New sleeper turns into a bad dream

Tuesday 25th June 2019

IMG_6371There’s something seriously amiss with Caledonian Sleeper’s train service.

I’ve blogged about the new Mark 5 coaches a couple of times recently (here and here) highlighting the teething problems I encountered, in particular no water in the en-suite shower in my supposedly swanky new ‘Club’ room on two of the three journeys as well as a number of other niggles.

These included an emergency stop and losing all the electrics when heading south around Preston in the early hours of Tuesday 4th June. The sharpness of the braking followed by an eerie silence and two or three attempts to reboot the train’s control systems over the next ten minutes was enough to wake most of us up and a consequential disturbed night.

We got going again on that occasion and thankfully arrived into Euston with no further incidents. Not that trip anyway, but a much more serious fault necessitating another emergency stop happened a week later on Tuesday 11th June as the Lowlander service headed north to Glasgow and Edinburgh coming to a sudden halt in Stafford. This resulted in serious damage to the train’s wheels such the train couldn’t continue and coaches had to be summoned in the early hours to take passengers on to Glasgow and Edinburgh by road. Not a particularly edifying or attractive proposition when you’re probably already dressed for bed and maybe even nodding off.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.35.12.png

Every night since that incident two weeks ago Caledonian Sleeper have been cancelling one of the journeys, either northbound or southbound between either Glasgow or Edinburgh and London. Alternative options for booked passengers offered by Caledonian Sleeper are either taking a daytime Virgin Trains journey or a replacement overnight coach on the motorway; neither option being particularly acceptable when it’s likely you’ve already made onward travel plans or have other commitments necessitating overnight travel.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.38.37.png

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.39.49.png

An overnight coach on the motorway is hardly an acceptable alternative when you might have paid £230 for a new en-suite single room or even £335 for a double room, albeit Caledonian Sleeper are giving full refunds, but it’s likely many passengers would prefer flying as an alternative with a night in a hotel, I know I would, but that doesn’t seem to be on offer as a alternative.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.42.26.pngCaledonian Sleeper have been making much of the luxury offered by their new deluxe sleeper coaches, offering a “timeless experience”; it’s just a pity “timeless” is turning out to be “trainless”. The problem being expectations have been seriously raised with Caledonian Sleeper hyping up their new ‘hotel-on-wheels’ at five star prices – it’s £395 for a Club double room on the Highlander between London and Fort William/Aberdeen/Inverness for a single night journey (and no Railcard discounts are available), that’s just shy of £800 for a return journey or ‘two nights stay’ – and for that you expect five star service, not ‘replacement road transport’.

Even if everything is running smoothly you’d think paying £395 for a night’s sleep, albeit coupled with a 570 mile journey, would include more than just one complimentary hot drink with a measly breakfast. I was taken aback to find a few coffee granules, a cup of hot water and UHT milk sachets came at a charge of £2.70 on top of that £395 fare – what an absolute rip-off. You even get unlimited complimentary coffee in the cheapest Travelodge deal.

With the ongoing teething problems it obviously made sense for Caledonian Sleeper to pull the planned introduction of Mark 5 coaches on to the Highlander service which had been scheduled for the beginning of this month (and which was already well delayed from the planned 2018 launch). It’s now been pushed back to “early July”, (update… Wednesday 26th June – just announced now put back to September) but for some time passengers have been booking their journeys assuming new en-suite rooms at the significantly enhanced prices as advertised on the glossy Caledonian Sleeper website only to later receive a refund on the difference between new and old pricing as disappointed passengers are told it’s the old coaches for them, for now.

Mind you that’s better than having the disaster that is the new rolling stock at the moment, but even those trusty old coaches are showing signs of age and lack of investment making it feel like very poor value for money as well as unreliable.

