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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Customer Service again!

On 14th February on this very blog I told a story of a disappointing example of Customer Service at my local Sainsbury's.

Well, one of my periodic readers here is a Sainsbury's director and no sooner had he seen the story than a gift voucher arrived more than compensating for the offending article - which was for my eldest son who is 10.

Now here is the lesson in good customer service. Of course we went to the store to redeem it but those of you with more than one child will know that such things have to be balanced. Eldest son got his replacement item but needless to say youngest son had to have something as well so we left the store having also bought something with new money! See - Mr Sainsbury did right by us and he got an extra sale as a result. We're happy and he's happy too!

I am happy to say "Thank You" publicly for such good customer service.

Space for a bit of a catch up from comments made from previous blogs.

One correspondent asked why First Capital Connect got itself into such difficulties and for so long before things were put right. I think I should say that we have seen in more than one TOC where it has been custom and practice to staff significant portions of the requirement from overtime. Staff can't be forced to work overtime and if they decide to collectively stop doing it then there will be cuts. It would be wiser to ensure all the work was covered from the roster but the trades union have generally been against this as it reduces the average earnings of their members. As you will see the employer can be between a rock and a hard place here.

In general things get worse quickly and only get better slowly and although the pay issue was resolved the legacy of the disruption lived long in the minds of passengers and the press. Although performance is now very good any odd problem is magnified by the memory of the troubles.

Another correspondent raised with us the issue of more on-train and on-bus information like iBus in London. Again here we are trying to keep a balance. On trains some customers are already concerned about the quantity of announcements - safety, tickets, route, and the menu of the buffet car. We are trying to get somewhere between good information and a bit of peace quiet. On buses outside London the whole iBus announcement service is triggered from the AVL system. Our friends who represent the needs of blind people are pressing us to have more audible announcements on bus but we need good AVL to be able to deliver it automatically.

The point was, of course, that initiatives for new integrated transport offerings, like our Bristol Superbus, must be explained and 'sold' to passengers or may fail, which is right.

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Monday, 29 March 2010

A bit more on Temsa

I knew you would like to see a picture of one so here it is.

It is of course an artist's impression and not the real thing!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

How is your reception?

I've been to two receptions in the past couple of days.

On Wednesday I was at the FirstGroup Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons which is an opportunity for MPs and Members of the House of Lords to talk to us about issues affecting their constituents or areas of concern.

Sir Moir Lockhead, in his speech, paid special tribute to all of our staff who worked so hard to deliver service during the worst winter in 30 years. In particular the efforts of road staff who walked to work and rail staff who were de-icing trains even in London (which is not normally that cold!).

He also reminded us that published statistics lag behind what is happening today. In fact First Capital Connect is delivering very good levels of reliability now having left its period of poor performance behind. However recollections of poor performance live longer in the memory and are seized by the media.

And then today we had the editors of the bus trade press with us for a discussion on current issues. They will be reporting this but we did announce a trial in Bradford using a new lightweight bus from Temsa, a leading Turkish bus manufacturer with whom we have been working closely, and how pleased we are with the performance of Greyhound (without saying where it is going next!).

You'll already know about Bristol Superbus and the benefits we are seeing from DriveGreen having written about them in this column recently. See - you really do get the news here!

The new Temsa 'Avenue' is a 41 seater +29 standing single-decker powered by Cummins but weighs less than 10 tonnes. Lighter weight, and our DriveGreen technology, may make this the most fuel efficient bus on the road.

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Monday, 22 March 2010

Free bus travel for rail passengers

This week we announce a trial which follows last year's conference on integrated transport. A this event Sir Moir Lockhead laid down a challenge to the bus & rail industries to do something much bigger than the current PlusBus bus add-on option for some rail journeys and find a way to package bus travel for all decent length rail passenger journeys.

From 1st April an important trial is taking place for three months. During this trial all rail tickets costing more than £25 where the destination is Bristol (Temple Meads or Parkway) will be valid for a direct journey on one of our buses commencing at either of those stations (and returning to it if it is a return ticket). The trial will seek to establish what modal shift much be achieved (from taxi or car pick-up) if the bus travel is "free" and included in the ticket.

