So the countdown is under way for the arrival of our two new electric buses, the first of which is due with us next week.
The buses, which will operate on our Route 52 from Woodingdean through to the city centre, are solar-powered. We think this is a first for the UK. How does it work? Well in parallel with the preparation of the electric buses, we have been busy installing solar panels on the roof of our depot, which means each bus can be charged up with solar energy overnight, ready for its run the next day.
The buses will of course be lemon in colour – what else? – but with a striking modified design put together by Tom Druitt and me, featuring a happy sun. And for the first time, our buses will be equipped with wi-fi and USB charging points.
Naturally we are celebrating their arrival with a launch party, on Friday 28th. Last time I attended an event with new solar panels at a school, they jacked me up in the air in a cherry picker to cut a ribbon, but I think I have avoided that this time.
So with new solar-powered buses, and all our coaches running on used cooking oil, The Big Lemon just gets greener and greener. Do lemons go green?
I wouldn’t call it gamekeeper turned poacher, but it is certainly a journey from being Buses Minister – setting the rules and determining national budgets – through to Chair of Bus Users UK – representing passenger interests – to my new role as operator, Managing Director of The Big Lemon in Brighton and Hove.
And yet for me, the philosophy that underpins each role is the same: to deliver a good service for the passenger, and in that way to push up the number of journeys made by bus. That in turn helps reduce carbon emissions and boost local economies, precisely the two key objectives I set for the successful Local Sustainable Transport Fund established back in 2010.
I like the bus industry. It is by and large a happy family, and one which delivers a good product, despite the hurdles that can exist. It is customer focussed in a way many industries aren’t, perhaps because it relies on a huge number of people regularly paying small amounts.
The Big Lemon has these plus points and more besides. It is a great little organisation where everyone feels part of the team and believes in the product. It is therefore no surprise that this enthusiasm is infectious, extending out to the public at large, who like the friendly drivers and the freshness of the brand. We have made travelling by The Big Lemon a fun thing to do. Fun rather than functional.
What is also valued, not least by me, is the ethical and environmental approach that is in the DNA of The Big Lemon. Over a decade now, it has shown how doing the right thing can not only be successful in economic terms, but also generate brand loyalty as well.
All the company’s vehicles run on used cooking oil, collected from local restaurants. This not only reduces carbon emissions but doubtless reduces problems for Southern Water – used cooking oil and waste water pipes are not great companions.
Next month, we take delivery of two electric buses. These will be the first such buses to operate in the city, and perhaps, though I stand to be corrected, anywhere in Sussex. At the same time, solar panels are being installed on the roof of our depot, meaning the recharging of the vehicles should be fully from renewable sources. These buses are truly green.
It has become somewhat unfashionable to put the environment centre stage. The dismissal of measures to tackle environmental challenges by the former chancellor George Osborne as “green crap”, and the arrival of climate change deniers in the White House, has weakened the political imperative for action.
Yet all the scientific analysis shows climate change is only too real and getting more marked by the year. With the transport sector accounting for around a quarter of Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions, it would be irresponsible for the bus industry not to play its part.
Here in Brighton and Hove, the biggest player is of course the Go-Ahead subsidiary Brighton and Hove Buses. We also have services provided by a local independent, Compass.
Both these companies are good operators, and I welcome that. The result of their actions, and ours, has been to buck the national trend, and see passenger numbers rising across the city. We may be in competition at one level but is in our shared interest to provide a reliable product for the bus user. The companies have done that, helped by a consistently supportive approach over the years from the city council, irrespective of political control.
So we now have an effective multi-operator ticketing system, and other shared platforms too. For instance Bus Times, the free timetable guide produced by Brighton and Hove Buses, also includes full information relating to all Big Lemon and Compass registered routes.
And we have a common agenda in tackling the barriers to bus travel, for example the congestion on our roads, or the need for particular bus priority measures.
But in this mix, The Big Lemon has a unique approach, being a social enterprise, suffused with fun, and underpinned by ethical and environmental policies others may find too challenging, but which help rather than hinder our success. It is a model we now want to export to other parts of the country.
