First of all this is a serious post. It is not designed to criticise anyone, or any company in particular, but is my view of the general scene right now. There are no pictures in this post so no comapny can think the picture is a reflection on them.
Last week I was saying how lucky we are here that companies are willing to open their doors to enthusiasts, let us take pictures and give us information that enthusiasts in other parts of the country could only dream about. We are privilaged and lucky. Obviously the sheer number of enthusiasts and bloggers in this area has something to do with it, but it had looked as though companies had realised that any publicity is good publicity, and although there will always be an element of irresponsibility in the enthusiast world, or mistakes made, the majority of that is unintentional and without malice. On the whole the enthusiast world gives good positive publicity, and can even forewarn companies of problems they may otherwise be unaware of. Indeed, as one who isn't afraid to criticise, I thought it important to recognise the good things companies do too, which is why I created the awards.
However, in recent weeks I have noticed a certain nervousness within the industry and fear it may lead to doors being closed and information avenues having blocks put in front of them.
If you follow Greater Anglian's Twtter feed you will know just how many tweets a day they put out regarding the state of their services. Not only do they say if there is a delay but the reason for the delay. If a train fails, which all machines can and do from time to time then they say what the fault is, be it traction problems, square wheels, vandalism, bird strike or whatever. That keeps the emthusiasts happy, the public aware, and most importantly stops rumour and wild speculation. If it is a recurring problem with a fleet of vehicles, such as a dodgy switch they will say so, as they know the details will get out in the end anyway
Compare that to the bus industry. There seems to be almost a state of utter paranoia if details of a vehicle breakdown or fault is reported. We have to be so careful in what we report. Let me give you an example. A couple of weeks ago I was woken up by messages telling me a First Ipswich vehicle had suffered an engine fire on the A14 near Felixstowe. It was already in the local media and obviously when the words bus and fire are put together the imagination runs wild and you start thinkng of burnt out shells. So I contaced various sources and ascertained both the vehicle identity and that the fire caused no serious damage. I published both facts, which in my view stopped speculation and reported fact. I did not report what caused the fire, the consequences of the fire or indeed anything else. I was asked to reveal who identified the vehicle to me. I refused. A couple of days later it is reported elsewhere that the vehicle concerned required a new engine. Again that led to speculation that the fire damaged the engine. It didn't. In fact engine failure caused the small fire, and that is the point I'm making.
Machines go wrong. That engine failure was no one's fault. It was not a sign of bad maintainance, indeed I have deliberately used a case from the depot I believe is leagues above anyone else in the way they maintain their vehicles. It was not a case of bad manufacturing. It was not a slur on either the operating company or the manfacturer. It happens. Is every car breakdown the AA attend to the fault of either the owner or the manufacturer? Of course not. A bus breaking down, or even catching fire does not diminish public confidence or perception. No one stops catching the train after a crash do they! In fact, keep the public informed and confidence grows. Hide behind a shroud of secrecy and both public and enthusiasts unsurprisingy will be thinking hello, what have they got to hide.
It was alarming to read a few days ago that one of the most established blogs in the country, who has done nothing except promote and praise the subject of his blog, has been now told what he can and cannot reveal, despite everything he says being fact. That is like the Red Bull Formula 1 team refusing to let Sky or the BBC say what caused a car to fail on Lap 36. When Top Gear gves a car a bad review, the companies that matter take notice and do something about it. Some throw the toys out of the pram but they just look silly. Censorship from the truth shouldn't be part of a world that still claims too have free speech. North Korea yes, UK well....
I have seen no operating company refuse positive publicity. I have seen no bus manufacturer complain when I, or anyone else give a vehicle a favourable review. However one particular manufacturer is getting its knickers in a knot over the truth being told, and to be honest they should really just be concentrating on improving their product rather than crying foul because of some unfavourable reports about their vehicles. No one, to my knowledge has ever made up faults. We report on facts not fiction.
This paranoia is worrying. It needs to be arrested and soon. If a company comes out and says hey guys we've got a problem with our batch of X vehicles and are working with Y, the manufacturers to sort it out so bear with us if you get a bus not normally on the route etc, the pubic is going to think wow - they're actually engaging with the passengers and letting us know what's going on for once. They aren't immediately going to jump ship and get on someone else's bus. When you work with machines they will sometimes fail. It can take months, sometimes years for design faults to show up. No one is to blame but in the name of all that's holy just get on with sorting the problem, let people know what the problem is, let us bloggers report it in a positive way - and trust me we do if it comes from the companies involved, and do not forget that truth and fact are far, far less damaging than rumour and speculation. Plus of course we'll find out anyway! I'm not going to say what I heard a driver blurt out yesterday, but if I did, although I know it to be fact, I also know that it would cause several coronaries at the companies concerned.
