Friday 11 March 2016

Is Everything Running Smoothly?

I was chatting to a bunch of drivers today. The talk was mainly about grievances they had with their company and how many issues needed to be addressed. However, after about 15 minutes a senior manager walked over, who hadn't heard any of the grumbling, and asked the drivers how everything was and if things were running smoothly. To a man they all smiled politely and said everything was fine and running well. To say I was a little surprised at that response is an understatement, and it got me thinking of how the conversation might have gone had the drivers mentioned everything they had been talking about. I was reminded of a sketch out of Monty Python's Life Of Brian, where John Cleese asks the Peoples Front of Judea "What have the Romans ever done for us", and then gets rather annoyed at all the achievements listed. If you haven't seen the sketch you can see it here.

So this is my adaptation of that sketch and how the conversation today might have gone....

"Hello, chaps, tell me honestly, how is everything - is it all running smoothly?"

"Well I don't know what my duties are next week yet."

"Ok well apart from not knowing your duties is everything running smoothly?"

"My bus had so many defects this morning I needed two defect cards."

"We're short of drivers again."

"The supervisor's blood pressure was so high I though he was having a heart attack." "Oh yes, Brutus, they never got that wound up in the old days."

"More drivers are leaving - even old Julius is leaving now."

"The rotas aren't working."

"Well of course the rotas aren't working - that goes without saying!"

"Passenger numbers are down." "Oh yes Tiberius, way down on 5 years ago."

"We never get the new buses."

"New timetables are terrible."

"Can never get on the right stand."

"Wages were wrong again this week."

"Alright but apart from not knowing your duties, defective buses, ranting supervisors, driver shortages, ineffective rotas, drivers leaving, less passengers, old buses, bad timetables, wrong bus stands and wages wrong is everything running smoothly?"

"Well I didn't have heating..."

"Oh heating - SHUT UP!!!!"


  1. we'll have to speculate (or assume) which company you might be talking about here!

    1. I know many drivers from many companies! What I will say is I ran the idea for the post past a few other drivers and they gave me their full backing. Obviously I will never reveal which operator inspired me - my ass is allergic to being sued :))

    2. Take your pick: pretty well any of them over the last 50 years. (Well, we could all name the exceptions on the fingers of one hand, even if we're short of a couple of fingers).

  2. Just a thought there, Steve. I know I'm a bit early but April 1st is coming so ... It's an ill-wind . . . but if my (sic) mission to get rid of FEx pays off, Colchester could nicely fill in the (rather large) hole in Go-Ahead's south anglia bit, add in the lonesome Ipswich buses/First Suffolk (or both) - not too distant to link with Anglian/Konnect, and wha'hay a revitalised Go-Ahead East. It'd have to be a giveaway, but none of them are making any profit, are they? Problem solved!!

    Stephensons and Ensign could share out the rest of FEx.

    Plenty of competition there. Just get rid of the Competition Commission and put me in charge!!!

    1. Oh jeez Smurf - the thought of Go-Ahead getting their hands on anymore of East Anglia has more links with October 31st than April 1st!

    2. Should have seen that convoy of Olympians coming shouldn't I? (was going to say juggernaut, but it seemed, somehow ... inappropriate). Out for the count, dazed . . . wonders, how do you attract some decent management, then?

    3. For a start you don't assume a degree in business management equates to experience in the bus industry. In my experience the best managers have come up through the ranks, and have done the job they are managing. The best managers I have ever worked with have done the job so not only know the pressures and stresses of the job, but critically they have dealt with the public tooo, and know what demands and priorities they have.

      So it's quite possible the best managers are already here - Chris Speed started as a driver and has risen through the ranks. Andrew Pursey grew up in the business but still goes out driving regularly. Viv Carter, even the long term owners of coach companies such as Soames, Whincops and Belles know the area and the people inside out. How many other potentially good managers are already driving in this area but are being overlooked because whizz kids with a degree are the fashion. Sometimes it's best to look close to home first before away.

      The trouble is these days there is far less emphasis on the "service" side of public transport and far more on the "business" side. What directors, and indeed shareholders need to get into their car dominated lives is that if you don't get the "service" part right your business will not succeed. Trouble is the message seems to have been lost in the post.

    4. Agree with you totally. One (probably main) reason I (and many others) took the oppo of early retirement (tho' not in bus business) was the joy went out of the management side of it: you weren't dealing with people but stats. No-one says the stats don't matter, of course they do; but staff and customers aren't machines and if treated like them the respect goes and you've had it. Now you see it all the time, across the board in every, what used to be called, service industry. Everyone sees it, by and large knows it too, yet for some reason seems powerless to do anything about it. Money, shareholders and Boards are often blamed; not sure that I agree: a lot of it seems to be line managers thinking it's what is "expected" of them. Desk-based training has something to do with it. I grew up in a mentoring environment. Nowadays I think we're given so many dos and don'ts that it must be a wonder anyone has the time to think for themselves at all. Oh, the joys of getting old . . .

    5. And you're right about "understanding how the passengers think". So often I find myself thinking "you wouldn't say/do that if you understood how it's perceived by/what's felt by the [customer]" that I feel like going and banging my head against a brick wall. Same I think must go for the staff.

    6. Let the bunting flutter gaily and the crowds cheer - Steve and Smurf are in agreement on something! Altogether now - "Bluuue Moooon...."