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Dai Powell's blog

Dai Powell is HCT Group's Chief executive. His blog explores ideas on social enterprise, transport and related issues. Always forthright, Dai’s views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the position of HCT Group.


Twenty years of TfL

Posted: 12 Jul 2019

June 2019 marked the 20th anniversary of HCT Group’s first contract with Transport for London (TfL). And what a long way we’ve come. In 20 years we have expanded our transport services, spread out across the UK and increased our social impact.

Our first contract with TfL was for three mobility buses. In those days, buses in London were still not very accessible and the mobility services were additions to the regular network. They helped people who found mainstream bus services difficult to use to get out and about, providing the low floor vehicles with wheelchair access that are standard on mainstream buses now. 

The route I remember most fondly was from Walthamstow to Brent Cross shopping centre on Thursdays. It took two and a half hours to get there and two and a half hours to return, with only one hour to go shopping. While this may sound crazy, it meant so much for our passengers. For many of them this was their only outing in the week and a real opportunity to socialise.

Quality of life for people is at the heart of what we do, and transport plays a huge role in this. Getting people out and giving them something to do not only tackles isolation but also builds their confidence and independence. And this has a positive impact all around.

The days of the mobility bus are mostly in the past now.  I am pleased to say that after decades of campaigning for accessible transport, we are finally in a place where we have made the right decisions, particularly in London, making London’s bus service as accessible as possible. We’ve come a long way since that first contract. Increasingly, equality and accessibility for everyone is now an expectation across in the transport industry – which makes me very happy.  

A much more accessible mainstream bus service isn’t the only thing that has changed in the twenty years since our first TfL contact; HCT Group has changed too. That first contract put us in a position to compete for TfL Red bus routes – winning our first, Route 153, in 2001. We now run seventeen of London’s iconic red bus routes from our depots at Ash Grove and Walthamstow Avenue.

Our first contract with TfL also opened doors for us across the country and it has been a huge part of our success today. We expanded our services, grew financially, and established a name and reputation within the industry. We had to learn a very great deal – it was our first ever service using a commercial operator’s licence which set us in good stead for the future.

Moving from community transport to running a commercial service had its own set of challenges as the rules and regulations were very different. However, this learning curve was needed as we wouldn’t be able to run a wide range of community transport if it wasn’t for the work we do commercially. From the seeds of a mobility bus contract 20 years ago has grown a real social enterprise success story.

Though much has changed in 20 years, much abides. We’ve always focused on disability and accessibility. HCT Group operates to serve a social purpose and solve problems that are negatively impacting people’s lives. We’ve also maintained our efforts as an employer – from the early days of our Learning Centre with people who are long term unemployed to our latest project – Drive On, training ex-offenders as London red bus drivers.

Speaking of things that have stayed the course over 20 years. My colleague Fred Thomas started at HCT Group 20 years ago as one of those mobility bus drivers. I’m delighted to say that he is still with us. He is now a senior instructor at our Learning Centre in London and trains people who are in the exact same position as he was when he started. Fred has had a huge impact in his work – he always says that as a mobility bus driver, it was all about the people in the community and building a sense of trust and comfort with them. In Fred’s words: “Everyone that comes on the vehicle – treat them like your family.”

That sums up 20 years nicely. We’ve created a community and we care. We care about the people, the cause and the social good we are doing. 


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