Lots on in July!

Sunday Walks starting tomorrow, London to Brighton EV Rally on the 18th, and our AGM on the 23rd July

The Big Lemon London to Brighton Electric Vehicle Rally
The Big Lemon London to Brighton Electric Vehicle Rally is the first of it’s kind in England – a celebration of electric vehicles and renewable energy technology, and also the launch of our new electric buses!

Sunday Walks starting tomorrow!

The Big Lemon Walks

Following a break due to Covid 19, we are resuming our Sunday Walks tomorrow, Sunday 4 July 2021. We are planning monthly walks on the first Sunday of each month up to October.

We generally take the bus out into the countryside, walk at a leisurely pace for about 3 hours taking in the scenery and finish for lunch at a nice old country pub.

Walks are between 5-7 miles long and aim to provide good exercise in beautiful country surroundings without being too strenuous, though some walks are quite hilly.

They are suitable for all ages from about 6 onwards, though younger ones are also welcome if you don’t mind carrying them part of the way! 

Tomorrow’s walk is up to Firle Beacon along the South Downs Way, finishing in Alfriston. More info here: thebiglemon.com/walks

London to Brighton EV Rally

The Big Lemon London to Brighton Electric Vehicle Rally is a brand new event being held for the first time in July 2021, to demonstrate and celebrate the rapid development of electric vehicles and renewable energy.

Starting on the banks of the River Thames and finishing on Brighton Beach, the event is open to participants with electric vehicles of all types, shapes and sizes, with prizes for lowest energy consumption in all classes.

The inaugural event is sponsored by EDF, and will mark the launch of our new Higer STEED electric buses (above, right!). The new buses will be taking part in the rally, along with 60 other vehicles including a number of self-built vehicles. All vehicles will be on display at the finish line at Madeira Drive, by the Brighton Zip.

Entry is still open if you want to participate, and of course you are invited to join us on Madeira Drive to our new buses cross the finish line and have a look at all the weird and wonderful machines that will be on display once they have finished the rally. There will also be a chance to drive one of our new buses! More info here: londontobrighton.org

The Big Lemon AGM

The Big Lemon AGM will be held on Friday 23rd July at 10.30am, virtually through Google Meet. Although only Shareholders are able to vote in the meeting, we invite the whole community to take part.

We will be reporting on our transition to an electric bus fleet in Brighton & Hove, and on progress at all three of our businesses: The Big Lemon Buses; Brighton Horizon Coaches; and Seaford & District Buses which we acquired at the beginning of this year.

If you’d like to join us, please email hello@thebiglemon.com

Protecting children’s health from air pollution on Clean Air Day

Today is Clean Air Day and this year sees schools, hospitals, workplaces and communities across the UK running activities and taking action to inspire people to take simple steps to protect their health, their families’ health, and children’s health from air pollution.

In line with this year’s theme ‘protect our children’s health from air pollution’, we are demonstrating our support for action on air pollution and speaking out to show how much we care about building a clean air future for our children.

Air pollution affects your health from your first breath to your last, as the damage to our health can start when we’re a baby and carry on through into old age. But poor air quality is not a fact of life. Our air pollution crisis is solvable and there are simple steps we can all take to help our family avoid toxic air and cut down on the pollution we emit – it’s good for us and good for the planet too.

The Big Lemon is supporting a Clean Air future through increasing our fleet of electric buses from nine to 16 across Brighton and Hove. That’s facilitating over 1000 extra passengers per day to travel differently and sustainably around the city.

Traffic is one of the main pollution sources in our towns and cities and The Big Lemon ‘s vision is to offer the community access to affordable, sustainable transport, using zero-emissions vehicles powered by renewable energy.

The Big Lemon has been investing heavily in electric vehicles and will launch four brand new Higer electric buses at the London to Brighton Electric Vehicle Rally on Sunday 18 July.

The Big Lemon is a founder partner in the rally, which aims to showcase and celebrate the rapid development of electric vehicles and renewable energy technology.

“Following the end of most lockdown restrictions congestion and air pollution has returned to our cities with a vengeance.

“As we return to our lives, we must take this opportunity to create a healthy environment for our children where they can learn and play safely.

“I’m proud that The Big Lemon has been somewhat of a pioneer in Brighton & Hove, working with the community to bring forward electric vehicle technology to combat air pollution in our city. We hope to be able to do the same in many other communities in the future to realise our vision that in 2030 every community in the UK has access to affordable public transport using zero-emissions vehicles powered by renewable energy.”

