Monday, 27 June 2011

Sunday Morning Nightmare!

There aren’t many things that will get me up early on a Sunday morning (unless it contains the words “full”, “English” and “breakfast”), but a leaflet I acquired recently made an early start inevitable.
“Getting to the Wyre Forest” it proclaimed, with the words “by the 192/292 bus services” in smaller font.
The red slash half way down the leaflet swung it for me. “Special Offer, Sundays in June – Any single journey £1”.
The 192/292 services are remnants of the old Midland Red X92 which I rode as a child from Birmingham all the way down to Hereford. It’s an attractive journey crossing the spectacular Clee Hill and visiting the picturesque towns of Bewdley and Cleobury Mortimer on the way.
These days, the weekday service is a daytime hourly frequency from Birmingham to Kidderminster only (and partly threatened in Council cutbacks) as the 192 (operated by Rotala’s Central Connect) with the 292 linking Kidderminster and Ludlow on a similar frequency, this time operated by First (with the nostalgic amongst us clinging to the heritage that this was once a bit of the Midland Red empire!) On Sundays, it mostly operates as full length service, changing numbers at Kidderminster.
I can’t find any “terms and conditions” relating to the £1 offer and still can’t quite believe that I can potentially travel just shy of 2 hours for this amount.
I decided to travel the full-length of the route from Birmingham as I suspected this might be popular with concessionary pass holders – I wasn’t wrong!
At 0910 on Sunday morning, I joined throngs of pass-wielding day-trippers in lovely sunshine (we don’t get much of that in Brum) on Colmore Row. The Central Connect Mercedes, adorned in smooth sophisticated grey “Signature” livery (it usually works on Solihull services during the week) sat 3 stands down, the driver seemingly unwilling to load until the very last second.
The Worcestershire County Council –issued paper timetable makes reference to “a change of vehicle may be necessary at Kidderminster bus station”, and this has immediately thrown me. As the Merc glides up to the stand, it is showing 192 Kidderminster on the front.
There is much bleeping as the pass holders register themselves before I thrust my pound coin into the driver’s hand. He looks unperturbed.
The timetable appears to show that this vehicle will do the full length trip through to Ludlow and I enquire about this, given he’s showing “Kidderminster” on the front. He responds with “it’s the other one”, which leaves me quite confused. Are we now going to change buses in Kidderminster?
Not wishing to hold the bus up any longer, I move out of the way for another gaggle of pass holders to board.
The single deck Merc is resplendent with its leather seated interior and smooth ride. A few of the passengers behind me talk about their impending trip on the Severn Valley Railway – it’s 1940s weekend there, and our bus will serve the station in Kidderminster directly. Indeed the bus is full and I have only counted myself and another passenger who have actually paid a cash fare.
We’re soon down the A456, past the Little Chef (“full English breakfast” thoughts again) and into the glorious Worcestershire countryside.
At Kidderminster railway station, almost half the bus empties on Comberton Hill and I can hear air raid sounds from the 40s weekend as well as see a half-cab double decker on the forecourt (for the spotters, it was in United red livery, and was a Bristol – although I later discover its bodywork came from the early 1950s – but hey, who’s counting?!)
We’re in Kidderminster’s bus station. What happens now? Well, the “other one” the driver referred to appears to be this very same one. A quick flick of the finger and the digital destination now shows “292 Ludlow”.
The driver loads half a dozen more passengers, then leaves the engine running, doors open and walks off to the nearby Tesco. I wonder where that fits into the Health & Safety instructions.....
He soon returns clutching a bottle of pop and we’re off – on time – towards nearby Bewdley.
A mum with small child boards, excitedly clutching a birthday cake. And some more pass holders. But then confusion.
The road ahead is closed and we’re off through country lanes on seemingly a diversion.
Soon it becomes clear that the driver doesn’t actually know where he’s going. No one offers assistance until a deep voice from the rear booms “carry on driver”. And “carry on” (in the sense of the comedy film) might best describe what happens next.
We arrive at a road junction near to Cleobury Mortimer. Success it may seem – we’re back on route.
Except Mum/child/cake want Far Forest, which is 7 minutes in the opposite direction and has been missed out.
“How am I going to get there?” she remonstrates with the driver, who appears not willing to turn around and go there. Eventually, they get off, with the driver advising them to catch a bus going in the opposite direction. Except on a Sunday morning, that bus will probably be him coming back in the opposite direction in just under an hour’s time. It’s not been handled well. And I wonder what lasting impression of buses has been painted for Mum and child.
Onwards we travel, only a few minutes late, through the delightfully named Hopton Wafers, past expensive barn conversions, climbing the steep incline to Clee Hill with seemingly dozens of motorbikers speeding past us. The Merc makes heavy weather of it and I wonder how Midland Red D9s of the 1960s might have coped.
