At a magnificent ceremony held last night at Brighton’s Grand Hotel to celebrate the 29th annual Sussex Business Awards, The Big Lemon won the award for theMost Sustainable Business.
The Big Lemon was shortlisted in both the Innovation and the Sustainable Business categories, in recognition of our work over the last ten years reducing waste and CO2 emissions by running bus services on recycled cooking oil from local restaurants, and electricity generated by solar panels on the roof of our bus depot.
The Award for the Most Sustainable Business is described by the Sussex Business Awards as “for outstanding achievement by those businesses for whom the protection or enhancement of the environment is placed at the core of their activities, or whose products or practices have resulted in significant beneficial environmental impact”.
Collecting the award, founder Tom Druitt said “A massive thank you to the most amazing team in the world who have made this possible, and to all our friends in the community who have supported us on our journey.”
The winners were drawn from 40 finalists representing 17 Sussex towns . There were 17 different categories, with Bluebird Tea Co named as the big winners of the night, taking home awards for Best Employer and Best Customer Service, and whose founders Mike Turner & Krisi Smith, won Sussex Businessperson of the Year.
New Benefit-Cost Ratio analysis reveals enormous value of bus travel
Greener Journeys worked with KPMG LLP to update the Benefit-Cost Ratios (BCRs) of bus travel, illustrating how investment in buses delivers value for money.
The new research looked at the economic, social and environmental benefits of the bus, examining the value of concessionary bus travel, the Bus Service Operators Grant and investment in bus infrastructure.
This new analysis reveals that every pound spent on local bus infrastructure can generate more than £8 of benefits for local businesses, communities and the environment. The study, which explores the ‘true value’ of local bus services, also found that each £1 spent on concessionary bus travel for older and disabled people generates £3.80 in wider benefits to society.
Buses are Britain’s most widely used mode of public transport and carry more commuters than all other forms of public transport combined, helping to generate £64bn per year for local economies. This vital research demonstrates the significant contribution that our buses make in keeping the UK moving and growing.
Once again The Big Lemon will be running coaches to the Lewes Bonfire from Brighton. The bonfire is one of the biggest in the country, there are six societies putting on five separate parades and firework displays on the 5th, and this can mean 3,000 people taking part in the celebrations, and up to 80,000 spectators attending in the small market town with a permanent population of just 16,000.
Careful travel planning is essential for Lewes Bonfire because on bonfire night a lot of the roads are closed and you can’t park anywhere. Buses and trains are difficult too, because on bonfire night everyone and their dog wants to go to Lewes.
With The Big Lemon you can reserve a seat on a dedicated coach that will take you direct to the heart of the action and give you a guaranteed seat on the way home too 🙂
Coaches leave from Old Steine, Lewes Road (by Elm Grove), Lewes Road Bus Garage and Falmer (adj Sussex University on the A27).
Yesterday was perhaps the most challenging day ever for The Big Lemon. On Saturday we had been running one route, the 52. On Monday we added the 47, 57, 16, 16A, 66, 56, and 56E.
What’s more, because of circumstances beyond our control, we had less than two weeks to get everything in place. That has meant, amongst many other things, recruiting ten new drivers, and sourcing buses to run the routes.
So don’t be surprised if you see some London double deckers around Brighton for a few weeks until we can get some new yellow buses out on the road! Please look out for the bus service number and destination on the front of the buses.
The short time we have had to get ready also means that Brighton and Hove Buses have not had the chance to put the new timetables up at bus stops across the city, so many people understandably will not have been aware of the new times and even routes which came into force.
On top of everything yesterday, we, along with all other bus companies, faced massive delays because of the closure of North Street for road works. This meant a good deal of late running which is not acceptable. If the road works continue to cause delays, we may have to turn buses round before their terminus, as Brighton and Hove Buses sometimes do. If we have to do this, we will use social media to try to keep people informed.
I am very grateful for the patience of our passengers as we bed down in these very challenging circumstances. I am also grateful to our drivers and the rest of our team who have worked long hours over the last week to get the show on the road.
In a fantastic result, The Big Lemon has won almost all the bus routes being tendered by Brighton and Hove Council. This means as well as the 52, local residents will soon be able to catch a Big Lemon bus on routes 16, 47, 56, 57 and 66.