Think about it guys. Do you want to have a "what have they got to hide" culture, or an open culture where respect is mutual. There is also a responsibllity on EVERY blogger to not publish every little thing they are told without thought first. Will what you publish damage relations, not just for you but for everyone, and can it be worded a different way so the twitchy companies are happy to keep giving out information. I'm not claiming to be perfect, I'm most certainly not, and I make mistakes which I retract and correct if need be. But If that doesn't happen, then positive publicity will fall, rumour and speculation will increase, and we'll be back to the dark ages of distrust and closed depot doors. That will be a huge step backwards, and will be damaging for all concerned.
Your average punter doesn't give a stuff as to *why* a bus has failed, they just want to know when it will turn up! Imagine a bus company tweeting the scenario of a minor, non-safety critical auxiliary air issue on one of its fleet (aux air usually feeds doors, air-sprung drivers seat etc); next thing, the local rag will splash "Bus passengers in brake fail drama" as a headline, someone will send a copy to DVSA and so it snowballs. Too much information leads to Chinese whispers which is precisely why operators are suitably vague. Most people simply wouldn't understand the very complex systems in use on today's buses and would draw their own conclusions as to the potential impact of a failure. I put it to you that it is only enthusiasts who are ultimately interested in the reason and, quite frankly, armchair bus company managers (and a company's competitors!) are not high up the priority list of people to give information to.ReplyDelete
Totally agree, but if said operator simply said "apologies but the xxxx service x is delayed/cancelled due to an air problem" it satisfies everyone. The public have a tangible reason for the delay (don't get me started on the word "incident"), and trust me they won't go running screaming into the street refusing to ever travel by bus again, the armchair managers don't start speculating, and the company aren't shrouded in secrecy. As for competitors, knowing another operator's bus has an air leak won't have them cracking open the bubbly or announcing huge profit rises as tomorrow it will be their vehicle with an air leak.ReplyDelete
Speaking as someone working within the industry who came into the business as an enthusiast I can understand your frustrations.ReplyDelete
The main problem with some reporting of incidents on blogs is that the operator themselves may not be reporting this wider. In some large operations great efforts are taken to hide lost mileage on services, so the 'official' version of what is formally reported once a month may actually differ wildly from what has actually occurred.
Things like breakdowns for instance or number of customer complaints or services not operating because there is no driver, these can be all measurable things and there may be targets for individual depots, to reduce such things. The service operated with a certain bus might be a council contract with an age limit for the vehicles used, or specific ones to be used, and evidence of non compliant operation results in penalties for the operator concerned.
So seeing reports on blogs would run against the picture that is trying to be painted for the benefit of a remote head office. In some instances, massive alterations in lost mileage or too many breakdowns can and does lead to managers losing their jobs, hence the culture of 'secrecy' that is put around.
The other thing that is probably worth putting across is that unlike the Railways, buses are continuously monitored by a regulatory authority and non operation of journeys, poor condition of vehicles are things that can lead to an operator being called to public inquiry with all that entails. This is why sometimes operators don't fess up to why services haven't operated. No driver, for instance, or no bus, are things an operator is supposed to plan for and expect, but with the best laid plans, there are times where it just can't be covered.
Once on the radar, so to speak, you have to be demonstrating compliance going forward or you then begin to run into trouble (first a reduction in the number of operator discs you have, then a suspension of your operators licence, then if no further improvement, a loss of that operator licence) with the Traffic Commissioners.
It is also worth pointing out that there are some incidents that an operator must notify to the Traffic Commissioners. An engine fire is one of these, as are certain types of road traffic incident. Some operators may have valid reasons for not doing this and may be seeking to cover it up.
As an enthusiast, it can be hard to get into perspective that a lot of people working within the industry might share that enthusiasm, but to others it's just a job that pays their bills/mortgage and allows them to live. They can't understand why people willingly photograph and get excited over the things they have to drive/manage/maintain all week.
It does seem Norfolk is blessed with a lot of enthusiast friendly operations - the level of openness from First is noteworthy, it's not something that is very commonplace elsewhere in the UK. Confining reports to 'facts' rather than 'what might be happening' is a safe way to go with things.