I am immensely pleased to be joining an organisation that I believe in and that is going places. The future is bright, the future is lemon.
Norman Baker, who was the MP for Lewes from 1997 to 2015 and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport from 2010 to 2013, is joining The Big Lemon as Managing Director for the Brighton & Hove area.
The Big Lemon runs bus routes and coach hire services in and around Brighton & Hove using waste cooking oil from local restaurants, and is launching two electric buses in April which will be powered by solar energy generated on the roof of the bus depot. The social enterprise won ‘Business or the Year 2016‘ at the Brighton & Hove Business Awards.
Since leaving politics in 2015 Norman served as Chair of Bus Users UK, working closely with Chief Executive Claire Walters in raising the profile of Bus Users and helping to steer the organisation towards becoming a more diverse and representative body.
Speaking of his appointment, Norman said
I am delighted to be joining The Big Lemon, which has gone from strength to strength in recent times. I feel particularly at home with its strong environmental approach, showing you can run a successful business in an ethical manner
Tom Druitt, founder and chief executive of The Big Lemon, welcomed Norman’s appointment:
Norman has dedicated his life to his community, serving the people of the Lewes area for many years as their MP, and more recently bus users across the country as Transport Minister and latterly as Chair of Bus Users UK. We’d be hard-pressed to find a stronger champion for better and more sustainable bus services to lead our organisation in Brighton & Hove, and we’re very much looking forward to working together
The Big Lemon has put in a bid for funding to Innovate UK to explore the question of what community-based public transport looks like in the UK in 2030.
The aim of the funding is to “stimulate high-quality, human-centred design activities at the earliest stages of the innovation journey. These should identify opportunities and generate ideas for new products, services or business models that align with customer demand”.
We have a strong vision at The Big Lemon, that
by 2030 every community in the UK has access to affordable, sustainable transport, using zero-emissions vehicles powered by renewable energy and owned by the local community
We know that this has to become a reality, given the irrepressible desire of people to move around and the imperatives of climate science. To date we’ve met this challenge by developing a network of innovative bus services, owned by the community and powered by renewable energy.
But, given the rapid development of autonomous, low-carbon vehicles, new, digitally-driven on-demand transport options, not to mention a challenging outlook for publicly-funded services, we don’t believe that the traditional scheduled bus service can realise our vision any more than the inefficient, congestion-causing, financially-draining model of private car ownership can.
Through user-centred design, we want to explore, co-create and test new service models with the travelling public, that we can roll-out nationwide to meet our vision – and the needs of the communities we serve. Working with User Experience experts We Are AFK, we are excited about moving beyond a bus company to an innovation leader in sustainable transport.
What do you think is the future? Share your comments below
The Big Lemon was the first bus company in the UK to run its whole fleet on 100% recycled waste cooking oil, and the first bus company in the UK with a Facebook group (that was before they even had ‘Pages‘!) An early adopter of Twitter, we were laughed at in 2009 for using it as a means to communicate service updates to our passengers. Now everyone’s doing it.
In 2017 we have seven coaches, two little buses and a minibus working four daily bus services in Brighton & Hove as well as private coach hire, music festival coaches and Sunday Walks. Last year we drove almost as far as the moon, taking over a quarter of a million people to where they wanted to go and saving over 220 tonnes of CO2 from going into the atmosphere in the process. We also got stuck into all sorts of local community initiatives such as Brighton Festival, a scheme to help long-term unemployed people get training and work experience, and a lunch club for elderly residents in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean.
Last year we also did a lot of work on the Bigger Picture, asking questions like “what’s it all for?”,”what’s the point in us?” and “where are we going with it?”.
Following a Solar Bus Retreat in Dream Valley, five Dream Team meetings in Brighton, a month of relationship-building in Bristol, two full Team Lemon meetings, umpteen cups of tea and a few sneaky craft beers we agreed on our purpose:
“to enable everyone to get around their community in an affordable, environmentally-sustainable way”
and our 2030 Vision:
“By 2030 every community in the UK has access to affordable, sustainable transport, using zero-emissions vehicles powered by renewable energy and owned by the local community”
So how do we go about that?
