The Scottish Region's 2013 Annual Dinner, one of the highlights of the Scottish Region's calendar, was held in the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow.
Master of Ceremonies, Ken Thomson welcomed members and guests to the event, remarking on how appropriate it was to be holding the event in a hotel with transport connections as it had been built by the Caledonian Railway, opening 130 years ago and has been visited by many notable personalities over the years. Ken highlighted the prize draw in aid of Transaid, the international development charity that aims to improve the quality of life by improving transport.
Ken Thomson then introduced the new Scottish region chairman, Keith Evans who thanked the Scottish Region Committee for their hard work, pointing out that they are all volunteers. He also thanked Derek Halden, the Immediate Past Chairman for his two years of hard work. He thanked the guest speakers and said that it was important that the Institute provides access to premier class industry people to the members. He said he was proud to represent Scotland for the Institute and pointed out that the Institute represents all of the sectors involved in logistics and transport and this enables it to consider all points of view in any debate relating to logistics and transport. After all without transport and logistics, we would not have the modern society we have.
Ken Thomson welcomed DP World, the principal sponsor and Mr. Peter Ward gave a brief update on progress with the London Gateway project. This privately funded project will provide up to 36,000 jobs and will open on 29 October 2013. it will have the largest logistics park in Europe and will be able to take the largest container ships now in service.
Mr. George Brown then gave the grace and dinner was served. After dinner, there was a short break and then the first of the guest speakers took the podium. Ms. Joan Aitken, The Traffic Commissioner for Scotland, reflected on her ten years as a Traffic Commissioner. Prior to her appointment she had held a variety of posts and has service on a number of tribunals. Ms. Aitken said she did not expect to be in the post for as long as she has, but found it "absorbingly interesting".
Ms. Aitken said that she recently took up cycling, following a cycling holiday in Cuba, where she said she discovered first hand that when crossing tram lines, make sure you do so at a 90 degree angle. She joked that if you want a fitness trainer, try cycling in front of an Edinburgh bus! Cycling makes one aware of the need to be alert and also why cyclists cycle one car doors width away from parked cars.
Looking at the bus industry, Ms. Aitken said that since she was appointed one of the areas she has dealt with is the issue of early buses. She said there must be no early buses, or buses that do not go out and recalled one case where the driver went for a cup of tea and a roll as well as a read of the paper instead of operating the first journey. A bus that is early is as bad as no bus at all, and she has changed behaviours. In many cases, bus companies appearing before her rely on percentages and these are proclaimed by their lawyers to show how good the company is. But the Traffic Commissioner deals with passengers, not percentages. Since taking office, she felt that she has done much to improve bus services in Scotland, putting a greater emphasis on reliability of services.
On the HGV side, whilst no a mechanic, she has many cases where VOSA engineers present technical evidence as to road-worthiness and some aspects have caught her attention. She mentioned spray suppression and wheel security as two examples. She expects operators to make sure that their vehicles pass their annual tests first time. A key role is to raise standards, for example no vehicles emit black smoke or that companies do not use ghost drivers. She feels that VOSA is not as prevalent as she would like. VOSA now has stop powers and do a lot of good work, particularly on the M6 - M74. A key area of concern is drivers using mobile phones whilst driving and Police Scotland will report any professional driver using a mobile phone whilst driving to the Traffic Commissioner.
Ms. Aitken said that both the PSV and HGV industries were not as open as they should be for women and that mores should be done to encourage more women into the transport industry. There are other issues affecting drivers, that of facilities, such as toilets, lorry and bus parks. She said that more needs to be done to provide infrastructure to support the industry.
Sir Brian Souter then spoke, noting that he had known a number of former Traffic Commissioners and that it had been a welcome change when Ms. Aitken was appointed. He recounted some of his early experiences in the bus business noting he started work in 1975 in Glasgow as a conductor and buses always ran "early" or "late" and never on time. He recalled working on different routes, notably the "21" and regaled the audience with some stories about the last bus of the night and of his early years when he lived in Parkhead in the east end of Glasgow.
He then turned to the transport business and recounted some early experiences in the development of the Stagecoach Group, including the airline venture, Scot Airways between 1999 and 2006. He pointed out that you had to have the right business model to succeed and in the low cost airline business, the Ryanair model has proved to be very successful.
For the bus industry he said there are four "P"s you need to get right, these being Priority, where buses are given priority over other traffic; Park & Ride, the first step to de-stigmatising public transport with the aim of developing intelligent car use; Parking, where control over parking charges is important to match the market; and Planning, where operators engage with local authorities when planning developments.
Sir Brian looked at the effects of Deregulation and pointed out that passenger numbers fell by 7% in England when the PTE's were introduced as these absorbed efficient local operations. He said we need to look forward, not back and private companies with entrepreneurial aims innovate, for example Stagecoach has introduced its "Gold" services, sleeper coaches, Megabus tickets at affordable rices, telesales and marketing, and the company is now looking at using mobile technology, for example Near Field Communications.
Sir Brian said that growth in passenger numbers was being achieved, with the highest percentage being recorded in Kent. There is also significant growth in Fife and increase in passenger growth is a measure of the success of the policy. Other innovations Stagecoach has introduced and have been successful are the Oxford Tube and the Bio-Bus in Kilmarnock. His vision for the future is that all buses will run on B100 fuel and that people will be travelling on sustainable buses. This is important as fuel consumption is worse than it was 30 years ago and buses need to be designed to be as fuel efficient as possible.
Sir Brian's view is that the industry needs the competition model as competition leads to innovation and the best way to get people to use public transport is to give them choice. He rounded off his speech by saying that Stagecoach was a great business and he paid tribute to the Institute and its aims.
The after dinner speaker Bert Thomson, a retired police officer, then took the stage telling a number of amusing anecdotes and funny stories. The evening was rounded off with Ken Thomson thanking the speakers and sponsors for supporting the Scottish Region and hotel and its staff for their hard work in making the evening a success. Finally, the prize draw raised £2,195 for Transaid.
Report by John Fender.
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