It is worth pointing out that First used to have and still do at least one manager who makes it his business to search social media nationally for instances where employees have posted information about their companies, or dared to proffer an opinion on their employers. These posts were then forwarded to the relevant people in the operating companies.
Many of these employees then found themselves in the office of their immediate line manager for a discussion about their future or their continued employment with the company.
An excellent comment which raises some good points. It looks like my free speech comment is well placed. What is worrying, though I'm sure not surprising to many, is that most of the secrecy isn't to keep the information from competitor's ears, but to cover up malpractice, disguise the breaking of contracts, and to thwart the monitoring of the Councils or Traffic Commisioner.Delete
I fully understand your point about how some share enthusiasm and some can't understand it - that was clear at Hedingham last week where the guy who showed me round the depot was positively gushing in his enthusiasm for the buses there, and another guy in the office clearly couldn't give a wotsit. You get that in all workplaces.
So what is the solution? Should the industry watchdogs redefine priorities? After all as someone said the public don't give a monkeys what vehicle is put on a route as long as something is - except the buggy brigade obviously. I NEVER reveal sources for the very reason you outlined, as no media publication does, and giving a general rather than specific description of faults and breakdown reasons should be enough to satusfy anyone.
However, should such basic information be enough to catch out operators engaging in malpractice then surely they only have themselves to blame, and does back up my point when I said too much secrecy begs the question "what have they got to hide".
Happens in every walk of life doesn't it? I know we're all perfect, or rather behave as though we think we are; but there are two issues: 1. what is delayed or not running, irrespective of the reason. The important stuff for normal people. The rail operators do quite well, as do good bus companies. 2. Curiosity. The more stuff the better. Normal people, and that doesn't include journalists or enthusiasts, bloggers and blog-readers, don't really care less. Inevitably it gets mixed up with PR. What do I think? the bus companies have enough trouble with 1. which seems largely beyond them, to be fretting about 2. which nobody except a few nutters cares about. I do wonder though if the local management aren't worried so much about the passengers, who mostly have their heads screwed on the right way, or even about the competition; as about their own top management, who clearly don't. This Garden of Eden is for their benefit. And just for their benefit, a waste of time it is too.ReplyDelete
I agree and disagree with you in about equal amounts. When I was a rail conductor I tried to give the passengers as much info as I could to tell them why trains were delayed. If I used the word "incident" I knew I would be bombarded with questions from those, and there were many, wanting to know what the incident was. What tends to be forgotten is passengers pay fares, and surely therefore have a right to know why the service they have paid for isn't being provided. If the train had failed I said so. If there had been a person hit by a train 5 trains in front I said so. If a bike had been thrown on the track, welding itself to the juice rail (yes it happened) I said so.Delete
Plus there is another reason the public appreciate more detailed information - so they can let others know why they are late home or getting to work. A schoolchild getting home late saying the bus was late won't be believed as much as the same chid getting home saying the bus was late because of x, y or z. Same with partners getting home later than usual. I'm sure people phoning home from my train saying sorry dear, I'll be late due to a fatality at Rochester got a much more sympathetic ear than sorry, dear, train's been delayed. So yes - sometimes information has more far reaching effects than one might first think.
As for your last point though I think you have hit the nail on the head. Remote Head Offices don't have a Scooby what is going on on the ground, and have even less idea about the routes or road conditions involved. One local company, and its drivers is suffering a great deal right now because of that.
I get your point. Though I was thinking if you were stuck at a bus stop trying to get to work again on a cold wet dark morning, you're more interested in the when than the why. It doesn't make it any better or easier however good the reason. Different stuck on a nice (or not so nice) warm train, with nothing to do but think! In one case you can walk, in the other you've no option (usually).Delete
But more seriously, I do wonder about all this regulation. I know decades ago we thought that regulation was the magic key to quality, and the politicians were converted like religious zealots. Is it? Or is it a cat and mouse game (Tom and Jerry, anyone) which just makes us all more deceitful? Now the legislators, regulators and contracting authorities micromanage so much that one sometimes has to wonder what the management are for? I still remember grannie's wisdom that "honesty is the best policy". Except in the modern world it patently isn't. Everyone from the Banks, the politicians and the press downwards demonstrates that every day. I do remember being most impressed when I heard in the 1970s about, I think, it was an American department store whose 1930s staff handbook had one rule: "always use your own best judgement". Were they right? Too late to turn the clock back, and far too many vested interests. It seems that it's easier to get right if you're small and local, or have a genuine love of the business from the top. Or you end up just trying to keep the politicians and the regulators off your back.