On my LEJOG trip with Geoff and Vicki last week our Inverness train had standard toilets out of action while the accessible toilet next to the lounge coach had no water making it unhygienic and unacceptable. At about 6pm prior to the train leaving Euston a text was received advising there’d be no lounge car that evening thereby meaning no refreshments available, but when we got wind from other sources that may not be the case, I rang Caledonian Sleeper to query it only to be told the email had been sent out in error and there would be a lounge coach after all. There was no explanation when I asked why a corrected email hadn’t been sent leaving a feeling of shambolic incompetence.

Even worse the Fort William section of the train that evening developed an engine fault in the West Highlands meaning passengers arrived into Fort William over three and a half hours late after 13:30.

There was then a hiatus for Friday night’s southbound journey from Fort William when it was announced the train was cancelled due to “staff having insufficient rest” following the late arrival that morning so “guests” (Caledonian Sleeper’s corporate spin is still insisting on calling us all ‘guests’ despite clearly not being able to run a hotel) were told on social media they’d have to travel by coach (“replacement road transport”) over to Edinburgh, arriving in the middle of the night, with a transfer on to the train from there.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.19.23.png

A further tweet advised arrangements had been made for refreshments to be available at the Jury’s Inn in Edinburgh where “guests” could also wait before boarding the train, but twitter was awash with disgruntled passengers saying coach drivers dropped them off at Edinburgh Waverley station with no mention of hotel refreshments.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.20.21.pngScreen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.20.35.pngAgain, it gives the impression of total incompetence.

Meanwhile it wasn’t much better on the southbound service on Friday night either with new coaches on the Lowlander service coming to a halt at Acton Bridge just south of Crewe with passengers having to make their way down to London once Virgin Trains and West Midlands Trains got going in the morning.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 11.07.03.png

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 11.07.16.pngThese latest disasters on Friday came just twenty hour hours after there was confidence on Thursday wheel problems on the damaged train from 11th June would finally be fixed for the weekend …

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.58.24.png

…. with Caledonian Sleeper tweeting things “are due to return to normal”.

It’s turned out not to be the case with the Glasgow bound journey cancelled last night yet again.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 11.00.01.png

This raises the question of why other sets of new coaches are not being introduced into service. Somewhere sidings must be full of new coaches bearing in mind the new trains were due into service on both the Lowlander and Highlander services from 2nd June. This implies there are still issues with the new trains yet to be resolved beyond problems with wheels damaged on 11th June.

I can’t help thinking Serco – the company running the Caledonian Sleeper franchise – are completely out of their outsourcing depth running this specialist type of train service. It’s all very well hyping up running a luxury ‘hotel on wheels’ but is it practical? Is the business model charging exhorbitant five star prices, raising expectations for a high standard of service, achievable on an overnight train between London and Scotland? Sadly Caledonian Sleeper is rapidly gaining a reputation worse than Fawlty Towers.

Serco must be losing a fortune over the present shenanigans (although I’m sure there’ll be some contingent liability passed on to the Spanish manufacturer CAF too) but it shouldn’t be forgotten the sleeper service attracts massive public subsidy to keep it going. OK, there are far fewer passengers impacted than in the GTR or Northern Rail fiasco last May but proportionately the disruption per journey is far worse. A 25% failure rate on the Lowlander service at the moment.

Yet taking a look at the Caledonian Sleeper website it’s as though nothing is wrong and it’s all sweetness and light. Where’s the contrite apology from the managing director at what has become a complete shambles of a service? Not a word, just the same continued hype. Quite extraordinary head-in-the-sand PR.

I feel sorry for the stressed out staff on the trains and in customer service, sorry, “Guest Service Centre” where “Guest Ambassadors” work. Word of advice Serco. Ditch the ridiculous corporate hype and get back to basics of delivering a proper service. And you really have got to do much better at letting passengers know what’s happening more in advance than you’re doing; it’s not like catching a commuter train home; canacelling an overnight sleeper means huge distruption to people’s travel plans possibly including ruined holidays.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 11.21.18.png

Unsurprisingly Caledonian Sleeper’s reputation is currently being trashed every day on Twitter.

