Following on from FixMyTransport volunteers Peter and Paul, meet Shaun.
Shaun is a keen cyclist who is involved in the open-source Open Street Map, and also works for a transport data organisation. With maps, transport, open data and roads featuring so strongly in both his personal and professional life, it was perhaps inevitable that he would eventually be called to FixMyTransport.
Asked what exactly FixMyTransport volunteer work consists of, Shaun says, “I comment on some of the FixMyTransport reports that come in, and answer some of the queries that users have. I spend a few hours per week, spread out, so it’s usually only a few minutes to half an hour at a time. From time to time there are evening meet ups with other mySociety people, too.
“When I’m out and spot an issue, I report it, so that it can be fixed and also so that there’s a record online for anyone else affected by the same, or a similar, problem in the future. Also, I’ll often suggest that other people complain about public transport problems via FixMyTransport.
“I really like being able to use my own knowledge to help other people. It was being able to help others, and the ability to make use of my knowledge, while learning new stuff, that first attracted me to the role.”
FixMyTransport volunteers are all avid users of public transport themselves, and of course not just confined to this country. Asked what his favourite route is, Shaun says, “Going on a ferry, especially Harwich to Hook of Holland with my bicycle”.
Interested in becoming a FixMyTransport volunteer? Find out more here.
This is the second in our ‘meet the FixMyTransport volunteer team’ posts. See also: Peter.
Paul was already an active user of one of mySociety’s other websites, WhatDoTheyKnow, when FixMyTransport launched – his requests on that site reveal his deep interest in the country’s public transport systems. Like all FixMyTransport volunteers to date, we approached him when we spotted the in-depth and practical comments he was leaving on others’ campaigns.
He accepted, liking the idea of “being able to use my many years of experience travelling on public transport, pushing for improvements to help other people do the same.”
Paul reckons FixMyTransport work takes “typically an hour or two a week, although sometimes more – especially if there is a campaign which needs some research or correspondence to help it along.”
Tasks generally include “sending help, ideas and suggestions to people who have contacted the team, and browsing recent reports and updates on the website to see where I can help.
“I am a regular rail traveller so tend to concentrate on all types of rail issues, but am also keen to see improvements in bus services such as improving service levels, reliability, journey planning and real time information.”
Volunteer work can be rewarding. Paul’s favourite aspects are “learning more about ways to improve public transport, getting appreciative messages from people I have helped, and finding and corresponding with helpful, interesting people – that’s both users of the site and people from the public transport industry. And also, working with the enthusiastic FixMyTransport Team.”
Paul’s top journey is one that makes you want to jump up from your desk and run to the station: “Travelling to the West Highlands on the overnight sleeper from London, waking up as the train heads out across Rannoch Moor for breakfast in the lounge car, taking me to Fort William then Mallaig for ferries to the Scottish Islands on holiday.”
If you’re interested in becoming a FixMyTransport volunteer, find out more here – or read about volunteering across other mySociety projects here.
If you’ve posted a particularly sticky problem on FixMyTransport, you have probably received a comment from one of our friendly volunteers. Like faithful butlers, they can also be summoned at the touch of a button – in this case, our ‘ask for further advice’ button, which you can see on any campaign page that you have created.
We’ve just published a page on the main mySociety website (mySociety being the organisation that created and maintains FixMyTransport) explaining a bit more about becoming a volunteer – and we’ve included short profiles of some of the team.
Our volunteers have plenty more to say than we can fit onto that page, though, so we thought we’d introduce them more fully here on the FixMyTransport blog, starting with Peter.
Like many volunteers across all mySociety’s sites, Peter has followed his interests to shape his own role. Here’s how he talks about his experience as a FixMyTransport ‘anorak’.
“As a volunteer, I keep an eye on the most recently updated issues. I try to think about these issues from the operator’s perspective and ask users to clarify anything that needs it. A great benefit of social media is that, when appropriate, comments from users can be referred to operators instantaneously.
“On an ad hoc basis, I am currently reviewing our bus stop issues and encouraging users to come back to us with an update. They are a really quick win with most of them concerning repairs (broken glass or bus stop flags) or the quality of timetable information. These are really cheap and easy to sort out compared to the provision of new buses or additional train carriages.
“The responsibility for bus stops and shelters is so varied, and I am currently emailing councils to find out who is the best contact for these types of issue. Some areas are really simple with just one email address covering a whole county, whilst others are frustratingly difficult. I would encourage all of those involved with this valuable asset to keep things simple to minimise the amount of contact.”
How much time does Peter spend on his FixMyTransport volunteer work? “My partner would argue that it is too much time (“too true!”), but I think it would be fair to say that I spend around five hours per week on the website at least. A lot of it depends on what is going on. If there is nothing going on and the emails are quiet, I will not be on the site for long. If there is plenty to do, I am happy to chip in. It expands to fill any time you have available to it but it doesn’t take over if there are other things going on.
