As austerity measures start to take effect, many bus routes across the country are being reduced, or withdrawn altogether.
One bus journey may feel just the same as another to you, the passenger – but there is a crucial distinction at play. The vehicles are the same, the fares and even the drivers are the same – but often, services that would not make a profit for the operator are subsidised by the council.
These include early morning and late night runs, and routes taking in remote or rural locations, where passenger numbers don’t offset the cost of the journey. It is these services that are most at risk as the government puts pressure on local councils to spend less.
Slashing these routes might help the councils balance their budgets, but of course, removing a bus service can have a real impact on people’s daily lives. Those who have made the decision to live in rural areas, based on previously good public transport links, may find they can no longer get to work or their kids to school; disabled, elderly or otherwise vulnerable people may find that all contact with the extended community has been cut off.
So what can you do?
1. Start a FixMyTransport campaign
Start by locating the bus route in question, and contacting the operator: this is a good first move, because it means you get the facts laid out for you in their response – and even better, because you’re doing it through FixMyTransport, the response is online and available for everyone else to read, too.
Note that FixMyTransport’s database contains many discontinued routes, so you can still mount a campaign even if your route no longer exists.
2. Ask an expert
There’s a good chance that the reply will say “It’s a budgetary decision from the council, who subsidise this route”. If that happens, click the “ask an expert” button on your FixMyTransport page, and ask for the council’s email address to be added to your campaign. We’ll do that sharpish, and then you can then bring them into the conversation.
3. Gather support
One message won’t do much on its own, so look at our blog post on how to gather support and take your issue further. This sort of problem is particularly suitable for local press coverage and for getting your local councillors involved – we explain how to do both in that post.
You can also add your discontinued bus route to their crowd-sourced map. Because the CBT is running a nationwide campaign, they can get real traction behind the political issues driving the slashes in bus provision. They also have links to local groups, and can give advice too.
There’s strength in numbers – and if you’d like people to join your campaign, consider joining other ones yourself. People up and down the country are affected by the same issues, and if you share tips and offer support, you can ensure that you’re all more likely to succeed.
Here are just a few of the recent FixMyTransport campaigns about discontinued or at-risk routes:
Train delays can be an extremely frustrating experience. It is not just the time that you lose at the end of your journey (work time or time at home) but also the delay itself, particularly missed connections or a lack of information. Train operators have improved their communications significantly with tools such as Twitter and Facebook in recent years, but there is still room for improvement when services go wrong.
When it comes to complaining about train delays, Train Operators need to know which services were you intending to travel on and what actually happened?
What was your plan?
Times (including any connections and where they should have been made)
What actually happened?
Times (again, including connections)
Where the delays happened
Any reasons given at the time
In addition, it assists operators if you can provide any comments on the experience. Include any areas where information was lacking, where the service could be improved – or even where it worked well. This helps operators identify areas where they can improve, and also recognise which processes do not need changing. It’s always good to make sure the higher management know about staff who are doing a good job in difficult circumstances, too.
Once you’ve put together this information, you can of course send it to the train operator via FixMyTransport.
I use the notebook tool on my phone to record information that I think will be useful. It allows me to note events as they happen, and add thoughts about what is going on. I can then alter it later into a structure that a representative at the train operator would understand, and be able to act on.
Operators will ask you for your ticket if there is an opportunity for offering you compensation. If you send your tickets to them, you should take a copy first: either photocopy them, scan or take a picture. This means that you still have a record in case they are lost or misplaced.
What about after I have asked for a train refund?
There are two complaints that we see on FixMyTransport after passengers have submitted a refund request.
I have not received a response
If you have not received a response, it depends on how long has elapsed since you submitted your complaints. Most operators aim to respond to all complaints within twenty working days. If this time has passed you should contact Passenger Focus.
They have lost the tickets I sent them
If they have lost your tickets, you should have taken a copy of them and you should be able to send that copy to them. If you have not taken a copy, my advice would be to look for any further proof such as a receipt or bank statement. You should discuss if there are any options for using this as evidence.
This train is formed of… six carriages. We would like to remind passengers that a no-smoking policy is in force on this train. Please ensure that you have taken all your belongings with you when you exit the train.
Clearly, announcements play an important role for those with impaired vision – but need there be quite so many of them? In the comments on the BBC report of the story, contributors point out that many are redundant – like ‘this is a no-smoking train’, when smoking is banned on all trains these days. Or ‘thank you for choosing to travel with [this train company]‘, when there’s only one operator in the district.
FixMyTransport users get exercised about train announcements, too – not to mention on buses, the Tube and on station platforms. Some are for them; many are against. Here’s a small selection.
