Tuesday, July 21, 2015

the broken pencil

hello there

yes, look you see, this title is descriptive of this post as in the sense of being "pointless". i warn you now, before you read on, so you can't moan at me after the fact if you do indeed read on. it's all about, in short, why exactly a car is all of a sudden once again a thing in my life, should that information help you determine whether or not you read on.

of the many, many things i was all excited about upon my return home - and yes, i know i have been back home for close to 20 months now, but it's still exciting - was the prospect of not having to have a car, ever. life in South Africa without a car was a nightmare, and a good way to gamble with your life. as indeed was having a car there, but that's another story. the British public transport system, you see, is world famous and celebrated as something which removes the need to have a car if you don't want one. or, at the least it was.

in my time back, public transport - specifically the buses - has gone from fine, to workable, to changes to life needed to be made to use them to now, which is changed in such a way that they are effectively forcing as many as they can to stop using them. so here follows, then, a b!tch and moan of the changes, how very, very fortunate i am to have had at first support and then the chance to make alternate arrangements, and what i've done to vent my anger.

yes, to make it all a bit bearable, i have indeed used Commodore 64 mode for select pictures. you're welcome.

my initial daily timetable was workable, although some of my colleagues looked upon me in disbelief. at first, in order to be at verk on time, 9am, i needed to be out of the house at about 7:20am to catch a bus which would get me to town an hour before verk started. it was that or get one only 20 minutes later, but get to town some 20 minutes after the starting time of verk. going home was OK; the bus left 10 minutes after verk finished, a gentle jog got me there and i was home by 6:30pm. which wasn't ideal, sure, but hey.

then they changed the schedule. the change meant that i had to be out of the house at 7am to get a bus to get me into town an hour or so before verk started. the later ones were changed, too, to an extent that in theory i would get home at around 6:40pm, but usually it was a good deal closer to 7pm that i made it home. yeah, that's 12 hours each day out of home. quite a sacrifice, you may or may not agree. at this point i should stress the length of my journey. from home to verk is all of 8.2 miles, or if you like around 14km. and the bus took 60 minutes to make that journey.

when the boss at verk learned of this, he asked if me working a bit more in the morning & at lunch, leaving earlier on an afternoon, wouldn't help. this it did, and i was very appreciative of being able to do this. i was able to get a bus leaving town at, in theory, 5:20pm, taking 50 or usually more minutes to make that epic trek.

but then, wouldn't you know, they changed the timetable again, which took away entirely the 5:20pm service.

that's the new timetable, farcically using Roseberry Topping as an advertising point. it's a disgrace that Arriva have been allowed to use that picture, since it is buses past it which they have so ruthlessly cut. ruthlessly, and with little or no notification. it was only when i saw, by chance, an A4 printout stuck on the side of a bus saying that "changes were being made" that i was able to go through their user un-friendly site and find these changes.

basically, then, i was left with a choice - verk less, if at all, and get less money, or spend a lot less time at home with my family. this was some tough question, as for some reason both the people at verk and my family actually rather like me, and think it is pretty bearable having me around. this ends, as you know, with me getting a car, and so verk and my family get a pretty decent amount of me. more time with me, as point of fact, that i would probably want to have with me, but there you go.

i did indeed, as point of fact, ask Arriva, in particular their "commercial division" who apparently have the final say in everything they do, if they felt that i should spend less time working or less time with my family as a consequence of their secret changes. they have not, thus far, answered this question. go figure.

have i done my usual thing and written off to people about my displeasure? oh yes, indeed i have. they have stopped replying now, but the responses from Arriva themselves were fascinating. i've kept all the mails, but i am not sure i would wish to bore you with a whole load of "copy and paste" stuff that's mostly standard, stock answers, sent with no thought or care.

the most interesting part of the correspondence from Arriva, other than their lack of answering if i should spend more time with my family or waiting for buses after verk, was their dishonest presentation of changes they had made. their big justification for making the changes that they had was that the "changes to timetables made in February 2014 were not working". this disregards entirely the fact that they made other changes, in July 2014, as you've had an insight into above with my daily routine. it would be fair to say more people gave up on the buses due to their awkward times (and lengthy journey) after July 2014 rather than the ones made in February 2014. it's interesting that Arriva want to pretend that they made no such changes.

requests for information on why exactly they changed bus times to such an impractical nature were met with mixed results. to clarify, they now have a bus running on my route at 4:50pm and then at 5:50pm. most people at verk, i think you will find, finish at 5pm or 5:30pm. to whose benefit was the 4:50pm one?

