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.