Have you ever considered what you would do if your usual transport route was suddenly blocked? How would you get to your destination? How much would it cost you? The aim of this blog post is to help you come up with a Plan B – just in case.
On Friday Morning (5th October 2012), thousands of commuters using the Tyne and Wear Metro to Newcastle were delayed because of power supply problems between Four Lane Ends/Regents Centre and Gateshead. The line was closed for seven hours and many passengers had unnecessary delays because they had not planned for a closure and the alternative options available to them.
As a regular traveller on a specific route, you should look at the available alternatives. FixMyTransport often receives problems from passengers who get caught up in delays – and they are usually complaining about a lack of information.
But if you plan ahead by following the points below, you can minimise the stress that transport disruption causes.
What can I find out?
It’s smart to check your service before you travel.
Twitter Most operators are on Twitter. Even if you don’t follow them (updates about the service can become tedious) you can still check their page just before you set off.
Twitter also offers a great way to find out the nature of any disruptions, and what alternatives are available. If you use trains, find out what your route is called and the three letter codes for your stations – that will help you grasp your operator’s updates more easily.
It’s not only the operators who have the latest news – sometimes commuters themselves are the most immediate source. It’s worth ‘getting to know’ a few frequent travellers on Twitter, and then you can all inform one another when you come up against an issue.
Phone numbers If your operator is not on Twitter, they will at least have a phone number clearly displayed on their website or print materials. Save it to your phone. To be extra safe, find out who alternative providers are, and save their numbers too.
News Keep an eye on places like the BBC local news, your local newspaper’s website, the operator’s websites or Facebook page, BBC Travel, or National Rail. It can be helpful to check just before you depart that your route is running OK.
With this information before you travel, you can make better plans to avoid the issue. This may involve staying at work/home, getting dinner somewhere else or setting off later/earlier.
What are the alternatives?
Tickets Can your ticket normally be used on other forms of transport? Check the terms and conditions while you have the leisure to do so – that kind of knowledge is invaluable when your habitual means of transport breaks down.
Cash If you needed cash for a bus or taxi, where would you get it? In city centres, it is easy. Rural areas are a lot more difficult, so plan ahead.
Food and drink If you are forced onto an alternative, maybe longer, route, you may want to pick up some food or water for the journey. If you’re in no rush, consider eating out near your departure point – then you can avoid the rush hour, or let any crowds clear.
Trains If the line was closed, could you go to a different destination, or is there any way to avoid the place where the disruption has arisen – eg could you get a taxi, or a lift, to a point further down the line? If Rail Replacement Buses were operating, do you know where you would go to pick up the bus?
Buses Research and make a note of the bus routes that run reasonably parallel to your transport route. Check the frequency. If they run every few minutes then you won’t really need a timetable, but if it is only hourly, you may want to look at other alternatives as well. Link to their timetable on your phone and you may want to add their phone number too, so you can find out if they are running.
Taxis Don’t be afraid to look at taxis if they can get you in and out of the area that is causing you a problem. Store the phone numbers of taxis at both ends of your journey. There is nothing worse than getting to a station after the last bus has gone and not knowing the number for the taxi.
Cycle If you’re travelling with your bike, you might be able to cycle part of the route – but if not, look around. It’s not just London that has a bike hire scheme. Other cities are catching on – see, for example, Brompton Bike lockers – or just find the nearest cycle-hire shop.
Walking It’s worth considering: could you walk between certain stops?
Parking If you drive part of your regular journey, can you park at an alternative stop or station? Will this cost more money?
Learn from your experience! Did your back-up plans work? Was there anything else that you could have done or did you discover something new?
Tell the operator If you were affected by any major delays, raise the issue with the operator. On the railways, they should provide you with some money back. On the buses, some operators are starting to provide refunds for delays that are their fault.
Jenny uses the Tyne and Wear Metro between Four Lane Ends and Newcastle Central every day. She is a five minute walk from Newcastle Central. She usually parks her car in the car park at Four Lane Ends.
Information Check BBC Newcastle/BBC Travel/Evening Chronicle Website/@my_metro
Tickets Jenny has a two zone Metro Season Ticket.