On Virgin’s Glasgow to London line: “Honest, I won’t sue the train company if it neglects to tell me how to blow my nose.”
On the Bakerloo line: “At 11 pm, do we really need to be told to ‘alight here for London Zoo’?”
On the Jubilee line: “Loud, irritating, patronising, tedious, whinging, stupid, pointless, endlessly repeated announcements”.
We have several complaints about Scotrail’s announcements, including this one: “When this is your life 5 days a week, 49 weeks a year it makes for an unpleasant, stressful and depressing commute”.
And the other side of the issue:
On London Midland’s Birmingham to Lichfield route: “The problem mainly exists at night when it is hard to see station signs due to the bright lighting on the train”.
On Tramlink 3 in Croydon: “I am partially sighted, and this resulted in my boarding the wrong tram yesterday and wasting time going to Blackhorse Road.”
Given that routine announcements may be a necessity for some and an annoyance to others, I’d like to suggest an opt-in method to hear them, like plug-in aeroplane headphones. No need to thank me, train operators of Britain – my real reward will come when we can all travel in peace.
If you’ve tried to travel with a dog, you’ll be aware that bus drivers sometimes take exception to canine passengers. It’s a problem that crops up regularly on FixMyTransport* – see these reports, for example:
We’re sure dogs can be a pain for bus drivers – but to be quite honest, they haven’t seen the half of it. Just for fun, we took a quick look through Flickr’s Creative Commons, where, we have to say, dogs are the thin end of the wedge.
We’d love to see how the transport providers of the UK would cope with these passengers… and we await our first ‘duck on the bus’ report with anticipation.
You know what? Dogs seem pretty innocuous when compared to a camel trying to board the bus. Maybe this is an image to print out, carry in your wallet, and show to the driver next time they try to stop Rover from boarding.
*As you can see from the operators’ replies to these complaints, the regulations about the carriage of animals vary from company to company. Dogs will generally not be carried if they are dirty, threatening or annoying to other passengers, or roaming free – but these are all down to the driver’s discretion.
TfL’s guidelines, for example, are here. Rather magnificently, they include the line ‘dogs must be carried on the escalator’, the basis of one of this country’s corniest jokes.
Every day on FixMyTransport, we see a number of very frustrated passengers complaining that their buses are always late.
It is annoying to be affected by a repeated failure of a service, we know. But some of these passengers don’t provide enough information to enable the operator to investigate the causes. Some of the largest operators can have fleets of up to 800 buses operating on a network around a major city and tracking these with very little information can be virtually impossible.
With the following details, the operator can start to investigate the issues affecting your bus service. They can look at the buses that were in the area and identify the cause. Some are even prepared to offer a refund if the delay was their fault.
Estimated length of the delay
Bus stop you were waiting at
Direction of travel / your destination
Including this information will help you get results. But don’t just use FixMyTransport once! If you keep reporting any late running you experience, you can help the operator develop a better picture of delays on the bus routes you use.
They are more likely to keep an eye on a situation if they know that someone else is watching it too.
Your information may help the operators understand how best to develop their services to meet the passengers’ needs. They can understand if there’s a need for additional buses or a change of route. Or perhaps they will gain the ear of the local council, to ask them improve the transport infrastructure where frequent delays occur.
Your communications can even help the operator create a business case for investment to its head office in new buses, more staff, new publicity and even new routes.
What may initially seem to be time consuming and pernickety complaints, can very quickly turn into effective lobbying. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, to use an not entirely inappropriate metaphor. Some people have told me that they would expect staff to report these issues or someone in management to be reviewing the services but it is the voice of the customer that can have the most impact on a business when implementing a change.
So, in short, if you want to start reporting delays and issues to your transport operators and local transport authorities, get on board at FixMyTransport. Your complaints really can have an effect, if you know what to include.
Every bus route is different: some stay completely within city boundaries, and others cross entire regions of the country. Each will have its own potential for delays, but there are some factors which every route can fall foul of:
Traffic: the UK suffers from very bad traffic congestion in its city and town centres – and it varies minute by minute, day by day. So, a bus journey that’s trouble-free for most of the day may have particular issues around the rush hours.
Weather: In extreme conditions, buses are forced to turn around, not run at all, or divert from their normal route. This can be at short notice. Extreme weather particularly affects routes which include steep hills, or coastal roads.
Roadworks: Typically buses will only divert their routes if the work is scheduled over several days – otherwise, people who don’t see the notifications complain about buses that never turned up.
