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"What Bus Passengers Want" by Gavin Booth - Edinburgh meeting of Tuesday 23 March 2010

Gavin Boothd

Gavin Booth

© Gavin Booth 2010

Gavin Booth joined the bus industry as a management trainee in 1961, taking early retirement as marketing manager of the Scottish Bus Group on its privatisation in 1988 before going on to be a consultant, edit bus magazines, write or edit over 60 books on buses and form Bus Users UK of which he has been chairman since 2005.

The needs of bus passengers could be simply expressed as excellent service at low prices. However passengers need to be understood, appreciated, valued, taken seriously, not to be underestimated. Customer service starts way back in the process of product design, service planning, timetable preparation, vehicle procurement, proper promotion and information, proper infrastructure, selecting the right staff, then training and briefing them.

Even if the product is right, operators are still at the mercy of their customer-facing staff and of the customers themselves. Drivers and telephone enquiry staff have the maximum contact, but inspectors, service delivery managers and route managers also have potential to maximise their contact with their customers, learning to avoid conventional defensive reactions like "you're lucky to have a service" or "there's no demand for evening or weekend services".

It's a pity you can't train customers who may be abusive, drunk, flustered or just grumpy, but customers in all their moods and conditions is what the business is all about. They are human, just like bus company staff, but the latter have to be superhuman since our fares pay their wages. Passenger expectations are rising, and by the "M&S test" they are entitled to expect a clear identity at bus station and stop, a good bus station stand indicator and bus stop information display, a modern bus station and a bus that's not knee-deep in Metro newspapers, visible bus-station staff and inspectors, clear legible and comprehensible information on fares at bus-stops and by other sources, exact information on how to pay and clear advice on how to complain.

There should be clear eye-catching signs on buses, not the old tradition of notices taped to windows, and announcements on fares rises should be honest and direct.

Passengers should be shown respect, information, courtesy and an offer that they can understand. Things will go wrong, so they need to be kept advised and given compensation when necessary, with complaining made easy or it can get all pent up - one of the best operators Trent Barton advertises on-the-spot refunds to dissatisfied customers and finds that this offer is seldom taken up.

Standard responses should be avoided, and success could be measured in the proportion of praise to complaints. People need to know what is happening and that something is being done to sort the problem, so at the end of the day it all comes down to information. Stops should clearly show where they are and what are the destinations, the operators and route numbers and the Traveline number and SMS code for texted times - while shelters should have good lighting, timetables for all services that are easy to read in all conditions and some fares information.

Real-time information should be actual not scheduled, at the appropriate stops and visible to motorists and, taking one step back, there must be preplanning of websites and the Traveline phone service. Any infrastructure that improves bus journey-times relative to the car is to be welcomed, though bus priority gives greater flexibility than guided busways.

In a perfect world every bus would have clear destination information, timetables available on board, clear notices of route and fares changes and well-briefed drivers. Passengers are paying for a service and deserve first-class service in return.

The CILT Scottish Region would like to thank Gavin for an excellent presentation and is grateful to Graham Atkins for arranging excellent catering at the Barcelo Carlton - curry made a pleasant change from sandwiches!

Report by John Uellowlees.


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