Tuesday 25th June, midday update: as I publish this blog, there’s no word from Caledonian Sleeper whether tonight’s Lowlander service will run as normal or which of the four portions (Glasgow/Edinburgh – northbound/southbound) will once again be cancelled. A quite extraordinary way to run a train service, let alone a sleeper service.

Roger French

First for fare frustration

Thursday 8th November 2018

There was a bit of unfinished business in my last blogpost about the Hayling Ferry; I thought I’d pursue the outstanding query of the cost of a return ticket on the First Bus route 15 between Portsmouth city centre and the Ferry. I’d bought a £3 single from the driver but forgot to ask if there was a return, and what the price is. I like to know these things.

In the old days it was easy to find information about bus fares; you’d ring the City of Portsmouth Transport Department who had access to a fare book “for staff use only” and someone would look it up and soon let you know the answer. You’d think in today’s data rich world of telephone helplines, 24/7 social media, transparency of facts and a world wide web of information, it would be even more simple to find out the price of a bus fare?

Spolier alert: it’s one big frustration. If you want to avoid wasting the next few miniutes reading what happened. Look away now.

I began my search online with the First Bus website. Not renowned for its user friendly layout, the obvious place to look, having narrowed my search down to the Portsmouth area page, was in Tickets.

‘Travelling with First around Hampshire has never been easier” the ticket blurb encouragingly begins. “We’ve got a wide range of First bus tickets available to suit your needs, whether you travel every day or only now and then, on your own or with the family, we have just the ticket for you.” Nice and friendly and localised too; but I’m not fooled. Guess what, it’s the same blurb for every area! Sadly no mentioned of return tickets but there is a ‘Ticket Prices’ tab to click on:

Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 16.35.32

Return tickets seem just not to be the done thing (which, actually is the case, if only they’d say so!).

There’s the usual ‘contact us’ option; as any customer facing business these days has to at least portray an impression of wanting to hear from customers, even if Finance Director exec types question the cost justification of such niceties, and First Group is no exception.

Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 09.31.04

As an aside, clicking on Lost Propery takes you to a few further options, the top one of which is “please use the contact form on our help and support page” which doesn’t take you to the “contact form” as you’d expect, but back to another menu that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 09.35.18

And you end up in a perpetual loop of menus; still at least the glove and umbrella have been found, poor teddy though, still lost; and now a wallet too!

Also, as an aside, clicking on “Help with our apps’ takes you to a rather stark warning about problems with mTickets dated 7 September 2018 at 0830 – well at least it reassures us that “we are working …. to get normal service resumed as soon as possible”, so that’s alright then…. over two months later.

Back to my mission to find out the price of a return ticket, I obviously go for ‘Get in touch’ and my heart sinks as I find a form with lots of  ‘* Required’ fields needs completing; but then I discover if I click my way to the second menu with the ‘Get in touch’ icon on the left hand side (as opposed to the right hand side) it takes me to a ‘Help and support’ telephone number. Result! And what’s more, not only is it an 0345 number (included in my call plan), it’s impresively open at weekends. It’s Saturday afternoon and I give it a try.

Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 17.38.24

“Welcome to First Bus.  To put you through to the right advisor, please let us know why you are calling today.

If you’re are planning a journey with us and would like information on bus routes or times please press 1.

If you have lost an item on one of our buses please press 2.

If you would like to talk to us about mobile tickets please press 3.

IF you would like to talk us about your e-ticket please press 4.

If you’ve had an accident on one of our buses that you would like to report please press 5.

If you would like to provide feedback on one of our services or drivers please press 6.

If you are experiencing a delay with your journey with us please press 7.

If you’re a First Bus employee and you have recently received a letter from HMRC or other Government Departments regarding a change to your benefits and would like to discuss this further please press 8.

Alternatively you can also visit or our social media team for information about our services.”

As there was no option: ‘if you want to find out the price of a bus fare’, I plumped for Option 1:

Inevitably another menu…..