In a full scheme, our aim is to see whether every rail ticket to every non-London destination over a certain price cannot include this bus travel. It would be funded by a token increase in the rail ticket price and the pot would be divided between the operators using the same mechanism as is currently used for PlusBus. A token increase is almost unnoticeable on the rail ticket prices but generates sufficient cash to compensate bus opertors for what is generally off-peak marginal extra business.

We see passengers arriving at unfamiliar rail destinations hesitant to use local bus services. We are sure that if it is "free" many more will take the opportunity to use them.

The trial is called the Bristol SuperBus and is launched this week.

We've also invited the other operators in Bristol to join the scheme. There's no pot to divide up for the trial but hopefully there will be if it is a success.

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Sunday, 14 March 2010

Driving Green

We've now fitted all our buses with DriveGreen, a clever little box of tricks which records G-forces impacting the vehicle as it is driven. Sensors analyse up to 120 separate driving events such as speed handling, cornering, braking, and acceleration. That data is transmitted in real-time to the red-yellow-green LED light display on the dashboard and is uploaded to a central server. Clever computer analysis allows individual drivers to see their own scores, see what went well and what didn't, whilst the company can compare this against route and garage performance.

I know from staff forums and correspondence that there are differing opinions about this.

For me the best thing is that individual drivers can track their performance on their home computer or at the one we provide at the depot. No need to involve managers or anyone at the company at all. You can look at it, think about how the day went, and move on.

It's also better, more objective and more comprehensive than the random travels of on-bus 'surveillance'. It saves fuel, reduces collisions and provides absolute positive proof against those individuals who seek to blame the driver, and claim off the company, for falls due to a 'sudden stop' which really never happened.

The outputs can be calibrated - so we can adjust the parameters depending on conditions. Some routes are tougher than others!

Some have expressed concern over this increased monitoring, although it is hard to see why it is any more intrusive than CCTV. In fact it provides the greatest possible level of defence against malicious accusations and can be a strong ally of the driver when it is 'his word against mine'.

Only those who enjoyed too much spirited driving might feel a little constrained. Sorry - in these days when people are quick to accuse, point the finger, criticise and claim, we have to do everything to protect our position. And with the relentless downward pressure on costs we have to make sure we're not wasting any money unnecessarily.

But most of all we must protect the safety of our employees, passengers and other road users. In terms of deaths, injuries and collisions we aim for zero.

DriveGreen has been a valuable tool in delivering improved safety and lower costs. One day the whole industry will have this, like we all now have CCTV, Real Time Information, assault screens and electronic ticket machines!

Do go and check out the website: http://www.greenroad.com/our_solution.html.

A quick screen-grab from the whole garage performance information for one of our locations. Individual drivers can have this for their own performance for every day and every trip if they want!

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Thursday, 11 March 2010

Chinese puzzles

Here's a new story prompted by a photo of First 30224 at a scrapyard (see below).

When my company was owned by the Chinese there were many things for us to learn as they do business in a different way. There are many facets to this and we didn't have a manual!

It was a great coup for our Chinese owner to have a 'western' subsidiary so we would be often 'on parade' to impress others (often after a long flight!).

Other things were harder to predict: when we were invited to become one of the first corporate sponsors of the London Transport Museum I wasn't sure they would buy it. Worse still when we went on a VIP tour, lead by our Chief Executive T T Tsui, the visit was incredibly brief. Chinese delegations always have lots of people in them (many of whom are never seen again) and on this occasion the group was so long the CEO was through and leaving before the back markers had even started!

Bad news indeed but with a wave of his hand he said "We do" and disappeared.

Only much later, when we discussed it, did he say, in that profound wisdom of the Chinese "All of the answers to the problems of today are contained in our past." [How true is that?]

And so we became the very first Corporate Friend of the LT Museum.

Anyway we also learned that 8s were lucky and a multitude of them demonstrated much good fortune.

So we registered our buses with '888' plates, using the initials of anyone we could think of. For one or two of the Chinese we did even better - Billy Wu, our corporate lawyer, got K888BWU.

