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.
A bus stop’s a bus stop, right? So long as it’s functional, accessible, and in a good state of repair, who’d complain?
Well, a look at the following shelters from around the world (all found via a Flickr Creative Commons search) might change your mind.
I’m not suggesting that you request similar modifications to your local bus stop via FixMyTransport. But I think there’s a valid point here to be made about how public spaces can be playful – perhaps if there’s a new bus shelter being commissioned in your area, that would be the time to ask the council to explore some more adventurous options.
And if you’re short of ideas, well, read on.
Bronze Bus stop by Vlasta JuricekThis remarkable bus shelter, reminiscent of Jack and the Beanstalk, is in Liberec in the Czech Republic and was created in 2005 by the sculptor David Černý. I like the way that it can obviously also be appreciated from the path running above it. And now that I’ve seen the potential of waiting for a bus underneath a giant’s table, the bog-standard shelters in my own neck of the woods seem curiously unsatisfactory.
Macondo Bus Stop by Kidz Connect It may not look much at first glance, but this shelter on the outskirts of Vienna, Austria, encapsulates many of the same ideals as FixMyTransport. For a start, it was campaigned for by local residents who felt cut off from the city centre. It contains a map of the local area, on a whiteboard to encourage additions and comments from local people. The idea is that they might help first-time travellers find their way – just as we hope FixMyTransport allows people to get friendly advice from other users. More about the social art project here.
Unst Bus Shelter by Birdfarm Unst bus shelter on the Shetland Isles is pretty famous – it’s won awards and even has its own website. Again, there are parallels to be drawn with FixMyTransport, since the shelter was first constructed when a seven-year-old wrote to the local paper to ask whether the roof could be repaired on the previous, rusting one.
According to the website, “A few days after the completion of the replacement shelter, a wicker sofa and table appeared in it with nobody claiming responsibility for putting them in. Soon afterwards, a small TV was added, closely followed by a ‘hot snacks’ counter. In the winter, a 2-bar heater was installed, allowing an even more comfortable wait and it wasn’t long before a carpet was fitted. ”
Still feeling satisfied with your own local bus shelter? Mind you, you might not feel so well-disposed to all that clutter if it starts tipping down with rain, and there are more than a couple of people needing shelter.
See also the work of Mick Sheridan, who upholsters chairs and puts them in remote rural bus shelters for the infirm and elderly.
Bus shelter – Aachen, Germany, by Jim Linwood This one is public art, as well as a practical shelter that you can see clearly out of to check whether your bus is arriving. It even features in the Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture – and apparently it’s used as a climbing frame by local kids, as well as for shelter. The screen on the left displays the time, and local news stories. Room for something like this on your high street?
Message on a bus shelter, by HoxtonChina Seems there’s a whole genre of art that can only be seen from the top of a double-decker bus. There are messages like this one, and a few years back, a series of strange, spiky sputnik-like objects. The former would seem to emanate from a group named Bus.Tops.
While we’re all comfortable with the idea of council-commissioned art cheering up a dreary bus shelter, I suspect that many would be a bit more nervous when it comes to guerrilla art. But this project uses spaces that most people will never notice, and adds a little surprise into a boring commute for those who do – does it do any harm?
The photographer of this image handily geotagged it, so I can identify its page on FixMyTransport too. No-one’s complained, so does that mean no-one minds this sort of thing?
Giulia and the bus people by Aine D in Madison, Wisconsin. Heard of yarnbombing? It’s the beautification of the environment around you, via the medium of wool. Again, not always officially-sanctioned, it certainly cheers up a dull, grey bus stop.
Birds on a Wire by Serakatie shows a bus shelter in Seattle. If not for the bird painting, you couldn’t really class this as ‘unusual’: that sand-blasted wave pattern seems to be prevalent on bus shelters around the western world. Not that I’m complaining: it’s a nice piece of jaunty graphic design that has the air of a very adept woodcut.
Bus shelter Auckland by Anne Beaumont Here’s a slightly more distinctive example of the same technique. I imagine this sort of decoration goes a long way towards discouraging vandalism and graffiti – and just as I’m all for every high street having its own character, I’d definitely vote for every bus shelter to be contributing to that local character.
Bus Stops by Sam Kelly It’s hard to keep this list down to ten, but I’ll finish by picking a shelter from my own home town of Brighton. This stands for all bus shelters that have their own distinct architectural style, the more so if they echo their surroundings.
In Brighton, the shelters along the Old Steine are all Deco like this, and very elegant they look too. Along the prom, we also have some wooden shelters that fit effortlessly into their surroundings.
I suspect that their upkeep costs the council an arm and a leg, but their style is part of what makes Brighton different, and in some small way, I suspect they contribute to our tourist economy.
Not enough bus shelters for you? I’ve put all these photos, and quite a few extra that I haven’t featured, in some Flickr galleries.
Is there a special or interesting bus shelter near you? Please do share in the comments.
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.”
You might think that now you’ve used FixMyTransport to contact a transport operator, your work is done. Well, perhaps it is – sometimes, all you have to do is ask. But, more than likely, your issue could do with a little help.
Here’s what to do next, if you want to make FixMyTransport really work for you.
FixMyTransport allows other people to discuss or join your campaign – and you need to attract as many as you can. Campaigns with lots of supporters are taken more seriously by everyone, including the operator.
Keep the conversation going. Every time you receive a comment or a supporter, your page goes back to the top of the recent issues list – one of our most-read pages. So don’t just create your page and forget about it. It’s worth replying to others, adding updates, and drumming up support, perhaps over a period of several days.