I am reminded of that line from the classic |Madness hit Baggy Trousers, which goes "All we learned at school was how to bend not break the rules". It would seem to apply equally to Management School and PSV operations.Delete
Just read this Steve and some interesting points raised here. I have, in recent months, been very careful in what I publish on my blog. My latest post is one in particular which I wrestled with a lot prior to publishingReplyDelete
More often recently my information sources have been protected. I know of one company that did take one of my information sources to task and mention was made of his continued employment. Suffice it to say his employment prospects won over his enthusiast reports and we are the losers
Bloggers have many contacts with the industry and the former should also be responsible when publishing information - especially when told in confidence. It really is annoying when that confidence is betrayed by another blogger. There should be a common knowledge database of what info is available and what not to publish. However, the younger enthusiasts tends to want to be first with the news and sometimes that causes problems for the operators. We all love getting the scoops but not to the detriment of the working relationships with the bus operators
Finally, this issue needs addressing and should be sorted asap before the 'what have they to hide' syndrome takes affect.(if it hasn't already done so!)
I have already been told by one blogger that the current system works just fine and we don't need to pool information so mistakes don't happen. That is a real shame as if we want the companies to trust us with the information then we have to be seen to be doing our bit, and a common code acceted by both bloggers and operators might just be the way forward.Delete
No responsible operator has anything to hide and I contend that this thread is fuelling this misguided view. If this continues, you run the very real risk of permanently damaging your very good relationships with operators.ReplyDelete
If an incident of any sort occurs on a bus, there is bound to be an army of You Tube-happy, camera wielding members of the public close by to record and publish what happend. As I said earlier, the difficulty is in the interpretation of any release of information and the temptation particularly for less scrupulous members of the enthusiast fraternity to turn fact into fantasy.
I just hope the industry don't take it the wrong way. They do an incredibly good job in an extremely difficult and often hostile environment. Driving in this country is a nightmare, and getting worse. But the biggest battle is with indifference, and in that they make common cause with the blogging community. People don't criticise unless they care. A few will make a song and dance about anything. But for Gods's sake don't put everyone in that category. Accept it, and move on. It's what we all have to do, in our own way. I just don't like to see passengers, as I regularly do, shrug their shoulders and walk away, because they've given up.Delete
As Anon said the responsible operators have nothing to hide. They also engage wiith the enthusiasts/bloggers and know which ones they can trust. The problems start when you have a change of personel and have to start building bridges all over again. If an established agreement is already in force then it wold make things a lot easier. It is a two way relationship and we have just as much, if not more responsibility than the operators to do things right. After all - they don't have to tell us a bloody thing if they don't want to. However I enjoy the good working relationship I have developed with some operators and am rather keen to see it continue. That is why I think this discussion was needed. I also think that sometimes the operators aren't too aware of what the public perception is. Certainly not in remote Head Offices, and that is another useful way we can help.Delete
Your last sentence intrigues me a little, as surely that is indicitive of the not so impressive way operators keep passengers informed. Having said that I am not the only one to notice that twitter info from the operators today has been rather more detailed and courteous ! Probably just coincidence!
You've missed the point again! Too much information is dangerous. And don't forget that operators don't have to share anything with bloggers - you are kind of suggesting that you somehow have a right to information because of your established relationships. You don't. Be careful not to irreversibly damage what you have by pursuing this threadReplyDelete
You clearly do not read my responses. Let me quote from a reply today:Delete
It is a two way relationship and we have just as much, if not more responsibility than the operators to do things right. After all - they don't have to tell us a bloody thing if they don't want to.
I have no idea why this has snowballed so much. I have raised this discussion to PROTECT what relationshipp there is and to try to enhance it. I am NOT asking for too much information, I am asking for basic information for both bloggers and passengers waiting in the freezing cold for a bus that's not turned up. That's all. I am not looking for pre MOT inspection sheets. I am not asking for regular emissions and diagnostic tests. I am not asking for a tweet if a bus is 5 mins late. What I am suggesting is toys should not be thrown out of the pram if anyone reports a broken window, or if there appears to be a fault common to more than a couple of vehicles, that basic information quells speculation and "fantasy posts", and if a bus is cancelled due to a puncture then the CUSTOMER - without whom no operator would exist, is told. I did not bring up malpractice - a commentor did, so reply to him. And start giving your name please - one or two anonymous comments is one thing but when you keep using it to hide behind it makes me wonder what you yourself has to hide.