I admire the spectacular views from the top of Clee Hill and we descend into our destination at Ludlow, eventually arriving only 3 minutes late.
Here the driver faces 20 questions from passengers, including one from an old lady who somehow wants Kidderminster – from where we set off from. He advises her to sit down and he’ll take her back.
Meanwhile, I’m examining the council timetable in the shelter in Mill Street. It isn’t bad, but it contains far too many confusing codes a couple asks me if I know when the bus returns back to Birmingham. I show them and soon I have a small audience as seemingly the only person to understand the complexities of the bus timetable. I’m also disappointed to see that the 292 only appears to operate on a Sunday. “No Mon-Fri or Sat service” says the timetable, but of course it does. Bizarrely though, it only terminates and starts on this street on a Sunday. It’s another strange quirk of buses that the general public don’t understand. There also appears to be precious little evening or Sunday buses in Ludlow. This bit of middle England will remain a slave to the car.
The Tourist Information Centre fares little better.
I peruse the leaflets for anything bus timetable-related. All I find are ones for demand-responsive services in the area. What about the 292, which appears the only semi-regular service out of the town?
The lady behind the counter knows all about the 292 – and reaches into the secret world behind the desk to hand me a timetable. I won’t even ask as to why they aren’t out on the racks where any of us can pick one up.....
My next 292 departure is a “short journey” – only going back as far as Kidderminster. It’s an additional “summer only” journey.
It arrives dead on time, but I only manage to catch it as I’m “bus-savvy” – the driver is actually loading at the wrong stop around the corner. A little old lady shouts me, concerned that I’m going to miss it. I was actually going to play a daring game of “flag the bus down at the correct stop”, but her concern for me has thwarted that experiment.
But there’s more fun to come.
I board and hand the driver my £1. He gives me “that look”.
“Where are you going, mate?”
“Kidderminster, please” I reply, sensing another one of “those” conversations.
“It’s £3.20” he offers.
I offer him the timetable leaflet with the special offer on.
To my surprise, he’s seen one of these before. But he can’t accept my £1 coin as he “can’t issue a £1 ticket” and invites me to inspect his ticket machine. He sublimely presses virtually every button on the machine but decide that my fare is £3.20.
“How come he issued me with one coming down?” I ask.
“Ah, he shouldn’t have done that”, comes the reply, and he examines my £1 ticket as evidence like a top lawyer.
“What about the offer?” I ask, meekly.
“That’s for journeys to Wyre Forest only” he replies.
“But Kidderminster IS in the Wyre Forest” I respond.
“Hmmmm” comes the even more confused reply.
We’re already 5 minutes late, and not wishing to be the ironic reason that the journey slips out of Traffic Commissioner standards, I offer him £3.20 with the caveat that I’ll be taking this up with the powers that be.
The driver seems overjoyed and encourages me to do just that, and admits to not understanding the whole scheme.
Two teenagers delay our driver even further at the next stop as they board brandishing what appear to be tickets issued by First. After more pressing of ticket machine buttons, there appears to be a compromise and the girls are soon seated and our driver is off.
The vehicle this time is a new, very smart and comfortable Optare, again with leather seats and a cool blue spotlights. It’s all very well as the driver is having delusions of Formula 1, flinging the bus around country lanes in a quite un-nerving manner.
This time we head straight through Far Forest (no sign of mother with child and cake from earlier) and it would seem that the earlier road closure has disappeared.
My iPhone shows that this bus has wi-fi and I excitedly try it out, but it’s very sporadic and I soon lose all confidence in its ability to work properly and decide to enjoy the scenery as if driven by Lewis Hamilton.
We’re soon back in Kidderminster and we’ve made up time to arrive spot on. As I move towards the doors, the driver calls me over.
“I’ve sussed it”, he proudly proclaims. “The machine is programmed for £1 fares all the way from Far Forest to Kidderminster. Look!”
I inspect and the driver grins like he’s my new best friend.
“It doesn’t explain that on the leaflet though” I protest, like a football manager who’s already been relegated.
He agrees, and I thank him anyway, before he turns the engine off and leaves the bus in the opposite direction to me.
It’s been an interesting morning. A great idea to promote the use of Sunday bus services, but it’s been poorly executed, with lack of explanation about where the £1 fare is actually valid, coupled with drivers who seemingly don’t understand it themselves, nor care.
And for our Mum and daughter with their pink birthday cake, it’s probably been a Sunday Morning Nightmare, as 80s punk rockers Sham 69 once warbled.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Cheap Train Fares? Only for Olympic watchers and the Tech-Savvy....

