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.
Transport Minister Norman Baker has spoken against frequent announcements on train journeys. Well-known transport commentator Christian Wolmar also finds them intolerable. I can sympathise – in my commuting days, I got quite fed up with the robotic voice repeating the same announcements at every single one of the many station stops on my daily route.
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.
Image: Kitty DuKane (CC)
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.
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?”
My daughter leaves an hour before college when it’s a 15-minute journey by car, says Andrew in Greater Manchester.
Visiting the local hospital is impossible by public transport for this Muswell Hill resident.
Mr Ford gives Northern Rail another week before he gives in and buys a car, such is the unreliability of trains from Mills Hill.
It’s cheaper to carpool into Glasgow than to take the train.
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:
Additionally the official page mentions events in Brighton, Bristol, Chichester, Edinburgh, Inverness, Hampshire, Kidderminster, London, Camden, Richmond, Westminster, Luton, Manchester Trafford, Harrogate, Oxford, Stoke-on-Trent, Wigan, Woking and York.
If you know of any more, or have links to those listed, please leave a comment below.
Image credit: Ellen Fitzsimons
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.
But let’s not dwell on the negatives. We have to give kudos to East Midlands Trains, First Capital Connect, First Great Western, London Midland, Southern and Virgin, all of whom stepped up to the mark and had no problems whatsoever replying to you via FixMyTransport. Equally, praise is due to Transport for London who act as the central contact for a variety of operators across the city, and Stagecoach Buses’ many subsidiaries.
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.
Meanwhile, we hope you’ll keep using the site, and telling others about it. You might even consider telling your local transport operators how FixMyTransport can work for them.
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.
Image credit: Magnus Franklin
FixMyTransport uses a lot of public transport data in the interests of giving people an intuitive interface for reporting their problems with public transport. This kind of data can change pretty quickly though, as bus stops get moved, bus routes are closed or change hands, and mistakes in the original data get fixed.
Since we started work on FixMyTransport, the datasets it uses have become more freely available, and more frequently updated. This is great news as it makes the task of building and running a site like ours (and a myriad of other useful transport apps) a lot easier. So for the last few months I’ve been working on allowing us to update our transport data with the latest versions of public transport data on a regular basis. This can be fairly unglamorous work, and is one of those jobs where you know you’ve succeeded when you rollout months of work and no one notices. I think of it as a bit like learning to do the trick where you pull out the tablecloth from a heavily laden table without disturbing any of the plates and cups. Hopefully. But this morning, there was a glimmer of the light at the end of the tunnel.
One of the things I’ve been working on is being able to produce lists of the changes that we’ve made to the data in order to make the site work, and in response to feedback from members of the public – so, for example, back in August last year, someone wrote to let us know that they couldn’t find Dore & Totley station on the site. Turns out it was there, but using the old name Dore. We corrected that in our data, and last week, that change was in the first set of feedback I added to the NaPTAN dataset of bus stops and stations using ITO World’s nifty data quality service.
This morning, I noticed that some of our feedback (including the tweak to Dore & Totley) has already made it into the latest release of NaPTAN, available under an open license at http://data.gov.uk/dataset/naptan. That’s a great turnaround time, it means we won’t have to keep a separate copy of those changes in our database any more, and everyone else who uses the data benefits too. Closing that loop feels like a small, but significant, bit of progress.
Credit: Image by Austin Kleon, used with thanks under the Creative Commons licence.
FixMyTransport has been shortlisted for a Nominet Award in Online Public Services & Information. We don’t think they’re called Nommies, but we’re very tempted to refer to them that way.
Nominet are the not-for-profit organisation responsible for the smooth and secure running of the .uk infrastructure. They maintain a directory of domain names ending in.uk, and run the technology which locates the computer hosting the website or email address you are looking for. Their annual awards aim to showcase UK projects which help make the internet a more secure, open, accessible and diverse experience for all.
Our category is specifically for websites which are improving two-way communication, and improving local services for citizens, which pretty much sums up FixMyTransport, we think.
The winners will be announced at an Awards Ceremony on Thursday 5 July. Wish us luck!
If you’d like to see who else is in the running, you can browse all the shortlisted projects here.