“For Scotland please press 1

For England and Wales please press option 2”

I went for Option 2 …….

“Please visit www. and/or call 0871 200 2233; calls cost 12 pence per  minute plus your phone company’s access charge.”

Not only was I pretty sure Traveline don’t do fares and prices (that would be far too helpful) and as I’ve long objected to being forced to pay a premium telephone charge to a business to find out about a product I want to buy from that business I decided to redial and to go for option 6 (to provide feedback) thinking they might just be able to help.

After a five minute wait (the usual “we’re experiencing a high volume of calls”) a very pleasant sounding man answered and after establishing which part of the country I wanted fares information about asked me to hang on before coming back a minute later to explain he didn’t have the information but would put me through to the ticket department which would be able to help,

Woah, result (almost). After a few rings an auto announcement answered advising the department was closed at the weekend and would reopen on Monday. A close encounter with an answer, but not quite there.

Incidentally, as another aside; had I pressed Option 1 for Scotland, instead of Option 2 for England and Wales, I’d have got through to a First Bus telephone enquiry service for Scotland at no additional cost. Why the discrimination for those of us south of the border?

As I’d drawn a blank for now, I deciced to have a go at the online form. For a company displaying a distinct lack of interst in customers on-line, First Bus has a peculiar obsession at wanting full contact details including full name, postal address, telephone contact number, email address and confirmation I’m over 16 before giving a space to describe the query and the usual ‘submit’ button. Having duly volunteered all my details and submitted my fare query, up pops the auto acknowledgement that it’s been received and I can expect to hear back within fourteen days once investigations are complete.

Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 16.34.34

Obviously a fare query is not the simplest of matters to bottom out and as it’s only Thursday of week 1, no reply so far, but I live in hope something will turn up either in my in-box, on the phone, or even my postal address once all the investigations are complete.

Forward to Monday morning and my excitement is growing. I leave it until a decent 8.30 am and then redial the 0345 number; except I realise I’m not sure which Option I almost got to speak to on Saturday – I haven’t heard about e-tickets (Option 4) so plump for Option 3 identified as the mTicket helpline. Five minutes later a knowledgable woman answers except her knowledge turns out to be limited to any technical queries about mTickets and she can’t help with something complex like wanting to know a return ticket price, but she’s confident I need Option 1. When I point out that’s just telling me to redial the premium rate Traveline number she’s insistent that’s what I need and following my further protests she realises she’s got an awkward one here, so I back off and review tactics.

Reassuring myself the money wasted on a call to Traveline will be worth the investment in research for future experience I throw caution to the wind and dial up 0871 200 2233. A quick answer and I’m immediately told “we don’t hold fares information”. I protest I’d been directed to call for that very query by someone at First Bus’s call centre and am reassured they were wrong and I need to dial 0345 646 0707 and it’s Option 3. When I explain that’s where I’ve just come from and I’ll end up in a perpetual loop of redialling I’m told that’s definitely the number and option I need.

On the plus side that interlude in my life only took 90 seconds and cost me 37p.

I redialled 0345 646 0707 but decided to go for Option 4 as I was also intrigued what an e-ticket was. I forgot to time the hold time, but after the usual half a dozen or so auto encouragements to find out what I need to know from (if only) I was through and began by asking what an e-ticket was? The gentleman answering was a bit taken aback and didn’t know either, and it dawned on me that perhaps I’d misheard that extra ‘e-” and I’d luckily got through to the ticket department after all.

It seemed the courteous gentleman was going to be able to help me too, and after a couple of minutes came back with a definitive answer that the cost of a return ticket is £4.20.

Not bad eh?

I wasn’t totally convinced, and decided to check that information via social media, tweeting First Portsmouth the next morning at 9am.

I had low expectations for an instant response, but just under 2 hours later back came a ‘sort of’ reply giving an ‘around £3.50’ answer which seems improbably low for a £3 single and almost certainly a guess, but a more helpful explanation about the definitive £4.20 answer on the telephone I’d received – the £4.20 as the day ticket price is obviously a maximum cut off for any return, if returns do exist anyway.

