Well, another year, much change and upheaval in prospect around the globe but the reassuring certainty that we will be convening once again on 21st November to mark everything which is good and vibrant about the world of buses at the 2017 UK Bus Awards. The doors are now open for entries and I hope that this article might encourage ATCO members to join in as well as to share some thoughts and news.

I was very surprised and flattered to be asked to Chair the UK Bus Awards from this year, so let me start by introducing myself. Up to the start of a very energetic retirement in the summer of 2015, I was Managing Director of Arriva’s London businesses for 11 years followed by 6 years as national Operations and Commercial Director. I must have attended the majority of the UK Bus Awards ceremonies over the years. I have experienced all the emotions – the elation of being an award winner, the Atlanta feeling of coming away with not very much at all, the determination to do better next year and being motivated by other people’s great ideas. I have also seen the excitement on the faces of the many people who are invited to the Awards lunch for whom this is the first taste of an event like this. I can also testify to the attitudes of hardened veterans of the bus world who may have picked up most of the T shirts over the years but still quietly and desperately want to be recognised by an award. All of this perhaps illustrates how much the awards matter to so many and why the November event is so popular.

There is more to the UK Bus Awards than being a competitive arena. To “recognise, reward and inspire” is our mantra and how crucial it is that we all have a means of showing off all that is good and great about buses as a means of transport – at a time when too many people have little or no idea of what we are all capable of making buses deliver. And yet those same people can take decisions which can set the clock back years.

The UK Bus Awards does its level best to promote in the media the entries, the shortlists and the winners as part of its role in showcasing buses, what they can do and how success can be achieved. One of the themes running through the Awards has been the overworked word “partnership”. But it does hold the key to so many of the award-winning schemes which have featured over the years and it is also no coincidence that many of the top operators have starred thanks to their strong working relationships with other parties including, most importantly, local government.

The UK Bus Awards are frequently referred to as the “Bus Oscars” but I would like to assure you that we have decided against asking Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty to assist at our event. However, what the mix up in Los Angeles did do was to lift the veil on the incredibly complicated organisation which lay behind the scenes there and that is also the strong first impression which hit me when I agreed to take over as Chair of the UK Bus Awards.

Having attended most of the previous 21 events, I had no idea about how much work goes on behind the scenes to stage a UK Bus Awards event or how many people freely give of their time and advice to keep the event relevant and enjoyable. Just as important is the work throughout the year with volunteers helping keep the Award categories relevant, forming the many judging panels, such that each of the categories is assessed by a true panel of experts and carrying out mystery travelling. I also did not appreciate how much effort  goes into promoting the awards themselves both in the lead up to the event and afterwards, nor how broad-based the involvement is in steering the Awards along from so many quarters – sponsors, organisers, entrants, judges, media, suppliers, consumer groups and, not least of all, ATCO itself. We draw heavily on these views and opinions to keep all aspects of the awards under review and to change anything which no longer seems to be working or to experiment with new ideas.

Keeping the awards relevant is crucial given how rapidly technology is moving on, how sharply people’s expectations of levels of service are rising and how much more difficult and demanding it is for all of us who are more directly involved in shaping transport policy and delivering services. So one of the changes we are going to make this year is to change two of the awards whilst staying within a strict limit of 20 awards to avoid the event becoming a marathon.

We are dropping the separate Local Authority Bus Project of the Year. At first sight, that might appear to be a controversial decision, especially given how crucial a part local authorities have to play in the scheme of things – which you do! However, in reality, we have seen a number of very strong submissions being put forward jointly by local authorities and bus operators under different headings such as the Environment or Making Buses a Better Choice or the Bus and the Community awards. The entries carry heavier weight because they are joint and cover the story of real partnerships delivering some great outcomes. Conversely the number of solo entries from Local Authorities has dropped away, in no small part because organisations don’t tend to go it alone on projects anyway. Hopefully you will agree that there is still considerable scope for projects primarily conceived and driven by local authorities to be recognised under one of the other award categories.

The other change is to add a new “Leadership and Inspiration” award to complement the “Unsung Heroes” award. In the past we have had a number of entries across the spectrum and found ourselves trying to weigh up the merits of quite senior and often well-known people versus the real unsung heroes which the award was intended to spotlight.

The final new feature to alert you to for 2017 is a change of venue for the November awards ceremony, in response to the “marmite” reviews which the Waterloo venue attracted. Some people loved the quirkiness and novelty of a pop-up venue but this was not shared universally. This year we will be taking over Troxy, a beautifully restored art deco cinema in East London which has been converted to stage large events like ours. It offers at-table lunch service, bars and large circulating areas for networking before and after.

I sincerely look forward to welcoming ATCO members along with large numbers of other people involved in the world of public transport on 21st November and would encourage you to put in entries for anything which you think deserves the recognition we set out to provide.

Mark Yexley – Chairman, UKBA