This is a great vote of confidence from the council and is the result of 10 years’ hard work by Tom Druitt and the team, the wonderful friendliness of our drivers, and the environmental and passenger-centred vision we put forward in our bid.
The new services are due to begin on 17th September and there is now a huge amount to do to get ready. We need to recruit lots of driversand train them. We need to get lots more buses, get them painted and equipped with everything from ticket machines to GPS equipment. We need to carve out lots more depot space. And the rest.
The contract with the council is for four years, with an option for them to extend it for a further four years. So for the first time this gives us a significant guaranteed income stream for years into the future, which in turn puts us in a good position to think about expanding further.
As for the buses, we are naturally keen to ensure we extend our fleet of electric buses. Not only is this the right thing to do for the environment, our first two solar powered busesare now out on Route 52, and proving hugely popular with passengers. They are a great advert for bus travel generally. They will be joined in due course by three brand new electric buses, funding for which is partly coming from the Department for Transport.
So great news, and a really exciting time for us. There is no doubt that the future is bright, the future is lemon.
The Big Lemon has a reputation for a friendly personal service and we always look for the most cheerful friendly drivers to drive our buses!
We have vacancies for full time drivers, and some part-time drivers, on local bus services. Drivers ideally must be over 25 years of age with two years driving experience. A manual PCV licence is essential.
Salary: £11.10 per hour starting salary, rising to £11.50 after 3 months
Hours: 39 hour per week – overtime available
We offer a workplace pension scheme, full uniform, staff bus pass valid on the whole network, free lunches and the chance to be part of a great team that won the The Award for Best Place to Work in Brighton & Hove at the Brighton & Hove Business Awards in 2016.
On this day, ten years ago, we launched our first bus service! To celebrate, we’ve put together ten highlights of the last ten years…
2007: We launched the UK’s first bus service powered solely by recycled cooking oil from local restaurants.
2008: A thirteen year old boy came to the depot with his dad, and said he’d seen the buses and read about us in the paper. He said he would like to buy a share in the business with pocket money he’d saved, and also help out in the depot. He helped Tom wash the buses at the weekends, and also helped out in the office after school. Fast forward to 2017 and he’s our Coach Hire Manager, and, having recently passed his Certificate of Professional Competence in International Passenger Transport, the most highly qualified transport professional in the organisation.
2009: We bought our first coach, a Volvo B10m Plaxton Paramount, and launched the UK’s first waste oil-powered coach hire service. We also won our first award, the Dandelion Award for sustainable business, at a ceremony in London.
2010: We doubled the size of our bus service operation almost overnight, launched a waste cooking oil collection service and elected one of our driving team to the Board of Directors to ensure that our drivers are represented at all levels of decision-making.
2011: We launched our Sunday Walks, and won the EU’s Ethiconomy Award at a ceremony in Italy.
2012: We won our first local authority contract, to run the 52 bus. In the five years since we have built strong relationships with the communities along the route, held 11 public meetings, extended the route into the city centre, introduced multi-operator smart-ticketing (in association with the other local operators, the Department for Transport and the City Council) and increased ridership by 59%.
2013: We launched The Big Orange (a coach that was already orange so we saved the money on yellow paint and branded it The Big Orange!) and the Little Lemon wedding car service, using an ex-London taxi. The Big Orange was ultimately painted yellow as we professionalised and improved our cash-flow, and The Little Lemon is now selling beer in Belgium.
2014: We opened our own on-site maintenance facility for the first time, improving our operational capability and also offering vehicle maintenance as a service to other businesses.
2015: The turning point for our finances as we finally paid off the last of our historical debt, greatly improved our cash position, and ended the year with a healthy surplus that enabled us to pay a dividend for the first time and launch our Staff Fund. This fund is 10% of our annual profit which is managed by a staff committee elected by our drivers and is available for staff welfare, team social activities and personal development.
2016: We set our sights on electric bus technology and raised £250,000 to fund the conversion of two buses from diesel to electric. We also raised £25,000 through a crowdfunding campaign and funding from the M&S Energy Awards for solar panels on the roof of our bus depot. We won nine local and national awards including awards for recycling, innovation, and Best Workplace, Brighton & Hove Business of the Year and UK Environmental Social Enterprise of the Year.