It’s a pity the day ticket wasn’t sold more positively for the great value it offers, rather than being the return price advised by the person in the ‘ticket department’. Up selling this wasn’t.

So that’s it. Job done. I’ll update this post if and when (if ever) I receive a reply back from the on-line form.

Just a few action points:-

1. Tell the mTicket department that Traveline don’t give out fares information.

2. Tell Traveline it’s Option 4 (not 3) for First Bus fares information.

3. Rerecord the answerphone message to make it more clear Option 4 is for ‘Ticket prices and fares’ so it can’t be misheard as ‘e-tickets’ – give the number a try and see what I mean – it definitely sounds like “if you would like to talk to us about your e-ticket”…. to me.

4. Tell the weekend team answering calls not to put callers through to departments that don’t work weekends. It just adds to the frustration.

5. Tell the social media team not to give responses like ‘around £3.50’ – it either is £3.50 or it isn’t.

6. Sort out the system for receipt and response of on-line forms with queries and review whether fourteen days really is an appropriate deadline for straight forward enquires.

7. Put fare tables on-line like other bus companies do. They might just be of help to people like me who like to know how much the product they’re buying costs.

8. Sort out the many inconsistencies on the First Bus website.

9. Take down the warning about mTicket problems dated 7 September assuming all is now fixed or change the wording about fixing it ‘as soon as possible’.

10. Reflect on whether it really should take me to point these ten things out?

Roger French

A peek into my inbox

I’ve received some interesting promotional emails from the new breed of ride sharers recently.

Arriva Click sent an enticing personalised message on Thursday proclaiming some ‘great news’ for me. It seems Click now accepts concessionary passes. Amazing. Arriva certainly know how to rub salt into the wound of being in that frustrating cohort having to wait well into their 66th year before getting the coveted pass. Thanks Arriva.

Still at least I’m much closer than a good friend in the industry who also got the email and has yet to reach 40!

Even though I knew I wouldn’t qualify, I couldn’t resist clicking the ‘Find out more!’ tab helpfully taking me straight to Section 16 of Click’s Terms and Conditions.

Turns out it’s only a Sittingbourne initiative (Scousers not eligible) and by a complicated process of emailing a photo of your pass, receiving and registering a personalised discount code you’ll receive a third off future bookings. Not exactly headline grabbing.

While we’re talking Click bait, did you spot their interesting tweet last week encouraging school kids to use Click for the school run particularly to enjoy the on board wi-fi and air conditioning?

I was intrigued as I thought I must have missed the ‘great news’ email promoting discounts now available for school kids riding Click (even if rides can only be booked with their credit card). So I made an enquiry and it seems I hadn’t missed the news. No discounts! It’s going to be an expensive school run; wi-fi and air conditioning notwithstanding.

Still all’s not lost as if you’re a regular Click user taking advantage of onboard wi-fi you’d have missed the tweet anyway – Twitter is blocked on Click!

Meanwhile the marketing team at Ford’s Chariot have come up with an enticing wheeze for me. It seems there’s a whole crowd of ride sharers itching to hone their home cooking skills. They also emailed me last week offering £20 off Mindful Chef recipe boxes (and spread over the first two box deliveries at that).

Even more exciting a prize draw might give me a completely free box. Right let’s get riding Chariot straight away can’t wait to start cooking.

While I’m on a sharing recent tweets kick, here’s my Most Inappropriate Tweet of last month from the guys at First Essex ….

it started innocently enough with an enquiry about fares ….

Straight forward enough enquiry but it managed to fox the First Essex tweeters …

Taken aback our enquirer persisted …..

…. only to be fobbed off with an incorrect referral to Traveline. Still at least Traveline will earn some income from its premium rate phone charge if Callum took up Tannita’s advice.

Just what is the point of centralising Twitter posting? If you’re going to centralise at least have comprehensive information systems available. What a completely Open Data Own Goal and, importantly, a missed sales opportunity.