News reaches me that there will be "special" train fares for the Olympics.
The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) has announced that a new website will open from late June - - which will offer special fares to spectators. They will also include a free London TravelCard. Railcard holders will be able to get further discounts and early indications are that tickets will be available during peak hours for some journeys.
All well and good - and it is encouraging that our rail companies can get together to offer something like this.
But I suppose my next question will fall on deaf ears to the powers that be.
Why can't we have these "special fares" (or at least some versions of them) all year round?
Of course we can "book ahead" and achieve some great discounts - London Midland are offering a "web only" deal of £9 return Brum - London on some journeys. Great. But you can't even book it at the station. It's another example of a two-tier service for those without Internet access, as those who would have liked to have been in with a shout for Olympic tickets themselves without a computer will testify.
As you're reading this blog, I'll safely assume you're computer-literate, and of course as each generation passes, that number increases. But I know for a fact that amongst friends and family, there are those who don't care much for online banking and all things techie. The news that at least one train company is to stop accepting cheques this week won't help matters. And what about these cyber-space boundars who'll steal your account details as quick as you can say High Speed Two? I include myself in these numbers. For all of my blogging, Facebooking and Tweeting, I'm still nervous about where technology is taking us.
Pushing us down a route where the only game in town is booking train tickets online and removal of human being staff at rail stations as a consequence is a high price to pay for a cheap train ticket.
Yes, technology can be fantastic, especially for us travellers.
But I wonder who has already found themselves with a cheap ticket on their mobile phone and a flat battery to boot.....

The Return of "Midland Red"? Does "local" matter?

