Drivers, Day Trips and Lost Teeth: Trentbarton Buses Managing Director Tom Morgan Talks to Us About Their Community on Wheels

Words: Adam Pickering
Photos: Natalie Owen
Thursday 18 April 2024
reading time: min, words

There’s an old saying that a bus is not just a means of transportation, it's a community on wheels. Local bus company trentbarton have been part of our community for over a century now. We put some questions to their Managing Director Tom Morgan about their history, their team and their local environment…


The origins of trentbarton date back to 1913. Can you tell us a bit about its history?
The Trent Bus company was formed on 31 October 1913 and we were in business the following day, taking over the buses and routes of a previous company. One week later, we started our first route between Derby and Stapleford and additional buses were soon being bought. These first new buses were small with around 22 seats, but after a while we bought larger ones seating 28. However, with the outbreak of the First World War, most of our buses were soon taken by the army for war use.

We continued to develop our services and by 1925 had bus routes radiating from and between both Nottingham and Derby. By 1930 the government had decided that competition in the bus industry was getting too great and passed an Act to regulate it. In 1939 war broke out again, bringing many changes with it, but there was recognition that the bus industry had an important role to play in the war effort.

Fast forward to 1969, we were nationalised and became a subsidiary of the National Bus Company. At the end of 1986 the National Bus Company sold Trent to its local management team and their families, some of these people still own the company today. In 1989 we bought the business of Barton Transport Ltd which had begun back in 1908 and was based at Chilwell.

In 2005 we decided that both Trent and Barton businesses should use the trentbarton name, thus forming the single company as you know it today. Along with this, a new modern colour scheme was adopted, which we could adapt for our different brands allowing us to become locally recognised across the East Midlands. Tickets and paying the driver started to become a thing of the past from 2008 as we pioneered MANGO, our innovative smartcard which is now an app-based QR code. 

We’ve found it far easier to find friendly people and train them to drive buses than find people who can drive buses and change their personalities to be friendly

How many people work for the company these days? How big an operation is it?
We now have around a thousand team members, from those behind the scenes to the drivers who interact with our customers every day. Every single member of the trentbarton team is working towards a common goal; to ensure that you get really good service. It really is a 24 hours a day operation.

How many bus drivers do you employ? What skills do you look for in them?
Drivers make up around 80% of our team. A good driver is someone with great communication skills and is enthusiastic and friendly with a sense of humour. We look for people who are naturally warm and empathetic towards other people and we train them to drive buses, all done locally at our Langley Mill depot. We’ve found it far easier to find friendly people and train them to drive buses than find people who can drive buses and change their personalities to be friendly.

What are the weirdest things you’ve ever had left as lost property on your buses?
Teeth! I have no idea how you could forget those.

Tell us a bit about you. What were you doing before you started working at trentbarton?
I studied biology and human anatomy at University in Liverpool and graduated not knowing what I wanted to do. I was keen to get some graduate experience in a business and it just so happens that the first opportunity I had was to work for a bus company in Norfolk called Norfolk Green. From here I was approached by trentbarton to join a graduate programme, which I did. I have been in the transport industry, and with trentbarton ever since. 

Outside of work I love sports, rugby and cricket especially. I like being active, spending time outside and climbing mountains. I also have a small obsession with coffee. My wife and colleagues make this out to be much worse than it is, but the vast majority of my free time is spent chasing around after my two young kids (a five-year-old and one-year-old), hence my regular need for coffee. 

How important are environmental issues to trentbarton. Can you tell us a bit about your environmental credentials?
Environmental sustainability is of great importance to us as a business and to me personally (even more so since I’ve had children and I think about the planet we are inheriting leaving behind). “Sustainable” is one of trentbarton’s five values and as such it’s right at the core of our business. Every customer journey done on one of our vehicles, which is replacing that done by car, reduces the impact on the environment. We have an aim in encouraging people to switch one in every 25 car journeys to bus. If this happened we would save two million tonnes of CO2 and there would be one billion fewer car journeys a year. 