Alternatives There are carparks in other places on the Metro network (Regents Centre, Kingston Park and Northumberland Park) and Newcastle
She could take a train to Newcastle round via the coast
She could consider buses from Four Lane Ends to Newcastle(Stagecoach) or Go North East – X5, 55, 62 and 63
Taxi – Four Lane Ends is service by a number of taxi firms.
Cycle – Whipbikes operate cycle hire in Newcastle.
Walking routes – Not really an option for the full route although she can walk out of Newcastle into Jesmond or South Gosforth to Four Lane Ends.
Food/Drink – plenty of shops for snacks. Wetherspoons near Central for a meal.
I hope that this post has achieved its aim of making you think about alternative options if your regular route were blocked. I would love to see your plans and suggestions so please post them below, email or tweet them.
It is an awful feeling when you realise that you have become separated from your property whilst travelling on public transport. It is a common issue on FixMyTransport, and that’s why we have created this useful guide for you.
If you are viewing this before or just after losing something, and you are still on transport premises, my first piece of advice is to inform a member of staff as soon as possible. They can offer useful tips, and some are extremely good at locating lost property because of their contacts (whether it is getting a colleague to check the vehicle at its destination or contacting an onboard member of crew to check the seat you were on). There are a lot of good Samaritans out there who hand things in. If you experience one, please do thank them.
You can report lost property through FixMyTransport but to be honest, you’ll get better and quicker results by contacting the operators through their dedicated lost property channels, particularly by phone. My advice would be to phone them first and follow it up with an email or fill in the form provided (see the details below).
Lost property comes in all shapes and sizes, as you can see from the picture above. However, a significant majority of it is tickets, electronics and cycles. The first is because they’re small, and everyone has one. The law of averages says that a certain proportion will get mislaid! Sadly, the latter two categories are often not lost, but stolen.
A good piece of advice is to write your phone number on your ticket-holder – quickly done, with a black marker, perhaps on the fold. You may want to add your postcode too, in case your phone disappears with your ticket.
Note down the important details of your phone and keep them in a safe place (IMEI, SIM card number and phone number). In addition, get it registered with Immobilise, which numerous police forces support.
The British Transport Police offer cycle crime awareness sessions to show how to reduce the risk of bike theft. Keep an eye on their Twitter feed (@btp_uk) to see when they’re in your area.
“There are a number of measures cyclists can take to reduce their chances of becoming a victim, lock your bike whenever you leave it, preferably with a D Lock, which is a heavy steel lock in a D or U shape. When you lock your cycle, try to fit the bike stand, the rim of one of the wheels and the cycle frame into the D, this will make it harder for thieves to take and there’ll also be less space in the D which will prevent thieves from inserting bars or jacks to lever the lock.
“Wherever possible leave your bike in a busy, well-lit area which is covered by CCTV and please also ensure that your cycle has been property marked and fitted with an electronic tracing system or tag to help locate it in the event of a theft.
“Make sure your cycle is insured, keep a photograph of it and note the frame number and any markings which will help police to identify any stolen bikes that are recovered.”
Reporting lost property
These links were last checked in September 2012. If you spot a broken link or an error, please contact the FixMyTransport Team.
Due to the number of operators, I have not listed each operator’s lost property webpage. My advice would be to search for who operates your route on FixMyTransport, then Google for the operator’s website and find a phone number. If you are trying to do this out of office hours, you should also email them.
Transport for London
TfL have the following useful page for Lost Property.
Customers may report an Oyster card lost or stolen via their Oyster Online account. Once a customer has logged in they will see a heading on the left that states: ‘Lost or stolen card’. Click this and follow the instructions.
Alternatively, customers may call our Oyster card Helpline on 0845 330 9876 with their Oyster card number and answer to the security question. Our telephone agents will then be able to talk them through the process and arrange for the Oyster card to be deactivated.
Theft and Stolen Property
Theft and pickpocketing are crimes that occasionally happen on the UK Public Transport network. Although the British Transport Police focus on the railways (National Rail, London Underground, Midland Metro, Croydon Tramlink, Sunderland Metro and the Glasgow Subway), they have a number of useful pages that are helpful to all public transport users in the bid to combat crime.
Ticket offices are opening for shorter times, and it’s more common to buy tickets online for collection from a station these days. Consequently, ticket machines are becoming more and more important – and have more potential to frustrate the unwary passenger.
