LIKE a surprising number of bus company bosses, Thamesdown Transport chief executive Paul Jenkins is a lifelong enthusiast.

His office has old bus company posters on the wall, model Buses here and there – he has about 20 at his North Swindon home, too – along with a range of other memorabilia.

Ask him his to name his favourite bus, and the answer is instant: “The AEC Regent. It’s the bus I passed my test in back in 1978. They stopped making them in 1969.”

He also has adamant views about the role of buses and bus firms. “Last year we ran a competition in which we asked people for their bus memories.

“Buses are hardwired into a lot of people’s memories, whether it was to go to school or on holiday or meeting a boyfriend or girlfriend.

“We’re an integral part of many people’s lives and I think that’s something to celebrate.”

At 55, the dad-of-two has been in charge at Thamesdown since 2006, with ultimate responsibility for 250 staff, 178 of them drivers, plus a complex network of routes, 90 vehicles and nine million passenger journeys a year.

The son of civil servants, he was born in Devon but the family relocated to Kent when he was an infant. His fascination with buses began as a child, thanks to his mum happening to work for a bus company in the 1960s.

“My mother used to work for Maidstone and District, and I used to go there after school.

“I thought it looked interesting, and she introduced me to the bus club – the Maidstone and District and East Kent Bus Club.

“I joined in 1968 and that’s really where it all took off from. I just found the whole thing fascinating – at school I was in the transport society.

“Eventually I went to university in Exeter where I studied geography.

“When I left I thought I might as well have a go at transport. Basically, I applied to British Rail and the National Bus Company, and the NBC offered me a job first.”

In those days, bus services were nationalised, although local services retained individual names and liveries.

Senior management trainees such as Paul were expected to work stints in every department during an intensive two-year training programme.

After training he was sent to Exeter, and in 1983 he moved to Bracknell, where he stayed for two years before another move, this time to Folkestone. By now he was experienced in running depots.

While he was there, bus services were privatised, and Paul was part of a management and staff buyout.

“When you buy the company, you put your house on the line,” he said, “but I’m happy to say it worked alright – the company was successful.”

It was so successful, in fact, that Stagecoach bought it in 1993 and Paul saw service with various firms across the south until the top spot at Thamesdown became available.

The ongoing recession, with rising fuel costs and a financially squeezed customer base, presents new challenges every day, but Paul believes investment in up-to-date vehicles and technology such as GPS tracking and on-board CCTV for driver and passenger security, is the way forward.

In his ideal world, his buses would travel on a fully-integrated network of lanes, cutting journey times and enticing ever more people from their cars and on to public transport.

“We provide a useful service to the community,” he said, “and that’s got to be a good thing in this day and age, to be able to say that.”