Still at least if you centralise tweeting you’re confident queries on policy issues can be professionally and effectively handled.

Here’s one such example from last month to a multitude of recipients…

No surprises that one switched on Bus Boss replied quickly and succinctly …

Whereas the main recipient replied…

Sadly this has fast become a standard fob off official corporate Twitter response for a number of companies.

Last time I filled a form in (for a fare query) it took seven days for the response.

Roger French 16th September 2018

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….

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 20.35.42.png

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….

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 20.38.11

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.

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 21.03.17

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.


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.


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.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 08.57.58

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.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.44.18

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 ….

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 15.53.48

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

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 15.54.44

…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…..

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 15.54.50

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

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 15.56.54

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

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 16.00.00

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…

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 16.01.22

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

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 16.04.20

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

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 16.09.07

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?

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 21.26.39

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……

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 21.27.04

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

Trying out the ‘One Arriva’ ticket in Rhyl

I’ve long thought bus and train owning Groups are missing a trick by not upselling travel in the way savvy retailers would (‘people who bought this also bought this’) so I was encouraged in May last year when Arriva announced they were putting matters right with an exciting modal integration project in North Wales.

Arriva has long been the largest bus operator along the North Wales coast and since 2003 has run the train franchise in Wales so there’s been plenty of scope for joined up initiatives to benefit passengers. It’s a pity this exciting initiative had to wait until the last full year of the franchise but hey-ho, like a GTR train, better late than never.

Whereas trains from the east only get as far as Bangor before heading over to Holyhead on Anglesey, Arriva’s buses continue to the popular tourist hotspot of Caernarfon. Route 5C is a busy four-bus-an-hour route and with no other public transport option available (other than a pricey taxi) unsurprisingly there are always lots of visitors getting off trains at Bangor seeking out the bus to continue their journey to Caernarfon.


The interchange at Bangor leaves a lot to be desired. There are two bus stops conveniently right outside the station’s pedestrian exit, one of which is unused, but Caernarfon bound buses stay on the main road stopping around a corner unseen from the station as they climb up a steep hill. Passengers who eventually find where to go are greeted by a shoddy shelter, a duff real time sign that’s probably never worked and a confusing array of bus numbers worthy of a drawn out Bingo game adorning the worn bus stop flag on a narrow pavement. It’s crying out for investment and a revamp. My guess is it’s one of the busiest stops for train/bus interchange in North Wales.



So I was a bit surprised to hear Arriva had chosen Rhyl for it’s integration trailblazer rather than Bangor. This decision no doubt influenced by Denbighshire County Council upgrading the five bay bus station immediately outside the train station offering a great opportunity for Arriva to join the bandwagon and show what can be done to make buses and trains seamlessly work together.

I was intrigued to visit this week, just over a year since the launch in May 2017, to see what’s occurring.


As you get off westbound trains at Rhyl and cross the footbridge to the exit on the eastbound platform you’re met with an impressive plethora of posters explaining the route and frequencies of the six onward bus services from the bus station outside. Someone’s certainly been diligent at utilising every opportunity to catch your eye as you leave the station.




And that’s not all. Impressively by the station exit there’s a leaflet rack dedicated to Arriva bus timetables while outside there are more posters including one for the ‘One Arriva’ ticket.




Aside from the posters and leaflet rack the ‘One Arriva’ ticket seems to be the main integration initiative. It’s basically Plusbus but includes travel along the full length of the six Arriva bus routes from Rhyl station. It costs £4 whereas the smaller Plusbus area costs £2.60 (or just £1.70 with a Railcard). There’s a 7-day ‘One Arriva’ for just £11 (a great value 2.75 time’s the daily price) and an intriguing ‘Group of 5 people’ ticket valid after 0930 for just £10 (half price compared to buying individual tickets which would be £20) and a 7-day version of that for £50 (5 times the daily price so only a measly fiver saving compared to buying five individual 7-day tickets for £55).


