Monthly Archives: December 2007

Did I leave some passengers behind?

This morning I drove the Bournemouth feeder bus – out of service to Bournemouth then two pick up points in Bournemouth, one in Ringwood and then on to Winchester where I hand the bus over. When it leaves Winchester the bus continues to London. The problem is this – passengers who book Bournemouth or Ringwood to Oxford, Coventry or Birmingham are expected to take this London bus as far as Winchester and then transfer to the Birmingham bus. The problem is that this is not clear on their tickets and, unlike National Express, we do not use route numbers on our buses which correspond to a route number printed on a ticket. Normally when I pull up at a stop there are people waiting and I call out that this is both the London and Birmingham bus which explains things. However, this morning my manifest listed 9 passengers as being booked from Ringwood (a mix of Birmingham and London) but when I pulled up at the stop there was not a single soul! The stop is in a Car Park and there were some cars there with people sitting in them – they stared at the bus but made no move to get out of their cars and come to the bus. National Express use the same stop and are scheduled there at the same time as me, 06:30.

What am I meant to do? Should I walk up to each car, tap the window and ask if they want Megabus or Nat Ex? Well, I didn’t. Although I was a minute past my due time there I sat there for a couple of minutes so anyone could come over if they wished and then closed the door and headed for Winchester. But I bet I left some behind who wanted my bus.

Report from Zimbabwe

Essy, my missus, flew home to Zimbabwe for 2 weeks on Thursday evening landing in Harare on Friday morning. I’ve spoken to her a couple of times on the ‘phone and she’s telling me that things are even worse there than she expected. In order to get the fuel to drive to the airport to collect Essy her brother had to spend the entire night in a queue at the filling station! Neither she, nor any of the family, have any cash ……. not one cent :-( Everyday her family start queing at the bank at 05:00 to try and get some cash, if they’re lucky they can get Zim$ 5 million but on Saturday they weren’t able to get even that. There is plenty (relatively) of money in their bank account it’s just that the bank don’t have the physical currency to hand out.

In the UK if we pay a money transfer agent in US$ they exchange it at 3 million Zim$ to 1 US$ and transfer the money to the recipient’s bank account – but what’s the point if it can’t then be withdrawn in cash? Essy took US$ dollar notes with her hoping to exchange then for Zim$ cash there – the best offer she got was 140,000 Zim$ per 1 US$ in cash, instead of the 3 million offered for transfer to a bank account. At that exchange rate it must be the most expensive place on earth. The place has gone stark raving mad!!!

Debit cards, as we know and use them, don’t exist in Zimbabwe, nor do cheques. What they call a cheque would be a Banker’s Draft, you go to the bank and join the general queue and then ask them to make out the cheque to a named party for a named amount, this money is guaranteed as it would be with a UK Banker’s Draft. It’s an OK method for paying sums of money which are known in advance like school fees etc. but useless for day to day shopping. Essy says the shops are totally bare, the day is spent moving form one to another to see if something has arrived. Her sister had great success yesterday and actually managed to get 1 loaf of bread.

Essy’s baggage allowance was 30 kg in the hold plus 8 kg hand luggage. She took two pairs of trousers and some tops (it’s summer there) so that she could take as many things as possible for the family. I think she had 5 kgs of corned beef in her case plus lots of other food items and some clothes for the family.

Before she went her mother had not been well but said that she was better, when Essy arrived she found that her Mum was still not well. She wants to take her to a private Doctor because there are no drugs and diagnostics available to medical aid claimants. The private Doctors want cash only because they too can’t get it from the banks and so the vicious circle goes round :-(

Stagecoach founder dies

This story , taken from the Daily Telegraph, does little for the reputation of the current owners of Stagecoach.

Robin Gloag, who died in a road accident on December 5 aged 64, co-founded the Stagecoach transport empire in the early 1980s with his then wife Ann, a former nurse, and her younger brother Brian Souter, but missed out on becoming one of Scotland’s richest men when he fell out with his fellow directors; as his marriage foundered he set up a rival enterprise and launched a fares war in head-to-head competition with Stagecoach.

Inevitably it ended in tears. When Gloag launched his firm, Highwayman, with a service between Perth and Errol, a 15-minute journey, his wife launched a service on the same route – timetabled to arrive a minute or two earlier.

When he cut his fares by 10p, she slashed hers by 50p, forcing him to follow suit. She halved the fares, then stopped charging altogether; Highwayman went bust and Stagecoach snapped up most of the business, leaving Gloag with a residual coach hire company which now runs 13 coaches.

The battle earned Ann Gloag a reputation for ruthlessness, and the story of the merciless aggression with which she saw off her former husband became a business legend. “It makes me sound awful,” she once admitted, “but I can’t deny it was the truth.” Robin Gloag, though, never really recovered from the humiliation.

Robin Nicol Gloag was born in 1943 and, after leaving school, worked as a petrol station manager. He met the young Ann Souter, a nurse at Bridge of Earn Hospital, Perth, when he came in to be treated for a torn cartilage. They married in 1965 and had a son and a daughter.

Finding it hard to make ends meet, in 1976 they founded a caravan hire business as a sideline. The expansion into buses came by accident when they spent £650 on a second-hand bus, intending to drive it to China.

