Driving on past any bumps in the road
GORDON Frost, 47, is Thamesdown Transport’s new operations director. His responsibilities include improving services and encouraging more people to use buses. A father of three, he lives with wife Melissa, a social worker, in Telford, but is planning a move to Swindon
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Gordon Frost is happy to detail his plans for prising us from our cars.
These are challenging times for bus companies, with heavy fuel costs and our increasingly entrenched insistence on driving ourselves from A to B.
For Thamesdown Transport, an arm of the council rather than a private commercial company, there is the added challenge of maintaining uneconomic routes as much as possible for the public good.
Gordon has ideas for dealing with that issue, too.
“Part of the answer to saving those routes is to grow other routes, to increase the size of the commercial core.
“Obviously in a town the size of Swindon there is the ability and capacity to do that as the town continues to grow.
“We’ve got to get to the point where any of the perceived barriers to travelling by bus either become non-existent or become so minimal that people don’t consider them to be barriers.
“For our customers it’s no good saying, ‘The buses in Swindon are better than the buses in Cannock,’ because what you experience is in Swindon. You only experience the service we’re delivering.
“We’ve got to make buses easy to access and seen as very good value for money. The customer service has got to be excellent and the frequency has got to be as high as possible so that, effectively, people can just walk out of their door and have a turn-up-and-go system.”
He has spent his career in bus firm management but has been a qualified driver since his mid-twenties, when he worked in Banbury.
“It’s something I chose to do because Banbury was a very small rural depot and we did lots of school work at that time. I think we had one spare driver on a daily basis, and I thought it would be very useful if I could drive as a backup.”
Gordon also drove in Swindon more than a decade ago.
“When I was in Swindon for Stagecoach, the economy was in a slightly different state to the one it’s in currently. It was booming and we were struggling to get drivers, so I did spend quite a lot of time driving.”
He came to his current job with Thamesdown Transport after a long stint with Arriva Midlands, where he was district manager but still got behind the wheel when necessary.
“I drove two weekends ago on the Shrewsbury Flower Show. It was a park and ride service – the drivers in Shrewsbury accused me of being given the cushy shift because there were no fares to take!
“I do think it’s important to show in circumstances like that that you’re not afraid to get out there and do the job – although I would never pretend that I could do it as well as our full-time bus drivers because they’re doing it day in and day out.”
Gordon was born in Barnsley, the eldest of six siblings. His mother was a typist and PA and his father a college lecturer in carpentry, joinery and building. The family moved to Weymouth when Gordon was 11, and he attended the local grammar school before studying history at Mansfield College, Oxford.
He has been interested in transport of one form or another since childhood and owns a classic car – a Citroen DS.
“You can blame Thomas the Tank Engine,” he said.
“That was always my favourite book as a child. And apparently to keep me quiet on car journeys my mum and dad decided that instead of saying, ‘It’s a red car, it’s a yellow car,’ they’d say, ‘It’s a Rover, it’s a Triumph, it’s an Austin, it’s a Morris.’”
His early ambition was to be a teacher. “I had an aunt and an uncle who were teachers and my dad was a teacher, so I suppose I thought I’d be following in the family trade. But when I then went to university... teaching was going through a difficult time in the late Eighties, and my uncle in particular was saying to me, ‘You don’t want to be a teacher.’ “I think that had an effect on me, so I then decided I wasn’t going to be a teacher.To be honest I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but because I’d got an interest in transport I applied for a trainee manager scheme with the Cheltenham and Gloucester Omnibus Company.
“There is something about the bus industry, and I think the train industry as well, where you often get people get drawn in because of their enthusiasm or, because of their work, become enthusiasts.”
He has worked for companies across the country, including two previous stints in Swindon. The first was a brief secondment during early training, while he spent the second as a local and district manager with Stagecoach.
He applied for the Thamesdown job because it was a director-level appointment covering both operations and the commercial side.
“So as well as getting involved with the day-to-day stuff, and being involved with drivers and supervisors and engineers who deliver the day-to-day service to our customers, you’ve also got to get involved with long-term planning.
“Here was a role with a wide remit that would allow me to get involved in the whole of the business.”
He is unshakably optimistic about the future.
“The industry and Thamesdown have faced similar challenges in the past. We’ve always found a way to go round, through or past those challenges and the company is still here.”
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