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.