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Inconsistencies

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.

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

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.

22 thoughts on “Inconsistencies Leave a comment

  1. Toilets being out of use during a hygiene-related pandemic appears to be a massive own goal. How is this not obvious?

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  2. I travelled to Hereford at the weekend (direct and via Newport) and both GWR trains were marked as compulsory reservations. The system was also working pretty well with all the reservations being window seats.

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  3. The situation on campsites is even more bonkers. Toilets are not allowed to be open until 17th May. So you can go to the loo on the journey at service stations but not when you arrive at the destination!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Toilets out of use due to COVID – typical British bone idleness using COVID as an excuse because they can’t be ar**d.

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  5. I’m finding some inconsistencies in advanced rail fares atm!

    I’ve tried to book two tickets from Wolverhampton-Blackpool with Avanti West Coast, recently. Pre pandemic, my wife and I, with our Two Together Railcard, two months before travel would set us back £30-£40, which we think reasonable. Now they want £87, so we’re driving up!

    By contrast, I’ve just booked from Wolverhampton-Liverpool with LNWR, around three weeks before travel, £10 each way!

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  6. I suspect the GTR car park issue will become more common as the industry tries to maximise the revenue without realising that all high weekend prices does is push people to either drive completely or to park in nearby streets. Its a bit like charging anytime fares all day when nobody is travelling. Who would do that? Hope you get a reply.

    On the Avanti issue they are definitely difficult to book with very far in advance and quite out of step with most other operators. However, the only slight positive is that it is really clear which tickets have been released and what dates the next release will be. See https://www.avantiwestcoast.co.uk/travel-information/timetables

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  7. A couple of thoughts , , ,
    I’m personally a bit twitchy about planning a bus journey that is time specific as part of a day out . . . I watched an X3 leave Salisbury on Saturday with “Bus Full” on the destination, but only about 35 passengers on board. I wasn’t planning to catch the bus, but if I had been and a connection depended on it, I’d have been more than a tad unhappy!!
    Can LNER actually eject you from a train if you have a valid ticket, sit in a vacant seat but don’t have a reservation? I don’t think so.

    As we’re allowed to congregate indoors with up to six people from May 17 for an unspecified time, and we’re allowed to eat in a restaurant with many other people indoors from the same date . . . isn’t it time that capacity limits were removed from buses and trains? By all means retain the masks until 21 June, but as RF says, many of the smaller bus operators and many train operators haven’t bothered at all. On the Overground Watford DC lines, passengers are quite good about leaving alternate seats vacant as much as possible.

    It does all start to seem like there is an alternative “agenda” here . . . if commuting is reduced, then there will be more space for the remaining cars. I can only say that, here in Greater Watford, the school run has exploded to fill the road space . . . 15 minutes for 3 miles is now quite usual in the 08:00 hour!! I suspect that Mum’s Taxi is now available before Mum starts work at home, and after all, it’ll stop little Jasmine and Tarquin catching that nasty, germ-ridden bus!!

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  8. The answer to you question is LNER can refuse you travel if you have not made a reservation as it is currently a condition of travel in their t&c’s

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  9. To back up LNER on their reservation system, I wanted to book seats for a journey that I had bought from a ticket machine so I had no booking reference. I’m pretty sure if you highlight that i next to the entry box it tells you that you can just enter ‘0’ if you don’t have a booking reference, so that people like me can book seats.

    I would more complain at cross country, who say you have to book a seat before you travel yet there are usually seats in every coach which are unreservable, and I’m convinced (though I have no proof) that when they are operating two of their trains joined together the whole of the second train is unreservable since they are unsure which trains will operated with this extended capacity so they just don’t offer it at all, meaning some passengers will see their train as full when they try and book despite a whole trains worth of seats being free.

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  10. Similar to York, Newcastle is another station, operated by LNER’s predecessor, where the ticket office has been removed from its high profile location on the concourse to a smaller place much further out of the way. Station rental income apparently takes priority over passenger convenience.

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  11. As a traveller I find inconsistences everywhere I go ,from toilets, buses, bus stations ,just everywhere ,I do not travel by train now things are relaxed it is time for people to decide for themselves not be dictated to by unknown still panicking unknowns hidden away in an office never venturing out

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  12. There is a real difficulty is trying to seat people properly. I’m a church minister and we face this each Sunday as, although our pews are 2m apart, we never know who’s going to come, i.e. singles, couples or families. This means our theoretical seating capacity can vary quite dramatically. We do show people to a suitable seat and, on one or two occasions, have asked them to move simply to increase capacity. That’s hardly possible on buses and most trains!

    By the way, my pet gripe at the moment is people (mostly teens IME) who put on masks when they’re getting on a bus but then take them off as soon as they’ve got past the driver!

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  13. Metroline

    Metroline are closing their South Mimms base. Not really sure what routes were based there. My guess is it was mainly their Country bus routes. I assume it is a cost cutting measure

    I wonder how long they will retain the 242. Endless cuts to it have not life much of it and the journeys to Potters Bar are now really only garage and meal relief journey

    It would make more sense to operate the route more locally. The problem the Waltham Cross are has always suffered from is it sits on the Boundaries of London. Essex and Herts

    There are a number of routes that could be extend to cover the 242 such as the 44 service that currently provides a limited service between Waltham Cross and Waltham Abbey. It would provide a more useful service

    Few people ever used the the 242 past Cuffley and with the service now so limited it is hardly used at all over that section

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  14. Bob . . . Metroline don’t have a South Mimms base!! Source, please. (I worked for them until last year, so I do know!!).
    The Country routes are based at Potters Bar Garage, and have been since almost forever!!

    Efforts have been made to improve Route 242 for around 8 years now, ranging from a regular hourly service throughout (including late evening journeys) plus shorts at the Waltham Cross end, to the present minimalist service between Cuffley and Waltham Cross plus Garage journeys. Unfortunately, the passengers just aren’t there . . . the route is populated with high-cost housing and few chimneys west of Cuffley. Herts CC now support the route financially, otherwise it would’ve been withdrawn in 2020.

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  15. Well that’s not what the latest N&P for the East of England say. It states it says the operating centre at South Mimms is being removed and the authorisation at Potters Bar is increased to a 190
    I know there have been a lot of complaints in the Potters Bar area about Metroline parking buses up in the streets as the garage does not appear to have the capacity for all the buses based there

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  16. With a bit more digging the first reference I can find to the South Mimm’s operating centre was in 2015 when it was authorised for 14 vehicles

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  17. Right . . . I did wonder . . . the South Mimms reference is to the time when Metroline was rebuilding the main Garage at Potters Bar, and temporarily outstationed some buses at the Sullivan Buses premises at South Mimms Service Area. This required a new Operating Centre to be added to the Operators Licence, and only lasted for a few months; it was for overnight parking purposes (no maintenance), but a new OC was added “just in case”. This sounds like housekeeping in readiness for a renewal of the O-Licence.

    The rebuilding work at PB Garage also included the addition of 50+ electric bus recharging points; this was completed in 2019 . . . after which roadside parking of buses was generally not required (although Xmas Eve and Xmas Night, when no night buses operate, will probably require some roadside parking).

    Liked by 1 person

  18. It pains me to correct RF’s information but the toilets at Bristol bus station are open and have been since at least 8 March. Currently spending a penny is free,

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s good to hear; maybe they were closed for cleaning or something when I dropped by and as I was desperate for a pee didn’t read the notice properly but went off in search of a toilet elsewhere!

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