If something or someone is good they want to stick to it. I am still getting emails from people who want a bus service restored that was withdrawn over two years ago - but not just the service the drivers too. I know how they feel. We have a regular driver on our little 196 that comes through here 4 times a week. He is quite superb. At first, being Romanian he could barely speak a word of english, but even then you could time your watch by him. Now his english is greatly improved - enough to have a joke with - and you can still time your watch by him. Two mnutes late and I think something has gone badly wrong! All the old girls love him as he is only too happy to lift shopping trolleys on and off the bus, and stop outside front doors. He is not the only one like that.
When Anglian scrapped the 62 earlier this year there was a lot of disappointment at the route going, but also a lot of sadness from passengers that they wouldn't see their regular driver again. Put quite simply on country routes the bus and the driver become part of the community as they are such a vital link to some people. This doesn't happen in big cities where buses are every 10 minutes. The country love of familiarity extends to those supplying services. Change is almost resented.
So you would have thought it would be folly to attempt to run a country bus depot the same as a London depot. Surely that couldn't work could it? Well that is exactly what Go-ahead have been trying to do at Anglian for the last few months and in my personal opinion - and remember this blog is only MY personal opinion - it could spell disaster. A rural depot doesn't just serve rural people it is STAFFED by rural people too. They also appreciate familarity and routine and hate change just as much.
Anglian currently want to introdice a rolling roster. Now of course they are commonplace within big companies. I've worked on enough of them, but I have also worked set shifts and I much preferred that system. In London I swapped for one duty as much as I could. Obviously it had to be a duty people were happy to get rid of so my hours were pretty long, but getting to know regulars made the day go a lot quicker. Down in Maidstone there were drivers who did the same thing day in day out, and if I ever covered them would be inundated with questions as to where the regular driver was.
Andrew Pursey knew this when he started expanding Anglian. Rather than familiarity breeding contempt Andrew knew, and still does that familiarity within country folk breeds loyalty and confidence. Did the good folk of Kessingland stick to Anglian when First re-introduced the 99 because they preferred gas buses? Of course not - they knew the drivers as they saw them on the same bus everyday and wanted to stick with them. Now Anglian want a system where no one will know which driver they are going to get from one day to another. That works in cities, where the nly thing people care about is the bus turning up, but as my emails show not in the sticks. I've never seen city drivers being given jars of homemade jam, or a bag of tomatoes freshly picked from the garden. I have out here.
If Anglian go ahead (no pun intended) with their plan for rolling rotas it will alienate passengers and drivers alike. There are many drivers who are settled on a set duty - and let's face it - as long as they are reliable and turn up all the time that is a duty that doesn't have to be worried about. Anglian have had a big problems retaining drivers over the last 18 months and I fear this move will spark an exodus. Remember country folk are country folk regardless of if they are passengers or staff. The trouble is only country folk know this. Managers and directors living in cities have no idea of the mindset of country people - they are just nosey so-and-sos remember, and so assume no one gives a damn who drives their bus. Well they do. You only need to travel on the infrequent country routes to discover that.
There are many aspects of a city depot that could easily be introduced to a rural depot - running numbers (carline), ticket machines able to receive messages for drivers, computerised filing/maintenance etc but when it comes to the people involved in a rural depot change them at your peril. If a country passenger is happy with a service they will organise their life around that service. If a driver is happy with his or her duty he will be reliable. If his or her passengers get on with a big smile and bag of tomatoes you have a happy driver. Alienate either party, and as is the case with country people you will never win them back. The next 3 months could be make or break for Anglian. I hope common sense prevails, as does the status quo. Maybe management at Go-ahead should remind themselves of the reasons they wanted to buy Anglian in the first place.
This week I will be visiting one of my regular minibus drivers, who sadly had a heart attack last week. We have become good friends purely because he is a regular driver on regular days, and yes just the anticipation of having a good natter with him is enough to get me to book the bus sometimes on a day I wouldn't normally have gone out. He's going to be ok thank God, but off work for a few weeks. How many would notice if a First driver wasn't around for a few weeks?
So are city and country the same? No. They couldn't be more different to each other, and failure to recognise that in a business sense could prove fatal.