Arriva won't answer that. in the very same mail that they make it clear they are running at a loss and cannot make a profit from buses, they say they are not prepared to reveal their "research" into what time to run buses as this would "give away secret business information that is sensitive and cannot be seen by competitors". erm, yeah. considering they are the only bus company operating on that route i am not sure who or what they view as competition. also, if i had ambitions to run a company at a loss, i am fairly confident i could do it without access to trade secrets, thanks.

as for why they elected to keep the changes secret, they said that they had notified councils some 56 days prior to the changes, and had made the information available "on social media streams". which social media streams, i wonder, for Facebook was unblemished by such information.

in response to this, i pointed out that i did buy a 4 weekly pass of them. i gave them my home address, my email address, my home phone number and my mobile phone number. i always ticked "yes" to the question "please send me information and updates about changes to routes". i asked them why it was, then, that i got no messages at all from them about changes to some 16 services in my area. they have not answered this. who knows, then, what they consider to be updates and changes "important" enough to let the people who have asked to be notified know about them.

no, i didn't just contact Arriva. this is, after all, public transport, and so i wrote to Middlesbrough Council, North Yorkshire Council and, for good measure, my MP. all 3 have in fact responded, and within 10 days of my letters. well, it was an acknowledgement of receipt from the MP, but that's better than nothing.

in all cases the people from the council were, i believe sincerely, sympathetic to my plight, but - as i suspected would be the case - said that there was nothing they could do, as the matter was in the hands of Arriva and their "commercial division". rather bizarrely, North Yorkshire Council also sent me what appears to be tender and application forms to do the school bus routes for them, which i will give consideration to.

no, i don't expect buses to run at a time that happens to suit me. as i would like to think is evidenced in my lifestyle changes to accommodate buses - with the kind support of verk and the understanding of my family - i was happy to make changes. but a 12 hour day as a result of incomprehensible and unjustified changes to a bus timetable was rather too much to put up with, hence the car.

public transport is quite a bone of contention here in England, if not the whole of the UK. the whole point of deregulation, or if you like privatisation, of the buses and trains was to create competition that would ultimately benefit us, the public. instead, from what i read, the government over the years has had to throw more money in subsidies at buses and trains than they would have spent if they had remained nationalised, and yet somehow all the bus and train companies make huge profits. also, as anyone will tell you, ticket prices for anything you would consider to be public transport have just gone north, and go that way frequently.

many are calling for British Rail to be brought back. i can certainly understand why. i hope this campaign stretches to say bring back a nationalised bus system too.

a closer look at the acknowledgement off of my MP in Commodore 64 mode? sure.

yeah, sure. a lot of this is very first world. oh, poor, poor, pitiful me. many would say i am fortunate to have a job, and that even if it did keep me out of the house 12 hours a day i should be grateful and thankful as there are many far worse off. of course there are, but that's not my fault, and i fail to see how sitting and thinking of how many people are worse off than me would magically give me more time, either at verk or with my family. hence the car.

i wouldn't really claim or presume to be some sort of crusader, but leave me out of this equation for a moment. there are a great many people who simply can't just buy a car to deal with this disappearance of decent, reliable public transport. there are people who need buses and trains to go to and from work, or verk if like me they believe the word is best said with an Austrian accent. there are people that need buses to get to hospital and doctor appointments, to get to school and college, to get to shops, and quite frankly just to go and visit people.

i cannot understand why the public transport system here has been allowed to fall into such a sorry state. it is, as far as i can see, run by a company clearly not fit for purpose - by their own admission in mails to me they cannot successfully serve the public they are supposed to. those of us who, for whatever reason, preferred to use public transport - as well as those who had no choice but to - have had to endure paying more for less, and it looks like it is all going to get a lot less as time goes by. the next changes are planned, from the mails i have got, for April 2016. i will not be surprised to see some routes cancelled all together.

and so that's the end of my bus adventures. no more bus books, no more bus vibes. no more exciting times of buses breaking down, no more seeing and meeting interesting people, no more enjoying bus drivers throttle a clutch to death. hey ho, it was sometimes fun whilst it lasted.

if you're reading this after also being affected by the changes made in the last week, all i can say is i am sorry that there's no practical help here, but also that you are not alone in your frustration and anger.

i've lived in a world where public transport is either unsafe, unreliable or simply doesn't exist. trust me, it is not a very nice or pleasant world to get around in. it beats me why the powers that be think it's OK to let the same be true here.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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