January 20 2021

Janette Bell, the newly appointed Managing Director of First Bus was a speaker at the UK Bus & Coach Conference last week. Two months into the role and the bus industry, she reflects on how she’s found it so far and the qualities we need to cultivate to remain successful.

It goes without saying that beginning a role in the bus industry in November 2020 was not without its challenges. It was a year like no other with challenges at every turn, and of course, now, in the midst of another lockdown, we are still navigating this difficult time. 

However, even before joining First Bus, as I observed the industry from the outside, I was already inspired and proud to be taking on this new role. The qualities I saw throughout the industry as it bonded together to adapt to the Covid-19 crisis moved me. I thought, ‘With this resiliency, adaptability and commitment, we will not only weather this storm; we will be able to do great things beyond it.’

Since I’ve taken up my role, my impression of First Bus’ (and the wider industry’s) employees’ commitment, flexibility and positivity has only grown. These are the qualities that keep our drivers driving in all but the most severe of weather conditions; they are the qualities that keep us innovating technologically, and they are the qualities that underpin our commitment to safety.

Throughout 2020, these characteristics saw our own frontline key workers and all our teams working tirelessly, sometimes throughout the night, to redistribute our resources and quickly deliver reduced schedules in line with government guidelines. I’ve been continually impressed with the way team members have solved problems and remained positive despite everything that’s been thrown at them.

Giles Fearnley, my predecessor as First Bus MD, and I discussed these qualities in our joint CPT conference session, A lifetime in public transport and a look to the future. Throughout that discussion, it struck me that although it was without doubt a very difficult period, the way it has highlighted our ability to adapt, evolve and keep going is something that we need to hold on to.

Our incredible ability to remain resilient, coupled with the industry’s commitment to our customers and central and local Government support, has enabled First Bus and other companies to keep buses on the road throughout the Covid crisis. We can take great pride in what we continue to achieve - we are a critical part of safely transporting NHS staff and other frontline workers to their places of work and supporting those with essential journeys. We have always tried to do this in a helpful way, innovating so that our customers’ journeys are more convenient and comfortable. What we do really is an essential part of people’s lives and getting it right matters. 

Whether it is developing and trialling new technology to continue improving our environmental performance or collaborating with central and local government and our other partners to revitalise the bus industry when restrictions lift and our lives begin to change for the better, I believe it is our commitment to customer service, our ability to adapt and problem solve, and to meet challenges with strength and buoyancy that will carry us forward. 

The pandemic threw many changes our way in 2020, but it also showed us the best of ourselves. We rose to the occasion and we shouldn’t regret the opportunity we have been given to carry what we have learned with us and progress.

I for one am excited to see where we go next.