Many different factors affect buses. You may know of notorious bottlenecks in your own area, or regular events such as football matches that mean the buses are held up.
So, how do you complain? There are a few options:
Ask the driver what he knows (when he finally does appear). He may tell you the reason right away – but there’s no guarantee that he’ll pass your complaint on, or get anything done about it.
Report it on FixMyTransport – of course; that’s what we’re here for, and you may find that other affected passengers also comment on your page.
Use Facebook and Twitter to contact the head office. This often gets a quick response, and, as is the case with FixMyTransport, operators are often keen to put things right in public.
Once you know the reason for the delays, you might find you’re quite satisfied. But what if the delay is an ongoing problem, perhaps simply caused by buses taking too long between points – in other words, the timetable is inadequate?
The best approach is to gather evidence that a change needs to take place. You can do this by taking notes on a regular basis. Keep a diary of the times you travelled on the bus, and write down the actual times versus the printed times. Presented with this evidence, the bus company or council will be able to see if there’s a good case for changing the times.
I’d recommend doing this over a period of a month at different times. You can write them in your diary, or use an Excel workbook – and of course, we recommend updating your FixMyTransport page regularly, so that everyone else who is affected can keep track and add their own comments and ideas.
Facts speak volumes when it comes to bus delays, so the more data you can gather, the better – and you may well get a good result.
If you have taken the steps described above, and still find that your bus is delayed, it is time to take your problem further.
One benefit of FixMyTransport is that you can contact everyone you need from your problem page, keeping a record of the correspondence in one place. When users report bus problems that are not resolved, we point them towards one of the following bodies:
Bus Users UK – an independent body who support bus passengers in England and Wales, apart from London
Since I started working on FixMyTransport, I’ve had a better understanding of the difficulties faced by disabled passengers across all forms of public transport – which is not a side-effect that I was expecting. I mean, as a frequent public transport passenger, and a reasonably aware person, shouldn’t I have already had a pretty good understanding of this failure in provision?
As I travel around my hometown, and further afield across the country, I often see passengers in wheelchairs or mobility scooters (and no doubt I’ve seen, but not noticed, many with hidden disabilities). But those are just the ones who are travelling. Judging by some of the reports we receive on FixMyTransport, many people with disabilities will never try, or have all but given up trying, to travel by public transport.
Of course, we don’t see people who aren’t there – and neither do the transport operators, so it’s just possible that neither we, nor the operators, fully understand the extent of the needs of this sector of society.
How FixMyTransport changes things
One of the things I really like about FixMyTransport is that it changes the game. It makes a hidden problem visible, by creating a permanent archive of the issues people complain about. It also provides a forum where we can add our support, or debate the best solutions – and put pressure on the operators to implement those solutions. It allows the people who can’t travel, or who can’t face trying, to explain just why that is.
Whether it’s buses that won’t take wheelchairs, platforms that can’t be reached without climbing stairs, or environments where people just don’t feel safe, the FixMyTransport reports from passengers with disabilities are doing a service for everyone – they are opening our eyes to the improvements that need to be made in society as a whole, if we are to consider our transport to be genuinely public.
The trouble with our transport systems – and how to take things further
There’s no doubt that it’s a tricky business, making public transport accessible. A rail operator recently explained to me that many of the difficulties are to do with the fact that our trains run on a Victorian infrastructure, great engineering that was built to last – but which was also built in a time when the rights of disabled people to travel just weren’t taken into consideration.
In these more enlightened times, the law makes sure that every new station built, and every new bus that rolls off the production line, is accessible for all. But it’s a long process, and of course, budgets dictate that less suitable vehicles won’t be retired until they fall apart, and station improvements can only be considered when there’s money in the pot.
You might have already asked your local operator for better provision and been given an apologetic, but negative response. In the normal way of things, you might give up at this point. But FixMyTransport gives people a way to come together and campaign at a higher level. You can find other people who feel the same way, or want to support the issue, and you can rally together to contact the bodies that can help you – be that your local councillor, MP, or passenger watchdog.
In most cases, operators want to help – but their hands are tied, by budgetary constraints, short franchises, inherited vehicles, rolling stock and real estate. That’s why FixMyTransport aims to give you tools to take your problems higher up, where policy changes can really make a difference.
Here are just a few FixMyTransport reports dealing with problems faced by passengers with disabilities.
UK Bus Checker is a national travel app which provides bus arrival information on your mobile. Clearly, we have a lot in common, so when they got in touch to see if there was a way we could work together, we were all ears.