Tom Druitt, Founder & CEO, The Big Lemon

Further information on Clean Air Day is available from the Clean Air Day website www.cleanairday.org.uk

The Big Lemon’s new electric buses arrive at Southampton Docks

Following our successful application to the Department for Transport’s Ultra-Low Emission Bus Fund in 2018, and with the continued support of investors in our community, we have bought four more electric buses for use in Brighton & Hove.

Last year we trialled the Higer STEED bus on all our routes. This one is seen with The Big Lemon’s Optare Solo electric bus behind, on Route 16

The buses are called STEED (an acronym of Sustainable Transport Electric Energy Delivered) and are built by Higer Bus in China and supplied by Dublin-based Harris Bus & Coach. They will be the first of their kind in the UK.

The four buses will join The Big Lemon’s existing electric fleet, which is currently:

Two Optare Solos converted from diesel to electric by Magtec in Sheffield:

Four brand new Optare Solo EVs:

Two second-hand Optare Solo EVs originally operated in Dorset:

Three second-hand Optare Versa EVs originally operated in Coventry:

And an electric minibus:

The Higer STEED demonstrator vehicle performed well on all our routes, and the four additional electric buses will enable us to run all our services with zero-emission vehicles. One of the new STEEDs is already with us, but the other three were delayed, first by Coronavirus, and then by the closure of the Suez Canal following the grounding of the Ever Given earlier this year. They arrived in Southampton on Friday.

Our first Higer STEED being delivered

The Higer STEEDs have six CATL battery packs with 174kw of stored energy and have a maximum range of 155 miles in winter (165 in summer). They have 26 passenger seats, and capacity for 22 standing passengers.

We are very excited indeed to be imminently launching four brand new electric buses, as part of our transition to a fully electric fleet, ensuring all our bus services can be operated by zero-emission buses.

Air quality is a huge issue in Brighton & Hove, and The Big Lemon is committed to a fully zero-emissions electric fleet this year.

We are very grateful to our passengers, our investors, and of course our incredible staff team who have worked hard to make this possible.

I would also like to thank Chris Haughton, General Manager of Harris Bus & Coach for all his help, and Denise Harris, CEO, for all her support.

And to our community here in Brighton & Hove and supporters across the UK, thank you for believing in us and supporting us; The Big Lemon is leading the way in zero-emissions sustainable transport and it’s thanks to you.

Tom Druitt, founder & CEO, The BIg Lemon
Higer Bus with L2BEVR branding

The four new buses will be launched at The Big Lemon’s inaugural London to Brighton Electric Vehicle Rally on Sunday 18th July, sponsored by EDF.

Could you be The Big Lemon’s Operations Manager?

The Big Lemon Community Interest Company is a sustainable transport operator based in Brighton & Hove that runs a fleet of 20 buses on local bus services. The company is a social enterprise owned by members of the community and our work is guided by our core values of community, sustainability and innovation.

The Big Lemon is a small (but growing!) organisation with a big vision: that by 2030 every community in the UK has access to affordable public transport, run with zero-emission emissions powered by renewable energy and owned by the local community. Currently The Big Lemon’s main focus is the transition of its fleet from diesel to electric as part of this vision.

The Big Lemon is looking for an Operations Manager who shares our values; with a passion for leading, motivating and supporting a team to reach its potential and deliver outstanding services to our passengers. The successful candidate will be able to demonstrate how their values guide their decision-making and how they can bring people together to achieve a shared goal. They will also be able to demonstrate effective financial discipline and a good level of commercial awareness.

The Big Lemon’s Operations Manager will be responsible for the recruitment, training, supervision and wellbeing of our team; the quality of service to our passengers and customers; reporting against KPIs; and compliance with all relevant transport and health & safety legislation. They will also act as the Transport Manager and the Responsible Person with regard to Health & Safety, as well as an Appointed Person for First Aid at Work.

The successful candidate will be able be able to demonstrate:

  • an ability to create good relationships, build rapport and earn respect: a good leader and a people person
  • operational expertise including experience as a bus driver and a manager (management experience can be at any level and in any industry)
  • experience managing systems to achieve business goals and maintain compliance with regulations
  • commercial acumen: an ability to think on your feet, respond to changing situations and make the most of opportunities
  • calmness under pressure: an ability to troubleshoot effectively and make the most of challenging situations

The successful candidate will also have a PCV licence (Cat D); and will either have, or be willing to undertake, a Transport Manager CPC (National Passenger Transport) and a First Aid at Work qualification.

