Archive for May, 2012
Well, here I am in sunny Oxford after the mySociety meet-up in London, and while I was there, many people asked how we got down here, so far from home and with the challenges that visual impairment can bring. So, here I am to tell you my experiences, and that with a bit of planning and forward thinking it is possible to get to places that are far away from your home. I can always help you with this (unofficially), leave a comment here and I’ll contact you. This is a description of the day, as well as links to their respective FixMyTransport campaigns:
- 5 – 6am: We were up and getting all our gear together, we had a large holdall with bedding in, and two rucksacks with all our clothes, Last minute checks were done, and we set off to the Tesco Bus Stop in our hometown, Abergele to catch the first eastbound 12 bus to Rhyl, It was timetabled to arrive at 06:43, it arrived at 06:45.
- 7 – 9am: We arrived in Rhyl on time, and strolled over to our next service, the 11 from Rhyl to Chester. The empty bus was late arriving from the depot (why?) and we were 5 minutes late from Rhyl. By the time we got to Chester we had lost the 16 minutes change time, and as we pulled into the Bus Exchange, our connecting bus was waiting to leave. (Total Delay: 30 minutes)
- 9 – 1pm: We had to think fast, and trying to get anywhere by bus was out of the question, so we started walking in the general direction of the Rail Link bus to the station to get to Buxton, ended up with a broken holdall, and £40 out of pocket we arrived in Buxton 20 minutes ahead of schedule, so we found the correct bus stop and waited, unfortunately Buxton Rail Station’s bus stops lack seating, so we had to sit on our bags…
- 1 – 4pm: Transpeak is the connecting service between Manchester, Buxton, Derby and Nottingham, which has recently become part of the High Peak Bus Company (50% Trent Barton, 50% Centrebus) fairly recently, and it was quite nice to get a double decker on the run over to Derby. We left on time and arrived in Derby on time too – our first on time service!
- 4 – 5pm: Derby Bus station is nice and modern, but it’s a shame it is out of town, We caught the Skylink between Derby and Leicester, 10 minutes ahead of the bus we were meant to catch, and it was a nice, busy service as far as East Midlands Airport.
- 5:40: Leicester Bus Station is one of the worst bus stations I have ever been to. It was not very clear which Bus Stand we needed for our bus, and the people there were not very nice, We felt intimidated by a few people, and were glad to get out of there on the X7, which was 20 minutes late, The plus side being the bus was only 3 weeks old!.
- 6 – 7pm: As I mentioned above, we caught the X7 bus between Leicester and Northampton, it was 20 minutes late, and we missed our connection in Northampton to take us to the Rail Station, The driver was not very helpful as we arrived in Northampton, he did not know which bus we needed to get to the Train Station
- 7:40pm: Greyfriars Bus Station is horrible, It is the sort of place where you don’t want to be for long, and we did not like the fact that the doors were not automatic, they were ones that you had to pull open, which given there were no signs for meant we had to guess. Luckily, Greyfriars is being demolished and rebuilt at some point in the future.
- 7 – 8pm: We caught a bus to the station, and went to purchase a ticket from the Ticket Office, Despite having valid Identification of my Disability, the Ticket Office staff Member argued it was not valid. I have raised this with London Midland, and you can keep track of progress here. We caught a train to Milton Keynes, it was on time.
- 8 – 10pm: We arrived in Milton Keynes and proceeded to immediately get lost! They have removed the Bus Stands from the Station Forecourt temporarily, and as such we found it difficult to find our way to our Bus Stop, Luckily a member of Bus Users UK (Milton Keynes) was on hand, and as he has a Sight Impairment also, was able to guide us to our stop. He remained and helped us on board the X5 to Oxford, which was the last bus (and it was 20 minutes late).
We arrived in Oxford at 10:30pm, met our friend and proceeded to where we were staying. So. it is possible to make journeys across the UK solely by bus, but you do need to be able to think on your feet, as sometimes things can go wrong. If this has inspired you, then do let us know how you got on with your journey.
Credit: Northampton Bus Station image by Nico Hogg; 2008 Volvo B9R image by Tom Ellis -both used with thanks under the Creative Commons licence.