The Bus Checker app works just like the information displays you can find at some bus stops, but with the advantage that you can check arrival times from anywhere – at work, in bed… or indeed while standing at bus stops that haven’t got displays.
You can also use UK Bus Checker to report problems with bus stops. Sound familiar? Well, that’s where FixMyTransport came in. After a bit of tinkering on both our sides, iPhone users can now report bus stop issues from UK Buschecker, and those which concern damage to the bus stop will be routed via FixMyTransport.
UK Bus Checker hope to roll out this feature to Android and Windows Phone early next year, too.
We’re really delighted to have opened up this new channel. FixMyTransport users have seen many successes with bus stop issues getting fixed, and it will be great to offer our platform to the users of UK Bus Checker.
UK Bus Checker screenshots:
1. Locate your bus stop, via search, or automatic geolocation
2. The app gives you arrival information for your chosen stop
3. There’s the chance to report any problems with the bus stop. Select whether you want to report an information error, or a problem with the actual bus stop.
4. Reports of damage are routed to FixMyTransport, where, as always, they are sent to the body responsible for bus stops, and at the same time published on our site for comments and support.
As for the information error reports, UK Bus Checker monitor them to identify significant or persistent problems, which they’ll then report on directly to TfL and Traveline.
There’s little doubt that the modern transport age has brought some incredible innovations. We gasp at the new King’s Cross roof. We appreciate being able to book our tickets online. We expect slick branding, 21st-century customer service, and mocha-frappe-lattes on demand.
But sometimes, it’s the exact opposite of all this that makes a travel experience memorable.
Think of the stations where, instead of a faceless chain, there’s a cafe where staff know the regulars and have their favourite brew waiting for them to grab and take onboard each morning.
Or the stations which display artwork from local artists in their waiting rooms – the sort of initiative that I assume comes not from head office, but from station staff having links with the community.
The personal touch might seem like something from a bygone age, but some stations are using very modern means to acheive a similar aim. Consider Stafford railway station. Like many operators and stations, they have a page on Facebook. They don’t just use it for adonyne updates on delays, though: they have genuine conversations with their followers, sometimes funny, sometimes asking for help or opinions.
Here’s one of my very favourite examples of the personal touch, something, it seems, that can be found in bus and train stations all over the world, and not always the ones serving quiet backwaters. It’s the institution of the communal bookshelf – a place where you can put books you don’t want any more, and pick up one that takes your fancy.
A quick browse through Creative Commons on Flickr showed the following pictures. Can you add any more stations to this list?
If there’s nothing like this at your local station, FixMyTransport.com would be a great way to request it, and gather the support of other local people.
Also see Books for London, a campaign to start book-swapping schemes in London’s tube and railway stations – it turns out the West Ealing picture, above, is a result of that scheme. Books for London was apparently inspired, in part, by Bookcrossing.com – a fun way of swapping books without the need even for shelves.
Getting the heating just right for everyone is always going to be a challenge – you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But if it’s simply not working, well, everyone can agree that it needs to be fixed! Here is some advice about what to do.
Long distance trains are air conditioned and have on-board staff as well as the driver, so you are best finding a member of staff (preferably the train manager) and reporting the problem directly to them. They will try to fix the problem (e.g. by resetting the power) but it may be impossible to do much without an engineer. If the train is not too busy they will try and move people to an adjacent carriage, and during the summer complimentary drinks may be provided. They will often make announcements to passengers explaining the problem.
Shorter distance trains are also sometimes operated by both a driver and a train conductor, and if this is the case report the problem to the train conductor, although they may have fewer options compared to long distance trains. These trains may be air conditioned, or may just have heating and opening windows.
There are many shorter distance services which are operated only by a driver. One thing to realise is that the driver is very unlikely to know there are any problems with the heating unless they are told, and even then there may be little they can do apart from trying to reset the power if it has tripped. For older trains this may mean walking to the carriage, although newer trains may have circuit breakers in the cab. On some of the latest trains the driver can do nothing; the train automatically sends a message to the depot and an engineer may be sent to check the problem at the end of the train’s journey. It’s always worth reporting the problem to the driver as they will record it in the train’s fault book.
If you are unable to speak to the driver, then most of the train operating operating companies welcome faults being reported through their Twitter accounts; remember to include information such as the origin, destination and time of the train, and also preferably the carriage number (the 5 digit number which will often be written inside at the end of the carriage as well as on the outside).
In all these cases if you are unhappy with how the incident was handled then you can report it via FixMyTransport, and you can also do the same for well handled issues as public record of the problem and how it was handled. This way you can also add further updates if there is a recurring problem and other FixMyTransport may add their own experiences.