Normal hours of work will be 0830 – 1700 Monday to Friday including a 30 min lunch break. Starting salary will be £35,000, or £40,000 if the successful candidate is already a qualified Transport Manager. Other benefits include statutory holiday, pension and sick pay, and free membership of the Transport Benevolent Fund.  The Big Lemon is an Equal Opportunities Employer committed to diversity in the workplace.

To request further information or to apply for the role please email tom@thebiglemon.com with a CV and covering letter outlining relevant experience and what makes you the right person for the role.

Closing date for applications: 5pm Friday 12 February 2021

For the Operations Manager Role Description, please click here

Seaford & District joins The Big Lemon family

The Founder and Managing Director of Seaford & District Motor Services has taken a step towards retirement with the sale of the company to The Big Lemon. David Mulpeter, who started the company in 2010 and has built up an operation spanning bus and coach services, engineering, sightseeing and heritage buses, took his first step towards retirement last August with the sale of the coach operation which together with The Big Lemon’s own coach operation, created Brighton Horizon Coaches.

In a heartfelt message to staff, David said

“Seaford and District was created by me 10½ years ago and has grown steadily over this time to which I am very proud of, and has a good reputation. The business needs continual energy to enable it to grow further which I feel I can no longer do.  I would like to thank each and every one of you for helping in the building of the business and know that under the guidance and energy of Tom and Ryan it will continue to do so.

Seaford & District will maintain a separate identity and The Big Lemon’s Coach Manager, Ryan Wrotny, will take on the day to day management as Managing Director of Seaford & District and Brighton Horizon Coaches. As Group CEO, The Big Lemon founder Tom Druitt will look at how the different companies can work together to share best practice and improve services across Sussex.

In a joint letter to Seaford & District staff, Tom and Ryan said,

“We are excited and delighted to have been given this opportunity by Dave Mulpeter to work with you all to take Seaford & District Motor Services through the next stage of its journey.

We have worked closely with Dave for a number of years and he has been a real pleasure to work with, always willing to do whatever he can to help another operator out. And it’s clear that these values are shared by the whole company. We have both been inspired by Dave’s work and impressed by the growth of Seaford & District, and the quality of the services Seaford provides. Our shared values led to us joining forces last summer to create Brighton Horizon Coaches from the coach operations of Seaford & District and The Big Lemon.

It’s a great honour to be given the opportunity to take Seaford & District forward and we are really looking forward to working with you all. The team spirit at Seaford is clearly very strong, the fleet is smart and well-respected and there is a huge amount of potential to grow the business further and improve bus services for the wider community in Sussex.

Ryan will take on the day to day management of Seaford & District as Managing Director and Transport Manager, working closely with the whole team alongside the same role at Brighton Horizon Coaches. The two companies will maintain separate identities but will support each other by working together when they can.

Tom will take a keen interest in the longer term development of the company and is especially interested in how Seaford & District, Brighton Horizon and The Big Lemon can work together to offer better transport options across Sussex.

Tom and Ryan will work closely together as co-directors  to ensure the long-term health of the business, the wellbeing of the whole team and the quality of service we provide to our passengers. Seaford & District has a fantastic reputation in the industry and we are keen to build on that and are looking forward to working with you all to take the business to the next level.

We are very grateful to Dave and to all of you for this opportunity and are looking forward to getting stuck in.”

Temporary suspension of all services: 5 January 2021

Urgent message to all our passengers at 1430 on 5 January 2021:

One of our team has sadly tested positive for Coronavirus. We have been clear from the beginning that the safety and wellbeing of our staff and our passengers is the most important thing for us, and as a result we are taking the following steps as a precaution:

  • We have instructed all our drivers to complete the trips that they are currently driving and then to bring all the buses back to the depot
  • All our drivers will then get an NHS Covid test
  • All our vehicles will be deep-cleaned and fogged
  • Our offices will also be deep-cleaned and fogged
  • Staff will be able to return to work when they confirm a negative test result.

We will not run any services until this process has been completed. This means no services for the rest of today and no services tomorrow. We are hoping to run at least a limited service on Thursday and by Friday we hope to be back to normal.

We apologise to all our passengers affected and ask that anyone who is stuck as a result of the buses not running please call the office on 01273 681681 and we will book a taxi for you.

Thank you for your understanding, take care and we will update this website and social media as soon as we get more information.