When you are subject to a shoddy service from an operator or an authority involved with public transport, it is very easy to submit remarks in the heat of the moment that may not lead to the response you are looking for. As a volunteer on FixMyTransport, I see many different styles of complaints and it can be disappointing to see a really good point about public transport not make the impact it should do. The issues that follow a few simple rules are more likely to succeed.
Who is your audience
The first thing to remember is that someone else, who deals with issues like yours every day is reading what you have written and they need as much information as possible to ensure that they can handle your request appropriately. If they do not get this information, they are less likely to provide you with response that you are looking for.
Focus on your issue
An important aspect to focus on is to focus on your issue. If it is about late buses, focus on late buses. Avoid moving on to other topics that the operator is unlikely to be able to deal with such as bus shelters or the previous operator of the route. If you are going to cover two points, make this clear and keep the points separate. Try to avoid moving between issues because these two points could be handled by different departments within the company or authority you are sending your issue to.
The details are most important
The more details you can provide, the easier it is for the operator to work out who is involved with your incident. The most important pieces of information are date, time and location from which the operators can begin your investigation.
Rhetorical Questions, General Opinions and Sarcasm
These unhelpful comments can make it more difficult for those who are handling your issue to provide your complaint by increasing the length of your complaint unnecessarily. In addition, the time spent creating the unhelpful comments can prevent you from providing the useful information, which the person handling your issue can use to help your issue reach a successful conclusion. In addition, general opinions such as how it used to be better when you were young (unless this the issue you are raising) are also unhelpful. The customer relations people see these all of the time and are more likely to send you an email that does not answer your query.
Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar
It doesn’t need to be perfect but good spelling, full stops and commas in the right places, can help those reading your message understand it. The quicker they can read it, the more time they can commit to helping sort out your issue. It also prevents misunderstandings and it can make other people on FixMyTransport more likely to support your campaign.
We all have a bad day and I am sure that your issue has really screwed your day up. However, bad language is not tolerated by operators. As some have found with certain operators, they operate a swear filter, which will bounce your complaint. Even those that get through to the email inbox, could be ignored and some operators have even launched criminal cases against those who have threatened their staff through their Customer Relations channels. One issue that we have had is that sometimes members of staff swear and it is difficult to communicate this without using the word. I would advise you to replace them with asterisked or other descriptives rather than post the actual word (F***, the F Word and F*&^ are all ways to replace a rather commonly used swear word).
I hope that these rules help you improve the quality if the issues you try to raise through FixMyTransport. If you have any comments, feel free to comment below or tweet @FixMyTransport
- Make your complaint as clear as possible with as many details as you can find
- Keep to the facts where you can
- No bad language unless you alter it
Thanks to Andres Rueda who provided the image at the top of this page
Rail fares and tickets are not surprisingly a common source of complaint on FixMyTransport. Although there are expensive fares, there are also many which are cheap or reasonable, but the overall impression is one of a fares system riddled with unfairness and traps for the unwary, and a rail industry unwilling to do anything to fix the fundamental problems.
Examples which have been reported are the confusion of having cheaper fares for going further, where it is difficult to spot the right ticket on a machine from the confusing selection available and where splitting the journey into two tickets is cheaper than one. Users have also reported problems with ticket barriers which reject valid tickets.
What these FixMyTransport campaigns show is that whilst the train operators often give sympathetic responses, there is rarely a suggestion they want to fix the underlying problems.
However until 28th June 2012 there is an important opportunity to help fix the rail fares system as the government is consulting on changes and it is clearly important this is not left simply for the operators to influence.
The organisation which is being most proactive in supporting the interests of passengers is The Campaign for Better Transport with its ‘Fare Fares Now’ campaign:
Their website includes plenty of information and positive ideas.
The consultation is described here:
Anyone can contribute by following the link to on-line response form.
Here are a few more ideas which I believe would help:
1. Openly publish full fares information
2. Simplify restrictions so passengers can be confident their ticket is valid
3. Price single fares so they can be used as a flexible alternative to returns
4. Help passengers to find cheaper fares involving more than one ticket
5. Always provide a fare which is valid for any reasonable route and for any operator
6. Check restrictions are being used to make good use of capacity, and not simply to maximise revenue, and support this by openly publishing train loading information
The problem of fares complexity has been building up for years and has become one of the main frustrations for passengers. Let’s hope real change is on the way, sweeping away the current unworkable system.
