Restart 2020 – We’re back at work… finally!

After a long six months off work, bar the odd few days (as detailed previously) we finally got to go back full time to work in August 2020. It felt like starting a new job, albeit with the same colleagues and crew at Coatham. There’s so many changes to what we do it feels almost like a new job!

With the schools going back in September it meant we were of course back to full output with school & college bus services. It was great to be back doing what we all loved, and actually having a sense of purpose again.

Getting the fleet ready for the restart. We gained a brand new Plaxton Leopard on lease too!

I actually returned in the last week of August as we had four new team members to get prepared for the new term. I volunteered to help out with route learning on the college network that we run as it was my old network at my previous job. Of course I knew all of the routes as I’d driven every single one. As we were due to start in the first week of September I spent a few hours on top of doing other work helping show the new drivers their new college routes that they would be driving.

As many of you know in my previous job I ran a fairly successful network of bus services. Ever since I joined Coatham I’ve been pushing to set up a little network of services across our area. Of course it’s quite a change of mentality for a company who have only ever ran coaches – certainly in terms of running something at your own commercial risk. The closest we’ve got to that I suppose is the day trip program which is fairly successful as it has a loyal band of followers.

More coaches get prepared for the new school year. Our Levantes were converted to 70 seats and then repainted all white!

Fast forward 12 months and we actually had an opportunity to pick up a route in our area that was to be dropped by a larger operator. It all came at very short notice, but from mid August it’s been a bit of a whirlwind in getting everything in place to start on 1st September. This is alongside prepping everything else for schools going back of course.

It’s become my little project and I’ll write a more in depth blog about this… but the intention from my point of view was to ensure links remained open and available otherwise you lose people from public transport for good. Once that happens it’s almost impossible to get them back.

Coatham Connect became the brand name for our bus services… my bus services!

So Coatham Connect was born! With the tagline ‘Keeping our communities connected’ we aimed to ensure people could still travel to where they needed to go. Route 18 started on 1st September linking Stokesley, Great Ayton and Guisborough, replacing Arriva’s 81S, and it extends to Saltburn too, a link last run around 4 years ago ironically by my last company, albeit before I was there.

We’re two weeks in now but it’s going fairly well so far. Having heard some passenger figures from during the period of the 81S operating it seems we are running at about the same level with a much lower cost base. We had to cut the operational hours down and run less trips. It’s not a timetable I am happy with but it’s very much ‘needs must’ at present to ensure its sustainable in the long term.

My little Solo on the very first morning of our new Connect 18 route, before the inaugural trip

I drove the first week – we started on a Tuesday – which consisted of four days solid doing the same duty every day. There is only one driver & bus running the route to keep costs down. It was encouraging to see so many regular faces even during week one. Lots of people thankful for continuing to run a bus to ensure they could go shopping, access healthcare, meet their friends, things like that. We were already living up to the tag we’d set… we were keeping our communities connected.

Since then I’ve done a week on ‘schools’ taking school & college children to education and back home again. That’s very much our bread & butter work. My very able assistant Steven had a turn on the 18 route instead. Between us we’ll keep driving on the 18 route and we’ve already become popular with the regulars which is great.

I love taking ‘group’ shots. It’s a powerful image, even better when they all match, unlike this 🤔

Hopefully it will continue to grow as more people find out about it. Being part of a family business we don’t have an endless marketing budget but we’ve been promoting it on social media (it’s free!) and must have given our hundreds of leaflets too!

I’m grateful to have been given an opportunity to showcase my skills. I hope this is just the start of the Coatham Connect story, so watch this space for more.

I’ll try and make this a more regular feature and find things to blog about in the world of buses & coaches. It’s something I want to get into so here’s hoping it’s not too boring 😉

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