You never know!
Another news item from this month's Passenger Transport refers to comments made by Giles Fearnley, First's UK Bus supremo, at the Young Bus Managers Network meeting in Birmingham recently.
Fearnley was asked by one delegate if First's individual operating companies might become more localised. "Yes", came the response, going on to explain that it was something First was working on.
By coincidence, I used several First buses around Worcester, Kidderminster and The Malverns yesterday - the first time in a while I'd been around there. I have to say I was rather impressed overall, although the £6 day ticket I thought was a tad over-priced.
What to make of First?
Whilst always being a strong performer in a corporate sense, it nevertheless has (had?) a reputation akin to many large national service providers. My own views on First is that the "image" or "brand" if you like is somewhat cold and remote. Whilst I've learnt to appreciate the somewhat bland "barbie" pink livery, the external image I think just lacks something.
Some may say this doesn't matter. As long as the bus turns up, everything is fine.
I disagree.
For me, as a "consumer" (and I much prefer being called a "passenger"!) it's all about the package. Buses are essentially "local" things. So whilst, yes, the essentials of punctuality and timetables at the stop are the issues that need to be sorted first, being seen to be part of the local community is one of those "subliminal" messages that needs to be played out.
Consumables such as Weetabix and internationally recognised outlets such as McDonalds rightly are seen as "global" things, and are presented as such, but do buses - local buses - have to be seen in this way?
I've always thought Go Ahead have got this spot on. You'll always find a small, discernible "we're part of the Go Ahead Group" transfer on one of their buses, but the overall image is one of "we're part of your local community - and are proud to be".
Take Peter Huntley's Go North East. They have over 40 distinctly named brands for their services - and the ones that aren't are even lovingly named "Northern" - a historic name that many will remember and identify with. Even the latest "brand" is sheer brilliance. Their route 50 Durham - South Shields has been dubbed "Whey Aye Five O" and illustrated in a 70s "Hawaii Five-O" style! This apparently originated from drivers at Chester-le-Street depot who, when asked if there was a direct bus to South Shields replied "Whey aye - the 5-0"!
Gently celebrating the geordie accent is one thing, but it says that the local buses are part and parcel of the local community - the very fabric of that locality.
Of course things move on. Tesco is now a global brand that for many has replaced the function of the local corner shop, for example. But people still appreciate "local".
I know from conversations with some of the "older generation" (at 40, am I in that bracket now?) the affection for "the friendly Midland Red". A friend in East Anglia still calls the buses "Eastern Counties".
Peter Huntley's 40 variations within Go North East and TrentBarton's equally impressive branding are perhaps new takes on old established area fleetnames, but they are colourful proud messages.
"Corporate" may suit some egos in the boardroom, and may well be appropriate for brands that have a national or international standing that is consistent and required. I can buy and eat a Mars Bar in Blackburn or Stockholm with the same confidence, because there is only 1 Mars Bar. It is recognisable.
Does that apply to buses? I'm not convinced. Is Arriva in Shrewsbury the very same product as Arriva in Malta?
All I know is that my experience on First's buses around Worcestershire yesterday was mainly a positive one. Would I have felt even more gratitude if the buses were painted deep red and labelled up as Midland Red? Who knows.
I wish Giles Fearnley all the best in his efforts to make First a more "friendly" local image. To watch the progress will be fascinating.

The UK - Leading European Rail Network?

It's not April Fools Day. Nor have I started on the sherry as it's Friday lunchtime.
But how about this for a startling headline in this month's Passenger Transport magazine - "Britain's Train Operating Companies win the Eurovision rail contest".
The report states that "a comparison with France and Germany finds that the UK's rail users were the most satisfied on 15 of the 19 criteria".
The European Commission report asked 400 users in each of the 27 EU states to rate their satisfaction with the 19 different criteria.
Not the in-depth analysis that is Passenger Focus's National Passenger Survey, but nonetheless, it's a start. Indeed it was Passenger Focus that lobbied the EU to do this work in the first place.
Other nuggets of information include 86.8% of UK users satisfied with punctuality & reliability compared to just 54.0% in France and 52.3% in Germany. We also came top (perhaps surprisingly) in "Ease of buying tickets" - UK 86.8%, France 84.4%, Germany down on 53.5% and the EU 27 states as a whole on 78.7%.
As columnist George Muir states, there are issues of interpretation, but this is telling us something important.
The UK's railways aren't perfect, and as McNulty states, they ain't cheap either. But what this piece of research tells us is that, across Europe, we should do more research, more in depth (as Passenger Focus do) to give us a clearer picture of what passengers really think.
And we should also acknowledge that, despite the many imperfections, the UK's rail network isn't always the basket case that the media would often have us believe.

MAGLEV Rides Again!

In a previous blog post, I was talking about my love for Midland Red, and of course how history - including more recent history - is important to shaping the transport world we have today.
This somewhat amusing picture is of Andy Jones, who lives near Kenilworth - the now possibly proud owner of a little bit of local transport history.
From 1984-1995, anyone who used Birmingham Airport and Birmingham International Rail Station next door will instantly remember the MAGLEV (Magnetic Levitation) which ran the 600 metres between the 2 sites at speeds of up to 26 mph! It floated just 15mm above the track.
There were 2 MAGLEVs - the other now in a museum.
Today, 2 not so dissimilar vehicles operate the link, although these don't use such cutting edge technology. (Hauled by cables, apparently)
This story first hit the headlines in November last year. This MAGLEV had lay unloved in a corner of the airport for years when it was put up for sale on eBay. Bidding had reached £25,100 and the cash was to go to 2 charities.
However, the winning bidder defaulted on payment and the striking (some may say!) vehicle was again put up for auction. Mr Jones kicked off the bidding with £100, but no one else bothered - leaving him with it!
It's now in a field near Mr Jones's home whilst he works out what to do with it next.
I hope something can be done to properly house and display this little piece of history.

picture from Birmingham Mail

No "Oyster" for West Midlands....yet!

