2014. The year when I’m trying to fool myself that I’m getting fitter. No, seriously, I am. I’ve started walking to work most days. Well, when I’m on a day shift, that is. And only to work. Because I’m fundamentally a bit lazy and don’t like hills much, I get the bus home.
But travel, by whatever means, broadens the mind. And it’s got me thinking recently about how Nottingham is a modern day Tale of Two Cities when it comes to public transport. I should emphasise that these are strictly my own views.
The current tram works in Nottingham have brought about certain challenges for bus operators. Okay, that’s a vast understatement, as any road commuter travelling south or west of the city will testify. Because at the moment, it doesn’t matter whether you’re on public or private transport. On many days, you’re screwed.
This evening’s journey was particularly interesting. Because of the football, inbound traffic was as snarled up as much as that going outbound. Anyone taking a bus west was going to have to wait a lot longer. And then – not for the first time – there was reason to smile when the Trent Barton Indigo finally pulled up at the Broadmarsh bus station. One driver got off, a waiting driver got on, and declared “free rides!”. This extended to anyone getting on at a city centre stop.
Of course, technically, Trent Barton could be hauled before the Traffic Commissioner for failing to keep services to time (although exceptional traffic is always a reasonable defence). And as a regular passenger, you might well think “I should bloody well hope it’s free. I’m entitled to it!” But here’s the thing. This bus company hasn’t won multiple customer service awards for nothing. Despite being late, stressed and probably as hacked off as the passengers, the drivers are always polite. There’s always a “hello” or a smile. Every time.
And if you’re not using a smart card, there’s always change.
Contrast this with Nottingham City Transport. Customers contacting NCT by Twitter always get a prompt reply, but it’s often putting further barriers in the way. Literally. Someone asked last week why their drivers couldn’t be as friendly as Trent Barton’s. The response (paraphrased) – they should be polite and please tell us if they aren’t. But (and get this) the Perspex screens often create a barrier to communication. What? They stop you smiling?
Of course, much of the perceived dourness comes through the insistence of using exact change. And NCT aren’t shifting on that, no way sir. Again, a recent Twitter conversation gleaned just about every excuse, including (paraphrased again) – we run more frequent services and it allows us to load passengers on more quickly.
Well, I guess there’s some truth to that. A double decker holds more than a single decker. And if you promise a service every 6 minutes at peak time you have to shift the bodies as fast as you can. But should this be at the expense of basic politeness – or the courtesy of drivers handling cash? Yes, it’s true to say that many cities have similar, unfriendly arrangements – London being a notable example. But why does that mean that Nottingham must follow suit?
The irony of the current commuting frustration is that Trent Barton are inadvertently part of the problem. It’s part of the consortium building the tram extension – so I guess the free rides are almost a form of social compensation for the passengers. You could argue that City Transport have no such incentive. It’s also true to say that NCT largely runs a very efficient service with one of the most modern fleets on the road.
But their drivers could smile. Just occasionally. And maybe offer a free ride.