From the inside - a day at the office in The Grove at Dorchester
little about myself! I have always been totally absorbed by the bus
industry (some might say: I am a ‘bus nut’). I left school in the far
away year of 1952 and in those days of no management training courses I
was lucky to obtain a junior position in the traffic office of
Southdown Motor Services in Brighton. For the next 21-years the
majority of my time was spent on fares and legislation, particularly
road service licensing and the associated traffic court hearings.
Southdown was a BET company and on 1st January 1969 it became a
subsidiary of the National Bus Company. This widened job opportunities
and so I moved to Hants & Dorset in Bournemouth in 1973 with
similar but expanding responsibilities. Then came Maggie Thatcher’s
1980 Transport Bill with the eventual privatisation of the former
National Bus Companies. I had a thoroughly enjoyable career and gained
much from the NBC training courses and in later days financial controls
and the development of the all important ‘Operational Costing’.
Rightly or wrongly I had always taken a great interest in independent operators and their less formal structures. In consequence I was appointed as Traffic Manager of Bere Regis & District Motor Services which was legally set-up to be run by ‘The Trustees of R. W. Toop (Deceased)’. Reg Toop had been the last surviving member of the three-man partnership of Bere Regis Motor Services. So it was on 1st March 1983 that I made the life changing career move.
It gave me greater scope but the firm was managed with a rod of iron by Ray Roper, the long standing General Manager. Ray was a nice person and totally Bere Regis orientated and committed, but he didn’t like talking to other operators nor the county council. Employees were sometimes rewarded by their loyalty to him rather than because of their capabilities, and sadly, financial control was often lacking as long as there was enough money in the bank to pay the wages and the majority of the bills. There was not always a real control of ticketing and the moneys due in. Equally there was very little knowledge of the developing legislation and pending changes.
Now, to a typical day in ‘The Grove’. All office staff were on duty by 9.00 a.m. and the day would slowly develop. Early staff or vehicle failures were looked after by the fitters; that is unless they were all out driving school buses. Ray Roper would appear around 9.30 a.m. and call in to see and chat to me as Traffic Manager and then to some of the fitting staff and gradually make his way upstairs to his office. So after this slow start the post would be dealt with by him and staff would very soon know if anything displeased him. The day progressed with much hot and cold air and Ray would compile the following day’s drivers detail himself and these were telephoned to the depots at Blandford, Sherborne and Wimborne; whilst I would deliver a copy to post in the Bere Regis village running shed on the way home. On Fridays the local managers from the country depots would come into Dorchester just before lunch time to take home their copy of their weekend (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) detail, which he appropriately called ‘Orders’, as well as by the drivers and other employees in those locations.
As drivers wages were low, they were prepared to work long hours by overtime. But management seemed unable to communicate effectively with drivers about ‘official business’ and this resulted in an eventual walk-out one busy morning and a confrontation with the union, which of necessity many drivers had unofficially joined as they found this the only way for any recognition over hours and pay structures.
The official finishing time for the office staff was 5.00 p.m., but Ray regarded the next two or three hours as his chat time and no way could you conclude this time by ‘Oh well I better be going home now …..’ for one’s private lives were not always considered (especially as he lived just across the road!). Indeed weekend ‘on-call’ either at home or in The Grove was not up for discussion and was an essential part of the employment.
Nevertheless, I stuck to the course and over time was able to develop a lot of new work for the firm, including a thriving London express service, the town service in Dorchester, a ‘park & ride’ service in Dorchester on market days (this was the first ‘park & ride’ service in Dorset) and later we added the Sunday and Bank Holiday ‘park & ride’ from Poole Civic Centre to the beaches at Sandbanks, which was won from Wilts & Dorset.
In the early 1990s we (hf) started a
major contract for Slatterys of Tralee for their London, Victoria Coach
Station - Ireland Services. The history of the Slatterys services is
interesting as Slatterys were really a greengrocery business with one
shop (and I imagine combined with their house) in Tralee, close to
Killarney. Slatterys developed into a travel agents business and
started with a coach hire business, with one or so coaches. C.I.E. as
it was then ran a joint Ireland (Dublin) - London service joint with
National Express. The air fares at that time were high, even with
Ryanair developing. Slatterys got fed up with their rates for the coach
hire received from C.I.E. and so decided to start their own network of
routes from various locations across the Republic of Ireland
to London, some using Holyhead and others using Fishguard ferries. Bere
Regis stationed up to 4-coaches in London (in a PCV named large garage
in Battersea, which also had sleeping accommodation for the drivers)
with a fairly tight hf scheduling to comply with Drivers Hours
Bere Regis simply started with one or 2-coaches on the Victoria Coach Station London - Holyhead ship-side operation leaving Victoria around 1900 and returning with a load of passengers coming off the ferry. Subsequently we also ran another overnight route at I think 1800 from Victoria via Fishguard with the coaches and drivers going over on the ferry and then driving to Waterford. At Waterford an Irish company's driver (Kavanagh) took over the coaches to Cork, Killarney and Tralee. There are many stories to relate on the operation, especially as hostilities in Ireland were still quite high. On one occasion coming back down the Motorway an Irishman ran up to the driver and insisted the coach was stopped for him to jump out (which he did) otherwise he would have been knee-capped! The journeys were colourful with the amount of whiskey being consumed en route. But one benefit to the poor old Traffic Manager was that he was never short of bottles of Gilbeys gin from the drivers on THE SLATTERYS CONTRACT!! Eventually Slatterys sold out their routes to C.I.E and these now form the main Irish routes of Eurolines.
Perhaps the jewel in the crown was a
for BP for conveying their workers to the construction sites of the
Wytch Oil Field, near Wareham. The Wytch contract involved up to 30
vehicles, with 7 days a week and virtual 24-hour operation, but earning
in excess of £25,000 a week at its height.
There are many other stories but no job would ever match A Day At The Grove!
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