Sad to hear, although not particularly surprised, that the West Midlands Smartcard project has been delayed.
The plan - to deliver London-style "Oyster" Smartcards - is being reported in the local press this morning as being delayed due to software issues.
I'm not completely surprised at this. The smartcard readers - currently in use to read concessionary passes - are quite often observed by me and others as not working.
I always suspected the plan to get this up and running for all users by this summer was optimistic, but of course the media has put a negative slant on this.
We've waited all these years for a system that I truly believe will see a step-change in the way we use our buses. I'm looking forward to it immensely, so let's stop being negative, give it a bit more time and look forward to the not too distant future where bus travel in the Centro area will become even easier and user-friendly.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Midland Red Style!

I of course make no secret of the fact that I'm a transport enthusiast - as many people who work in public transport are!

I'm just nearing the end of an incredibly fascinating and beautifully illustrated book - "Midland Red Style" - by Midland Red experts Malcolm Keeley & Roger Torode.

The book really expands from what you might term an "anorak's book" into something that will engage lovers of recent history i.e. from the turn of the 20th Century.

I wasn't lucky enough to be born into the heyday of this extraordinary company. My earliest memory of buses was from when they were being painted from red to WMPTE's cream and blue livery (when WMPTE took over the Birmingham & Black Country operations) - indeed that was what sparked my lifelong love of buses - playing a game with my mum when we went shopping on the bus as to whether it would be red or cream & blue! I'd be around 4 years old!

By then, Midland Red was in decline, but I've since read lots of books about this amazing operation and I guess I'm one of many Midland Red "lovers" who have so much respect for what that company achieved.

The book itself describes how the company went to incredible lengths to market itself in an age where the motor car was still in its infancy. Midland Red buses were the gateway to freedom for so many, both for local journeys and further afield - fancy travelling from Birmingham to Llandudno in 1921 in an open top charabanc!! What an incredible experience that must have been!

The book is beautifully illustrated with lots of the posters that advertised places to visit - much in the style of the famous railway posters of the 30s that are wonderful pieces of our transport heritage. If you're into Art Deco style, this book is for you!

The company even offered to bring lantern slides for lectures on how trips could be organised - soloist and pianist optional extras!

Of course, we live in a vastly different world today and marketing public transport is a completely different ball game, but it is both fascinating and wonderful to take a glimpse into the world of the 20s & 30s and the efforts of one Orlando Cecil Power - one half of the Midland Red Management as Traffic Manager - who was every bit as forward thinking as today's leading bus people in pushing his product to the masses.

The book isn't cheap at £25, but its a real quality book, and one that I recommend wholeheartedly.

Available from the usual outlets such as Amazon and the Ian Allan bookshops.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Trapped with No Answers