What effect has the recent £2 flat rate bus fare scheme had? Are you seeing more people than ever getting the bus? Is it helping you as a company?
It’s been well received by our customers and because of the scheme we think those customers have been using the bus more. However, it hasn’t achieved modal shift, which is what we wanted to see happen. The short-term additional use from existing customers is great, and our customers appreciate the lower fares, but when asked what they want from their bus services, our customers don’t say they want them to be cheaper. They say they want them to be more punctual, they want them to be more frequent, and they want them to be quicker. It is these priorities I think we should be investing money in; making things better, rather than making things cheaper. 

Using the bus should be the best way to travel, it should be the first choice, because it is the most environmentally sustainable and the most efficient. People making the right choice should be prioritised and rewarded. This would also encourage others to do the same. I would reward those people by giving them priority through the traffic jams, and the road network pinch points. I would give them priority access to the city and district centres, making their journeys more convenient, quicker and more reliable. 

If we achieved this it would encourage people to use the bus, and reward those already doing so. This is good for the environment, for the economy and for social inclusion. We need brave decision makers to implement the infrastructure to make this change happen. 

High public transport use is shown to benefit the economy, the environment and aid social mobility. It enables people to access education and training, get to jobs and medical appointments as well as meet friends, socialise and visit some of the amazing venues and attractions we have

How has it been getting back to normal after the pandemic? What effect did 2020-2021 have on trentbarton. Do you think things are actually back to normal yet?
I think we’re getting there. There are certainly changes to travel patterns which I think are likely here to stay with more working from home, on certain days of the week especially. Our customer numbers now exceed pre-pandemic numbers which is encouraging for public transport, however our customers who are entitled to free travel under the National Concessionary scheme are not using the buses in the same way and are still around 20% lower than they were pre-pandemic.

How’s the health of Nottingham’s transport looking at the moment, from your perspective?
We have two of the most successful bus companies in the UK as the two main operators in ourselves and NCT. Between us we have won more UK Bus Operator of the Year awards than any others. The most recent independent survey by Transport Focus highlighted Nottingham and Nottinghamshire were both ranked in the top 5 in the county as having the most satisfied customers (Nottingham 3rd and Nottinghamshire 5th). In the same national survey we were found to have the friendliest bus drivers in the UK (again). 

How important is public transport to a local community like ours? 
It is essential. If we are genuinely focused on building an inclusive and sustainable future, we have to prioritise those making the right choices. High public transport use is shown to benefit the economy, the environment and aid social mobility. It enables people to access education and training, get to jobs and medical appointments as well as meet friends, socialise and visit some of the amazing venues and attractions we have in the East Midlands.

For people and families in Nottingham can you give them some ideas of really good days out and hidden gems they can get to (perhaps in Leicester and Derby) on your bus routes?
Using our swift route you can get to Uttoxeter Racecourse for one of the best county racecourses in the UK. Using skylink Derby you can get right outside the National Space Centre in Leicester which is a hugely underrated attraction in the East Midlands. Then we have DH Lawrence’s Birthplace Museum on our rainbow one route. If you’ve never been to Tutbury Castle, it’s well worth a visit on the villager route. 

For those after some retail therapy, as well as the cities of Derby, Nottingham and Leicester we service East Midlands Designer Outlet, Giltbrook Retail Park and have some amazing market towns with great shops like West Bridgford, Ashbourne, Chesterfield, Bingham and Mansfield. 

What’s your own ideal day out in Notts? Got any favourite hang-outs here?
It would have to be with the kids at either Wollaton Hall, with the amazing grounds, lake, café, play park and reindeer or Rushcliffe Country Park. At Rushcliffe there is an amazing sensory garden, ladybird trails, a huge outdoor play area, and Nottingham Heritage Transport Centre next door which has numerous restored heritage buses and a miniature steam railway which can be ridden on in the summer. 

What’s the most beautiful and scenic of the trentbarton routes?
We’re blessed in the region with some wonderful countryside and the Peak District on our doorstep. The route which highlights this the most is probably the sixes. The route from Derby heads north to Belper which has a wonderful High Street full of independent shops, before continuing onto Matlock, though Matlock Bath, then onto Bakewell where you can get a traditional Bakewell Tart and some amazing fish and chips. On the way through Matlock you can stop off at the Heights of Abraham and take a cable car up to the top of the gorge with views over the Derwent Valley and Peaks. You can also wander through the spectacular cavern system with a 350 million year old history.

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