Massive Discounts on standard bus tickets? A standard single from Rhyl to Colwyn Bay is £3.90!

The thing is though, the two main bus routes from Rhyl station, the 11 to Prestatyn continuing on to Flint and Chester and the 12 to Llandudno pretty much parallel the train so most passengers would presumably stay on the train if they’re Prestatyn, Flint or Llandudno bound and in a Catch 22 classic they’d not be able to buy a ‘One Arriva’ ticket to travel on the same bus from those stations as the information implies it’s only valid from Rhyl.

Well, that’s if you can find any information about the ‘One Arriva’ ticket. Other than the aforementioned posters at Rhyl station you’ll be hard pressed to find anything about ‘One Arriva’ anywhere. There’s no mention of it at all on the Arriva Trains Wales website and it’s buried so deep in the Arriva Bus website, you have to be an extreme keyboard warrior to click through and find it. I eventually found the details shown here under the ‘Latest’ tab on the Wales region page where you’d have to know to scroll down two pages of the last fourteen month’s PR puff to find the launch announcement back in May 2017. There’s no mention of it under Tickets or anywhere else I could find; strange as I thought it was a ground breaking integration innovation!

Even more odd, no-one at Arriva Bus seems to know about ‘One Arriva’. I tried telephoning, live chatting and fares enquiries form filling to find out about it, but no-one could help me. But I’ll tell you more about these experiences another time, as they’re a classic in their own futility.


When you eventually find the information you’re told you can “simply buy your ‘One Arriva’ ticket from your train conductor or from Rhyl station”. Now that’s strange as surely you’d want to buy the combined ‘One Arriva’ ticket at your origin station as you do Plusbus? With gateline barriers at many stations it’s not really practical to buy from the conductor so I tested the system by asking at Chester station (probably the largest Arriva Trains Wales station in the area) for a ‘One Arriva’ ticket to Rhyl. To be helpful I explained it included bus travel (I’m not that cruel) and impressively the very helpful staff there had heard of ‘One Arriva’ and could remember selling one “months ago” but inevitably for such a sales rarity had forgotten the relevant code the ticket machine computer needed to make a sale. I give them full credit for perseverance and helpfulness as after many unsuccessful attempts they were determined to see it through and thought it best to phone colleagues at Rhyl who were able to help and a £4 ticket was issued called ‘BUS DAY ROVER’ showing it as issued at Chester in addition to a standard train ticket to Rhyl.


When I arrived at Rhyl, I’m pleased to report the driver of the 51 bus to Denbigh allowed me on without comment after an initial quizzical look at the ticket, presumably helped by the words ‘BUS’ and ‘DAY ROVER’. I don’t think either he or I, or probably anyone knows exactly how far a ‘One Arriva’ ticket could take me as the bus continues all the way to Wrexham as the 51 becomes an X51 at Denbigh, nor if I’d chosen to ride the 11 back towards Flint, whether I could have stayed on the bus through to Chester.


The Council’s revamp of Rhyl bus station is welcome with some excellent maps and clear information displayed but attention to detail is sadly lacking, particularly keeping things up to date.



It’s the same old story ad nauseam. Introduce something supposedly innovative in a blaze of hype, bask in the glory of favourable launch headlines and media stories then forget all about it. But the world doesn’t work like that. You have to keep on top of these things; nothing stands still. Yesterday’s hyperbole is today’s stale, unattractive initiative going distinctly off the boil for all to see. Someone like me comes along and it’s all too easy to find fault and criticise whereas continued effort at keeping the pot boiling would reap rich rewards.

Here are a few observations and suggestions:

1. An old architects drawing for the revamped bus station (probably used in the consultation) was still on display in a prominent position fourteen months on – it has numbered bays instead of lettered bays and buses now depart from different stands to the original plan. Take it down and replace with the helpful network route map, assuming that is up to date!