It's been a funny old day again. The un-predicableness of sunshine and showers, coupled with the complete predictableness of the motoring fraternity.
For the record, and as many of you know, I'm also a motorist. Heaven knows I sometimes wish I wasn't - car insurance up again (despite wasting an hour of my life I'll never get back searching comparison websites), petrol pump prices seemingly clicking round upwards in real-time as I fill up, and of course, the endless traffic congestion (which I freely admit, I'm partly causing as I sit in it).
Some however, don't see it that way.
Take a wily Tweeter this morning. I won't even give him publicity by quoting his Twitter name, but consider this gem:
massive #firstmidland buses create more traffic than they relieve in Worcester. 50 seater buses for 2 passengers? #firstbusfail
"#Firstbusfail" by the way, is the "hashtag" some people use on Twitter to slate First - mostly of course being ignorant of the problem which prompts their angry tweet in the first place.
We later discover that our ill-informed "friend" is actually a car dealer in Worcester. He later tweets to complain about the buses blocking his garage entrance whilst they take a 5 minute break. So someone else with an axe to grind taking his frustration out by posting on Twitter (not that I would ever do such a thing....)
Naturally, I replied to point out his illogical argument. He's yet to reply.
I spent the afternoon waxing lyrical about public transport to a friend with a tape recorder - heaven forbid he'd want to tape my ramblings! (Actually, he's doing a course that requires some thoughts from bus users - not that you'd class me as a "typical" bus user.....would you?)
Then something else caught my eye in the Express & Star newspaper this evening - "Traffic is Crawling at just 18mph in Borough".
Across Centroland, the average speed is 18mph with Wolverhampton the worst at just 16.9mph.
And whose fault is this?
Bus lanes.
Well, not just bus lanes.
"Motoring groups" (not the Association of British Drivers, please!) are blaming traffic lights. Apparently, replacing traffic islands (like the nightmare that was Burnt-Tree island) with traffic lights is not good news. This is forcing drivers to "sit in queues rather than easing into flowing traffic at a roundabout".
Excuse me?
I know plenty of these islands. You have to speed from a standing start at a pace akin to Jenson Button to "ease into the flow". As a bus passenger, I've sat at Burnt Tree for considerable lengths of time awaiting gaps in traffic, as the aforementioned Jenson manoeuvre is neither safe, desirable or achievable in a double decker. As a bus passenger, I suffered. So I welcome conversion of these accidents waiting to happen into something safer and fairer for all road users.
Step forward bus lanes.
Wolverhampton Councillor Wendy Thompson offers the following in the same newspaper article:
Wednesfield Road is particularly bad. Bus lanes take up a good chunk of the road which forces the rest of the traffic into a small space".
Sound familiar?
In all my years of public transport campaigning and observing, this slant on bus lanes is so sadly familiar.
But what is surely baffling is that this comment is being offered up in an article on why traffic is so slow in the City of Wolverhampton!
By the way, the road in question is served by 7 bus routes, including the 559, which is listed as "every 10 minutes or less".
How about this gem?
"Vehicles also stop on the A449 at Coven Heath after the Highway Agency spent £2.9m on new traffic lights".
What is going on here?
Are we seriously being offered that our traffic congestion woes can be solved by putting roundabouts instead of traffic lights and dispelling the evil bus lanes?
Why do we think the Highways Agency forked out for new traffic lights? Because it was bored and fancied putting some there?
Just when you think you've read it all, there's even more.
The Express & Star's (in)famous Comment column also wades in.
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions. In the same way, the road to congestion is paved with bus lanes and pointless traffic lights".
And how about this:
"Some of this sluggishness is caused deliberately. When Councils provide bus lanes, they inevitably restrict the speed of all other traffic".
Do they?
And if they do, what's wrong with that?
The "road to hell", as the column writer puts it, is also littered with needless accidents from those who don't recognise the potential dangers of speeding.
As for "deliberately" causing traffic congestion, well, you have to wonder at the train of thought that comes to that conclusion.
Henry Carver, Chairman of the "Wolverhampton Business Group" says that we need new ways to move traffic efficiently through our towns and Cities. However, he doesn't actually offer any suggestions.
And the best European Cities I've been to actually have no traffic in the centre of them - except for good, efficient, well used public transport in the form of trams and buses.
The Express & Star's anonymous comment column writer ends with this:
Generations of councillors have pursued anti-car policies. Today we see the results. It is time to think again - time to let the traffic flow".
How incredibly depressing.
It is as if we have a generation of tweeters, councillors and ill-informed journalists who are trapped with no answers.
If we have a City whose average speed has dropped to 16.9mph, why do they think that is?
Traffic lights?
Bus lanes?
Have they ever stopped to consider that, when we are stuck in endless traffic jams, the cause of these is actually something quite illuminating.
It is too many cars trying to get from A to B at once.
There. I bet you're shocked at that.
The answer, my friend, is not always blowing in the wind. The answer is for brave local politicians to stand up to this nonsense, acknowledge the real problems, economic devastation and climate-related issues that traffic congestion brings and introduce more pro public transport measures such as well-policed bus lanes, and priority for buses at traffic lights. By all means discriminate against the private car. As a motorist, I have no qualms with that.
There is no doubting public transport can and must improve. But it is the answer to our choked towns and Cities.
Until the powers that be recognise this and grasp the nettle, we will continue to read all this stuff and nonsense, written by the ignorant on Twitter, but more significantly by those who really ought to know better.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Relationships are Important!

