- June 28, 2013
Brighton and Hove Buses and Metrobus in Crawley are to be merged by parent company Go Ahead.
The merged business will be run by Martin Harris, who took over from Roger French as managing director of Brighton and Hove Buses ten weeks ago.
Mr French and Mr Harris worked together in the 1980s and the recently retired Metrobus boss Alan Inkwell was another member of the Brighton and Hove management team alongside the pair.
Mr Harris will take over responsibility for Metrobus from Monday (1 July).
He told a Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce business breakfast that he would be “looking at how people come into the city”.
With plenty of people travelling between the Brighton and Hove area and the Crawley and Gatwick area, there should be a number of opportunities to help passengers and boost business.
Mr Harris told the Chamber breakfast at Carluccio’s, in Jubilee Street, Brighton, that he was keen to bring in simpler pricing and deals for apprentices and jobseekers.
He said: “We need to get the pricing right.” And he added that he was mindful of families comparing the cost of travelling into Brighton by bus and the cost of driving in and parking in Churchill Square instead.
He wanted to make more use of new technology to reduce delays as passengers boarded buses which would speed up journey times.
Regardless of technology, for example, scratchcards v mobile phones, he said that cheaper pre-paid tickets helped.
Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) boss Andy Winter, who was in the audience, said that higher cash fares discriminated against the poorest people in society. He said that they were the least able to pay for fares upfront or to own and use the latest technology.
Mr Harris said: “I’m mindful of those people and we’re looking at ways to help them.
“But we want to move to a one-off price if you pay in advance and to encourage that instead of cash, in line with most advanced cities.
“We don’t want to say: ‘Cash? Oh no!’ We don’t ever want to turn away business.”
Tom Druitt, who runs the rival Big Lemon, asked whether he would work with competitors so that passengers could buy one ticket for journeys involving buses run by more than one operator.
Mr Harris said: “We’ve got to get there and we’ve got to get there fairly fast if we want to keep people onside.
“One way might be to open up our own systems, with measures to protect smaller operators.
He said that his team were talking with Brighton and Hove City Council, adding: “I’m 100 per cent in favour of it and I would advocate cheap and quick solutions.”
Mr Druitt said: “It was a good answer. It was definitely what I wanted to hear.”
Mr Harris said that Brighton and Hove Buses was also talking to the council about upgrading the real-time signs at bus stops.
While more people were using their mobile phones and similar devices to find out where their bus was, he added: “The signs at the bus stops create visibility and awareness.”
Digital entrepreneur Greg Hadfield asked whether the bus company would share more information using increasingly common open data protocols.
Mr Harris said: “There’s some openness already. People can go online and see where their bus is.”
He said that the bus company was already working with techies and the Department for Transport to make information more accessible.
Developments announced in the coming weeks would, he said, make it easier, for example, to join up journeys from buses to trains.
And he added that his company was working with Ricardo in Shoreham to look at ways of ensuring the bus fleet became more environmentally friendly.
He would talk with the council about ways to micro-manage some junctions such as the top of North Street. Given concerns about pollution, changes could help improve air quality, he said, as well as punctuality.
He called for more to be done to make bus travel easier around the area, including bus lanes in Edward Street.
And he backed the introduction of 20mph speed limits in the central parts of Brighton and Hove but sounded less enthusiastic about the next phase.
He said that while 20mph might be a suitable limit in the suburbs, he wanted the 30mph limit to be retained on roads linking the estates and the city centre.
Time trials had been conducted, he said, and these showed a marked difference to journey times if buses kept to the lower speed limit.
Mr Harris also said: “For many years we haven’t had commercial advertising on our buses. We’ve used that space to promote what we’re doing. I’m going to open that space up, perhaps to promote destinations.
“I’m going to dip our toe in the water this autumn and allow people to promote their businesses on the back of our buses and maybe later on the sides.”
As an Everton fan, Mr Harris said that he had been asked what advice he would give David Moyes on following in the footsteps of Sir Alex Ferguson.
He said: “That would be preposterous. Roger in our slightly less glamorous world of buses is like Alex Ferguson. He is right up there.”
He said that, like David Moyes, he had big shoes to fill and a tough act to follow but that it was also a great opportunity.
He added: “As a 16-year-old Scouser I had a trial with the Blues. I blew it, of course.
“In the real world I wouldn’t even think of giving advice to someone like him (Moyes).
“But back in the 1980s I worked alongside Roger when I was here for 11 years.
“When others elsewhere were fighting as they tried to divide up the cake, Roger and his team looked at ways to grow the cake and they did that.”
He said that he had his own style, adding: “I’ve forgiven David Moyes for going to Manchester United – and we’ve got a good guy coming along.
“When you’re faced with following someone like Alex Ferguson or Roger French, of all the profound philosophical advice I could gave come up with, I like the cardboard placard at Glastonbury which said: ‘Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.’”