Thursday, February 08, 2007

an open letter to FirstBus

It takes a lot to get me all riled up and hot and bothered, but Bristol's bus transport providers FirstBus have managed it this week. The day-to-day unhelpfulness and surliness of the bus drivers in the face of the no doubt wearisome burden of a whole load of ordinary Joes trying to get to work and the occasional foreign student trying to get to college washes over you after a while; you just pop in the iPod and bury your head in the newspaper. Our trademark British politeness and acquiescence and reluctance to cause a scene helps the poor old passenger absorb a fair bit of abuse as well.

Those who know me well know that I'm a pretty placid and laid-back sort of bloke most of the time. The problem is that while I have a very long fuse, it is attached to a barrel of TNT the size of Belgium. So when I found myself having to physically prevent myself from SMASHING SOMEONE'S FACE IN this morning I felt that venting a bit of spleen might be a good and healthy thing to do. And then I thought: why inflict this just on the poor and innocent public? So the open letter I reproduce below has been sent to FirstBus themselves (contact them here if you have any complaints of your own), Venue and Reclaim The Buses, just to put the cat among the pigeons.

Dear Sir,

I work up near Aztec West, and habitually take the bus from one of the stops a short distance up the Gloucester Road from Zetland Road Junction - generally the 309/310 Dursley/Thornbury service, but occasionally the 73 or 75 if necessary.

I boarded the 8:50 310 service from Zetland Road Junction this Tuesday morning, February 4th. Generally I'm pretty conscientious about having the correct change, but on this particular occasion I only had a £10 note. On being presented with it the driver, who seemed to be of European extraction, attempted to explain to me in broken English that (despite having a half-full bus) he couldn't change my note (I was attempting to buy a £3.50 FirstDay ticket at the time), and that I should wait for a subsequent 73 service to see if they could provide change.

I explained, as politely as I could, that this was not an option as there was no guarantee when the next 73 service would turn up, and, in any case, the 73 takes around 50 minutes to make the journey from Zetland Road Junction to Aztec West while the 310 takes only around 25 minutes. After much shrugging from the driver I suggested that maybe he should give me a change ticket for the £6.50 he owed me. He agreed and we went on our way.

This morning, February 6th, I boarded the earlier 8:20 310 service from Zetland Road Junction, confidently brandishing my change ticket. As soon as I produced it the driver, exhibiting all the charm for which Bristol bus drivers are known, said “no, no, I don't want no change tickets”. Mildly surprised, I asked him what he meant. We don't accept them, he said, company policy. My mild surprise gradually turning to incredulity, I asked him to clarify – was he really saying that I could be issued a change ticket on a 310 service, but that I couldn't redeem the ticket on the same service a couple of days later? Apparently so. In order to redeem the ticket I would have to call in, in person, at Bristol Bus Station.

Now I seem to remember, not so long ago, a series of posters proudly proclaiming First's change ticket policy – displayed on most buses behind the driver's enclosure. “Passenger change tickets.....your right.....our pleasure” was the catchy slogan.

It's difficult to imagine what leverage the simple paying customer might have, given your effective monopoly over Bristol's bus services, but here are a couple of suggestions:

Except where it conflicts with your own stated regulations (not accepting £50 and £20 notes, for instance) it is your responsibility to provide change to passengers who can't provide the exact fare, or, failing that, to provide a workable alternative system (as the old change ticket regime was).

The current system, if it was explained to me correctly, is unworkable. It cannot be right to expect the passenger who, through no fault of their own, can't provide the exact fare, to make a separate trip to cash in a change ticket in the centre of Bristol, a round trip, for some, of several miles. It certainly cannot be right for drivers to issue change tickets without clearly explaining the elaborate redemption process which now exists.

If the current system is not as it was explained to me, then some urgent re-education of your drivers is required. While you're at it some very basic customer relations skills training might be in order as well. Bus passengers are not an inconvenience to be endured, tutted at and generally abused, they are in fact the lifeblood of your transport business without which it would cease to exist.

Yours faithfully, blah de blah, etc. Have some of that. It won't make a blind bit of difference, but I feel a bit better now, and that's the main thing.


everlands said...

Well said.

As an interesting aside, I have observed that the fuse shortens somewhat the moment you set foot on a golf course.

Talking of which ... when are we playing next?

Maz said...

"It takes a lot to get me all riled up and hot and bothered ..."

Made me smile ... like this :-)

Top site tho DT; I do miss your rants. You really are the ventmaster when it comes to spleen.