Work that social media
There are buttons at the top of your campaign that allow you to broadcast your issue via Twitter, Facebook or email. You don’t have to bore the pants off your pals, but it’s worth tweeting a few times, maybe at different times in the day.
Twitter is also great for targeting those who will be interested in your specific problem. Why not tweet your campaign URL to a local blog, newspaper, or even a celebrity, if you think they’d be interested? Or use a hashtag (#) for the location of your problem. Many cities and towns have a Twitter account that automatically retweets mentions.
Take it into the real world
Not a big fan of social media? You can just as easily pass on the URL of your campaign page by word of mouth. Use a link-shortener like TinyURL, that lets you include a relevant a word or phrase in the new URL, and then it’ll be more memorable.
Put messages where they will be seen – how about a post office window just by the bus stop?
Or talk to your fellow passengers – they are the ones who are most affected by your issue, so they will care the most. Hand out that link and make sure they understand how to join a campaign (“Click on the big green button” should do the trick).
Don’t take no for an answer
Some operators just don’t send a reply. Or you might receive a response, but it doesn’t fix your problem. If you believe your issue is worth pursuing, don’t give up.
Now is the time to use FixMyTransport’s ‘ask an expert‘ button (as in the screenshot, above). Your message goes straight to the inboxes of the FixMyTransport volunteers, known as ‘Anoraks’. We have a long list of contacts, and several of us have experience in the transport sector, too.
Our Anoraks are on hand to help you, but you can also take action yourself. There are plenty of next steps you can take – each will be suitable for a different type of issue.
You might write to an independent watchdog, like Passenger Focus or Bus Users UK.
It’s always worth involving your local councillor – they have a duty to ensure that public transport is working for their constituents.
If your story has enough human interest, the local press might want to run a story.
See if there’s a pressure group with the same interests as you. The best fit might be a local cycling group, or an accessibility charity, or a commuter group… there are organisations for almost every issue.
The nice thing about FixMyTransport is that you can do all this from your campaign page. Your messages, and any answers you receive, are all published on the page, making a permanent record for anyone else with the same problem in the future.
First impressions are everything
Take a good look at your FixMyTransport campaign page, or maybe ask a friend to have a look at it. Remember that people will arrive on your page with little or no previous knowledge of your issue. Does it make immediate sense? Is it framed as an issue that other people will actually want to support?
If not, FixMyTransport does allow you to reword it. Just click the yellow button in the panel at the top of your page (image as above). Note – it does not alter the text of your message to the operator, which, in most cases, is sent as soon as you submit it.
Everything in order? Good! Now let’s see if we can get that bus shelter cleaned, that train to leave on time, or that ticket machine fixed.
FixMyTransport is raising all sorts of interesting issues as we progress towards making public transport even easier to understand for those who seek to improve it.
We really enjoy receiving feedback that challenges us, particularly when it concerns usability. One piece of feedback that has created an interesting area to look at have been the seventeen Network Rail Stations. Most of the 2,500 railway stations in the UK are owned by Network Rail and most of those are leased to a train operator who looks after most aspects of the station including customer service staff. The seventeen Network Rail stations are an anomaly, with Network Rail managing the station but most of the customer facing staff provided by the train operators. What this resulted in was Network Rail receiving complaints about staff they did not manage and unnecessary correspondence for users of FixMyTransport.
We were challenged to improve the situation through our feedback page and agreed that this was a gap that needed to be solved, so we set about finding who provided staff at Network Rail Stations.
It pondered a question though. Which staff members should we include? A driver or guard should be associated with a train service, so they were not strictly station based staff. Our discussions found that there were three different groups of staff that were based at stations and should be considered as part of our investigations. We understand there are other groups of people who could be encountered but they are usually subcontractors of the train operators or Network Rail.
Dispatchers – supervise the departure of trains
Booking Office Clerks – Sell tickets and provide information
First Class Waiting Rooms – Staff maintain a comfortable environment for First Class passengers.
We challenged our sources, using web forums and colleagues to find information about every Network Rail station. Some members of staff are not as obvious as others, particularly if they are placed in a corner of a busy railway station. We created a very comprehensive list of operator managed staff and have uploaded this to FixMyTransport. So if you have an issue with a member of staff at a Network Rail managed station, please don’t hesitate to use FixMyTransport; we have their details and your issue can be winging its way to the company responsible with just a few clicks.
If you want to provide feedback to the FixMyTransport Team, please do not hesitate to provide it through our dedicated pages located at the top of every page or through @fixmytransport
Credit: Image by Nicksarebi, used with thanks under the Creative Commons licence.
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!
Cycles and trains should be perfect companions for car free travel but there can be problems as shown by a number of FixMyTransport campaigns.
Cycle parking at stations is often inadequate as shown in the strongly supported campaign for more cycle parking at Cambridge Station. The good news for Cambridge is that is was one of 68 places to receive recent funding to improve cycle facilities covering a mixture of cycle parking and cycle hire schemes.
Cycle parking is something which will require continued campaigning at local and national level, and this is where FixMyTransport can be valuable for gathering support and exchanging ideas.
Passengers can also find taking their cycles on trains to be a frustrating experience due to complex rules which vary from company to company and the need to limit the number of cycles on many services. Extra carriages are very costly so it is never going to be possible to cater for an unrestricted number of cycles.
Before taking a cycle on a train it is important to check the rules. National Rail Enquiries has a page of information for cyclists, including a link under “More information” to download the National Rail Cycling by Train leaflet.
In general folding cycles are always allowed on trains, whereas non-folding cycles are often restricted to a limited number per train, can require pre-booking, or can be banned completely.
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.