Sunday 27 September 2015

This Is Not North Korea

Ok only on the CCTV front, where we are world leaders in monitoring the everyday movements of our own people, but on every other front we are nothing like North Korea, especially when it comes to freedom of speech and the power of the press, but it seems there are some who wish we were as scared to speak the truth as the North Koreans are.

Until last night I was struggling for a topic to write about today, and then, very sadly one fell into my lap. Norwich Bus Page has ceased to be a blog, and will instead become a webpage with timetables, fleet lists and galleries etc, but no more news reporting. I suggest everyone reads the last post on there - the link is in the sidebar with all the other blogs.

Let me ask a rhetorical question. What is a bus company's, or any other transport operator's come to think of it, most valuable asset? Their premises? Their vehicles? The contracts they have? Their staff? No, it's none of those, although staff are right up there. None of the aforementioned would exist without the passengers. Like any business if there are no customers then there is no business. As we all know to our cost empty buses don't make money, so why oh why do some operators treat customers which such disdain it's no wonder they stick not only to their cars but also a giant middle finger up at the very notion of using public transport.

In the years I worked in the public transport industry, both buses and trains, one complaint remained the most vociferous, and from what I understand still does - lack of information. I have mentioned before the use of the word incident - which I refused point blank to use myself  and appealed for more accurate and clear explanations for delays and cancellations. I was criticised by people saying only enthusiasts actually wanted to know specific reasons and that vague reasons would do. Sorry, that is not the way we do it in this country, or the word "enquiry" wouldn't exist. We live in a blame culture, and people want a reason to put blame, not necessarily a person but a definitive reason why they are being delayed.

Part of that information process is knowing what services are available in advance. If services are going to change then the customers should be given as much prior notiice as possible. That's why I could go on Greater Anglia's website right now and see what engineering work was taking place in December. The railway industry is beginning to learn that if you actually tell the public what's going on then they accept it and complaints drop. Passengers are NOT stupid - and they know that some things just cannot be avoided. Treat them as kids, as though they are not mature enough to handle information and that's when you get the grief.

Now to the case in point. VOSA and the Traffic Commissioners are there for a reason. Any changes to bus services have to be logged with VOSA a minimum of 56 days in advance. This is to protect the public, so no operator can change services overnight without giving due notice. VOSA publish daily those changes registered. Now you might ask who do they publish them for. Is it for bloggers like me? Is it so competitve operators can see what everyone else is up to? No. It's not. It's so ANYONE can see, if they want, what is going to happen to services. It is for the PUBLIC to look at. If it wasn't VOSA wouldn't publish it. Therefore once something is on VOSA it is reportable. It is in the public domain, and operators cannot whinge and get insulting about that information being reported. Let me give a comparison.

When a footballer transfers to another club when do the fans first hear about it - when the club do their official unveiling and a press conference, or has it been all over the back pages before then, first in rumour, then when the transfer is official and the player registered at the FA. The operators cannot have it both ways - they are more than happy to use the press and indeed bloggers when they want something put out, but they cannot keep trying to move the goalposts when it is negative news. The public have a right to know when a service is being cut, not only so they can make alternative arrangements, but as in the case of the 2/2A a protest can be put together to try and save the service, which surely would be in everyone's best interests anyway - those very jobs being quoted as being at risk for a start. How can trying to save a service be a bad thing? It might just wake people up to the reality that there is a service there and more will start to use it.

We live, thankfuly in a free country. That is why the rest of the world wants to live here. One of those freedoms is that we can report things and hold others to task if it affects people. Cutting services always affects people, regardless of how few, and operators simply cannot dictate how that is reported. If Konect had sent out a brief press release (including the blogs) prior to the VOSA registrations stating that service cuts were unfortunately having to be made, giving brief details but promising further information in due course then there would have been none of the turmoil the erratic reporting has created, and no one could have claimed the moral high ground. Operators you need the public, and you need publicity to get the public aware of your services. But you cannot pick and choose how the news is reported, and negative developments have just as much impact, if not more, than positive developments. The public have a right to know, and it is the responsiblity of both the press, including blogs, AND operators, to keep the public informed at the first opportunity. VOSA is our first opportunity and I will keep reporting anything I see on VOSA AS I SEE IT in order to keep passengers informed as to what service changes may be taking place. After all, turn my laptop off and I am a passenger myself.


  1. I'm not surprised, sadly. Public Transport is a service, that makes the public more than just consumers, they're the masters. You don't keep secrets from your boss. But we're addicted to secrecy, in a lifetime of work nearly everything that passed my desk was marked confidential. Was it? No, but it made people feel good. And in today's world where everybody feels insecure, the secrecy culture is worse than ever.

    If any business feels under attack then it needs friends. And the attitudes exhibited here are not the way to make them. They are rooted in the nineteenth century (or even earlier). Remember, if we're not told then we will think the worst. Inevitably. That's what they want, presumably?

    The good news is that companies (even bus companies) elsewhere are learning, working with their customers (and not just mouthing the words), and putting their news out sooner rather than later, and even putting their running information on-line direct from the horse's mouth, as it were. And anyone who doesn't learn had frankly better start looking for another job, in my opinion. Any business is a two way street. Passengers and hobbyists know a lot, sometimes more than the operators and anyone who doesn't want, or can't be bothered to learn, is an idiot. Full stop.

