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Sunday, 28 February 2010

A customer issue this week

Now then, you'll know that there is quite a lot of stuff I can't always write about because it is politically or commercially sensitive but if you've been following a story in Bristol this week you'll have seen the public side of something which has been going on and which I am going to make some comment about even though the case is not closed.

Earlier this week a young lady complained she had been ejected from a bus in Bristol for breastfeeding. According to her there was a complaint from another passenger, the driver threatened to call the police, and she was left humiliated by the roadside, in the rain, and forced to take a taxi, at some cost.

We swung into action with an apology, vouchers, flowers and of course there was the inevitable stuff with the press. The story went national and was all over the internet, in mothers' rights columns as well as the daily newspapers.

Of course - we entirely respect the rights of mothers to breastfeed, apologised profusely but the whole thing was reputationally damaging.

In due course, having sat through hours of CCTV we conclude this report is complete fiction.  A young lady resembling the complainant does board the bus at the time and place she says but actually breastfeeds completely without hindrance, and far from being thrown off the bus, alights of her own free will at the terminus. The CCTV entirely corroborates the driver's version of events.

Of course we remain open to the possibilitity that she has the time and date wrong, although it is something of a co-incidence that a young lady of similar age and appearance was breastfeeding on the very bus her original complaint referred to. Although invited to view the CCTV footage, she prefers not to.

And why am I telling you this? Well firstly because it is fair to say that there was a natural assumption by many that the lady was being truthful and the driver was in the wrong. I sincerely regret that he was put in such a position. And secondly because whilst the media was quick to highlight the story, so far only the Bristol Evening Post has had the courage to run a new page 1 and page 2 story setting out the facts as they are now appear to be.

http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/news/Breastfeeding-Bristol-mother-story-thrown-bus/article-1871417-detail/article.html

For everyone else in the UK we will be remembered as the miserable, narrow-minded bus company which ejected an innocent mother in winter.

But fortunately the internet spreads very quickly around the world. Even this blog can be read by ordinary people, encouraged and asssted by the power of search engines. So for this reason, and to set the record straight, I have no hesitation in referring to Amy Wootten of Stockwood, Bristol, England who, it appears, was never forced off a bus in the way described in her complaint to the media and to apologise to Rob Stone, our driver, for the brief period this week when in the Court of Public Opinion it was taken for granted that he had acted improperly.

This is a matter which is not yet concluded. Further representations and evidence may yet come to light. However this information is correct to the best of my knowledge at this time (Saturday night) and I publish it now to place it in the public domain whilst the issue remains topical in the minds of the public at large.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Lucky dip

From time to time it is fun to dip into my collection of photos and recreate the story that led to the subject.

Shown right is Alexander-bodied Volvo Olympian 238 in the Capital Citybus fleet, one of a batch bought for route 91 - our first real foray into Central London.

I had long hoped we could find a way to restore good destination blind information having seen it depleted over the years since single-person operation was introduced. (Don't forget that this is in the days before comprehensive route information was provided at stops on an individual basis).

We did put complete KM and NN blind boxes in the back of DMSs in 1986 but these manual units were difficult to access and it was difficult for drivers to know whether fitted or not. We made 'lazy' blinds for them but they were not entirely successful. We did manage to keep manual side blinds with ultimate destinations reasonably well observed but when our fleet had fewer ex-London vehicles in it these became more difficult to provide.

What was really needed were electrically-driven, electronically-tracked, proper blinds and Alexanders made this for us on the last of the route 91 Olympians. This was the mid 1990s and this equipment was, in the UK at least, in its infancy. McKennas helped us enourmously and made these special blind sets which relied on bar codes to be set correctly.

Today electrically-driven blinds are standard equipment on London buses and the co-ordination of multiple units is commonplace, including side and one rear unit on artics. Of course the technnology has come along leaps and bounds - the electric units are more reliable for sure.

The concept of ensuring consisent and properly set information, as often provided overseas, had been proven.

Someone will want to re-open the debate about the value of 'via' points on bus blinds. It is debated almost continuously on the internet so I am not doing so here. What we did was prove the concept of electrically setting the appropriate information on three sides - ahem, 15 years ago!!