2. One of Arriva’s routes – the 51 to Denbigh and on to Wrexham – is no longer branded as MAX but the branding appears on the departure information. Remove it. Confusingly the through journeys to Wrexham are operated by Sapphire branded double deckers and the short journeys by standard single decks! A complete brand mishmash.




3. Keep Rhyl station regularly supplied with bus timetable leaflets for all Arriva bus routes (and the excellent Denbigh County Council produced comprehensive timetable book) and instruct staff based there to ensure the leaflet rack is topped up as required. The rack was bereft of leaflets when I visited sporting just one route, the local Rhyl town routes better known as the 83/83A/84/84A/85.


4. ‘One Arriva’ needs proper and sustained marketing all along the North Wales coast not just at Rhyl as the ticket could be used from any of the stations along the 11 and 12 bus routes from Flint to Llandudno as all the ticket states is ‘BUS DAY ROVER’ with no reference to Rhyl on it.

5. Indeed ‘One Arriva’ should be available at every station between Chester and Holyhead where there’s an Arriva bus passing by. The £4 price and sales message would then be much more compelling and attractive.

6. Drop the inconsistent ‘Group of 5’ pricing and have a more usual range of family ticket options including children which would be much more useful for the families who holiday in this area.

7. Have leaflets promoting it at every station along the North Wales coast and make information easy to access on websites for both Arriva Bus and Arriva Trains Wales.

8. Display posters at all stations about bus routes that serve them as per the Rhyl exemplar.

9. Install leaflet racks at every station with supplies of bus timetables as per Rhyl.

10. Put a lot of effort into improving the interchange at Bangor including routing the Caernarfon bound 5C journeys around the station building with much improved signage. This really is a priority.

Sadly none of this will happen and the Rhyl initiative will fizzle out. Firstly managers will observe ticket sales are far too low; not surprising with the lack of high profile promotion, lack of any information, staff unfamiliarity and it only involves one station – a drop in an ocean of possibilities. Secondly Arriva’s involvement in running trains in Wales ends in October as Keolis-Amey start their new franchise. A ‘One Arriva’ ticket suddenly becomes somewhat inappropriately named.

But as luck would have it there’s a ready made alternative already available. The North Wales Rover. It’s been around for some years quietly offering combined bus and train travel for various zonal areas across North Wales. The trouble is you need to be a ticket officianado to know about the options. They’re buried on the National Rail website page on Rangers and Rovers, and even then you have to interrogate a full alphabetical list of every Rover ticket in the country to find the one you want, but at least it does confirm it’s available on both trains and ‘most’ buses. Astonishingly availability on buses doesn’t get a mention at all on the Arriva Trains Wales website. Bizarrely for a bus and train company, you’d think the ticket was only for train passengers, yet one of its unique selling points is you can travel all over North Wales on buses too! Suffice to say there’s absolutely no mention of the ticket at all on the Arriva Bus website!

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 16.47.10

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 17.39.27

Commendably the North Wales Rover is promoted in the excellent Conwy and Denbighshire timetable books I was pleased to recently acquire. And when I bought an all-zones North Wales ticket at Chester station the staff member issued it efficiently and confidentially. I asked if there was a leaflet available to confirm exactly which bus routes it was valid on, or perhaps which are excluded – all you’re told is ‘all trains and most bus routes’ – but sadly there’s no leaflet and nothing to reassure wary passengers.


I’ve long learned most bus drivers are as unsure as you whether tickets like this are valid so if you present it with a false assured air of confidence you’ll easily win the battle of ticket acceptance wariness. But what a way to run a railway and bus network! Come on; be bold and just state ‘Valid On All Trains And ALL Buses’. And guess what, if you really really promote it properly it just might actually become a big seller and grow the market. After all, Wales could do with a bit of that!

Roger French       26th July 2018

As a postscript, I was intrigued to come across this item in Arriva Group’s update of all that’s happening around the Group.

“A seamless service”; the writer has obviously not tried to buy a ‘One Arriva’ ticket!