Tom and the Team at The Big Lemon

Useful phone numbers:

Brighton & Hove City Council Public Transport Team: 01273 292480

Brighton & Hove Buses: 01273 886200

Compass Bus: 01903 690025

CityCabs Taxis: 01273 205205

Streamline Taxis: 01273 202020

Brighton & Hove Community Transport: 01273 677559

Happy New Year from all of us at The Big Lemon!

We would like to wish you a very Happy New Year and share with you some of the highlights of 2020!
2020 is unlikely to be up there at the top of many people’s ‘Best Years Ever’, but we have a lot to be grateful for. In these difficult times it’s nice to remember some of these moments. I hope that the last year has not been too hard on you, and that 2021 has better times in store for us all!

We have a picture for each month, and for those who are really keen, some of the pictures link to a more detailed story…!
In January we received a visit from George Freeman MP, the Minister for Future Transport, who was very interested in our community model for local public transport, and especially in our solar-bus programme.
In February we found out we had been included in the ‘How Green is my Brighton?’ feature in the University of Brighton’s magazine The Brighton Effect, alongside our friends at Brighton Energy Coop, the Earthship, and Caroline Lucas.
In early March, before the pandemic changed all our lives, we went to Scotland to buy two buses from a lovely chap called Harry O. Harry O had spent the last 25 years running a local bus service between Airdrie and Coatbridge, a one-bus operation that he drove himself, and occasionally got his son to drive when he wanted a day off. 

At the age of 85 he decided to retire, and sold us his buses. This one was his main bus (the other being his spare) and in honour of him and the service he provided to Airdrie and Coatbridge for 25 years we named the bus after him.
On April 1st we started running a reduced service due to the impact of the Coronavirus and the resulting national lockdown; many of our team were furloughed along with millions of other workers around the country, and a small dedicated team of highly trained professionals kept the show on the road for the next five months.
The service throughout April and May was very quiet indeed with just a few passengers, but we kept a limited service going mainly for staff at the Hospital, local supermarkets, pharmacies and other essential services. Areas of the bus were taped off to enable social distancing, and we installed contactless card readers to minimise the use of cash. We also bought a ‘fogging’ machine to provide an anti-viral film on all interior surfaces, and invested in extra cleaning to enable all vehicles to be deep-cleaned twice a day.

Financially the services became reliant on extra public money to keep them going, despite the large reduction in passenger numbers, and we spent a lot of time thinking about the future of the bus industry and how it can adapt to the new situation
In June we were highlighted by Community Energy England alongside Brighton Energy Co-op for our work to power the electric buses with solar energy. Here I am on top of a bus in our depot with Will Cottrell, Chair of Brighton Energy Co-op. 

We are now actively looking for a new site where we can put more solar to power our growing fleet of electric buses.
In July our bus Harry O entered the land of Roblox… apparently that’s a computer game!
In August we joined forces with Seaford & District and launched a new coach company, Brighton Horizon CoachesBrighton Horizon combines the coach operations of The Big Lemon and Seaford & District, and is run by our Coach Services Manager Ryan Wrotny
Have you ever wondered what happens to The Big Lemon buses when they’ve finished with us? In September we found out what one bus has been doing since it retired from our Route 44 in December 2016… it’s been turned into a camper van and has spent the last few years travelling around the world!
In October we tried out another electric bus, the Higer STEED, to see if it would be able to do all our routes. It’s seen here next to St Helen’s Church in Hangleton, just in front of one of our Optare Solo electric buses on Route 16.
In November a little bird told us it was a special boy’s birthday. Arthur is very interested in buses and has been to our depot a few times to see the buses and meet the team. To give him a nice surprise on his birthday, we took the bus to his school and met him as he came out – he was overjoyed and that made us all very happy!
December has been a very busy month!  A couple of weeks ago local communications guru Bill Murray and I launched plans for The Big Lemon London to Brighton Electric Vehicle Rally – which we hope will be an annual event to demonstrate and celebrate electric vehicle and renewable energy technology. 

Then at Christmas we ran a Santa Bus, initially planned just for the communities on our routes but in the end, due to popular demand, we took Santa all over the city. We raised £477.50 for local foodbanks, and collected a huge amount of food and other essentials as well to distribute to those in need this Christmas. And the best bit? Many many children were very happy to see Father Christmas!
We wish you the very best for a happy and healthy New Year! May 2021 be a kinder year to all of us 🙂

The Big Lemon’s bus services in Brighton & Hove return to pre-Covid timetables

Following 6 months of reduced services operating due to the Coronavirus we are excited to announce that today, Monday 5th October, all our bus services return to their previous timetables; apart from a few small improvements that we have taken this opportunity to make:

  • Route 16 has a slightly amended timetable so that journeys from Portslade Health Centre to Hangleton leave on the hour, and services from West Blatchington School towards Portslade leave 30 mins past the hour.
  • Routes 47A and 52A have been extended to the King’s School in Hangleton, and the 47A has also been extended in the other direction to start from East Saltdean.

