New IRTE PSC Chair discusses his vision for the professional sector.

Tony Cockcroft has joined the IRTE PSC as Chair at a time when his stability and intuition will be needed the most. After riding out the storm of the pandemic as Engineering Director at Stagecoach, Tony has taken the PSC role when the road transport sector is experiencing great upheaval. But regardless of the difficult recent past, Tony is looking only to the future.

“It’s an exciting time to be part of the IRTE. Over the next few years, I would like to bring further innovation to the PSC. We need to be more forward thinking, to look at what is coming rather than what we have done. There’s been a change in technology, so we need to be looking forward. Battery technology, hydrogen: key changes in the industry, so we must make sure the skill sets are ready for that. As an industry, we should be leading. We want to be steering that transition,” said Tony.

Transferring to an alternative fuel commercial fleet outside of London represented a major challenge for his North West Stagecoach team, and with no real benchmark to work towards, trust was placed in wide-ranging analysis techniques and the scheme’s partners to keep the plans on track.

“To say we underestimated the scale of it would be fair. Until you start getting into something like that, you don’t realise how much expertise it takes. Electric depot infrastructure is not straightforward. We chose our operating model, which was an alternating current (AC) electric facility. There was no standard protocol for charging using this technology, so we worked through a series of think tank sessions until all parties forged a solution,” said Tony.

That was the first challenge, then came the pandemic. Government advice to avoid public transport, especially buses, during the early stages of the pandemic resulted in reduced passenger numbers that the sector is only now recovering from. Again, Tony is keen to focus on the positives.

“We’ve had to raise our game in all aspects, not just on the engineering side but operationally as well, to implement different systems and procedures on our vehicles to protect drivers and passengers. We’re cleaning more than we’ve ever cleaned, we’ve got all sorts of security screens, but you’ve got to do this without scaring people off. It’s got to be a welcoming environment to encourage passengers out onto the vehicles. As an industry we’re very robust, we’re one of the most regulated industries there is, and have challenges thrown at us year-on-year. Whether that be truck or bus, we seem to be able to overcome them very well,” continued Tony.

Tony is well-versed when it comes to taking on a new challenge. Earlier this year he and a group of Stagecoach colleagues completed the Three Peaks Challenge for charity, and in doing so showed the resolve engineers are known for.

“I don’t think we were the fittest group, but we had a strong mindset which got us through. The weather conditions meant we could’ve easily thrown in the towel on a few occasions, but we battled through. It shows the engineering determination and spirit. No matter the problem, you’ll always find a way to get through it.”