Thursday. And it’s Day 4 of Catch The Bus Week 2018. How’s the fun all going for you? Got on a bus yet?
If the traditional embarrassed-men-in-suits-plus-a-few-women launch photo in Westminster (Westminster? – it’s the only way to nab a Minister on a late Monday morning) (and yes I know #CTBW, as it’s affectionately known in the trade, is pretty irrelevant to London, frequency cuts all round despite stacked out buses so the last thing you want are a shoal of motorists tempted to give the bus a try) (and yes I know a fifty+ year old non-accessible Routemaster as a backdrop is hardly a shining example of modern day get-me-out-my-car bus travel, but it IS Sir Peter’s and it’s got some souped-up engine that’s very clean and green), anyway where was I, oh yes, if the launch photo in Westminster is anything to go by this annual oversized-green-foam-waving-hands extravaganza is now well past peak hour.
Like me you’ll probably struggle to make out all the pressganged mob summoned for this year’s launch photo particularly those well hidden behind the exuberant hand wavers in the front row (who’s bright idea was that then?! I’m pretty sure that’s Transport Focus CEO Anthony Smith’s left eye and I’m told Stagecoach’s Paul Lynch and CPT’s CEO Simon Posner are in the back row somewhere) but compare it to the same launch bonanza a few years ago and you’ll firstly be struck by the inclusion of more women, but markedly a noticeable absence of Transport Group Big Cheeses. Back in 2015 they were all there on Westminster Bridge, even Go-Ahead CEO David Brown put in an appearance alongside other renowned Group Bus Division MDs but by this year, they’re nowhere to be seen. David Brown had wisely delegated his invite to Martin Dean (well, he has picked up the CPT President baton this year) who was billed to appear in the 2018 pre-launch strictly embargoed press release, but Martin had obviously found another pressing engagement so gave it a miss. If we carry on at this rate, it’ll be the night cleaning supervisor from Merton Garage, an overworked Arriva Click driver from Sittingbourne and a cupcake baking PR luvvie from Merseyside who’ll be drafted in for the 2019 launch.
I’m not sure whether it was deliberate sabotage or just unfortunate timing but rather than #CTBW’s “national celebration of the benefits of the bus” launch, Monday’s news media was dominated by Campaign for Better Transport’s latest Buses In Crisis report churning out doom laden statistics aplenty about damaging loss of bus routes, disgruntled passengers left isolated and draconian council cuts to bus funding. Rather than celebrating by giving the car a rest for a week and jump on board to give bus travel a try, by the time I’d finished watching the lunchtime BBC news I was on the phone to my nearest Audi dealer checking what special offers they could do as I feared my local bus route was not long for this world.
So, lesson 1 in #CTBW – be careful who your supporters are and check they’re ‘on message’. Campaign for Better Transport enthusiastically tweeted their support for celebrating all that’s good about bus travel to promote #CTBW at 10.48 on Monday but just an hour and a half later unleashed the first of many tweets telling us all there’s a dire bus crisis on hand. Timing is everything in life.
Never mind, there’s always plenty of positive high jinks dreamt up by bus company marketeers up and down the country to tempt me from driveway to bus stop during #CTBW. After all, it’s a celebration and it’s only for a week; so plenty of amazingly eye catching stunts and not to worry about modal shift for the other fifty-one weeks. Well, we don’t want to get too serious about persuading people on to buses do we! A week is surely plenty enough. And what fun there is to be had. I mean who could resist the chance of a free ride if the bus driver on the bus I choose to try out for the very first time just happened to be the whacky extravert in the depot who came up with the zany idea of wearing a green clown style wig that day. Ingenious indeed.
Unusually I haven’t yet make any bus journeys at all during this year’s #CTBW as I’ve been far too busy at home pinning all my hopes on winning one of Arriva’s 1,000 one-day mTickets being given away on their App every day. All you had to do was follow the ten step guide, (yes, only ten steps but all easily explained in a helpful online video) to log on, find the area you want from Arriva’s national coverage, find the special ticket you want, enter the ‘CTBW’ promo code, and your click might just be early enough in the morning to come up trumps and get a freebie day out on an Arriva bus.
So far I’ve been unlucky every day I’ve tried as my promo code came back not valid (I even had a go at 6am this morning, but no they’d all been snapped up already) and ended up being offered a full priced ticket as second prize; still at least I can use that at any time convenient for me as freebie tickets must be used by this Sunday just like Cinders at the Ball staying past midnight. And we all know what happened to her. Not to be downhearted I’ve also entered the Arriva prize draw which was giving away other freebies each day including a cash prize of £1,000 on Saturday. I’m sure to be in with a chance on that. I’m on tenterhooks as I post this.
