Port Stephens Coaches celebrates 60 years of operation this year and in keeping with the focus of a bus company, things keep moving forward.
For brother and sister Chris Fogg (managing director) and Alison Schneeberger (financial controller) its been a great family journey.
The siblings are proud descendants of Hunter Valley transport icon Sid Fogg who founded Port Stephens Buses in 1957.
“Grandad Sid Fogg along with two partners purchased Port Stephens Buses in 1957,” Chris explained.
"Before that, Grandad had been involved with his brothers Owen, Roy and Amos running Foggs Motor Service operating Cessnock Buses (Rover Motors), Kurri Kurri Bus Service, Toronto Bus Service, Toronto Taxis, Hunter Valley Coaches, Allens Tours and Stockton Bus Service, which originated in the coalfields out of Cessnock.
“Sid became the sole owner of PSB in 1963 when he purchased the shares off the other two partners.
“In 1963, at the age of 22, Sid’s eldest son, Terry Fogg, our dad, and his new wife Kay, mum, moved to Nelson Bay to act as manager of the company. In 1972 grandad sold Port Stephens Buses to Dad and Mum.”
At age 16 in 1983 Chris left school to take up an apprenticeship with the company, eventually rising to general manager in 2009.
In 2013 Alison, an accountant, returned to Nelson Bay to help Chris manage the business.
The journey of Port Stephens Coaches has reflected that of the community.
“Business in the early years ran direct to BHP Steelworks for the workers with the early services starting at 5am and the late night services leaving Newcastle at 11pm,” Chris said.
"A one-way run took about 1.5 hours and took in the Stockton punt. The good thing for commuters was that buses had priority at the punt and didn't have to queue up.
“Direct services were also operated to Courtalls Factory at Tomago which was a Textiles Factory. Tomago Aluminium operates near to the old factory these days.”
The demand for public transport changed through time from the early days of one-car families and heavy dependence on public transport to an era of high car ownership and minimal dependence on public transport.
"For a while there mum and dad really struggled, but the opening of Stockton Bridge in the early 70s was a game changer, opening up the penninsula to a new demographic of families and retirees who needed public transport."
Similarly changes in government policy have affected the business, including things like free school bus travel eligibility, freedom of choice of school, seatbelts and bus safety.
“Things evolve and you must change with them," Chris said. "If you don’t you will be left behind and you will become forgotten.
“We may take people to different destinations and locations for different reasons but the need for travel is there.
"Our position remains the same: if people want to go somewhere and the numbers add up, we'll take them there."
In navigating the twists and turns through 60 years PSC has become part of the community fabric – there in good times and the bad.
“We are always at the forefront of emergencies and large events,” Chris said.
“During the Pasha Bulka/Newcastle Floods of 2007 Port Stephens Coaches were an intergral part of the rail replacement services for both NSW Trains and Trainlink.
“It was the same again in the 2015/2016 Maitland floods. In fact, PSC plays an integral part in alleviating all major transport disruptions in the area.
“Recently during the 2014 Port Stephens bush fires, PSC continually diverted buses through Raymond Terrace and other areas to get services around affected areas which changed by the hour. You may not have had two buses run the same routes. As the fire moved so did requirement to change the direction for the service for safe travel.”
PSC started with six buses, but these days the operation has a fleet of over 100 running bus and charter services throughout the Hunter, NSW, Queensland and Victoria and employing over 150 people.
To stay viable Port Stephens Coaches has been a leader in innovation.
Kay Fogg was the first lady bus driver in the Hunter and the company was the first in the area to install two-way radios and electronic ticketing.
“There used to be no mobile phones so if a bus broke down the driver usually had to walk to the nearest house, ask if they had a phone and ring the office,” Chris recalled.
“Otherwise they’d walk a couple of miles to the nearest phone box. Back in those days there were more phone boxes on the roads and they weren’t vandalised. If that didn't work, they'd often have to fix the problem themselves."
Before electronic tickets, the drivers had to take care of individual paper tickets for each passenger.”
That inconvenience was literally small change compared to other things the drivers had to put up with.
“The old buses had no power steering, they were equipped with front engines, which were noisey with their non synchro-mash “crash” gearboxes, and hot, which combined with no air-conditioning meant driving conditions were far from the pleasant experience they are today,” Chris said.