2016 marked 30 years of operation for Coventry bus depot at Pool Meadow. These days, National Express UK Bus employs 450 people in Coventry, running 139 buses on 19 routes, plus school services.
Councillor Phil Bateman was Chair of the old West Midlands County Council Passenger Transport Committee and laid the foundation stone at the start of the grand project back in March 1985. He says the garage was a big deal for the city and for the bus company.
“Coventry bus station was the first purpose-built bus depot in the West Midlands. Buses in Coventry had been based at Sandy Lane and Harnall Lane garages before this, in old, dilapidated buildings where the rain came in. It was state-of-the art - so exciting - with a purpose-built canteen and social club, which are still there.
“We called it Wheatley Street garage back then, after the street where the grain warehouse was - that’s disappeared off the map now.”
The garage has seen many other big changes in the last 30 years.
“The bus industry has really benefited from the waves of people who’ve come to the West Midlands to live and work,” says Phil. “In the late ‘90s, we were finding it difficult to find and recruit bus drivers, so we were extremely grateful for the arrival of the Poles. And there are still 26 nationalities at work here in Coventry bus depot today.”
Many of the drivers at Coventry garage have been working there for years and have seen a lot of changes to the bus industry.
“We got radios in the 1980s,” says Coventry bus driver Bob Walker. “That was a big change for us. Being able to talk to someone back at the depot made us feel much more connected.
“But the biggest change, I think, has been in how comfortable the buses are these days. I think they’re much nicer for the passengers now.”
During the ‘90s, bendy buses ran on the streets of Coventry - taking passengers to the hospital and the station.
And in the early 2000s, National Express scrapped the “toothpaste” livery and painted all the buses Coventry blue - the colour of the famous cloth produced in the city.
Despite all the changes, Councillor Bateman believes:
“This industry will always have a future. If you work in transport, you’ll always have an interesting job. Transport holds everything together. It’s a big industry but it feels small - everyone knows each other and people don’t get forgotten.”
Published 3rd January 2017