We had many buses with 888 plates. So there was, of course K888LAD for me and I am delighted to publish above 162 posed alongside our 164 K888BFG, when new, for Brendan Glyde who is still my good friend, who was our Finance Director and was the architect of our success for so many years.

Now, so many years later the old 162 is headed for the breakers' yard and is shown here having served us and First so well.

Looking back on our tendering successes of the time, those 888s were indeed lucky.
And an added benefit. I do remember someone ringing to say that one of our buses had just clipped his wing mirror. I said "Did you get the number?" He said "I think it was 888 something.........!!"


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Saturday, 6 March 2010

Return to Dagenham Dock

Across at the London Bus eGroup (on Yahoo) they've been running a series of conversations about "The last place God made" - triggered by a visit to the new bus station at Dagenham Dock. So far places such as Thamesmead and Penge have been cited, together with, of course, many memories of Dagenham Dock which became the home to the EnsignBus LRT-contract fleet in 1989 and so passed to CNT Holdings Hong Kong as Capital Citybus in 1990.

In those days there was still a peak hour bus service on route 174 to 'The Dock' but the road was awful. It was a private road so not maintained by the local authority. The water table was very high and the drainage poor. At certain times of the year and in bad weather the road flooded and this caused the surface to get even worse with huge potholes.

Heavy lorries to the dock itself and the roadstone plant made it all worse. I was surprised LT continued to allow its own bus service to remain for as long as it did.

We had 24 identical Dennis Dominators, 12 at Dagenham and 12 at Northumberland Park. The Dagenham ones cost twice as much in suspension and steering units!

The level crossing was controlled by a local signal box and freight traffic in and out of Fords caused it to be closed for long periods. Truck drivers seeing the gates closing often used to 'run the gauntlet' and risk it rather than being stuck there. (I am sure our bus drivers never did that!).

It was like a third world country and amongst the worst areas for decay imaginable. On the good side hardly anyone ventured down there either!

But today it has been transformed. The road is now flat and made of something substantial, the area is being redeveloped and there is more industry. We have a brand new depot only half way down the old road (we used to be at the end!) and High Speed 1 dashes through where the level crossing used to be. (It's gone, now, of course!).

Who would have thought, when ELT was born in the early 1990s as an 'intermediate mode' light rapid transit with wires of some kind, it would end up as a more traditional double-decker bus service back to what used to be 'the end of the earth' but now a smart new bus station?


I am grateful to my old friend Bruce Swain for sending me not only some views of the old level crossing but showing withdrawn London trolleybuses headed for export by ship to Spain. Their last journey on British soil down the old road to Dagenham Dock!

Regret do not know who the photograph copyright belongs to. Happy to acknowledge it.

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Friday, 5 March 2010

The last word about the Bristol breastfeeding on bus story

In my last post I told you the story of a lady named Amy Wootten who accused our driver of throwing her off a bus in Bristol having been breastfeeding her baby on the journey.

Never before have so many people read my blog and so many made comments!

And yes, we did immediately make an apology and send flowers & high street vouchers - even before we had chance to interview the driver and view the CCTV.

Why? We know that for most people a speedy response and apology goes a long way. We could say "we're waiting to conduct an investigation" but that sounds awfully like "we're not sure whether to believe you". I am certain this is right - otherwise the 'balanced' press coverage isn't very balanced at all and we know for most people a prompt apology is better than a factually precise response some time later.

Only occasionally does the complaint turn out to be complete fiction - as in this case. On those odd occasions we have to do what we can to get the real facts published but since the media too has been hoodwinked by the deception they are normally only too glad to do so.

Well, the lady has issued her own public apology, and in recognition of this, I will say no more about it:

http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/news/m-sorry-says-Bristol-mother-claimed-thrown-bus-breastfeeding/article-1888227-detail/article.html


Photo: following the introduction of new Volvo B7RLE single-deckers on busy routes 8 and 9 the outgoing Dennis Darts in their special version of our livery are seen much less often on the forecourt of Temple Meads Station, and in an attempt to simplify the services route 8A (and indeed 9A) are no more.

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