As a commuter, I don't need to know if the doors fail or a window cracks, all I need to know is whether a bus will show or not. In my region (Essex), most bus operators are woeful at communicating this. First Essex have even said their Twitter feed is for 'information only'. I find myself resorting to the traffic news to find out if I am going to be late to work or home. I feel that if bus operators were in general more transparent, it would deflect a lot of complaints away from them.ReplyDelete
Exactly, Lee. Arriva have helped this with their rather good app where you can track individual buses, but no one else seems to have taken up the iidea. You might be interested to know that the First Essex Twitter feed comes from Norwich, so the chances of them knowing what's going on in Essex is somewhat remote. They are reliant on depots letting them know which takes us back to the original problem.......Delete
Disappointing (but not surprising) that the mushroom treatment ("people are like mushrooms, best kept in the dark and fed bullsheet") is alive and kicking amongst our local operators. A few of them in the Home Counties, not a million miles from Essex, have got the message. The tech is good, but as we all know with anything satnav, it can give some ridiculous messages. (Essex CC have "had" a system for 18 months; I believe, though I belivev it was operating on one service and from one bus stop though the displays without real time info are plentiful in some parts of the County, including one in my village which suffers with the A12). A conscientious tweet-operator is worth their weight in gold, but why are they so difficult to find (or rather, to keep)? That's why the problem is up the chain, and not with the troops on the ground, who suffer as a result. They'll give out info if they're allowed to, often they're even enthusiastic as they can do a better job. The excuse that "careless talk costs lives" is often the most contemptuous and stupid thing I've heard. It doesn't. What it does reveal is a state of mind, and it isn't pretty. It should have been buried with the 1950s.ReplyDelete
"Careless talk costs lives"? Haven't seen that mentioned anywhere here........a bit of over-dramatisation worthy of a local ragReplyDelete
There are a number of issues for the bus industry, some in comparison with the rail industry, that have an impact on this. A big one is staffing, few companies have large head office staff available to manage these sort of interactions - if there is a problem the ops staff are busy fixing the problem though they should have time for a quick tweet that the problem exists. The information demands from many enthusiasts can be felt to be fairly excessive and an unnecessary distraction from the important role of dealing with passengers, unless you are lucky enough to get a member of staff with their own enthusiastic leanings. Providing more detail about non-operation when it happens is difficult as the identification of the existence of an issue is very separate in time (up to a couple of hours in some cases) from the identification of the cause of the problem so by the time you know the issue it is no longer relevant to the customer. RTIs & vehicle tracking are useful tools but these systems are not yet as reliable as people seem to think they are, particularly for rural operations (my employers run one of the leading systems and whilst the big city depot has tracking rates of 80-90% the depots with largely rural services struggle to reach 50% of vehicles tracking at any one time, once these tech issues have been solved for these systems then things will undoubtedly move on.ReplyDelete
The bus industry does have to deal with the DVSA and there is a perception that being too open about causes may see you targeted, particularly if your neighbours are not so open so you look worse than them (and even the most competent and law abiding operator can suffer from this). There is some cause for this, First have in a number of places published their reliability statistics and in at least one case had this used against them by the TC when they were called up as these published stats showed a slightly worse reliability rate than the DVSA monitoring. We do know that the TC & DVSA will initiate investigations based on single incidences so it is natural that operators will want to control how much unnecessary detail is in the public domain, particularly since the TC doesn't accept that breakdowns or failures are 'just one of those things' and will always happen or that most traffic delays are unpredictable or outside the operators control - operators are expected to manage all aspects of operation and running short of staff or buying unreliable vehicles is not an acceptable excuse in the eyes of the TC for non-operation. As such any public statements by the company may be taken and used in any legislative dealings (something that with the exception of court cases isn't the case for railways as far as I know) so it is unsurprising that frontline staff will be discouraged from being too detailed on explanations at the time.
Some interesting comments. The problem with many enthusiasts is that they don't seme to realise that the average passenger has a completely different view of the industry. For example, whilst reporting an "air fault" as the reason for a delay/cancelled bus, might be of interest to an enthusiast, it would mean absolutely nothing to most regular users. Indeed they'd probably think it was just plain stupid, as how on earth can air be faulty!! Therefore, simply reporting the delay as due to a vehicle fault or technical problem would actually be more informative for the average bus user. Much as enthusiasts might wish them do be, bus company twitter feeds aren't aimed at them!ReplyDelete