Routes and Timetables can be found here:

Route 16

Routes 47 & 47A

Routes 52 & 52A

Route 57

Services 47A and 52A are available to members of the public as far as Brighton Station; after this they are reserved for schoolchildren in order to maximise capacity. On school services, in line with Government guidance students can use all seats on the bus, but there will be no standing capacity.

To enable all passengers to travel safely, passengers aged 11 and over are expected to wear face coverings unless they are exempt. Our drivers carry medical-grade masks on all buses for passengers who need one.

CEO Tom Druitt said

“We are delighted that following the reduced services of the the last 6 months we are now able to return services to normal, and would like to thank Brighton & Hove Buswatch, the Public Transport officers at Brighton & Hove City Council, and of course our own team who have worked very hard to make it possible.

Passenger safety is at the forefront of our minds and we have put in place a number of measures to keep our passengers safe:

  • Our vehicles are “fogged” every 28 days; this is a process where the interiors are sprayed with a fine mist that kills over 99.9% of viruses and provides a protective layer that protects surfaces on the vehicle against viruses for 28 days.
  • Our vehicles are also deep-cleaned daily including all touchable surfaces
  • We have installed protective screens on the vehicles to protect passengers and staff
  • We have installed terminals in all vehicles to allow contactless payments
  • We are restricting capacity to 50% to enable social distancing
  • We have signage at the entrance to our buses to remind people to wear a mask, and our drivers carry a supply with them on the bus for anyone who needs one.”

All The Big Lemon’s public bus services in Brighton & Hove have the same fares as Brighton & Hove Buses and Compass Bus, and CitySaver tickets bought on The Big Lemon are valid on all Brighton & Hove Buses and Compass Bus services in Brighton & Hove. We also accept CitySaver tickets issued by other bus companies, as well as:

Return of the 16, the 47A and the 52A, with extra services for schools

Following the disruption caused by the Coronavirus pandemic (and in preparation for schools reopening at the end of this week) we are delighted to announce that Route 16 serving Hangleton, the Knoll Estate and Portslade shops will be returning tomorrow, 1st September, along with School services 47A and 52A and extra school services in the afternoons.

Following popular demand the 47A and 52A have also been extended to Kings School in Hangleton, and the 47A has also been extended to start from Saltdean. This means that now there is a direct bus service from Saltdean, Rottingdean, Woodingdean, Ovingdean, Roedean, East Brighton and Kemptown village to BHASVIC, Cardinal Newman, Blatchington Mill, Hove Park and Kings School.

Routes and Timetables can be found here:

Route 16

Routes 47 & 47A

Routes 52 & 52A

Services 47A and 52A are available to members of the public as far as Brighton Station; after this they are reserved for schoolchildren in order to maximise capacity. On school services, in line with Government guidance students can use all seats on the bus, but there will be no standing capacity.

To enable all passengers to travel safely, passengers aged 11 and over are expected to wear face coverings unless they are exempt. Our drivers carry medical-grade masks on all buses for passengers who need one.

All our public bus services in Brighton & Hove have the same fares as Brighton & Hove Buses and Compass Bus, and CitySaver tickets bought on The Big Lemon are valid on all Brighton & Hove Buses and Compass Bus services in Brighton & Hove. We also accept CitySaver tickets issued by other bus companies, as well as:

The Big Lemon launches Brighton Horizon Coaches, a new coach company for Brighton & Hove

We are delighted to announce that today we have joined forces with another local independent bus operator Seaford & District to create an international coach operator called Brighton Horizon Coaches. The new brand launched today at a special ceremony at the Peace Statue on Brighton & Hove’s seafront.

The new company brings together the experience of The Big Lemon and Seaford & District to create a brand focussed on quality and innovation

The Big Lemon first entered the coach industry by chance, when in early 2008 someone asked if they could hire a Big Lemon bus for a day trip to London. The trip went ahead, and the company was soon doing regular trips and later that year bought a coach to dedicate to private hire full time.  Since then the coach fleet has grown to seven vehicles and services include school and college services, private coach hire, festival coaches, day trips, sports fixtures, airport transfers and rail replacement coaches.

