Preston Bus - A New Era

Rotala - an AIM-listed plc - has its heartland in the West Midlands, with bus companies Black Diamond, Red Diamond and Blue Diamond, together with the Hallmark and Flights coach businesses. It has subsidiary enterprises in the south east (around Heathrow) and south west (around Bristol); its arrival in Preston marks new territory.

The ground rules of the Rotala business are distinct key elements - safety, legal compliance, quality, respect for people, and profitability.

The company had a clear strategy of what it wanted to achieve within the first hundred days and beyond. Many of the back-office systems wanted updating, and the business needed to be financially integrated with the rest of Rotala. Other challenges continued to be thrown up from outside the company: just before the sale to Rotala it was announced Lancashire County Council (LCC) was to end its funding of the non- commercial part of Preston Orbit; Park & Ride was operating at a financial loss; LCC further announced its decision to abandon the real-time passenger information system (installed only a few years earlier), and to cut concessionary travel reimbursement payments.

Managing Director Bob Dunn has a wealth of experience and success within the industry. Bob first made extensive efforts to meet all the Preston Bus staff - not solely with meetings and an 'open door’ policy, but also by getting around the business on a regular basis. At Preston Bus our staff are vitally important in our development and prosperity; it’s equally important that everyone pulls together in the right direction.

It is essential Preston Bus has a strong brand image associated with quality and customer service. Quickly a new leather-seated Mercedes-Benz Citaro in fresh livery was launched to signify changes to come. Following positive customer reaction our stylish new livery, designed by Rotala, continues to roll out across the fleet.

In-house marketing and training functions have been introduced to ensure designated standards are measured, monitored, maintained and improved. Staff have been kitted out with new Preston Bus uniforms to promote pride in their appearance. Continuous training and mentoring is used to ensure and encourage personal development.

Another focus point was the Preston Bus presence on a bus station that clearly needed some 'TLC’, following many years of neglect. Bays were re-branded, painting undertaken, improved information introduced and windows cleaned. Negotiations with the City council are nearly concluded for a new enclosed Travel Information Office to be opened.

2011 has also seen the replacement of older stepped-entrance double deck buses with seven newer low-floored double deck vehicles, to operate on school contracts. We felt it important contracted school journeys should be afforded the same consideration of quality and comfort enjoyed by our commercial customers.

Continuing our aim of delivering sustainable quality passenger transport to the people of Preston, seven brand new high specification Optare Versa Hybrid buses are on the way. With well-appointed interiors and advanced engines they will provide a quieter, smoother ride and reduce the company’s carbon footprint, emitting 40% less CO2 than standard buses.

'Ecomanager’ fuel efficiency systems are due to be fitted to the entire Preston Bus fleet. The new technology and safer, smoother driving techniques achieved with advanced training will achieve noteable fuel savings.

Significant investment has been placed in new smartcard enabled ticketing, due to go live early in the new year. Our goal is to introduce commercial, innovative and versatile smart card products enabling customers to do far more than travel on buses. Our new ticket machines also have a 'chip’ enabling a 'real time system information system,’ soon to be re-introduced across computer and mobile phones networks.

More investment is taking place in our engineering facilities at Deepdale, helping secure the Depot’s role in the future of Preston Bus and Rotala. Investing in the future is vital to our business, and not just in equipment and buses, important though they are. In 2011 we established apprenticeships in both engineering and driving and expect to continue this as a long-term strategy, producing highly qualified, motivated personnel to help carry Preston Bus forward.

Preston Bus, in partnership with Preston City Council, stabilised the future of the Orbit service and has successfully regained the Park & Ride service through LCC’s competitive tendering process.

A lot of work has been put in behind the scenes at Preston Bus to develop the company during the first months of Rotala ownership. There much more to achieve but the journey has begun…