“I think my favourite aspect of the work is showing a FixMyTransport user the opportunities available to take their issue to other authorities. It is amazing how many people are frustrated by their local bus operator or a bus stop that is damaged but they do not know who to turn to. Thanks to the experience we have, we can show them the opportunities available and make it easier. It is great to support users and show them that they are not alone with the problems that bug them.
“At university I undertook a dissertation that demonstrated to me that passengers really want some friendly support when they are using public transport, particularly when they encounter issues with it. I stumbled across FixMyTransport while finding news stories for a website I was working on, and found it a great opportunity to use my experience to help users get more information. The set up has been fantastic and we have helped users understand some of the developments occurring on their local services. We are helping to turn passengers into informed customers. Whilst informed customers are harder to satisfy, they are great ambassadors for operators when they are kept informed – and they provide a good opportunity for operators to get views from people who use their services.”
Like all the FixMyTransport team, Peter is a frequent user of public transport. “My favourite route is one that gets me to my destination in comfort and on time! But a specific one should be the Settle and Carlisle line which has done amazingly. It is hard to believe that just 25 years ago, the line was under threat of closure.”
Read more about volunteering for FixMyTransport, or for other mySociety sites.
Or find out some low-effort ways to help us with our work!
Image credit: Broken Bus Stop by Lee J Haywood
The Freedom of Information Act has already helped FixMyTransport to find out more about a bus stop installation in Heywood. This week, I am going to discuss another FoI request that has covered a source of discontent for some bus passengers in London.
To combat road congestion on the London Bus Network, bus control operators can request a driver to terminate a bus before its destination and travel somewhere else (usually in the opposite direction). Bus passengers using Oyster PAYG or cash pay on a per bus journey basis, so if they have to take two buses for a journey, they pay twice. If you are only expecting to travel on one bus for your journey but you are then forced to change buses, this can add extra costs to your bus journey that are not your fault. This should be solved by the issue of a Transfer Ticket.
However, it appears that some FixMyTransport users are not getting issued with these Transfer Tickets, such as Fraser Darling. To help users faced with this issue, I felt that the best way to proceed was to clarify the policy and the impact of not issuing them with Transport for London through the Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately they were unable to find out how many complaints they received or how much compensation they provided with regards to Transfer Tickets. However, they provided us with three useful pieces of information for passengers who face this situation.
1. The policy that is provided to drivers and the actual process drivers should follow on the ticket machine
As explained to drivers on page 108 of the current bus drivers guide, known as the ‘Big Red Book’:
‘If your bus breaks down or is turned short of its original destination, passengers can transfer onto any other London bus service going the same way
Issue a ‘transfer’ ticket from the ticket machine (you do this by issuing an inspectors ticket for ‘9999’) and give it to the driver of the bus picking up your passengers. You may have to do this with more than one bus, until all of your passengers have been picked up.
Make sure all of your passengers are safely aboard another bus
Remind passengers with Oyster cards that they should not touch their card on the card reader when boarding the second bus’
The actual current process of issuing one of these tickets involves pressing a button twice to bring up a menu of special tickets on the ticket machine display, pressing a button to select an Inspectors Ticket, entering ‘9999’ on a keypad and then pressing the ‘issue’ button.
2. What to do if you do not get issued with a Transfer Ticket
The passenger should ask for a ticket from the driver of the bus from which they are transferring, at the time the transfer takes place. If for some reason the driver either refuses to give them a ticket, or does not supervise the transfer personally, the passenger should take details of the incident (time, place, route, what happened) and contact TfL Customer Services, who will have the matter investigated. Please note that if the driver personally supervises the transfer of passengers to another bus, there is no need for individual issue of transfer tickets, since passengers will then have been able to complete their planned journey without further payment.
The contact details for TfL Customer Services are:
Tel: 0845 300 7000 (08:00-20:00 Monday to Friday)
Post: Customer Services, TfL London Buses, 4th floor, Zone Y4, 14 Pier Walk, London SE10 0ES
Customer Services aim to respond to all complaints or enquiries within 15 working days. Any request for a refund is considered on its own individual merits, however we would expect a refund to be agreed if the driver failed to issue a transfer ticket when they should have done so, causing the passenger to incur additional costs.
3. Transfer Vouchers destined to replace Transfer Tickets
Please note that we are about to change the process for issuing transfer tickets (now to be Transfer Vouchers). The mechanical process is simpler, and drivers should issue them individually only to any passenger who has paid a cash fare or used Oyster PAYG. On boarding the second bus, the receiving driver should check the voucher (which is valid for 60 minutes after issue), cancel it by tearing it [in] half and return both halves to the passenger. We expect this to be introduced over the next few months.
The Freedom of Information Act has helped to clarify the policy for Transfer Tickets on London Buses. With this information, it should be easier for bus passengers using Oyster PAYG and cash to understand what they should ask for and what they can do if they are not issued with a Transfer Ticket when they should be.
