Friday, 13 September 2013

Clock Watching

It's 1124 in Dudley bus station on a fairly mundane Friday morning.  I'm waiting for service 42 along with half a dozen others for a route that will wind around the houses and end up in West Bromwich. 
The digital screen has been counting down in minutes, suggesting that the bus - a National Express West Midlands vehicle - has got the required bit of tracking equipment on. Indeed a notice on my previous journey had been trumpeting the new smartphone app which informs you of all things buses (or at least when they're due. In real time).
Because I'm a bus geek and can spot a West Brom garage Merc a mile off (my party trick, since you ask), I can see it parked up across the way. But as the screen moves from "1 min" to "due" and then falls off the end, there is no driver for my 42. The screen is disbelieved and a big fat fail ensues.
Arriving on stand now is the next 205, due in 4 minutes, but this will entail a driver changeover, cue more slamming of bus doors whilst this inexplicably long-winded procedure goes on. In TrentBarton land, passengers are let on BEFORE  the changeover takes place - now theres an innovation.
But whilst this is going on, I've noticed our 42 driver appear, seemingly in little rush, and then bring our bus around to the stand - now occupied by the 205.
Now there is the sound of bus horns honking as our 42 driver realises his slot has gone and the 205 ain't moving.
But the stand now has a mix of intending passengers for both services.
What happens now? In the end, our 42 driver opts to pull in 1 stop down, resulting in groans from at least 2 fellow passengers, one of which looks decidedly dodgy on her legs. It's a good job we haven't got any blind passengers or others who may not have been aware of what was going on. We eventually leave 4 minutes late.
Why the rant for something perhaps minor?
Because I'm passionate about getting the little things as right as we can in tandem with the big things.
Who knows why the driver emerged late for his journey. There could be a very good reason.  But over the years I've seen this far too often.
And it's the little things that non-regular users see and experience far more than us regulars.
If we are to get more bums on seats, the user experience needs to be flawless.  Big issues like traffic congestion are a long-term battle to overcome, but seemingly little issues like this one have disproportionate effects.
Providing good service should be objective number 1. Every hour of every day.


  1. This is so true - as a full time driver some years back I used to be one of the worst for departing last but at my old depot those days have gone with a much stricter regime in place. Old hands bemoan the arrival of wi-fi, tracking, greenroad etc. but it's absolutely the way to go.

  2. I agree absolutely. As a long time bus enthusiast, I bemoan the weird and wonderful habits and practises that make travelling by bus an absolute nightmare.
    A few years ago, my car being in dock, I needed to travel from Netherton to Merry Hill, a distance of about 2 miles, and a journey time, by car, of about 8 minutes.
    Obviously the car was out of the question, so I decided to travel by bus.
    I waited at the bus stop on Saltwells Road, outside the Aldi. The frequency of the bus was listed as every half-hour. After about 20 minutes, I decided that I would be able to walk to the next stop, continually keeping my eye on the road behind, and prepared to run to whichever stop I had the best chance of achieving should the bus arrive. Once this course of action was chosen, then I carried on walking with the same watchfulness, and plan of action. 3/4 of an hour later I was at Merry Hill, and not one bus had passed me.
    If the frequency was 1/2 hourly, then at least two buses were missing. Not exactly a welcoming way for someone who is forced to use public transport.
    Equally, a couple of years ago (re-allocation of bus stops may have alleviated this problem now - I don't know) I caught a bus from Dudley that was intended to go down St. Peters Road, Netherton. I appreciate that those who don't know the area will not fully understand what happened here, but the bus turned right onto Fisher Street, then right into Castle Street. The traffic was particularly heavy, and it took a good 5 minutes before the lights at the end of Castle Street allowed the bus to turn right into Castle Hill. I was thinking that this was an interesting way to get to Netherton, when the bus turned right into Birmingham Street. There is only one place for a bus to go once it has turned into Birmingham Street, and that is back into the bus station! i had been on the bus for approaching ten minutes, and was back where I started from! The bus then went through the bus station, and this time turned left into Birmingham Street (the other end) and went up the hill to cross over Trindle Road and go up Hall Street, and then take a direct route to St. Peters Road.
    I thought that the driver had made a mistake, and corrected it, but on talking to a bus driver friend of mine, I found out that this was correct. The reason being that from the bus stop allocated for the route, it was difficult or impossible to turn left into Fisher Street, and hence the route was sent all around the Wrekin (as we say around here). A simple re-allocation of bus stop would shave up to ten minutes off the time. It felt faintly ridiculous to sit on that bus for all that period, and actually get nowhere.