FixMyTransport users have reported a wide range of ticket machine issues. The good news is that they often relate to problems that are easy to fix, and we have had some good results in this area.
Then there’s the issue of collecting pre-paid tickets from machines.
Some stations allow you to pick up pre-paid tickets at the ticket office; some insist you only use the machines. Some companies will allow you to travel with just the booking information if you join a train at an unstaffed station with no machines (Greater Anglia recently said they allow this, and you can travel until you get to a station where you can pick it up), whereas other companies don’t. If you know the policy of your local operator, please tell us in a comment below. It’d be great to compile a definitive list!
Buying a ticket in advance is not always the solution: many machines will only issue tickets for travel on the same day, and those which do sell tickets for the next day often limit them to expensive peak ones for travel early the following morning.
Many franchises have commitments to electronic ticketing and this will eventually help reduce the dependency on machines. Until then, if you’re infuriated by any ticket machine issues, FixMyTransport can be used to support campaigns pushing for improvements. That’s got to be better than the traditional method of giving the machine a good kick and swearing a blue streak.
FixMyTransport receives lots of queries from people who have been unable to find up-to-date information about transport services, so here is short guide to planning your journey.
Traveline is almost always the best place to start. It provides comprehensive and impartial information about all forms of public transport, thanks to a partnership between local authorities and transport operators. The site operates as 11 regional services, with journey planning and timetables provided for each region. This does make for variations, particularly with how timetables are presented.
The best Traveline regions in this respect are Scotland, East Midlands, East Anglia, Southeast, London and South West. Each provides full downloadable timetables, with links from the journey planner.
Northern Ireland has timetables but they are only accessible through a search. Yorkshire, North West, the West Midlands, and Wales provide short extracts, not complete timetables, with all but Wales linked to from their journey planners. Traveline North East simply has a list of links to external websites.
Traveline also run the NextBuses service, providing bus stop departure times across the whole country; realtime information where available, otherwise scheduled times. Nextbuses can be viewed on a mobile phone, but there are also downloadable apps which can display this information.
Multi-mode travel planning across the whole country can also be accessed via the government’s Transport Direct website. While Traveline covers bus, coach, train and ferry journeys, Transport Direct also covers routes for car, foot and cycle.
National Rail Enquiries
The rail industry runs National Rail Enquiries which provides a journey planner, real time station arrival and departure information, fare queries and is linked to external sites selling tickets.
We’ve noticed that the smaller the operator, the less likely they are to remember to refresh their online information when routes or times change. Another source of confusion can be third party websites, which have gathered timetables but have never updated them.
Our advice? It is always best to use the sources listed above, which are more likely to be accurate. Also, many cities have their own public transport websites, so it’s worth checking your local council site for links.
In general there is very little information published on websites about bus fares. This is something we’d very much like to see changed – why should it be such a secret how much change you need to have in your pocket?
Our national rail network is carrying more and more passengers, with growth of several percent per year. Inevitably, this leads to problems with overcrowding – and a great deal of frustration amongst passengers who are left standing.
Extra trains are of course the obvious solution, but there are other reasons why your particular train may be overcrowded. For example:
Cancellation of a preceding service
A special event bringing in more passengers
Train fault or maintenance backlog leading to fewer carriages being provided
Extra trains available, but platform lengths or track capacity prevent their use
Ticketing policy causing overcrowding on off-peak services
Incorrect balance between first and standard classes
Extra trains only needed once a day, so cannot be financially justified
While it doesn’t change the fact that you can’t get a seat, sometimes it helps to understand what the reasons for overcrowding are. FixMyTransport is great for finding out what caused the problem, and provides a way of seeing if anyone else if having a similar issue, which strengthens the case for sorting it out.
Overcrowding is an issue that comes up time and again amongst our users. Here are some examples which show the strength of feeling up and down the country:
Frustratingly for anyone running a campaign, information about train overcrowding is treated as commercially confidential by the rail operators and Department for Transport (DfT) – so it’s not available even through a Freedom of Information Request.
Providing such data would give passengers a much better idea of what was happening, and would allow us to make informed decisions about which services to avoid. Unfortunately, secrecy prevails, though some operators do give information about which services are expected to be busy.