In recent years The Big Lemon has invested heavily in the fleet, which has transformed from a rather aged fleet to one with modern luxury coaches, including two fully wheelchair-accessible coaches. The tie-up with Seaford & District will make the new company Brighton & Hove’s largest coach operator with a fleet of 11 coaches; with four fully wheelchair-accessible.

The Big Lemon coaches and Seaford & District coaches will all be re-branded as Brighton Horizon Coaches

Founder and CEO Tom Druitt said

“The Big Lemon and Seaford & District have worked together for a number of years, helping each other out when needed and working together wherever possible to improve services to our passengers. We share many of the same values and at the end of the day both of us have always been 100% focused on our customers and providing them with the best possible experience. Seaford & District is run by real transport enthusiasts who care deeply about the quality of their work and I’m delighted that we have been able to work with them to create a new coach company that brings together the best of what we have to offer, with a combination of quality and innovation that’s truly unique in the local coach market. 

“On a personal note, I’m incredibly proud of our Coach Manager Ryan Wrotny who joined us as a 13 year old boy having saved up his pocket money to buy a share in the company. He has worked hard ever since that day, first of all helping me wash buses and run the office, then training as a bus driver and driving our 52 bus for two years; and finally passing his Transport Managers’ Certificate of Professional Competence in International Passenger Transport and taking on the operation of our coach services. He has done a fantastic job, building new relationships, improving the fleet, and developing the team. Ryan will now lead the new company Brighton Horizon Coaches and has already shared with me some very exciting plans. I wish him the very best of luck and will always be here to support him.”

Ryan Wrotny (L), Tom Druitt (C) and David Mulpeter (R)

David Mulpeter, Managing Director of Seaford & District said

I am delighted that the new Brighton Horizon Coaches will carry on and grow further what we have built up over the last 5 years with our coaching side of the business here at Seaford and District . This restructure will enable Seaford and District to focus further on our nucleus of school , sightseeing and heritage Vehicle works streams.

This decision was not taken lightly and much thought was given to it but following personal circumstances of the sudden passing of my wife the time is right to pass the baton. I wish all the team at Brighton Horizon Coaches good luck for the future.”

Ryan Wrotny, the new Manager of Brighton Horizon Coaches said

“I’m very excited about this opportunity, bringing together the best of two well-known coach operators. My vision is to take the best of Brighton and expand to new horizons. I’m proud of my city and want to provide professional, reliable, luxury coach travel to its people, taking them to new places. I never want to stop growing, developing, and exploring, and I’m excited to have this opportunity to create something we can all be proud of.” 

The combined coaching team

Brighton Horizon Coaches offers 29 seater and 49 seater vehicles with full air conditioning and is licenced to operate across the UK and Europe. The new coach company can also be found on Facebook @brightonhorizoncoaches, Twitter @brightoncoaches and Instagram @brightonhorizoncoaches.

Where next for the bus industry?

Following the Prime Minister’s address on Sunday evening we have been doing some work on envisioning where the bus industry (and transport more widely) is heading and how we can thrive in the post-lockdown economy.  Specifically:

  1. the possible long-term effects on travel habits and the bus industry as a whole
  2. the implications for The Big Lemon going forward, and what we need to do to adapt to a new environment.

But first, what have we done so far?

Wayne at the wheel ready to go

At the beginning of this crisis we set ourselves three priorities:

  1. to keep our staff and passengers safe
  2. to maintain services for our passengers for as long as possible
  3. to maintain the financial health of the organisation

The Big Lemon maintained normal services for as long as absolutely possible, and I’m proud to say that even though the option was there to reduce the service, our team chose to carry on with a full service all the way to the end of March, mainly to support hospital staff at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, and a number of our older passengers who rely on the bus to get their shopping. During this time we invested in extra cleaning for the buses and issued masks and gloves for our drivers to keep them – and everyone else – safe.

By the end of March, however, our passenger numbers were reduced to about 10%, and it no longer seemed necessary to run a full service, so we agreed a reduced timetable with the City Council that would prioritise the services that keyworkers still needed to get to work, whilst protecting our team and reducing costs to the bare minimum.  This reduced timetable has been in operation for six weeks now, and we are now turning our attention to what comes next. One thing is clear: it won’t be simply a return to how things were before.

What will be the long-term effects on the bus industry?

The obvious problem that we have as an industry, in common with most others, is how do we maintain social distancing on the bus? Currently social distancing on the bus is easy, because there are only three or four people maximum on the bus at any time; however as lockdown is gradually lifted we will need to restrict where people can sit.