2017: This year we published our national strategy going forward to 2030, recruited Norman Baker as Managing Director in Brighton & Hove, and made history again by launching the UK’s first solar-powered bus, powered from electricity generated on the roof of our depot. We have also been shortlisted for three more awards including the National Transport Awards’ Contribution to Sustainable Transport Award and just a week ago heard that we have been successful in our bid to the Department for Transport for £500,000 towards three brand new zero-emissions electric buses to make Brighton & Hove an even cleaner, greener city and build a working model for community sustainable transport across the country.
It’s been a blast, thank you for being part of our story! Here’s to the next ten years…
So The Big Lemon is 10 on 1 September 2017. And we’ve come a long way since the idea for a truly sustainable, community based bus and coach company lit up like a light bulb in the head of our founder and CEO, Tom Druitt all those years ago.
I wasn’t around in Brighton when it all started but I bet there were plenty of people at the time who were patronisingly dismissive of the whole idea and regarded it as a flight of fancy that would vanish as soon as it arrived.
How wrong they were.
Ten years on, and The Big Lemon has never been stronger. Over those ten years we have built a reputation for being at the cutting edge of environmental innovation, and for great passenger service. People like us and want to use our services, which is a great testament to all those who have been involved in building the company, not least our drivers who are the public face of The Big Lemon.
Ten years on and we are still innovating and ahead of the game. This year we have introduced the first solar-powered electric bus in the UK and have since added another such bus and an electric minibus. Our solar panels not only power our buses, but our offices too, and have enough power left to export to the grid. Our conversion of diesel vehicles into electric ones is also a first for the UK, and we are working with the Sheffield company Magtec on this frontier-pushing project.
Ten years on and we are looking to expand the bus routes we offer in the Brighton area and have delivered a set of creative and seductive proposals to Brighton and Hove Council to make this a reality.
Ten years on and our finances have never been healthier, with record profits last year, demonstrating that doing the right thing by the environment and by our passengers makes sound economic sense.
Ten years on and we have accumulated a cabinet full of awards for what we do, and are currently shortlisted for three more as I write, including two highly prestigious national awards.
So I’d like to say thank you and well done to those who have got us this far. But we are also conscious that this is not the time to rest on our laurels. We have big ambitions to grow and we are already scoping out and pacing the route ahead.
Our main aim at The Big Lemon is to make sure everyone who has a ‘Big Lemon experience’ has a good one. We endeavour to make a positive impact on our community, to give our team a fulfilling and enjoyable job, and of course to give our passengers the best possible experience on the bus.
Every year we do a straw poll of our 52 passengers to see how we’re doing, and here are the results for 2017:
Our 2016 results:
We’d like to thank our passengers for their very positive feedback and we have taken on board the feedback to improve the experience, especially with regard to the vehicles. We have invested a huge amount this year in the quality of our vehicles and are pleased to say that the new electric bus is very quiet, very smooth and has a fully re-fitted interior with very comfortable seating.
We’d also like to acknowledge the commitment and dedication of our team to provide a friendly personal service to our passengers – incredible result to get 100% top marks for our drivers!
Come and see us in Brighton’s Churchill Square today where our MD Norman Baker will be showcasing our electric bus and chatting to members of the public about bus services as part of Catch the Bus Week
Our new solar-powered bus got a tremendous reception when we had our official launch on Friday 28th April, at our depot in East Brighton:
We were joined by a great number of friends and supporters, and local elected representatives, including the city’s mayor, Pete West:
The media were there in force too, and we were especially pleased to have ITV Meridian along, whose coverage can be accessed here.
The specialist press was also present, and here you can see the extensive piece published by Bus And Coach Buyer.
There was a chance for everyone who turned up to have a ride on the bus and everyone seemed impressed. The interior has been tastefully refurbished and is unrecognisable from the vehicle as it had been. As for the drive, people expecting a milk float (as some still do from electric vehicles) were surprised by both the smooth ride and the impressive acceleration.
The bus is now undergoing trials and awaiting formal clearance to operate as a passenger-carrying vehicle.
There was also a chance to be shot up in the air in a cherry-picker to see the new solar panels that are on the depot roof and that power our new buses, and to have a tour of the depot led by our CEO Tom Druitt.
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.
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