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Yes, I am a transport enthusiast. If you’re like me, let’s be out and proud and enjoy ourselves, because we are an asset to our industry!

 

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How did a future-thinking guy like me get to end up designing, editing and owning a shamelessly nostalgic magazine like Classic BusHow indeed. As must be apparent by now, I really like transport and, in particular, transport involving buses, coaches and trains. It’s what the majority of my working life and the business I developed and own has been all about. It would be ridiculous and dishonest if I didn’t. Just as most men, I suspect, who work in the car business in some shape or form get off to a fairly impressive degree on cars themselves, so it’s not wrong for those who work in the bus industry to get a bit of a rise thinking about, looking at and riding on buses. And when part of your work is clothing these butch beauties in drop-dead gorgeous liveries, and getting up close and personal with their magnificent curves and taught flanks, well it can be deliciously blood-pumping.

Yet, even in these enlightened times when, quite rightly, no free-thinking person bats an eyelid at two men getting married or even two men faking copulation as a dramatic device on a TV drama (it’s been happening since the year dot – get over it), why does the prospect of a grown man going weak at the knees at the sight and sound of a bus (old or new) still cause a faint, and sometimes not so faint, whiff of derision, opprobrium or vituperation.

It particularly annoys me when some industry insiders think that to actually like or, heaven forfend, really love buses as pieces of architecture, engineering, sculpture, social facilitating or just naffing great horny things on four wheels, means you can’t possibly have any serious intent or ability as a managing director, accountant, planner, scheduler, marketing expert or anything much. Can you imagine trying to get a top job in the fashion industry and boasting to everyone that you don’t really know your Dior from your Dolce and Gabbana?

I’ve heard a number of marketing people in the industry (of all genders, lest you think there’s a misogynist barb hidden in this pronouncement) brag loudly and proudly that they don’t know one bus from another and don’t want to, as if that might taint their souls and induce sniggers at suburban dinner parties, cause them to get ostracised by their families and overhear whispered jibes in the aisles of Waitrose. I remember at a conference one speaker saying that buses aren’t exciting. Both the following presenter and the one after (me) were quick to tell the audience, “well they bloody well should be”. Telephones weren’t exciting once. Now look how we fawn over the latest models and how in TV and cinema ads their bodywork is caressed by the camera quite erotically. They are objects of desire and instruments of satisfaction.

I recall going to a rally once and bumping into a middle management industry figure, who clearly wasn’t too keen on being caught lasciviously eyeing up a particularly curvaceous Harrington-bodied AEC Reliance. His partial blush was made complete when I tried to reassure him I probably wouldn’t let on where I’d seen him. Silly, silly man.

In the earliest years of what is now called Euro Bus Expo (the big biennial show at the NEC) it ran from Thursday to Sunday, with Sunday being the ‘public’ day. Naturally, weekends manning a trade show were not universally liked by most exhibitors, so that soon changed. However, although one can understand vehicle manufacturers not wanting too many sticky fingers from the great unwashed all over their pristine exhibits, their attitudes towards enthusiasts were distinctly less than charitable, if not downright offensive. At Best Impressions we were happy to talk to them (however nerdy they were) because that spotty youth today might be Stagecoach’s or Go-Ahead’s chief executive in a few years time (and indeed I do recall engaging in conversation with one who is now a highly respected and first rate manager, so there!). What’s that Kipling line about walking with kings but not losing the common touch? OK, I know transport does seem to attract the sometimes over-zealous and perverse extremes of enthusiasm, but most transport enthusiasts are no better or worse than any other like-minded group. Wander round a car rally and you’ll see moderate to extreme just the same.

Manufacturers have given me bemused looks of incredulity and barely concealed smirks when I have said I’ll catch a convenient local bus (or tram in some locations) to get to and from their factories. “Oh, you don’t want to do that; they’re awful,” they say. Well, mate, you make them, and derive your profits from people travelling on them. Doh!

I would venture to suggest that intelligent enthusiasm for any aspect of our fantastic industry is a great asset and a quality to be harnessed, nurtured and embraced. Of course you can count money without knowing an Enviro 200 from an Enviro 300, teach someone how to make every passenger feel welcomed and valued without knowing how to differentiate between a Class 378 and Class 379. But knowing and liking these things doesn’t make you less able to do these tasks well, either. In fact, being slightly nerdy might make you enjoy them more and do them better. Come on guys, where would this or any industry be without its enthusiasts working within it, from chief executive to cleaner? I could, without pausing for breath, reel off a roll-call of amazing chief executives, managing directors, engineers (but few accountants), the lot of them absolute bus nuts of one sort or another, who have helped run great bus and train companies, improved the passenger experience, grown patronage, increased employment prospects and made money for themselves, the shareholders and kept manufacturers in business.

Knaves and fools laugh at me for all sorts of other reasons, not for the fact that I’m an… wait for it… (deep breath) enthusiast. There, I’ve outed myself in Passenger Transport. And I’m going to out hundreds more unless you send me wads of cash! Don’t be silly, everyone knows who you are, anyway. Just be out and proud and enjoy yourselves. Make the non-enthusiasts feel like the freaks.

 

About the author: Ray Stenning is Design Director of Best Impressions, which provides creative services to the passenger transport sector.

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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