Tuesday 4th May 2021
We all know it’s going to be a big challenge to get passengers using public transport after the past year’s pandemic hiatus. And it’s good to see some exciting developments with new bus brands in Lancashire for tendered routes (Ribble Country and Little Hot Line), ambitious new services for the leisure market in the south west (First Kernow), electric buses coming on stream as well as electric trains and a more frequent service for Corby and the southern end of the Midland Main Line etc etc etc…
But; as always, it’s important attention is paid to getting those details at the sharp end right – all those, so called ‘touch points’; or in these Covid aware days, no longer physical touch points of course. Because that’s what impacts a passenger’s experience more than any multi million pound investment project.
Here are a few examples I’ve picked up over the last week or two since being back out and about again, indicating there’s much work still to be done to remove annoying and non sensical inconsistencies.
At the station
It seems there’s a ‘known problem’ with Ticket Vending Machines (TVM) operated by GoVia Thameslink Railway (GTR) (ie Southern/Thameslink/Great Northern/Gatwick Express) not accepting certain brands of credit cards, including the one I use. So every time the ticket office is closed I need to have a standby bank card ready to use when the TVM rejects my credit card, as it always does.
If using the car park at Hassocks Station on a Public Holiday, whereas the previous contractor, Saba, would charge a much reduced Sunday rate, for unknown reasons the new contractor, APCOA, now charge the peak Monday-Friday rate. I’ve raised this with APCOA and they replied it’s an instruction from GTR. I’ve raised it with GTR and they have yet to provide a satisfactory explanation. Meantime, when I looked at the APCOA app over the weekend just gone it was charging the higher Monday-Friday rate for both Saturday and Sunday as well as Bank Holiday Monday, thereby ripping unwary customers off. I’ve complained to APCOA and await their response.
On the train and bus
GTR, and probably other commuter train companies, have no social distancing restrictions on board trains, leaving passengers to use their common sense to choose an appropriate seat. Chiltern Railways however are maintaining their draconian stance indicating where you can and where you can’t sit – even if you’re travelling together as a family unit or couple.
Meanwhile the London Underground and Overground permits passengers to sit next to each other on inward facing longitudinal seats, whereas on board buses, bus companies are maintaining strict capacity limitations with double decks restricted to around 30 passengers and single decks about half or less of that. Once that limit is reached, up goes the ‘Bus Full’ sign and tough, you have to wait.
Some bus companies still have seats marked out of use; others no longer bother and leave it to passengers to decide the best seating arrangement.
Back on the trains, if you travel with LNER on the East Coast Main Line, even if it’s a short journey from Grantham to Peterborough or Wakefield to Leeds, it’s compulsory to reserve a specific seat, but you have to know your train operator and which journey is operated by which company, as making those journeys on East Midlands Railway (Grantham) or Northern or Cross Country (Wakefield) would mean you don’t have to reserve a seat.
Neither do you have to reserve a seat for inter-city journeys on Avanti West Coast, GWR, Cross Country, TransPennine Express, ScotRail etc. And when you do try and reserve a seat on the LNER website, you’re asked to submit a booking reference before being able to proceed even though you won’t have one if you’ve bought your ticket from a TVM. But, I’ve discovered you can fool the software into thinking you’re legitimate by entering any random eight digit run of letters and numbers, but how many passengers would know that?
And I’ve also discovered there’s a limit of booking only two journeys in a day, so if you’re doing a return from Wakefield to Leeds and later that day want to book a seat going to Doncaster – tough, you’ve reached your reservation limit for that day. I guess this is to stop passengers reserving seats on all sorts of trains to cover their options when journey times might be uncertain. This all smacks of being computer and system orientated rather than passenger friendly.
Back on board the LNER train, we’re told by regular announcements “you must wear a face covering at all times (unless exempt)” but drinks and snacks are available to purchase and consume or brought with you which means not wearing a face covering. So not quite “at all times”.
Staying with LNER, for another inconsistency I stumbled across at the weekend, is the downsizing of the previous Travel Centre which used to be located handily right by the main entrance to York station. Now it’s in a much smaller room further into the station meaning there’s no longer room to display the previous helpful range of bus timetables and literature about York – ideal for visiting tourists.
So just as the DfT publishes its National Bus Strategy which on page 32 states unequivocally “full information on local bus services should be posted in railway stations, and the rail industry should promote bus links”, the DfT run Operator of Last Resort Company, LNER, withdraws the facility to provide bus information at one of its main tourist market stations served. Nice one.
Going for a pee while out and about is also full of inconsistencies. Some station toilets have blocked out alternate urinals (eg London Bridge where the capacity is limited at the best of tines) while others (eg Victoria) have dispensed with the need for that. Some even have alternate cubicles blocked out; same with wash basins and hand dryers. Others have a complete free for all and everyone manages.
Some bus stations have toilets still out of use “due to Covid” (eg Bristol).
Some stations are operating strict one way systems, often involving significant detours (eg Marylebone), yet passengers are mixed together on platforms and on trains.
Some companies seem to have abandoned on board ticket checking or ticket sales, while others strictly enforce this.
It’s all very inconsistent and does nothing to reassure and encourage passengers; but I now feel a bit better for getting these few thoughts off my chest, so thanks for reading.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.