So, if operators are aware of the overcrowding, and it happens all the time, but there are no current plans to fix it, then what can be done?
It really comes down to persuading the Government and the Department for Transport to make some changes. Routes are run by operators on a franchise basis – and those franchises are just a few years in length. Carriages typically cost between £1m and £2.5m each, and have a life of 40 years, so investment decisions are not trivial. Many operators may look at the short time remaining on their franchise, and make the decision that there is no point in sinking that kind of money into rolling stock.
Passenger satisfaction on issues such as overcrowding will be more important in future; the recently awarded InterCity West Coast franchise promises “for the first time in an intercity franchise, better customer satisfaction as measured by the National Passenger Survey”, and there have also been resultant calls for more transparency in the franchising process.
As a passenger who is squashed like a sardine into your train every morning and night, it may not seem particularly useful to know the high-level reasons behind your route’s overcrowding: the temptation might be to give up and find an alternative method of getting to work. But we built FixMyTransport to help with huge problems as well as little niggles. What if everyone in your carriage signed up to your FixMyTransport campaign? 50 names are harder to ignore than just one.
And we have built-in functionality that allows you to contact the people who can make a difference to your campaign. Your MP will have some influence over these decisions, or you could support a local rail users group in pushing for improvements.
Once you know the reasons for the overcrowding on your route, you’re in an excellent position to gather support and press for change – and we’ll help you all the way.
On 22nd September, the central areas of many European cities will be closed to cars. In Town Without My Car is an event which shows citizens, for a few short hours each year, what life would be like if our streets were traffic-free.
Imagine! No bumper-to-bumper motorised vehicles. Instead, the roads are lined with sofas where you can have a sit down and a natter.
Or they’re covered with sand, to create an impromptu beach. Or there are bikes to ride through paint trays and make patterns on the road surface.
Parents relax and let their kids run around. The emphasis is on fun and on community.
In Town Without My Car comes at the end of European Mobility Week, which campaigns for “sustainable urban mobility” – whether that’s giving everyone access to excellent public transport, providing a safe environment for cycling, or introducing traffic calming measures.
It’s a beguiling picture, and I’m sure that most people come away from Car Free days wishing that our city centres were less traffic-bound.
At FixMyTransport, we see a lot of signs that public transport isn’t yet sufficient for people to get rid of their cars. Time and again, our users say something along the lines of, “I thought we were all supposed to be giving up our cars – well, with this level of service, how can I?”
And so on – we could have found many more examples.
Writing to your transport operator may feel slightly pointless when what you really want to ask for is a city-wide, or even district-wide, sustainable solution. And, in one sense, yes it is.
But by putting your experiences onto FixMyTransport, you’re also creating the possibility for change. By encouraging others to add their voices to your campaign, you’re showing your local councillors, MPs and decision-makers that there’s a real need for joined-up transport provision.
FixMyTransport contains the tools you need to take your conversation to those higher levels. It also puts your frustrations in public, where they can’t just be filed away and never thought of again.
So, if you go out and enjoy a smog-free day on September 22nd, don’t forget to harness some of that enthusiasm, and encourage the people around you to join in, too. If you’d like to hand out flyers for FixMyTransport at your local event, please do drop us a line.
Here are all the In Town Without My Car events we can find for the UK:
Station accessibility is a frequent subject for campaigns on FixMyTransport. Progress is being made by the rail industry but it will be many years before stations are universally accessible.There are two main aspects to rail accessibility, firstly people should receive the best help and information about the current facilities when making a journey, and secondly that there is continual progress towards fully accessible stations and trains.
Regarding help and information, National Rail have just launched a Rail Travel Made Easy Website. This guides you through the whole journey and includes plans and photographs of every station and information about how to book assistance.
“Passenger Assistance is a service provided by train companies to assist passengers at stations, when boarding or exiting their train and on board the train. It is free and available to anyone who needs assistance due to a disability, temporary impairment, or older age, with no requirement that you possess a discretionary railcard.”
For making progress towards a fully accessible network, FixMyTransport campains are an ideal way of gathering supporters, getting advice and tracking and publicising progress.
