Thursday 21 August 2014

Victoria Coach Station Tour Special Part One

Yesterday, as regular readers will know, saw me going up to London for a meeting with the General Manager of Victoria Coach Station. I had already guessed that by his really professional way of responding to my scathing post of VCS by inviting me down there I wasn't going to be meeting a laid back, shoulder shrugging "what can I do my hands are tied" sort of guy. Far from it, Mark Geldard is a forward thinking man who is using his 25 years of  experience in bus and coach operations to create a vision for VCS whilst being continually frustrated by its physical limitations.

First was a guided tour of the station, and we started in the new control rooom, which was only officially opened last week by Sir Peter Hendy CBE Commissioner TfL. The view from the window gives a really decent view of the entire concourse.

The impressive view from the control room of VCS. Those canopies are original and have remained unchanged since VCS was opoened in 1932
Now some facts and figures. VCS sees up to 700 departures a day, including departures all over Europe. The busiest day of the year is.....any guesses? No? Sure? Ok the busiest day of the year is Christmas Day. Yes that was my reaction too but Mark explained that tour companies have a lot of clients wanting to do something and on Christmas Day everything is shut. So they hire coaches and take the tourists out for a trip and dinner! Also National Express and Megabus have realised that there are no trains so there is a huge market to tap into. Mind you Maundy Thursday isn't far behind - the 2300 National Express departure to Edinburgh had no less than 26 relief coaches on it this year (duplicates they call it) which is quite mind boggling when you think about it. Megabus departures have increased by 25% this year alone, which shows how much coach travel is booming and growing.

While we were walking through the Coach Station Mark was not only assisting passngers, but pointing out various things about the infrastructure, both good and bad. He admitted that the departure layout is not as he would like, and he wants to see passenger comfort, and the flow of passengers improved. He hates the seats, and the layout as a whole with people clogging up the gates before the coach has been announced. The airflow is also a big problem. The airflow units are being worked on at present, but on a hot day it can get intolerable. The picture I took yesterday below explains a lot.

Very gloomy light does not help a good pix!
You can see from the picture how gloomy it is in there, and also how packed. No one is smiling. Now if you will please cast your eyes to the top right hand corner of the pic you will see a fan. That is the ONLY fan in that particular terminal. The other pillars you can see are not strong enough to support fans so you can see the problem. There are scars where there used to be phone boxes and drinks machines and some of the ceiling is incredibly stained. And then there are the pigeons. I have said once before that the only place in London that is pigeon free is the one place they were popular! They have tried everything to get rid of them from VCS including the use of a hawk, but obviously that is something passengers don't want to see and VCS is a 24/7 operation. Pigeons like to sit on top of the destination screens which causes an obvious problem for the passengers below looking up at them.So they put spiked material on top of them, combined with a paste that is abhorent to pigeons. Let's see how it has worked....

I do not see an easy solution to this - the doors have to be left open for ventilation or passengers will be dropping dead with the heat, and so the pigeons just wander in.

Another factor in delaying passenger flow is that coaches, with the exception of airport coaches, can only be timed to leave on the hour and half hour. This is to do with traffic flow in the area, although I'm not sure how 30 plus coaches leaving at the same time exactly aids traffic flow. Gate clogging is caused by the lack of advance seat allocation by either Nat Ex orMegabus, so of course everyone wants to be first on to get the best seats. If coaches are delayed, and lets face it an RTA can happen anywhere, that only exacerbates the situation. The heat increases, tempers fray, incidentrs occur and the whole travelling experience is rather unpleasant, as I described in my initial post.

So what is Mark Geldard going to do about it? How can somewhere with no breathing space like VCS move into the 21st Century and provide a much more pleasant experience for coach passengers. In part two I'll describe the ideas Mark has for the future, plans being mulled over, and the numerous obstacles I can see being put in his way, and indeed under his ground too!

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