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Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Guide Dogs star at today's launch

Today we re-launched our initiative which allows those sighted people who train Guide Dog puppies to travel free on our buses when they are carrying out this training.

Guide Dogs have to know how to cope with transport, shops, shopping precincts and so on. They get this experience from dedicated puppy walkers - people who volunteer to train them.

We are pleased to carry these volunteers free of charge on our buses when they are carrying out this training and today we held a photocall in central Bristol with John Welsman from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and Philip Brown the Senior Traffic Commissioner, who is also partially-sighted.

The story was covered on TV and radio plus also the local press.

Photo shows me with John Welsman (and his dog Sorrell), Senior TC Philip Brown plus three puppy walkers and their trainees.

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Monday, 15 February 2010

Not the story you're expecting today



I know you will all be looking here but I have to send you to the official words which are on our Group website for all the news: www.firstgroup.com/corporate/latest_news/?id=005071


Here's a different story - if you tie these end to end you will get my book without paying for it!

On 28th July 1981 there was a firework party in Hyde Park on the eve of the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

We took one of our (Obsolete Fleet) open top former Midland Red D9s to Tyburn Way in the centre of Marble Arch and parked it there amongst all the other red buses. We had the most amazing grandstand view of the pre-wedding party and fireworks. Food and drink flowed, we made lots of new friends, and by the time anyone started to ask if we could be there at all the traffic had ground to a halt and there was nowhere to go.

But even better news followed. Stopped alongside us in Tyburn Way was a Routemaster from Norwood. When he had to restart his engine, it wouldn't, and the Police were frantic to move the obstruction.

One of our guests was a rather prominent London Transport engineer. With a broom handle he hit the flywheel ring gear and it fired up.

We sent an invoice - "Bus non-start, diagnosed jammed ring gear, freed off and started. Severe traffic congestion prevented normal recovery." I can't remember the amount - several hundred pounds I think. It certainly paid our wages, drink and food bill.

Ha - they sent a cheque! It came with a compliments slip from a senior London Transport Board member. I can't recall precisely the words but is said something like "I don't call using one of my own people to hit the flywheel with a broom handle a proper repair so you owe me one!"

Wonderful days - he knew that this was a small price to pay for what should have cost them a lot of money and delay and that our goodwill was retained for another time. In other words, in order to pull a rabbit out of a hat, you sometimes have to invest in a rabbit.

A good lesson for all our budding managers and directors, I think.

Here is OM6 at that very spot - happy memories! And tomorrow a nice story with animals in it !!

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Sunday, 14 February 2010

Customer Service

We've just been 'through the mill' on customer service from a couple of unlikely sources - John Lewis and Sainsbury's - both organisations I have previously championed as being good at this.

Sainsbury's was simple enough - something I bought from their local store and which stopped working a week later - declined to consider replacing it on the grounds I did not have the receipt. (I had disposed of it a few days earlier). The item concerned is not exclusively sold by Sainsburys but a quick check of their records will show my family spends several hundred pounds a month there and (unless we are running a hotel) probably do 95% of our food shopping there anyway. A different response might have made me feel a better!

But John Lewis takes the trophy this week. We ordered something (over £100) by phone and by credit card and due for delivery by Friday. When it didn't arrive we called and were told the order "had been cancelled due to suspicious circumstances". When we enquired what these were they said it was because we had quoted a mobile phone number, but no landline or email address. Actually no one had asked - we just answered the questions given. When we asked why they had cancelled the order without asking further, they had no answer at all! Nothing wrong with the credit card and nothing different with the delivery address (also the billing address) from several thousands of pounds of goods over the years.

Oh well, two of my customer service champions spoiling their performance and here I am telling the world.

One of the London bus eGroups has been debating the value of 'via points' on destination blinds. The usual arguments have been run (they become progressively misleading as the route progresses vs they demonstrate relative geography which is reassuring to passengers). It is fair to say that the information provided at stops, and electronically is now far better than at any time in our history and it is increasingly easier to get to the right stop on the right side of the road in London. The trade off is much larger route numbers and destinations on buses themselves.

