Stourbridge Bus Station. Waiting for Central Buses 125 to Bridgnorth the other day.
This is one that attracts the “free” pass holders, as it’s a rather delicious romp across the surrounding countryside in Worcestershire and Shropshire, through Kidderminster, Bewdley and Highley, at one point “racing” the famous Severn Valley Railway along it’s salubrious surroundings.
The service is once per hour, so when it doesn’t show, the natives get rather restless. The digital information screens show only “timetabled” departures, so as this particular one drops off the end of the screen, it isn’t looking good.
I know from my rather unhealthy obsession with my Twitter feed that Diamond – who run most of Kidderminster’s town services – have been putting out messages that, due to ongoing roadworks, their services are basically all over the place. I suspect this is what is happening to our service too. I relay this knowledge to a couple of waiters, who at least seem more relaxed about the uncertainty. Then enter bus station Manager Gill.
I like Gill. She’s got her finger on the pulse of what is going on in the bus station and further afield. She also catches the Stourbridge Shuttle when I’m at work, so we’ve got to know each other.
Stomping across the concourse with her clipboard, she looks poised for action.
“What’s going on?” I enquire, knowing that this will elicit a response. Roadworks, she thinks. But then she tells everyone waiting that she’ll give it a few moments, then try to find out more.
In a World of technological advance, this extremely old-fashioned “get-stuck-in” approach is gold dust. In 40-odd years of hanging around bus stations, the amount of times I’ve seen this is countable on one hand. People seem happier, because there’s communication. From a human being. Never mind the digital screen that is down more often than Frank Bruno in his World Title Fight with Mike Tyson. This is a real person. Communicating. And she has plan B if the bus doesn’t show.
Plan B isn’t needed. Moments later, our bus arrives. Our Gill immediately asks the driver if it’s the roadworks in Kidderminster, and he confirms.
And this confirms what numerous Transport Focus research shows. In times of disruption, people want information. The feel better about abnormal situations if they have accurate, up to the minute information.
My argument is this. Someone, somewhere knows about delays. Technology monitoring buses movements knows about delays. Sometimes, that information is shared, but often via a Twitter feed, which many (despite this assumption that the whole world is on Twitter) don’t use. Real-time screens in the bus station are good when they work. They don’t work on far too many occasions. And only National Express West Midlands appears to be currently signed up to Centro outlets to display true real-time information. Whatever the back office issues about who pays for this and logistics, we need real-time information to work reliably. And what about a central point whereby delays that are significant are relayed to bus stations so that real-time human announcements can be made, or pro-active stars like Gill can do it the old-fashioned way and just tell people?
I know it costs money and I know there’s more logistics to that than the simplistic way I’m describing it, but ultimately, it’s a will to want to help the passenger. People really do appreciate someone in uniform who can help them. If staff are armed with the up to date facts, it could help change perceptions of public transport in that all-important time when people are feeling let-down. They are more likely at that point to retain a negative feeling to public transport and maybe use the car next time.
As for our 125 passengers, they don’t seem too perturbed now that they’re shuffling on board, having received the personal touch from our Gill. “Corporate” does “personal”. Who’d have thought it.