Some good news is that the Department for Transport (DfT) have funded an ‘Access for All’ programme which was launched in 2006 and includes main, mid-tier and small station budgets. The existing programme of work covers 154 main stations that will receive an accessible route into the station and to and between each platform, normally using lifts or ramps. A further 160 stations are being upgraded as a result of the mid-tier programme (where bids were made for the funding) and will benefit from work ranging from platform humps to reduce stepping distances to new step free routes. 1000 stations are covered by the small stations programme (where each operator is allocated a budget) which tends to focus on improvements for visual or aural impairments.
A further £100m has recently been announced for ‘Access for All’ and the DfT will be looking for stations to include in the programme.
“How these will be selected is yet to be finalised, although it is likely to be similar to the existing criteria. To ensure the best possible value for money stations have been selected based on their annual footfall weighted by the incidence of disability in the area. Around a third were also chosen to ensure a fair geographical spread across the country.”
The DfT have said that people can contact the DfT “with suggested stations for inclusion in the programme or they can contract train operators or local authorities who will also be consulted about their priorities. Please note though that stations will not be selected by “votes” but that each project will need a full business case before it is included in the programme. For smaller scale improvements then people should lobby the train operators in the first case.”
If there is a local Rail User Group then this will often be able to help with information and support for station enhancement campaigns. Railfuture have a list of Rail User Groups. The access ramp shown in the photograph was built by the train operating company following a local campaign.
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.
Exactly one year ago today, we quietly put FixMyTransport.com live. We’d built it as a place where you could contact transport operators, and receive their responses, in public. But would it work?
That depended, of course, on the transport companies, and how they would rise to the challenge. A year on, we’re in a position to see how things have panned out.
As you will know if you have submitted a message to them, there are a handful of operators who refuse to engage via FixMyTransport, even though this requires less effort for them than holding the conversation in private. Worst offenders include Northern Rail, Scotrail, Arriva Trains Wales and South West Trains.
These operators are starting to look as if they might have some customer service secrets to hide. You can see some of their excuses in our archive of correspondence, and frankly, they aren’t all that persuasive:
Scotrail: “We encourage our customers to contact us directly to help give them the service they expect and deserve.” South West Trains: “In order to guarantee a full and consistent response to the concerns raised, would you please advise our customer to use one of our established methods of contact.” Arriva Trains Wales: “Receiving feedback from our customers is important to us, and I am grateful for you taking time to report these issues. However, we would ask any customer wishing to log an issue with us to make direct contact with us, rather than submit it to us via a third party.”
Meanwhile, Northern Rail – perhaps not coincidentally one of our most-contacted operators – has a policy of sending a one-liner to say that comments have been ‘passed on to the relevant teams’. That does not comfort those who submit some of their more upsetting or important complaints.
While we are disappointed by this lack of communication, we still think it’s worthwhile using FixMyTransport to make initial contact with such companies.
Why? Because you gain the benefit of comments, advice and support from other users – and your complaint is in public for everyone to see. Even if the operator doesn’t respond, that has to make a difference. Plus, FixMyTransport users will often suggest next steps, such as contacting pressure groups or passenger watchdogs.
You see, while we may have faced difficulties with some operators, there were no such issues with the general public. You came to the site, and you quickly understood what FixMyTransport was trying to achieve. And you chose to use it in preference to the transport companies’ own channels. Perhaps the operators might like to think about why that is.
These companies, along with many other smaller outfits, have consistently responded to your complaints via the site. As a result they have created a large public archive of their good customer service.
A helpful, friendly community has grown, too, aided by our team of volunteers. Over 3,500 people have sent messages through FixMyTransport, and with monthly visitors to the site now coming in at over 180,000, each of those messages has had an average of 50 readers.
This is our first year of many. We’re certainly here for the long haul, and confident that eventually, even the most reluctant operators will come on board. If they don’t, increasingly, their customers are going to be asking why. The last year has shown that there is a demand for our service, and we see ourselves as part of a wider shift towards holding companies to account in public. Think how often you’ve seen a disgruntled customer tweeting or blogging their experience.
We hope, too, that you’ll carry on telling us what works or doesn’t work, via the feedback button at the top of every FixMyTransport page. We’re still in active development, and every suggestion is discussed and considered.
Thanks for helping make FixMyTransport what it is. Now, have a piece of birthday cake.
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.