If you work for a transport company, large or small, this post is for you. It’s for anyone who runs buses, trains, trams, an underground system, or even an inland ferry. It aims to point out some of FixMyTransport’s many benefits for operators.
What would you say if your marketing department came to you with an idea that would:
- cut the costs of your customer response strategy;
- improve your profile among passengers – and those who have never used your service before;
- give you unprecedented insight into what your customers are saying about you;
- communicate what you are doing to keep your transport infrastructure running smoothly, quickly and easily…
…and would cost you absolutely nothing to implement?
FixMyTransport is an independent website which will bring you all those benefits, for free.
What is FixMyTransport, then?
FixMyTransport was built by the not-for-profit organisation mySociety. We have a background in creating websites that make it easy to access civic and democratic rights. Our previous projects include FixMyStreet.com, WhatDoTheyKnow.com and TheyWorkForYou.com.
FixMyTransport uses the same basic idea as many of our other websites: it encourages complete transparency from both the customer and the operating company by publishing all correspondence online.
This allows others to read and comment on problems, suggest solutions, or add their thoughts to the debate. It also creates a permanent archive of the problem and any explanations or solutions offered by your company.
If that sounds daunting, read on.
Customer relations, out in the open
Until very recently, operators have been accustomed to dealing with passenger complaints through the private channels of email, phone and post.
But, with the arrival of social media, an expectation has arisen among passengers. People want to contact companies by the means with which they are most familiar. Increasingly, that means via Twitter, Facebook, or other public online spaces.
Social media brings challenges
Those organisations that rise to the challenge are rewarded with loyal customers – customers who can, and will, spread their positive opinions to their contacts within minutes. Equally, they will not hold back if they perceive that they have received bad service.
It can be hard to explain yourself within the confines of Twitter’s 140-character limit, or even Facebook’s status update box. FixMyTransport gives you as much space as you need to get to the bottom of your customers’ problems. You can reply as many times as required – and every time you do, you’ll be gaining brownie points not just with a single passenger, but with many thousands of other readers.
Excellent customer service? Amplify the effect
We know that most operators are striving to offer excellent customer service. And what happens when you do? A single person is satisfied; perhaps they spread the word among a few friends and family.
When fantastic responses are given via FixMyTransport, they stay on a permanent web page for all to see, now, and in the future.
That’s free PR.
Can’t solve the problem? No need to worry
We’ve spotted that customers don’t always want a solution to their problem. When you explain the challenges you face and give reasons why your service may not have been up to scratch, it can go a long way.
Show how hard you are working
Why hide your light behind a bushel? If you are investing a lot of effort and money in improvements, you should be shouting about it.
The average passenger doesn’t understand the complexities of timetable management or staff training. Much of the hard work you do goes completely unseen. Try putting a full explanation on FixMyTransport. You may find that it soon becomes the top Google result for a search like “why don’t bus drivers carry change?”. Not only are you educating people, but you’re also getting a chance to put your brand name out there, as a knowledgeable expert.
Cut down on duplicate emails – and save money
FixMyTransport works by grouping people together when they have the same problem. That means you only receive one email where previously you would have been repeating the same response to several passengers.
And you only need reply once, too – your reply goes to everyone who has added their name to the issue. How much does it cost you, in real terms, to answer one email or phone call? Now you can strike that off your balance sheet, times several hundred.
Create an archive for the future
It’s not just your present customers who you’ll be responding to – for repeated or persistent problems, FixMyTransport can act as a permanent record that anyone can consult in the future.
Find out what your customers are saying, and what they feel strongly about
Do you ever conduct focus groups or run customer insight questionnaires? Now all the information you seek is readily accessible, for free.
Your passengers are talking about your services right now on FixMyTransport. What upsets them? What would please them? What do they expect? It’s all there in black and white – and if anything is missing, there’s nothing to stop you dipping right in and asking them directly.
Be at forefront of online technology
The kudos you gain from being one of the first transport operators to take the plunge and interact directly with passengers on a site like FixMyTransport is invaluable. You may well find that it’s a move that is picked up and praised by mainstream and industry press, as well as countless bloggers. That’s what we mean when we talk about free PR.
Meet your users in their preferred space
Anyone who’s consulted a social media agency will have heard the first rule of social media for businesses – go where your users are.
