Wednesday 22 September 2004

Thankfully, I don't have to deal with them anymore.

Mr Brown (a.k.a. Squander Five, Glasgow pop genealogy fans) has posted his complaint letter to the evil that is First Bus and their response. Amazingly, their response isn't an automated piece of crap and actually addresses the points Ronnie raised. Blimey. Kudos to them for that.

However, either the response is evasive or their management have a genuine and therefore worrying ignorance about the standards of their service. Unfortunately, Glasgow city centre is total gridlock every rush hour, and parking is pretty much impossible unless you're rich, so I had to use their service for seven years. It ain't good.

I was most concerned to learn of this hopefully isolated incident of a driver who upset you in this way.

No-one in Glasgow would ever believe this is an isolated incident. Bus drivers, particularly First's bus drivers, are one of the most common causes for everyday comlpaint in the city, possibly even beating the weather and football. I have often thought how amazing it is that, in a city full of friendly people who pride themselves on going out of their way to give advice to strangers — a city where a tourist standing in the street with a map will receive directions whether they ask for them or not — First somehow manage to employ such a bunch of surly, rude, arrogant, sadistic, joyless bastards. Picking a thousand people entirely at random from Glasgow's population would yield better results than First's recruitment process, even if some of them were blind, insane three-year-olds.

Please be assured that First in Glasgow operates a very strong anti-speeding policy and all our drivers are aware of the speed restrictions in the areas mentioned in your letter. Those who do not abide with these are putting their license at risk, which ultimately could cost them their job.

But the problem isn't speeding; it's acceleration. Most of First's drivers believe that the acceleration and brake pedals are simple on/off switches. They stamp on them alternately. I have sometimes had to get off their buses because of seasickness. The point isn't that they go above 30 (though they often do); the point is that they go from 0 to 30 in about 3 seconds, usually while an old lady with two walking sticks is still trying to get to her seat. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that having old people thrown onto you by G-forces is a frequent danger on First's buses.

The drivers are obsessed with going as fast as possible (why? They're not actually going anywhere), to the extent that they frequently don't bother stopping to let people on. On many occasions, I've seen Glaswegians resort to standing in the middle of the road and waving their arms to force buses to stop at bus stops, after three or four have simply ignored the conventional sticking-your-arm-out signal. Come to think of it, I've had to do that myself a couple of times. Because they speed, they get ahead of schedule, so you have to get to the bus stop at least twenty minutes early to avoid missing them. Then you catch a bus whose driver is nearing the end of his shift and has realised he's running insanely early, so he drives at about 10mph and stops for 5 minutes at every stop, usually reading the paper.

These new vehicles, are double glazed, climate controlled and benefit from a bright modern interior, low flooring for ease of access and designated buggy and disabled seats located at the front of the bus.

Well done to them. It's true: there are more and more new buses and fewer and fewer old ones, which is just as well, because the old ones smell really bad. But there are still a couple of problems here. Firstly, the seats on the newest buses appear to have been upholstered with granite. The first batch of new buses, introduced a few years back, had seats at the front with loads of legroom, which is handy for very tall people like me. That idea seems to have gone out of the window with the latest models, and they've reverted to seats with so little legroom that I have to sit sideways on them, which means either that other passengers think I'm just trying to hog two seats out of selfishness or that I stick my legs into the aisle and trip people up. The other big problem is the low flooring. It's great if you've got luggage or a pram or whatever: the driver can lower the floor to pavement level to help you get onto the bus. Unfortunately, this also gives drivers something to play with at traffic lights. Sitting at red lights in Glasgow, the buses bounce up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down and all the passengers get heartily sick of it. First could tell their drivers not to do this, but I doubt it'd do any good.

What they really need is to stick a bunch of anonymous inspectors on their buses for a few weeks, find the few good drivers, then give those drivers huge bonuses. Sacking a few of the worst offenders would work wonders, too.

Apart from the drivers, though, the big problem with First Bus is a minority of their passengers. Violent, abusive neds, who set fire to the seats, vomit, throw things, hit people, shout racist epithets out of the windows, leave stupid amounts of litter, sing sectarian songs, spit on people, throw food, start fights, and smash windows. These people genuinely aren't First's fault, but First could solve the problem. It'd cost money, though.

Let's get some security guards on the buses. Big, strong, dangerous-looking guys with threatening uniforms, whose job is to chuck trouble-makers off the bus. I reckon most of First's customers would be happy to pay slightly higher fares in exchange for this service.

The police should be sticking plain-clothes officers on the buses, as well. They've got arrest targets to meet, haven't they? Well, the buses are rife with crime. Get on there and make some arrests.

But I have a more radical idea. What you need is members-only buses.

Here's how it works. You're only allowed on the bus with a valid membership card. Make it very difficult to forge, and have card-swiping devices by the bus's doors. The card is free: if you want one, you just have to ask. Because you can't get on the bus without swiping your card, there is always a record of who's on the bus and who isn't. Have CCTV on there, too. Every time any vandalism, abuse, or whatever occurs, identify the offender and ban them for a year, with no appeals process. Anyone who commits a second offense is banned for life. Have frequent manual inspections, by inspectors who are well equipped to deal with trouble.

(Of course, the cards could double as a convenient way of paying: you could charge them up with credit.)

I predict that, with this system, there would be loads of vandalism for the first few weeks — probably more than usual, as the criminal scum of Glasgow would view the whole thing as a challenge. But that's fine: the more crime occurs, the more scum get banned, and so the better the environment becomes. After a couple of months, you repair the damage the scum did, and get on with providing a decent service for civilised people.

A lot of thought would need to go in to stopping forgery, use of stolen cards, etc, but none of these are insurmountable problems. If any bus company were to adopt my idea, I believe they would quickly make a fortune. And then, of course, the other bus companies would start competing....


andy said...

Hey Jo, love the blog. Is there any way I can receive it via email? It's just that I tend to view it on my mobile phone, and the big pages kill my bandwidth allowance....

Anyway, you make a lot of valid points about First, and your proposition is, frankly, mouth-watering, but I think you've ignored the main stumbling block: First have no incentive to improve their service. There is no significant competition in terms of bus travel, and so they are free to charge just about whatever they like, and offer exceptionally poor service. Lee got on a bus once and was verbally abused by the driver - with no provocation - in front of a group of other drivers. When she wrote to complain it took them about 3 months to get back to her with a wet fart of an apology. Why? Well, how the hell else is she getting into town from Tollcross?

What is required is serious competition *now*, so that market forces can work their magic. Until then, First will carry on providing the shockingly sub-standard levels of service to which we are all daily treated.

BTW, the single best car advert would be a montage of bus travellers's experiences. Satchi and Satchi should take note; they'd sell a truckload.


Squander Two said...

Hi, Andy.

I didn't think there'd be any demand for the email thing, but I was clearly wrong. I'll go have a gander at the settings.

You're right that First could do with some competition from another bus company, but they do face competition already, from cars. What sort of maniac would drive to Glasgow in rush hour? Parking costs a fortune, and it can take half an hour to get from Buchanan Galleries to the Odeon (note for non-Glaswegian readers: that's a three-minute walk). Yet the streets are clogged with cars. Why? Because people would rather put up with that shit than go near the buses. First are obviously aware of this untapped market, as they have conducted major campaigns to try and win car-drivers over. It just needs a leap of imagination on their part.

You're right, though: it'll never happen. I was thinking of someone else setting up a membership service to compete with First.