I’m also spending the week getting inspiration reading all the supportive tweets from much sought-after-to-influence ‘stakeholders’, especially MPs. Amazingly in 2017, Greener Journeys’ summary report outlining the successes of last year’s #CTBW, pointed out 38 MPs and local politicians had got involved. It seems that’s not a bad response rate from the estimated 22,000 MPs and local councillors representing us all around Britain. So hey, well done. You have to start somewhere on this engagement malarkey and I guess 38 is a good a place as any after seven years #CTBWeeking.
Except this year buses became the centrepiece for Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday when Labour Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn devoted all six of his allocated questions to Prime Minister Theresa May on the subject of buses. OMG what a coup for #CTBW. That’s never happened before. Ever. #CTBW has finally made it big time. Err, except Jez’s questions didn’t mention celebrating the bus but were all based on the aforementioned Buses in Crisis report taking the opportunity to hammer home six times how fares are rising faster than inflation, passengers are in free fall, bus routes being cut, elderly and disabled left isolated, private monopoly bus companies making excess profits etc etc.
What a failure, he opined, deregulation had been and invited our Tes to agree. Six questions about buses proved too much for the PM; in fact one question was too much for the Maybot who’s no doubt never waited for a bus, ever, so mumbled something about local authorities and finances before reverting to form by boasting about extra money being put into the NHS. Jez reminded her he was on a bus mission rather than healthcare and so it went on for six excruciating questions with the PM totally out of her bus depth, Jez totally on script from the Crisis report briefing he’d had and shamefully far too many other MPs treating the fact buses had been raised at PMQs at all as something of a joke.
The Maybot is not the only politician who doesn’t quite get their bus briefing. If I were a voter in Louise Haigh’s Sheffield Heeley constituency I’d be relieved to know my modest one bus journey a month will completely solve the nation’s congestion troubles AND eliminate climate change as an issue once and for all. It must be true I read it in her tweet…..
So, lesson 2 in #CTBW – politicians really do need to be constantly reminded what buses really are all about. All year round. Not just one week, once a year.
After all the fun and giant hand waving leading to this year’s #CTBW highs and successes, thoughts are no doubt already turning to 2019’s #CTBW. I’ve already set aside the first week in July in my 2019 diary and can’t wait. Indeed, here are five ideas to run up the flagpole for the first planning meeting Group PR people will no doubt be eagerly anticipating. I reckon these really would make a difference.
My lesson for #CTBW is this: ditch the ridiculous oversized green foam hands, the awkwardly posed launch photos and instead get serious……
- Launch a £10 go anywhere ticket throughout Britain, issued by every bus company and accepted by every bus company. Only exceptions being long distance bus routes such as in East Scotland and Leeds to the east coast. Call it a National Wanderbus ticket. All operators keep revenue where it’s taken and no complicated share outs.
- Make PLUSBUS free for Catch The Bus Week 2019. How integrated would that be? Revenue risk is pretty low matching the relative low sales, and think of the fantastic marketing opportunities and increasing awareness. Follow on with the traditional annual promotional £2 maximum for a PLUSBUS day ticket for the rest of July and August.
- CartoGold to work with every County Council and bus company to produce a countrywide interactive online British bus map. Funding to come from the Greener Journeys budget by saving next year’s glossy report produced by consultants telling me for every £1 spent on glossy reports produced by consultants I get 93p benefit in media coverage. I reckon for every £1 spent on producing this really helpful bus map there’ll be £1.93 gain in extra passenger revenue because we’ll be able to work out where buses actually go.
- Replace the Traveline premium rate 0871 number for timetable information with an 0800 Freephone number for #CTBW. Better still make that permenant.
- Every bus company to display eye catching promotional messages about bus travel and mocking car use on every space on every bus throughout #CTBW with strictly no commercial third party advertising booked for that week. Actually, given the investment, it makes sense to make this a permenant policy and bask in the impact – it’ll sure beat waving oversized green foam hands on Westminster Bridge/Brixton Garage for lasting effect. It might actually get through to the target market – motorists. This is the kind of thing I’m thinking of…..
It really does work. Been there, tried it, got the t-shirt.
Roger French 5th July 2018