If you have found this article useful, please comment or tweet @FixMyTransport
The photo at the top of the article features a bus awaiting preservation work at the Keighley Bus Museum
One of the challenges that FixMyTransport intended to fix was to make it simpler for public transport users to raise complaints. There are a large number of bodies involved in public transport and being a volunteer has been a great opportunity to contact so many different bodies and get them involved.
Sometimes, an email response does not provide enough details and to get to the depth of an issue we need to use other tools and bodies to find the answers that FixMyTransport users are looking for. One of those tools is the Freedom of Information Act, which allows members of the public to ask for information about what that public body is doing. MySociety has made this even easier thanks to our sister website WhatDoTheyKnow and several issues have had some really useful developments thanks to this.
One of the issues to have moved forward thanks to FixMyTransport using WhatDoTheyKnow has been T Moore’s request for buses stopping outside sheltered accommodation in Heywood, Greater Manchester. The 461 is operated by Rossendale Transport between Heywood and Bury and receives financial support from Transport for Greater Manchester, the local Passenger Transport Executive. Every bus service that receives financial support requires as many passengers as possible to ensure it continues so it frustrated T Moore to see that the bus no longer stopped outside Cherwell Court sheltered accommodation because the Hail and Ride section had been removed but no bus stops had been put in nearby.
This issue interested me, so I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to ask Transport for Greater Manchester why the bus service could not stop outside sheltered accommodation, either with a bus stop or a reintroduction of Hail and Ride.
One of the frustrations when you campaign to councils about bus stops and shelters is that your issue can appear to be going nowhere because the difference between having a stop or shelter is pretty clear cut. However, the process for putting a bus stop or shelter in requires the involvement of several other bodies including the police, highways engineers and local residents. This can take several months depending on what issues arise.
The good news for T Moore is that the stop is being looked at by Transport for Greater Manchester and they have consulted with local residents. Unfortunately, there has been no final decision made yet about this stop installation but this is not far off. Once a final decision is made, the install of bus stops should happen soon after that.
However, it is not just the information we get to our questions that are useful but the great additions we get. With this request, we found out a bit more about why Hail and Ride is being phased out.
One of the requests for a bus stop on Peel Lane was from the Bus Operator of the 461 Service. The bus operator has asked for all Hail and Ride sections throughout the network they operate to be replaced with formal bus stops as soon as possible.
The main issues working against Hail and Ride arrangements is that many operators now provide low floor buses, and only official bus stops with appropriate clearways can ensure that all passengers are able to access such buses. Operators also regularly experience problems on Hail and ride routes in trying to manoeuvre buses up to the kerb for boarding due to parked cars and this can cause problems for boarding to disabled passengers and those with mobility problems. Another consideration working against Hail and Ride is the number of compensation claims being received by operators for injuries sustained whilst passengers board buses in the middle of the road. We have also been advised that Hail and Ride stops can have a negative effect on the reliability of service.
FixMyTransport is throwing light over some really interesting areas of public transport and the lessons we are learning now will be really useful for future campaigns. This could be used for your campaigns so if you are looking for a bus stop or bus shelter in your area, FixMyTransport is here for you.
The vast majority of the content on FixMyTransport is provided by our users – and that’s what makes it so fascinating. Every day, there’s a new crop of problems to read – some big, some small, and all reflecting the various hassles of trying to negotiate public transport in this country.
It may be wrong to glean pleasure from other people’s misfortunes, but the site does make for compulsive reading. That’s because, for the most part, problems are fascinating. They have human interest. And we can all identify with people who had their money swallowed by a ticket machine, or can’t find a seat on their daily commute.
If you’ve used FixMyTransport to report a problem yourself, you may have received advice from one of the FixMyTransport team. We call our experts “anoraks”, in a jovial nod to our trainspotter tendencies. Many of the team are volunteers, chosen for their extensive knowledge of, or passion for, this country’s public transport routes, protocols and idiosyncrasies.
The anoraks’ aim is to help you get your problems heard – if you’ve accidentally reported an issue at the wrong place, they’ll reroute it. If the operator fobs you off, they know who to contact next. If you can get help from a specific organisation, they’ll tell you.
That’s all great, but of course, our team also has a wealth of knowledge and opinions that don’t get shared in the FixMyTransport arena. Which explains why we set up this blog. We intend this to be a place where we can discuss wider public transport issues, with plenty of room. It probably doesn’t need saying, but opinions expressed here are those of our individual team members, and don’t represent any kind of official FixMyTransport stance – and that’s kind of the point. It’s a place for ideas and discussion. We’d love it if you commented, too, and joined the debate.
I’m the first to admit that I myself have only a fraction of the public transport knowledge that our volunteers display. But I’ll also be contributing, generally with news about the site itself, and the most interesting campaigns or trends that emerge.
I hope you’ll enjoy visiting, commenting, and getting to know our anoraks a bit better. Don’t forget to subscribe to our RSS feed, if that’s your thing (links are to the right).
Image by Charbel Akhras, used with thanks.