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Better buses supporter ‘Disgruntled’ has written a response on our website to the letter from First Bus Chief Ronnie Park. Since it is so long and in depth we hrought it was worth putting into the news section too.

Dear Better Buses

Thank you for contacting First Bus on behalf of the disgruntled and disenfranchised bus users of Glasgow. You have managed to obtain more of a response from First bus that I have over the past 2 years. I wanted to take the opportunity to critique the letter from Ronnie Park as I consider it to be a very poor response.

Firstly, I should say that I work as a consultant and am contracted by companies like First (though it is important to state NOT FIRST BUS) to review and evaluate their businesses. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve helped draft letters like the one Ronnie Park sent to Better Buses in attempts to divert scrutiny from businesses I’ve been employed with. On the other hand, I care too much about Glasgow’s transport and the environment to let things like this go, so hopefully I can apply a bit of pressure to get more accountability from FirstBus.

 

Dear Mr Park
RE: NIGHT FARES

“Whilst I very much regret the inconvenience caused to Firstweek and Firstcard users by aspects of our fares’ revision, I would ask you to accept that this was a business decision taken in light of the current economic climate.”

Well Ronnie. It’s more than an inconvenience for the hundreds, potentially thousands of season ticket users that you broke your contract with mid-term by removing night bus services. You knowingly sold 10 week tickets to customers under the pretence of providing UNLIMITED bus usage. To change the terms during this period for some consumers is a blatant breach of contract and I would urge Patrick Harvie to pursue you through whatever legal means possible. Please prove that you introduced the changes at least 10 weeks from the first day you published details of the terms change…..nah, didn’t think you would be able to.

You did minimal and very confusing advertising for this fare change and as a result many people were turned away from the last evening bus from my experience (including potentially vulnerable passengers). This is more than an inconvenience I’m afraid.

RE: TICKET PRICING/STRUCTURE

As a management consultant, please let me advise you that your pricing structure is shambolic and if I was on your Board I would immediately fire whoever was responsible for such a convoluted mess. You quote an example of Lennoxtown to justify some obscure saving that can be made with a 10 ticket journey – NO ONE CARES. The public want a simple, unified fare that doesn’t require a PhD in pure mathematics to decipher. Part of me suspects that the unwieldy variety of fares available is designed, much like a Vegas casino. to trick customers into spending more than they need to.

Also on this note, your staff seem to be unaware of many of the exotic tickets that you have on offer and as a result tend to charge customers bog standard expensive tickets. I have to confess that, even after studying the issue closely (via you website) I still don’t know what ticket offers me the best value. A total shambles.

RE: TICKETS

“Both the 4 week Adult FirstCard and the Under 20s/Student First4Week ticket, which are valid network-wide, cost £48.50.”

So…..that accounts to a saving of exactly £0.00. Quite frankly Ronnie, I would be embarrassed if one of my clients had such a pathetically muddled pricing structure. This is a real brass neck and you should be ashamed of offering a supposedly discounted ticket at the same price as a full price ticket.

RE: THE PUBLIC SERVICE ETHOS

“As you would expect the views of our customers are, and will continue to be, taken into account when we are planning future service provision. However, as a commercial operator there are business decisions that need to be taken to ensure the viability of our company that will not always prove popular.”

This for me is the most profound statement I have read from First Bus. It is basically saying “xxxx off” to customers – profit is more important than service.

Dear customer, while you are waiting for a bus that hasn’t turned up or have just paid £4.50 for a day ticket (and then another £2.00 for a night ticket), just remember that we have doubled our PROFIT (not turnover!!!) to £280 million

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/transport/9284342/FirstGroup-sees-profits-double-but-plans-to-sell-UK-bus-assets.html

The crème de la crème of Ronnie Park’s letter however concerns his frankly laughable defence of FirstBus performance and accountability.

“First Bus has data relating to the performance of our services and I can confirm that the latest reports show that we are achieving very high levels of punctuality and reliability.”

“The way in which our punctuality, reliability and customer service satisfaction data is collected and aggregated means that we do not make this information available in the public domain.”

Unbelievable. This is either arrogance, complacency or stupidity. In all my time working with large companies, the only ones who have attempted to obfuscate data are ones with something to hide. But….as long as Ronnie says everything is ok, then “nothing to see here folks”. The everyday complaints on twitter would beg to differ however and your drastic drop in customer numbers while fuel costs remain at an all time high is scandalous.

I’m fairly sure that you don’t have some kind of proprietary algorithm for analysing your customer data FB, and I’m sure the aggregated data can be disaggregated easily. I challenge you to publish all of your raw data for the past year on the Better buses website and i will give you some free objective analysis – if you have nothing to hide then you should see it as 2 days consultancy for free.

I suspect you won’t do this however as your service is poor and you seem to be in a constant state of denial.

You have managed to create a monopoly by squeezing the Glasgow market. Effectively you are the sole provider of buses in the city, however you have no accountability, publish no data and are driven only by market forces rather than the public good. Your letter, in my opinion, illustrates a contempt for the people you serve by refusing to reveal even the most basic data about your service. With great power comes no responsibility in First Buses case.

As such, i propose that commercial bus services are unworkable in Glasgow and should be abandoned immediately. I urge politicians to recognise that transport is a public good that requires significant public subsidy – some routes may be commercially unsustainable however this is a small investment when one considers the benefit to the economy and environment. We cannot however afford to be cumulatively paying £280 million in profit to an organisation when this could be reinvested in public services. There are numerous models in Scandinavia, Canada, England, EDINBURGH and China that illustrate the economic benefits of having low-cost integrated transport systems.

The market does not work and will never work.

FINALLY ….

“I would encourage your contributors to contact us directly via our website”

This really nails it for me. Dear disgruntled customer, please don’t plaster your discontent over a public website – send it to our customer service department who will send a standard letter back to you reaffirming our commitment to improving customer service and training staff.

No thanks. I’d rather air my views in a public forum, and be responded to in a public forum seeing as you are so unwilling to let us know about the service you provide. The divide and conquer strategy won’t work anymore now that Better buses have taken up the fight and provided a forum for people fed up spending £1.85 to go 2 miles on a smelly overcrowded bus.

I look forward to your public response to my message.

 

'Disgruntled' responds to FirstBus chief letter. At a Better Buses News bus stop.

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