    1. Just for once I totally agree with that, Smurf. Good to see you so active on here again!

  2. Before the internet exploded onto the scene,operators would post details of up coming changes on their buses 3 to 4 wks beforehand. Now its too much trouble to even post details of holiday services because they think everyone has access to the internet. Suffolk onboard are normally pretty good at getting service changes up in advance,whether they are tendered services or not. With that in mind,the operators seem to be getting very blasé about telling anybody anything. Hence why passengers treat public transport with contempt. Having said all of that,if you are lucky to have a driver who is proud of his job,they do tell their passengers what's upcoming. The one thing passengers hate is surprises. We need to know what is going on. I live out in the sticks so only get a bus through here every 2 hrs or so. I don't drive and dont have any intention of due to poor eyesight. Methinks the next 5 years are going to be decisive in rural public transport. We all have a part to play in making sure these services are preserved. Some people don't have a choice as to where they live.We can't all live where buses run by our door every 15 mins but we shouldn't be punished for living rurally.

    1. Well said, Trevor and you're right - those without internet are left totally ignorant of what's going on, and that gives me an idea.......

    2. Is it an operator thing? Most (both nationals and independents) I've experienced are good with on-bus info (explanation of changes and new times) for about a month in advance and afterwards (sometimes for a long time afterwards), though when buses are swopped around it can play havoc (not so much a problem with rural services). Sometimes free leaflets, PCs and printers have their uses. Arriva seem particularly good with route leaflets. Often the small timetable adjustments are good, prompt and responsive to customer needs too. Both ways in which services have improved in my experience. But maybe they've never discovered accessible print. Provided they are continuing to run the services, otherwise it's the minimum and contact Traveline for info, with the new operators details if you're lucky.

      Roadside timetables are abysmally out of date where they exist - the perennial money problem for Councils who have the responsibility. The new wheeze is using text messages with stop identifiers - with ubiquituous mobile phones, but of limited use in the poor signal rural areas. Also I've noticed service delay notices appearing at bus stations, but not interestingly on the web for everyone else! In town there's sometimes real time display - not real in Essex though after more than two years, though the main operators have access to the tech, just not the public. Interestingly rural operator Stephensons are the exception, if anyone can make sense of it.

      It's all the bit that got forgotten in the competition adrenalin rush.

      I fear it's human nature. Look after no. 1. Do only what you're told to (especially if a Council is involved). Traveline is clunky, but good, and for once can (if you know how to do it) display the majority of stops which aren't timing points.

  3. It seems a case of slow and terminal decline of bus service. Most are at such a basic level they are of very limited use and add in constant breakdowns, cancellation and poor timekeeping I don't see it changing

    The one consistent thing is passengers are always ignored

  4. Off topic a bit more happy news im looking forward to seeing the new mercedes citaros at ipswich buses

  5. Bewilderment as to how North Korea was used as some sort of example.
    Is it because the old enemy China is useful to us for cheap goods etc when they are no better in the examples quoted for North Korea. VOSA publishes only an outline of bus changes so the full details are not known until the bus companies show them.
    Since deregulation bus services became a business and not a public service.

    1. And that is not necessarily a good thing. However regardless of if a business or not if you do not treat your customers well you will lose them. Folk are fickle, and if they don't like something will drop it like a stone and it will take something monumental to win them back.

      I used North Korea as it was the first country that came to mind that has dubious, if not downright draconian free speech laws. I have no reason not to use China, except they have pretty decent business acumen and seem to put the customer first better than some do here.

  6. Surely bus services have always been a business? Ownership alone doesn't make some magic difference.The Treasury is often a far worse and stingy master, and for taking money out of a business than shareholders. Go back to the 1930s and the cut throat nature of the business is a major reason why it's so heavily regulated, and the regulation is so complex, heavy-handed and old-fashioned.

    Large conventional buses trundling round country lanes on an occasional timetable might be romantic and nostalgic, but I'm far from sure it's always the best way to meet the transport needs of small villages, either on price or the environment. And both matter. Where there are the passengers, my experience is the bus service is now often as good as its ever been, and as for breakdowns, cancellations and poor timekeeping, they are generally the exception not the rule, and certainly no worse than for the car, the biggest bugbear being the sheer volume of traffic, the related jams and accidents and, sad to say, not least the attitudes of car drivers, and their passengers ("We've got a car and we're darned well going to use it and *** anyone who gets in our way").

    Of course everyone can think of an exception or a few, but they're not the rule.

  7. But at least nowadays,operators don't need to run large buses/coaches along country lanes but i understand the point being made here. Days when ECOC ran Bristol VRs and IB ran B21s out in the sticks seem an age ago but buses have become more adaptable and versatile over the last 5-10 years as well as being much more economical. Barring peak times,most rural routes have no need for anything more than 25 seats. That's why the Beaver became an everyday sight.Not the prettiest but they did the job that was asked. We are not demanding brand new buses,wifi and all the bells and whistles. All we want is a sustainable reliable way of getting from A to B and yes,sometimes it will not always be the most direct way but most passengers won't worry too much about that.

  8. My apologies to "Anonymous" for deletiing your comment. However it did name a person in a negative way and legally I don't know where I stand on that. Please know I'm not protecting anyone but myself here, but I don't fancy my bum being dragged through Court on a libel charge!!