The 25/25A bus services were late 15% of the time from October to December 2012, and as often as 40% on 14 December, the final day of UEA’s Autumn term.
Chelsea de Silva, regional PR & marketing manager for the South East and Midlands, cited several reasons for the delays when speaking to Concrete in December. Most of the problems related to the “teething time” following the system change in September. “One of the biggest issues we’ve had, not just on the blue services but on all of them, is drivers understanding 1) the routes 2) the new ticket machines, which were brought in August/September … at the moment it’s just taking time for our drivers, some of whom have been with us 25-35 years, to go from one system to another. And it just so happened that that came in at the same time as the network revision. So that, tied in with the learning of the routes, meant there were massive gaps in between buses of late running.” Additional training for drivers has been provided.
Problems with congestion also caused lateness. Norfolk County Council are planning to introduce bus lanes to Grapes Hill and the Chapelfield area in 2013 to help alleviate the problem. De Silva also referenced a change in the County and City Council’s traffic monitoring system over the festive period, accounting for the high December delays. While in past years traffic officers were employed to direct traffic away from the car parks, this did not occur last year, leading to heavy queues around areas such as Chapelfield Road. De Silva summarised: “Buses are caught in massive congestion which, to add to the two issues about the ticket machines and the learning of routes, is just causing us to be later and later.”
Responding to the complaints made to Concrete (“Backlash over buses” published in issue 275), de Silva urged students with bad experiences to complain to First Group, who investigate every complaint made against them. “We literally are probably the one business that welcome complaints … We don’t know if a driver’s swearing at passengers unless people tell us. Otherwise he’s going to stay in service and [continue acting that way].” She later clarified: “I think the biggest message … is to get everyone to tell us, tell us, tell us. If they’re not happy, if they are happy – which I’m sure is rare – if they want to complain, if they want to make a suggestion: tell us, because we can’t do anything about it or listen to you unless you do.” She also said that students who wished for a refund for their bus pass should contact First with as much detail about their experiences as possible.
Dawn Dewar, transport co-ordinator at UEA reaffirmed this statement: “I’ve always pushed people to complain and I tell them make sure that if you’ve got a ticket, hold on to it so you know which bus if it’s something to do with the driver being rude or that particular bus being late. And if you haven’t got that then as you get off just try and mentally note the registration number.” She also highlighted the bus forums which take place quarterly and allow students to voice their opinions on buses directly.
Additional buses to the 21/22 routes introduced from 6 January are also hoped to improve matters for those living in the Bowthorpe area.
Alex, a third year law student from Bowthorpe, said: “While it shows that head office are actually trying to fix the problems, I’m not convinced it will actually make a difference. The drivers have presumably already been trained not to be rude, so even with extra training, they’re probably set in their ways. The extra buses could help, but I imagine they’ll just end up bunching together, so we’ll have to wait and see.”
To make a complaint against First buses, email firstname.lastname@example.org.