I am going to commend the latest TfL on-line mapping service which will show you every route on a Google Map with every stop. Give it a try at http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/gettingaround/maps/buses/. It is really good.

Better personal electronic information is the right way to go - and we must do better than the photograph above which joins my two favoured retailers in this week's bargain basement!

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Thursday, 11 February 2010

I couldn't resist this!


Thank you for your concern about my welfare and I am grateful to David Pinto from Montreal for letting me know why you might have been worried!

I am alive and well (see right admittedly in 2009!) but am pleased, thanks to David, to quote from Associated Press the news about my (near) namesake!

Ex-UPI newsman dead at 74

By RICHARD PYLE Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Leon Daniel, who spent nearly four decades reporting on wars, the U.S. civil rights movement and other domestic and foreign news for United Press International and retired in 1993 as its foreign editor, has died at age 74.

Daniel died late Sunday in Illinois from a blood clot in his lung while recovering from angioplasty, according to Judith Paterson, a retired journalism professor and his companion for the past 10 years.

Since suffering a stroke two years ago, Daniel had lived in an assisted living facility near the home of his daughter, Rev. Lillian Daniel Weeks, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn.

"Among wire service reporters, Leon Daniel was the gold standard," said Joseph Galloway, a military writer and former UPI staffer who covered the Vietnam War with Daniel in the 1960s
 "He was a fierce competitor but always a gentleman at the end of the day."

That was a view shared by his rivals working for The Associated Press, especially in Vietnam, one of the last major running stories where the two news services went head to head every day.

"Leon was one of the most knowledgeable and boldest reporters in Vietnam, whose lucid, insightful stories at the height of the war helped UPI score plenty of page one headlines," said Peter Arnett, who covered Vietnam for AP for a dozen years. "He also was among the most amiable of men."

Daniel was one of a few foreign correspondents who remained in Saigon as South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese on April 30, 1975, and wrote the UPI flash that said "Saigon government surrenders."

When the conquerers evicted all western reporters a few weeks later, Daniel was asked why he had stayed behind. His reply: "I had to. The AP correspondent was there."

After Marine Corps combat duty during the Korean War, Daniel began his 36-year UPI career as a reporter in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the 1950s and later worked in Atlanta, Tokyo, Bangkok, New Delhi, Hong Kong, Manila, Brussels, London and Washington, D.C., where he occupied the foreign editor's chair.

 Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery, with a memorial service to be held in Washington, D.C. on April 1.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


AP-NY-03-21-06 1635EST

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Sunday, 7 February 2010

An old bus for London

People wrote and said they enjoyed the "what might have been" blog a couple of weeks ago so here is something similar.

Pictured right (on a low loader arriving back at Wigan) is the prototype Plaxton President as shown at the 1997 Bus and Coach show but incorporating a longditudinal rear engine and consequent long rear overhang.

After critical reaction it was re-engineered with the now familiar transverse rear engine thus repeating the history of the Bristol VRT which also started life as a longditudinal engined-design. This delay gave Dennis their lead with the Trident as well.

Another little-known feature of this vehicle is that it was designed to the usual 2.5m maximum width but this was relaxed to 2.55m during the process. As a result the preformed interior roof sections showed all the gaps caused by the new exterior dimensions!

The President came to the market at the forefront of double-deck low floor requirement being driven by London. Production was centred at the Northern Counties facility at Wigan which was extended and improved to meet demand. Sadly, despite selling considerable numbers into the market, fuelled by the Livingstone-era expansion and investment, the collapse of TransBus in 2004 led to the closure of the Wigan plant and shortly after the ending of production of the President.

As a supporter of Northern Counties in the 1990s I saw several design concepts for the President and full-scale mock ups of certain features. It included several features from the mid-1990s "next generation bus for London" designs including the "open" centre staircase. Our first examples came in 1999 and they were classified "TN" - I chose this not only to avoid the drearily-repetitive "TP" of our competitors but also as a nod to the London Leyland (B15) Titans (which were "TN" throughout their development although all were simply "T" by the time they were delivered).

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