We have decided that the best way to achieve our goal is to hire a Managing Director to take The Big Lemon in Brighton & Hove to the next stage of its development; and set up a wider network to realise the 2030 Vision. This network will be led by our CEO Tom Druitt and would have four functions:
to develop creative and innovative solutions to address the transport needs of the future in a sustainable way
to facilitate the creation of new social enterprises in other communities under The Big Lemon’s umbrella, with shared values and a common purpose but operationally independent and locally-owned
To provide training and coaching to support and develop the new teams in the network
To provide business support in the form of licensing, marketing, administration, financial and legal support to give all the social enterprises in The Big Lemon family the best chance of success.
Would you like to be part of our future – and help us realise our vision?
Come to our AGM on Sunday 5th March at 3pm at Lemon HQ. The whole community is welcome, but only shareholders are able to vote. If you’d like to come please fill in the form below so we know how many people to expect:
Do you know anyone who would relish a new challenge leading one of Brighton’s most exciting businesses, and one of the UK’s most innovative social enterprises? Please tell them about our new vacancy for a Managing Director in Brighton.
We’d like to wish all our passengers, customers and friends a very happy New Year! The last year has been our best so far and we’d like to share a few highlights.
Here’s the 60 second whistle-stop tour:
January: We set our aims for the year:
To benchmark our performance in each area and set up a system for measuring our performance
To use the system to improve our performance in each area over the year
To become the best workplace in Brighton & Hove
To go for growth.
To start operating services with electric buses.
February: We set out our electric bus plans and raised £250,000 for investment in electric buses. We now have two in a factory in Sheffield having their finishing touches done; we will take delivery of these in the New Year. In February we also went on a team fun day out, digger-racing in Kent.
March: In March we had a big Team day, where we shared our hopes and dreams, both as individuals and for The Big Lemon. The same evening we had our AGM, where it was agreed to invest 80% of our surplus from 2015 in our electric bus plans and in the company’s growth, and split the remaining 20% between a staff fund for our team, and our very first dividend payment for our shareholders.
April: We held two public meetings, in Ovingdean and Woodingdean, to meet our passengers and the wider community to find out how our Service 52 was going and what residents needed most in the future. We also did surveys on all three of our services, and found high satisfaction levels on all services, with highest marks (93% in one survey!) going to our drivers for their friendly, personal service. Our main area for improvement was found to be the lack of technology giving passengers real-time service information, something we are addressing with our new electric buses. In April we also won a “Best Recycler” Award from Paper Round for our 82% recycling rate, up from 64% the year before.
May: TheMay bank holiday weekend saw us kick off our festival season, with Beltane Fire Festival just outside Lewes. We were also honoured to be the subject of Patcham Junior School’s float in Brighton & Hove’s Children’s Parade.
June: In June we started two new bus services for a large employer in Hove, providing their staff with a shuttle bus between Hove Station and the office, and also a daily coach shuttle between their offices in Hove and Surrey. We also won two awards at the inaugural Brighton & Hove Independent Business Awards, for Innovation and Green Business.
July: We took over the lease on our depot on 1 July from our landlord (who retired), giving us much more freedom to do things like… put solar panels on the roof (more on this later!) But before we could anything with the depot we had to get rid of two scrapped cars and two shipping containers’ worth of rubbish!
August: We bought another coach in August, taking our coach fleet from three to seven in less than six months. These coaches worked pretty much non-stop all summer, on weddings, parties, school trips, day trips, music festival coaches and transport for language school students.
September: We won a hat-trick at the Brighton & Hove Business Awards this year, winning the Green Business Award, Best Place to Work, and Business of the Year. Probably the proudest moment in our story so far.
November: This year undoubtedly has been the best yet for so many reasons, but what put the cherry on top was recognition at the UK Social Enterprise Awards in London, where we were named Environmental Social Enterprise of the Year.
December: What a year – thank you for being part of it! To finish, here are some stats: