Don’t ask!

After I returned home from North Wales last week I thought I’d check out how much a few standard fares on Arriva’s bus routes around Rhyl are so I could compared them to the ‘One Arriva’ £4 ticket. Are there “massive savings on standard bus tickets” as the promotional poster claims, or is it all a bit of a price con?

WARNING: this all gets a bit protracted so to save the next eight minutes blog reading time in your life; here’s a quick summary spoiler-alert…..

There’s no contact phone number on the Arriva website. They encourage you to ‘Live Chat’, but only during limited office hours and then only when someone’s available at a keyboard at a remote location hundreds of miles away. There’s an online enquiry form to full in with your fare enquiry but you won’t get a response. You can also send a letter to a postal address in Luton. Or finally you can go to an Arriva Travel Shop. That’s it. In short. Don’t ask.

Now read on, if you can stomach it….

Of course, this is all pre the Holy Grail of Open Data so I wasn’t expecting a simple task like finding out how much a bus fare costs to be straightforward nor a few clicks on Arriva’s website would get me anywhere, but what really took me aback was just how hard it is to find any price information through any communication means. I thought the quickest way would be the phone. But what’s the phone number?

Click on the Contact Us page and you’d expect to easily find Arriva’s phone number….

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I love the “and want you to get answers to your enquiries as quickly as possible”. Some webpage copywriter has either got a rather twisted sense of humour or lives in total delusionary La La Land.

Click on the ‘Bus fares information’ tab….

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It doesn’t exactly inspire you does it? We’ll come back to the Live Chat option, as most times I’ve clicked around, it hasn’t been available. Filling in a general enquiry form sounds a bit on the bureaucratically tedious side; writing a letter seems a bit on the disproportionate scale to find out a bus fare, which only leaves ‘Call at a travel shop’ and there’s not one close to where I live in Sussex nor did I spot one anywhere in Rhyl. And what if I wanted to know the bus fare to the Travel Shop?

So I decided to click around elsewhere to try and find that elusive phone number. Surely they must have a phone somewhere. Clicking on ‘Timetable information’ brings up the same menu as fares, as does ‘Other general information’ although there’s also a naff ‘Ask Alfie’ option added, which, trust me, is not worth clicking. ‘Complaints or commendations’ can only be submitted on a form and even ‘Lost property’ needs a form filled in rather than a phone call; no number is listed there either.

Unbelievably there’s no contact telephone number for enquiries anywhere on the Arriva Bus website; actually there’s no telephone number anywhere for anything. Well that’s not quite true; there’s a media page with phone numbers for an external PR agency who handle some of Arriva’s regional bus divisions “we work hard to make sure journalists receive an accurate and timely response … 24 hours a day, 7 days a week”. Great for journos then, not so great for passengers who want information; but hey we’re just customers who pay money so who cares.

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As an aside you’ll notice it’s not so much ‘UK Bus regional press office numbers’ as the headline promises but ‘UK Bus regional press office emails’. Other than Manchester based external PR agency ‘Smoking Gun’ which looks after the North West, Wales and bizarrely, Southern Counties, who are happy to let journalists phone them, but strictly about the media only, of course.

I gave up searching the Arriva Bus website and chose a well known Internet search engine for ‘Arriva customer service contact number’ instead; back came 11 million responses within 0.85 seconds. Top two entries are Arriva’s non-phone number webpages we’ve already discussed; third and fourth are two different number options.  ‘ContactNumbers.Guru’ offer 0843 504 5763 while ‘NumberHelpline’ quotes 0843 208 2298 ; both numbers of course being outside BT calling plans so incur a penalty to call as they link directly to Arriva’s hidden number. What a scam. Finally at sixth and seventh are independent phone number finders Resolver and MyLifeInNumbers who both quote the non premium direct Arriva number 0344 800 4411 which rang a bell as the number I spotted at Maidstone’s Lockmeadow terminus a few weeks ago on my abortive Service 24 escapade.

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No; not the bus stop flag, that was the number that’s been discontinued – which I’m delighted to hear from the efficient local MD has now been covered over. It’s the one in the bus shelter; bottom left of the poster.

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I gave it a ring. Up comes a three menu option. Your first 90 seconds of call time comprises: Press 1 for Traveline for timetable information which of course, if you did, will be outside any calling plans so will probably end up costing 12p a minute or more; Press 2 for Customer Services and Press 3 for Arriva Click.

Good old Arriva Click – the App only taxi booking service based in Sittingbourne, yet it gets a phone number option! How bizarre.

Pressing 2 brings you to the next set of options and for ‘Lost Property’ and ‘Complaints and Commendations’ you’re given no choice other than being redirected to the website to fill in an online form. It seems Arriva don’t want to hear from you on the phone with a complaint or commendation after all. For “any other enquiries” which I guess means fares information, you’re extolled to hang on to speak to an advisor.

‘Hanging on’ are the operative words. I seem to always be the unlucky one who just happens to call when they’re “experiencing an exceptionally high call volume”. Every single time I ring in fact. I patiently hung on for 25 minutes before getting answered with no apology for the wait; I guess that’s regarded as normal waiting time. I asked for the single fare from Rhyl to Colwyn Bay, thinking that’s a likely destination for arriving holidaymakers at Rhyl station. I could tell my friendly travel advisor was flummoxed but we soon established we’re talking North Wales and Rhyl doesn’t begin with a W and I agreed to hang on while my by now best-mate advisor went to find the answer. Six minutes later, back he comes with the reply £3.90; so not quite such a massive saving for the £4 ‘One Arriva’ you might think (i.e. it’s 10p more!) for the single journey.

I hesitated to ask anything more after so much time had elapsed but couldn’t resist to ask what the return fare was. After a short pause I was told as this was Yorkshire, there were no prices shown for returns. Having reminded him we’re in North Wales, I asked whether no prices being shown actually meant there weren’t any returns or just there was an information gap? Reassurance eventually came that a day ticket was the best option and the Wales version cost £5.50. “Do I buy that from the driver?” I thought it worth asking, knowing an mTicket was now the really smart way to travel. “Yes, you can buy it from the driver’. “Can I buy it anywhere else?” I pressed on. “From our website or from a shop with a PayPoint” I was advised.

Turns out the delivery option from buying online is through downloading the Arriva mTicket app and therefore ending up with an mTicket; so we got there in the end.

Bouyed on by this I thought I’d try out the Live Chat to see if this is a quicker way to find a bus fare. First you have to know Live Chat is actually Live, as it only works during office hours, Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm and then only when there’s an advisor available, as I found out this morning, trying at 8am, 9am and 10am. Sadly no advisor available to chat live on Live Chat was available.

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Interestingly the last two paragraphs of these explanatory instructions contradict each other. The final paragraph refers to a signpost icon which indeed used to appear alongside the fresh faced happy smiling advisors in the photo to let you know the Chat Room was good to go and Live. As the instruction says “just click it”. That paragraph text should have been deleted as the signpost has been superseded by a ‘speech bubble’ icon to the right and “all you need to do is click” as the penultimate paragraph explains. So the ultimate paragraph needs deleting. You really couldn’t make this nonsense up could you?

After checking every hour to see if Live Chat had started, eventually the Chat “button” appeared around 10.45 am.

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So I clicked on the icon and here’s how it went. I submitted my fare enquiry and it took a while to get an answer, probably about five minutes, but I’ve long found patience really is an imperative when using call centres; even Live Chat. It was encouraging when Helena eventually came on line and we started our chat. As there’s only one service between Rhyl and Denbigh, I was a little surprised Helena wanted to know which service I’ll be using but I thought I’d narrow it down a little for her ….

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Then I realised of course, that Helena is based 200 miles away from Rhyl so couldn’t possibly be expected to know…..

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…I like honesty in a call centre, so top marks to Helena for letting me know I shouldn’t expect local reassurance and also for her resourcefulness in using a journey planner. And, wanting to be helpful as always, and to while away the time while she was checking, I added…..

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And within two minutes, Helena was back confirming I was spot on….

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Within just two and a half further minutes came the fulsome helpful reply….