The plan failed because of visa problems, but when a local construction firm asked if it could hire the vehicle to take workers to a building site, they found they had a profitable business. Eventually the couple brought Ann’s brother Brian, a chartered accountant, into the company.

The turning point came in 1980, when they invested their savings and the £12,000 redundancy money of the Souters’ father, himself a bus driver, in two old buses.

On October 11 1980, two days after a new transport act came into effect, allowing anyone to run bus services over distances of more than 30 miles, the first of the family’s “Gloagtrotter” services set off from Dundee to London – at almost half the price of its competitors.

Robin was the driver and bus maintenance man, while Ann and her mother made sandwiches and tea and Brian Souter took the bookings.

The business was blessed from the beginning – its launch coincided with a national rail strike. Their service destroyed the competition, though the real money came five years later when a further round of bus deregulation allowed the company (by now renamed Stagecoach) to buy up small firms all over Britain.

By this time Robin and Ann had parted company.

Robin Gloag was by all accounts happier under a coach repairing it than he was running a company, and his wife and her brother soon decided that he would have to go.

“The two of them would act as though I didn’t even exist,” Robin Gloag recalled. “They would talk across the room as though I wasn’t there. I felt like saying ‘Hello, Hello, I’m in the room as well’… between them they decided I was surplus to requirements.”

In 1983 brother and sister summoned Robin to a meeting and told him they wanted to buy him out; Ann Gloag always insisted it had been a business decision. He was paid off with £8,000 redundancy and two buses. The couple subsequently divorced.

While his wife became Scotland’s richest woman, Robin Gloag eked a living running a coach hire service from a garage at his home village of Errol, Perthshire.

He lost contact with his family and when, in 1999, his 28-year-old son Jonathan was found to have hanged himself in a Perthshire wood, he heard about it from the police, not his family.

In recent years Robin Gloag had had a number of run-ins with the traffic commissioners over safety standards. Last year he had two vehicles suspended from his fleet after faults, including defective brakes, were found. Earlier this year two minibuses were damaged in a fire at his depot.

Relations with his former wife remained hostile. Of the oft-repeated saga of Stagecoach’s turbulent early years he commented: “I wish the story would die, and them with it” – though he took a little comfort from the fact that he still owned one Stagecoach share: “They tried to get me to sign it away, but it’s still in my name… They didn’t push hard enough and I didn’t fall off a cliff.”

Robin Gloag is survived by his second wife, Shirley, and by his daughter with Ann Gloag.

Life of a National Express driver

I’ve just come across the Life of a National Express driver blog and it’s a great read. The driver, Chris, even appears to have to do Park and Ride stints like I do. The big difference is that he doesn’t rant and rave about them! I’ve added this blog to the ‘Blogs I Read’ links in the left hand column.

Tiananmen Square?

Actually, it was Victoria Coach Station on Monday. I’d loaded the London to Brighton service and was pulling away 20 minutes late. I’d only gone about 20 metres and was headed for the exit when someone jumped in front of the bus just like the guy in Tiananmen Square.

image

Picture the first tank as the London – Brighton megabus and the following tanks as National Express coaches and that’s exactly how it was. Once you’ve pulled away from the stand and are heading for the exit you are forbidden by Victoria Coach Station rules from stopping and picking up and it’s all being recorded on CCTV so there was no chance I’d let the guy on. I did a horizontal movement with my arm to try and convey ‘no way’, plus a shrug and a weak smile to try and relay that I wasn’t just trying to be damned awkward. To which he responded with a tirade which questioned my legitimacy, indicated that he thought thought I enjoyed solo sex etc. and then refused to move. The Controllers came along and tried to explain why he couldn’t board there and asked hime to move aside which he refused to do. In the end Security had to be called and only then did he move aside.

A grumpy old man

I guess I really shouldn’t be driving a megabus if students can wind me up because they are are largest single megabus passenger group. Normally I let it just roll over me, smile, say thank you and get on with things. However, two young male students managed to wind me up in Brighton yesterday. The bus was loaded and as I pushed the door close button a young male who’d been sauntering down the road at the speed of a snail on tranquilisers arrived at the door and got on. “Got a bit of a problem, mate” was his greeting. He said that his booking reference was on his mobile ‘phone but the battery was flat so he couldn’t show it to me. He then asked if anything could be done about it. I told him that what he was asking was very unfair on the customers who’d arrived in good time and now expected to depart on time, he knew he had a problem so why couldn’t he arrive a few minutes before the bus was due to depart? No answer was forthcoming. I started to dial Perth Control and realising that he wasn’t going to be allowed on ‘on trust’ he then said “maybe I booked the wrong day, I can’t remember”! All this slow walking and arrival as the door closed was his way of trying to get me to think it wasn’t worth a delay to check his ticket out! As I now fully suspected he wasn’t booked on the journey so he didn’t get to London for free and he’d made sure everyone else got there 10 minutes late.

Next stop and a similar age male got on and handed me a sheet of A4 paper which had been tightly folded about 64 times until it was the size of a first class stamp (an exageration but I’m sure you know what I mean). This is not as uncommon as you may think and I always wonder why passengers do it. Isn’t it simply politeness to hand over an open sheet of paper? So I had to unfold his grubby bit of origami, orientate it the correct way up, and only then be able to read the booking reference.

I really am a grumpy old man today :-)