Most of our buses have 30 seats and a total capacity of 58 people including standing passengers. Realistically, considering the layout of the bus, if social distancing is maintained it reduces our 58 capacity to seven people travelling individually or up to 14 if people from the same household are travelling together.  Across the industry that is a huge reduction in capacity and will have many implications.

The first of these is that people will be looking for other ways to travel. There is a danger that this will lead to more car journeys, with implications for air quality, public health and congestion on the roads, and I think it absolutely must be a priority for all policymakers not to let this happen.  Brighton & Hove City Council is fortunately aware of this issue and over the weekend a new cycle lane was installed on Old Shoreham Road, one of a number of measures planned to encourage cycling and walking. However, if these initiatives are not successful enough, we will see more congestion on the roads and this will increase costs on the buses, as more buses are needed to run the same level of service.

So as costs rise and passenger income falls to a fraction of what it once was, the whole business model for most bus companies gets blown out of the water. Sadly as a result of this we will almost certainly see many bus operators go out of business, and others reduce services. Rural communities could be particularly badly affected.

What are the implications for The Big Lemon?

The Big Lemon is in a better position than many others, because the majority of our services are operated under contract and financially supported by our partners.  However, our public bus services are also reliant on passenger income, which has almost completely dried up and will take years to recover. This means that we will have to work out the level of subsidy required to run the services going forward, and the City Council will need to decide whether to increase the subsidy or reduce the level of service. 

In addition to our public bus services we run a number of regular services for local colleges and other organisations for their students and staff. In order to enable social distancing on these services we are anticipating being asked to provide larger vehicles or extra services on these contracts; indeed one of our largest partners has already asked for this.

Thus for us it’s a mixed picture; certainly some challenges ahead but equally an opportunity to review our business model and make the changes that we need to make to accelerate our plans to realise our 2030 vision.

So what is The Big Lemon’s strategy for the rest of this year?

Where do we go now?

In a nutshell, our strategy is to envision what is required of public transport in the future, and make that our model, now.  This means both what is required in terms of passenger safety and social distancing; and what is required in terms of reducing emissions. 

Our mission then for 2020 is to

  • assess what our services will look like going forward, and what new opportunities may present themselves
  • work out how many vehicles we will need (and what sizes) from January 2021 onwards
  • re-work our business plan based on the new economic reality and the opportunities that we plan to pursue, assuming all vehicles used on our services are zero-emission vehicles powered by renewables
  • work out how much investment is required to increase our fleet of nine electric vehicles to the levels we need to run all services with zero-emission vehicles
  • put this to the public and see if we can raise the investment we need for a 100% zero-emissions fleet, powered by renewables, based on our post-lockdown business plan.

We’ll keep you posted, and as ever, if you have any contacts, know of any opportunities, or have anything you can offer that might help us accelerate our progress please get in touch!

Free travel help for those looking for work

Brighton & Hove City Council have extended their support scheme for those looking for work to include Portslade. The project area is now West Hove and Portslade (west of The Drive/Grand Avenue), and East Brighton from the Palace Pier to Falmer and the marina.

For those living in the project area and looking for work, the Council offers up to £300-worth of help towards a bike or trike as ¾ of the cost, and/or towards the first month of bus or train travel to a new job when moving on from unemployment (this includes The Big Lemon).  There is also the option of free kit for walking: waterproof shoes and coat. 

Photo: Healthy Stadia

Other travel help from the council includes free membership of the bikeshare scheme for NHS workers (go to www.btnbikeshare.com, select annual membership and NHS staff option), and for home care workers whose firm has a contract with the council (staff to ask their manager).

Brighton & Hove City Council Transport Planner, Simon Hickmott says:

In Portslade this year, the Council can also pay for small improvements to walking or cycling facilities.  Elsewhere in previous years in response to residents’ requests we have paid for improved path drainage, wooden steps for a short-cut, and lockable bike sheds.

Please do encourage residents to get in touch.

Simon Hickmott can be contacted on 07876 394 865 or simon.hickmott@brighton-hove.gov.uk

Further information on the Council’s travel help scheme can be found here

Happy Earth Day from all of us at The Big Lemon

Today is Earth Day. Ordinarily there would be events, lots of public statements, renewed focus on dealing with the world’s environmental challenges and (sadly) also a fair bit of greenwash. However this year is different.