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So, six and a half minutes plus the five minutes wait at the beginning, meant an answer in just over ten minutes; much better than that old phone nonsense and ‘exceptionally high call volumes’. Mind you, while Helena was live chatting with me, she probably was keeping others waiting on the phone!

Before ending my Live Chat connection, I just wondered if Helena would know about the ‘One Arriva’ ticket which at £4 would give a £1.50 saving over the Wales zone day ticket. So after a short Live Chat silence, I gave it a whirl…

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Except Helena had gone silent on me. Nothing. For three whole minutes. I began to worry….

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Another four minutes…. I was now really worried for her welfare…. and then this…

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OK; I ducked out of pursuing the ‘One Arriva’ option; lost cause and all that, and this whole exchange had by then taken over 20 minutes, so I decided to quit. At least I now know it costs £3.90 to Denbigh.

There are two more options to find your fare.

One is to write a letter. But I couldn’t face sending a letter off to Luton to find out the fare from Rhyl to Colwyn Bay – I mean are they for real?

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So finally I thought I‘d try the online web form, especially as it says it’s something ‘new’ – well ‘new from 1 March 2017’! I filled it all in; (choosing not to make a comment as I didn’t want to wait up to 10 working days) hit submit; got an on-screen confirmation my fare enquiry had been submitted ….. that was last Thursday afternoon. I’m still waiting for a reply four days on……

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So, if like me, you’ve virtually lost the will to live after all this and can remember that spoiler alert at the beginning…. despite Arriva’s bold claim it wants “you to get answers to your enquiries as quickly as possible” it doesn’t promote a phone number; when you do find one to ring it takes around half an hour to get an answer; it’s Live Chat doesn’t Chat Live very often and when it does it’s from a remote location and handled by someone with less local knowledge than the enquirer despite the claim “before you know it you’ll be talking directly to one of our expert team”; otherwise it’s on-line form filling which doesn’t get answered or finally a letter by post or a personal visit.

I’ve laboured all this because if it wasn’t so despairing it would be highly amusing and worthy of an On The Buses sitcom script; but it’s actually very serious. This is not an under resourced small operator struggling to do their best in difficult operating circumstances. This is a huge resourced Multi-Modal International Transport Giant. Yet it simple fails with the most basic of customer communications. No wonder in turn buses are seen by many customers as failing.

I’m coming round to thinking Open Data just might be needed after all.

Roger French         30 July 2018

5 thoughts on “Don’t ask!

  1. If companies like Metrobus and Centrebus can put fare charts n the web, I can’t see why Arriva can’t. Mind you the timetables for Arriva buses on the web are also appallingly formatted

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  2. From past experience, the local operations seem to respond rather more quickly on Twitter than the national level you were dealing with, perhaps because they’re not a small office swamped by enquiries from across the country.

    About the only reason to have a Twitter account, to be honest.

    Mind you, Arriva is of course owned by DB, the organisation for whom the Germans invented the word “kundenverarschung” (rough translation: “treating the punters like arseholes”, although that doesn’t have the contempt of the original). Perhaps the UK operations are following their owner’s poor practice?

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  3. Lucky Anon Y. Mouse – my experience with the Twitter accounts is that in southern England at least, they are nearly all run from Luton, with the same limited hours as Roger has already described, and are generally fairly bland and generic. A handful of depots add extra information – Northfleet is particularly prolific at the moment, unfortunately the reason being to post details of journeys cancelled because of staff shortages.

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  4. Roger, You are so right. Bus companies ought to be contactable easily, and it’s not just Arriva that’s guilty of this. Fares information ought to be easy to obtain and it’s an ideal ‘point of sale’ for promoting good deals (to help the customer). Timetables and maps should be readily available, preferably free of charge.
    So many companies (and local authorities) just don’t ‘get it’. Bus travel needs to be made easy, otherwise people won’t use it – Simple!
    I read every one of your posts and find myself regularly saying “Hear, hear”. I would commend colleagues working in the industry to read and consider seriously how your part of the operation could be made more accessible to the new, potential customer.
    It’s no good feeling smug and thinking ‘He hasn’t visited US this time’. Give him time, He WILL !
    What can you do to improve YOUR operation ?
    Keep up the good work, Roger !

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