Page 5: Piloting the scheme in the UK
A period of trialling is a key part of the launch of any new product or service. In introducing Yellow Bus to the UK, First had to consider the implications of operating in a country with a different regulatory environment. The UK needs buses specially built for 'driving on the left' and the European Union operates within a different regulatory framework for safety and emission standards. Adapting the vehicles for use in the UK, together with import duties, mean that a new Yellow Bus for the UK is more than twice the USA price.
Despite these difficulties, First was clear that the UK market offers an important opportunity because the Yellow Bus service is so much better than anything else currently available and the need is there. First still had to convince the government and parents. This involved making a clear case to national government, local education authorities, school managers, parents and children that the Yellow Bus:
- has one of the best safety records of any vehicle in passenger service
- is a symbol of safety across the world, and a catalyst for encouraging parents to rethink their own attitudes and practices
- offers attractions, recognition and respect that no other bus can provide
- entices people back to buses, which reduces congestion and helps the environment.
To test demand for its service, First initially carried out research in Aberdeen. This confirmed the product's value. At the same time First made enquiries with national government (including the views of John Prescott and David Blunkett). Thirty local authorities gave a favourable response. Encouraged by this, First re-designed the bus to meet UK regulations.
The company then produced a range of promotional materials and activities which projected the concept that Yellow Bus is more than just a bus; it is a comprehensive service. The next stage involved developing a high profile for the concept in the media, and winning parental support. First then launched Yellow Bus in Yorkshire, Runnymede, Surrey and Wrexham and received strong public support for the brand. The company has options on 100 Yellow Buses from its US manufacturers. To meet European standards, nearly 50 changes have been made to the standard USA design.
Using the US experience First has looked to recruit and train local parents or part-time school staff to drive the Yellow Buses. Training emphasises that the job is as much about caring for children as driving. The training programme takes about five weeks and includes customer care, safety, security and child behaviour as well as driving skills. At the start of each year, parents are informed about pick up points and times. Parents can influence the routes taken. In addition to the standard runs, the buses are also used for sports trips.