One of the universal criticisms of Go Ahead when they took over Anglianbus was thus: "You cannot run a rural depot like a London depot" Ultimately that proved to be correct as Anglian no longer exist. On Friday I travelled to Reading, which although could hardly be called rural is further away from London than my old stamping ground of Gillingham in Kent is. I had been invited to take a look round the home of Reading Buses, and must confess had been counting the days.
I had the opportunity to observe proceedings outside Reading Station for half an hour and must say it is a good place to watch buses. The sun was shining for once, and I got to really appreciate the diversity of colours and liveries that Reading Buses employ, and that every single one of them is subtle, even the brighter colours. Nothing is in your face or garish, and huge credit has to go to Ray Stenning and his Creating Desire team. I also spotted a former celebrity. Remember the famous Bristol "Poo Bus"? Originally a Scania gas bus demonstrator that saw a few weeks with Anglian. it made national headlines when it was revealed tat it had been converted to run on human waste in Bristol. Now back to its original form it is just one of Reading Buses' gas fleet with the appropriate registration BU52 GAS.
|Former Poo Bus in Reading|
From the moment I walked through the door one word was to dominate my thoughts, that word being "nice". I can't think of another occasion where the thought "oh, that's nice" went through my head more often than it did on Friday. Take the waiting area at reception, for example.
|The waiting area at Reading Buses|
|The info wall in the control room|
I was showed the weekly, yes weekly internal newsletter, which contains everything from route changes to fleet news, to customer feedback - positive and negative - to driver achievements, retirements, to welcoming new recruits, the forthcoming week's canteen menu and much else. Anyone can contribute and it also provides a good vehicle for those little messages that would otherwise go on haughty notices. Another really nice touch.
Martijn then took me to the workshops, of which more later, but let's just say the main workshop is gothic! Easily big enough to house a Jumbo Jet the scope for development is huge, of which again more later.
|Just one side of the main workshop.|
|the contrasting liveries|
|Before and after interiors|
It was lunchtime, and Martijn had a full engagement diary, so he left me in the capable hands of - hang on need to get this right - Head of Engineering & Innovation, John Bickerton. Not before organising lunch though, and if you ever wondered what a dynamic bus boss has for lunch I can tell you it's a fish finger sandwich! Seemed right, somehow. John and I plumped for chicken and chips and retired to his office, where we were looked after by the lovely Linda, who put up with my extreme fussiness (no beans/peas/custard please) with a big smile on her face, masking whatever she was thinking. Just something else that was nice!
I had got to know John a little on Twitter, but there is nothing like a face to face chat, and John is one of those people you like instantly, and could just sit back and listen to. John previously worked for Cosworth developing Formula 1 engines and confesses to not being a "bus person" though who he was trying to kid is anyone's guess! He maybe a bus person in a totally objective way, but if you're not interested in the objects you care for you couldn't do anything like the job John does. His attention to detail borders on the obsessive, which is no bad thing. He despises rattles, which makes us blood brothers anyway, and wants everything perfect, yet goes about it in a jovial, relaxed and seemingly stress free way. Again it could be swan syndrome (all seems calm to the eye but don't look under the water) but I don't think so. It gave the impression of someone loving his job, with full confidence in his workforce to get the job done, knowing he has the scope and freedom to utilise the innovation side of his role. A happy bunny!
John gave me a more extensive tour of the engineering side, and again demonstrated the way employees are made to feel part of the team. There is a machine shop, where anyone is permitted to bring in projects from home, as long as they can be carried in. That keeps the machines from suffering from under use, which John said was a bigger threat than any damage that might be caused. The team are happy to refill staff's car air conditioning, a gesture of goodwill that in turn generates goodwill, which reaps its own benefits. Just another way staff can feel they're not restricted to just their particular department.
|The other side of the main workshop.|