Your website may be the best in the business, but your passengers will never know that if they don’t visit it. If you have a social media strategy, the chances are, it extends to Facebook and Twitter. Now it’s time to find those passengers – more and more of them each day – who are using FixMyTransport as their preferred place to hang out.
Banish copy and paste responses forever
Form responses just won’t work on FixMyTransport: the site’s public nature means that our users will soon sniff them out.
But wouldn’t you rather be giving your passengers individual, helpful responses that really please them? Any time you lose in putting them together should be well paid for in the free, positive publicity you get in return.
The practical bit
FixMyTransport was set up so that you, as an operator, need never visit the site if you don’t want to. When one of our users sends you a message, it is sent to your customer services email address. At the same time, it is published on our site.
All you need to do is reply to the email. Your reply is sent to the passenger. Depending on their preferences, it may also be published on their FixMyTransport page.
So, at a very basic level, you, the operator, need do nothing out of the ordinary. You just reply to the message as you would to any other.
However, if you would like to really seize the opportunities that FixMyTransport offers you, there are a number of extra steps you can take.
- Set up a company profile on the site. Simply register as you would as an individual user. You may wish to use your company logo as your userpic. If you are a large organisation, use a group email address, and choose a password that you are happy to share with your team.
- Use this profile to proactively comment on the issues that are addressed to your company.
- How do you find them? On the Operator pages. Browse all operators here, or find your page with this format of URL: www.fixmytransport.com/operators/firstword-secondword – eg, www.fixmytransport.com/operators/london-midland.
- Use our Atom feeds. You’ll find the link on every Operator page, next to this icon . Read our recent blog post to find out more about how to subscribe.
- Have you dealt with a problem particularly well? Don’t be afraid to use your own social media – Twitter, Facebook, etc – to spread the link around.
Several transport operators have already created a profile and started interacting in this way, and we regularly hear that they have gone up in our users’ estimation as a result.
Still not sure?
We’d love to talk more about how we could make FixMyTransport work better for your company. Drop us a line and we’ll be happy to discuss any questions or ideas you have. We’re still in active development, so, in some cases, we can even make modifications to the site so that it works better for you and your backend systems.
Image by Tim Ellis, used with thanks.
I am writing this from my own experiences, but would love to hear from you about yours, get in touch with me by leaving a comment to this blog post.
Here’s an occasion where I felt a complaint was not required, I’ve not named the Operator – you know who you are.
I went to Chester on my birthday with my Fiancée, brought a train ticket from the ticket machine at Rhyl, only later realising it had not given us the discount for a Disabled Railcard.
“Never mind” I said, “I’ll get a refund when we arrive home”
So, we had a nice day in Chester, and arrived back in Rhyl that evening.
I asked the gentleman in the Ticket Office for a refund, he asked me where I purchased the ticket (to which I pointed at the Ticket Machine) and he proceeded to hand me a form (which was not very accessible) and told me to fill in the form and send it in. I arrived home and thought I’d add the issue to FixMyTransport, but then I thought, why bother? Our particular train operator has not got a great track record of responding to customers – a quick look through their responses on FixMyTransport makes that clear.
I binned the tickets a week ago, I was not going to complete an inaccessible form, I was not even going to attempt to contact the Customer Services department, Why? I just didn’t think it’d change anything.
But now I think about it, I should have sent that message, for many reasons.
– Publishing a message on FixMyTransport, even when the operator doesn’t respond very well, puts it out there in the public domain and shows other people with the same issue (even if it’s a really small one) that they’re not alone.
– The more people join my FixmyTransport campaign, the more pressure there is on the operator to fix the problem, even if they’re not engaging as fully as they might.
– The team at FixMyTransport, and other users, can often suggest what to do next when you’ve had no satisfaction. So, if the operator palmed me off, I could have tried a body like Passenger Focus. And if my problem had been a bigger one, there are all sorts of disability support groups to ask for help, there’s my local councillor, the local press, and lots more.
Don’t be like me, Even if you don’t get a response from the operator the first time, keep going. Use FixMyTransport to report issues and to keep a record of any response you get. At the end of the day you will get an answer, it takes time, but you will be supported.
Image credit: Transdev Harrogate and District – used with permission.
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