With the Covid 19 crisis the world’s attention is focussed (quite rightly) on caring for the sick and stopping the spread of the virus. In this the world is united.

As a result there are a number of reasons why we at The Big Lemon are cautiously optimistic that we are better equipped to take on the world’s huge environmental challenges than we might think. Why?

  • We have learned that when there is political will almost anything is achieveable. From block-booking hotels to house rough sleepers to building a fully functioning hospital within 3 weeks, where there’s a will there’s a way.
  • We have shown that dramatic reductions in carbon emissions and associated improvements in air quality are possible to make, very quickly.
  • We have realised that it’s actually quite easy to work from home, and to do without a huge amount of what we previously thought were life’s essentials.
  • We have remembered what’s most important in life; our health and wellbeing, family time, clean air, walks in the woods, birdsong, home-baking, our neighbours, our local independent shops, and keyworkers – mostly low-paid staff who until recently were barely appreciated at all.

We in the bus industry have, as a result of the pandemic, recently been reclassified as key-workers. We always knew we were important (!) but it’s nice to be recognised for the vital role we play in getting people to work, to the hospital, and to the shops.

The bus industry has been hugely affected and nationally is running a fraction of normal services. We at The Big Lemon are running 42.5% of our normal services but many in the industry are running much less or not at all, and the big worry is how many communities will lose their bus service completely as a result.

However it’s clear that the world has changed, the way people travel has changed, the amount people need to travel has changed, and the way we as an industry operate needs to change too.

For a more in depth discussion on the challenges facing our communities this Earth Day please have a look at the video below where Tom Druitt, The Big Lemon’s Founder & CEO, joins Kayla Ente (Founder, BHESCO), Kat Fletcher (Director, Freegle), Ruth Anslow (Co-Founder, HISBE) and Damian Tow (Director, Brighton Energy Coop) in a special virtual discussion to mark the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day:

Coronavirus Update 31 March 2020

Until today The Big Lemon has maintained a full timetable in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis in order to enable staff working at Brighton’s Royal Sussex County Hospital and local pharmacies, grocers and supermarkets to get to work, look after everyone, and make sure people have enough food.

We have also been conscious that many of our passengers are elderly and live on the outskirts of the city, and have no access to private vehicles. The waiting list for supermarket deliveries as been 2-3 weeks.

Our driver Wayne ready for action

As the Coronavirus crisis has worsened, it has been harder and harder to maintain services. A number of our team are now self-isolating or working from home, our maintenance workshop has closed, our suppliers have almost all closed too, and sometimes the drivers are lucky to have one passenger all day.

In light of this, and in consultation with Brighton & Hove City Council, we have decided to focus our efforts on essential services only. We will continue to serve all areas, but at a much-reduced level of service. Changes will be brought in tomorrow, 1st April 2020 (and no, sadly this is not a joke…!)

Key changes are as follows:

  • There will no longer be a dedicated 16 service. Instead, journeys on service 47 towards Sainsbury’s will continue to Portslade Health Centre, Boundary Road and Portslade Station.
  • Services 47 and 52 will run most (but not all) journeys from the beginning of the day until about 11.45am. There will then be a break until about 3pm, when services will resume, at a slightly lower frequency, until the end of the day. We have prioritised the morning and evening peaks as that is when our remaining passengers need us most.
  • Sunday services on Route 57 will operate two hourly throughout the day.
Jordan cleaning The Big Lemon bus during the Coronavirus outbreak
We will continue our daily deep-cleaning programme throughout this period

New Timetables from 1 April 2020:

Click here for new 47 Timetable

Click here for new 52 Timetable

Click here for new 57 Timetable

These timetables are designed to be temporary measures only while we are in the grip of the Coronavirus. As soon as we see happier times and social distancing measures are relaxed it is envisaged that we will return to the previous schedules.

Founder and CEO, Tom Druitt, said

“It’s been a pretty crazy time and I’d like to thank our team for doing an amazing job keeping a full service going while the world is quite literally falling apart around us. I sincerely hope these measures that we have had to bring in will be temporary, and I look forward to resuming a full service as soon as we are through this period and social distancing measures are relaxed.

I would like to wish all our passengers and friends the best of health in these worrying times and look forward to seeing you again on the buses very soon.

PS: Our friends at Brighton & Hove Community Transport have set up a new Food Delivery Service to help people self-isolating in Brighton & Hove get food and basic essentials.

You do not need to be a member of Community Transport already, and you do not need to be classed as vulnerable to use the service – it is for everyone. Click here for further information