This morning I was sitting in studio 2 of 102.5 The Bridge awaiting the start of my Saturday morning political show, when someone came up to me and said "when are you going to sort these buses out, Phil?"
If I had a pound for every time I'd been asked that! And heaven forbid anyone would ever give me free reign to "sort the buses out"!
But nonetheless I stopped momentarily from deleting Britney Spears from my show play list to hear what she had to say.
It all centred around a bus taking layover in a lay by and the bus she was intending to catch sailing by because the driver never saw her. Also the age old chestnut of 2 buses coming together. (In this instance when there should have been 20 minutes between them).
Of course I'm not able to solve any of these issues. So I gave the often "standard" reply - "why don't you take it up with the bus company?"
But quite often I get a familiar reply - no one actually knows where to start with such a complaint.
There's a lesson to be learnt here.
Some of the best bus companies have a subliminal "rapport" with their passengers. I'm thinking of the likes of TrentBarton here. I suspect not only is "brand awareness" high at TrentBarton, but that if people have comments to make, they have a good idea how to make them. That's because the best operators go the extra mile to make their bus journeys part of people's lives that aren't just autonomous functions of life (although I guess a bus journey to most people is really just that, but you see what I mean.....)
So why, when people stop me at the radio station, in the pub, at the hospital whilst I'm volunteering, do they feel so remote from contacting the provider of the service they have a "beef" about?
In supermarkets there's a desk you can go to as a first stage of making your thoughts heard. But of course in the world of buses, it's more difficult.
But this doesn't mean to say that significant improvements can't be made in "customer relations" (a phrase I often dread!)
Around here, people are often still unsure about who to comment to. Some people still think Centro run the buses. Others think the smaller operators are sub-contracted by National Express. Understanding the structure of the bus industry can often be tricky for those who don't live and breathe it.
Many years ago, I got involved in organising bus users surgeries. Park a bus up in a town centre, let people come to you and have their say. Often a simplistic way of gauging opinion, it nevertheless had a secondary function - let the users meet the providers.
It's an often strange world where people may use buses almost daily, yet their only contact with the world of buses is the driver. Put him/her behind a perspex screen (for entirely understandable reasons) and issue the user with a pass (three-quarters of people making bus journeys in the West Midlands Centro area are using some sort of pre-paid or concessionary pass) and the interaction between user and provider is virtually nil.
This of course varies in different parts of the country. We're talking a fast-moving operation in the Centro urban area, but there are better passenger / bus company (driver) relations in less frantic areas.
Nevertheless, I still feel the industry has a job to do to interact more with its passengers.
In my time organising bus surgeries, I gave them a new title - "Your Bus Matters". Because it does. And it hopefully says to people, give us your thoughts, because it's your service, ultimately.
But moreover, it gives passengers the opportunity to discuss issues with managers who operate their buses. There are sometimes uncomfortable moments, but on the whole, the events are, I think, worthwhile.
Statisticians may tell you that this isn't "statistically valid" research. For that you need to do a lot more in-depth digging with some controls if you really want to understand the travelling public. My former employers Passenger Focus are masters of this - their research in both bus and rail is both superb and vital.
But a snapshot of people out shopping / on their lunch break or doing what they do, telling bus operators what they think is often revealing and fascinating. Quite often, people confirm that they are really quite pleased with the service!
My point in all of this rambling is this: If passengers aren't confident in even knowing who to comment to, their dissatisfaction will remain deep inside of them. And the next time something happens, it adds up like building blocks.
Buses are so much a part of people's lives that use them, "mundane" as they may be. Having a real relationship with the travelling public ought to be very high up on any bus operators list. Granted, the smaller operators may find resourcing that difficult, especially in these hardened times, but relationships are important!
That's why, especially in urban areas like Centro-land, the Passenger Transport Authorities (and their equivalents) can play a leading role in being the "face" of public transport.
Your Bus Matters - as much now as it ever did!