Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Hold very tight, please ...

Excellent post by Knowsie reproduced from Redbridge Eye.

Last Thursday, Transport for All organised a meeting with TfL and local bus operators at the Central Library to discuss bus accessibility, to which I was invited.

In fact, I was invited three times - twice by letter and once by e-mail! It appears I was not alone in the multi-invite stakes, as others I spoke to had similar experiences - Weggis even trumped mine with a total of four!

Unfortunately, it clashed with Barkingside 21's Coffee Morning but I finally decided to swap Fairtrade coffee at Fulwell Cross Library for unspecified 'Refreshments will be provided' at the Central Library ...

There was a reasonable crowd but the top table wasn't so well supported. Empty seats marked the places reserved for the representatives of Stagecoach and the Go-Ahead Group (Blue triangle and Docklands) - presumably their buses were cancelled ...!

There was no sign that First had been invited but they were probably too busy getting their newly acquired 25 route working smoothly and, apart from that, they only have one other route (179) in Ilford anyway. However, Arriva turned up mob handed - three of them - and Ilford South MP Mike Gapes, who'd only turned up as a spectator before heading off to another meeting, found himself temporarily promoted to the panel.

The meeting itself was a bit shambolic with most people (me included!) having their own personal agenda and I couldn't help feeling that a pre-submitted list of topics/questions might have encouraged more productive responses from the panel on a wider range of subjects, particularly considering the limited time (90 minutes). Only having one bus company represented was a problem as they could only respond on the basis of how they did (or would) handle a particular problem. Their difficulty was beautifully explained as being like expecting Tesco to handle complaints about Sainsbury's ...

Much discussion inevitably centred around wheelchairs and ramps and so-called baby buggies which, so often these days, are really heavy duty goods wagons with a baby perched on the top ...

Both King George and Queens hospitals featured in the discussions - for similar reasons. In the case of King George it is because passengers on the 362 have to walk ¼ mile to the hospital and, at Queens, from the only direct route from Redbridge, the 128, the walk is probably even further.

These are both good examples of the reason that accessibility is important to everyone as the reason that many otherwise able bodied people visit a hospital is because of a loss of mobility! It is a pity that this wasn't mentioned at the meeting.

What came out of this is that the NHS don't consult TfL when designing and building these hospitals. This is obvious from the 362 problem - to which I was able to provide the answer - quite simply, the NHS didn't allow enough stand space for the routes terminating there and the parked buses were obstructing the access of emergency ambulances to the hospital, so one of the buses had to go ...

As for the 128, Arriva were able to field comments on one of their own routes for a change! When the route was last tendered by TfL, Oldchurch Hospital was still open and the route was designed to serve it by stopping virtually outside the main entrance. TfL might address the problem when the route comes up for tender again. Obviously, Arriva can only run the route as TfL tells them to and, if there was any reason why TfL couldn't modify the route mid-contract, the TfL guy wasn't saying - one way or the other. Unfortunately, he wasn't asked ...

We learned a lot about driver training, how driving quality is monitored and problems handled but, of course, only from the Arriva point of view. Mention was made of Arriva's 'spy in the cab' (actually a device to encourage driving economically) which monitors acceleration/braking/cornering and displays the reult to the driver by means of a 'traffic light' display on the dash. Although the device also records the data it produces, the agreement reached with the union prevents it being used for disciplinary purposes ...

One of my pet moans is about the drivers who seem to have been trained to drive a new breed of 3 metre wide buses from the way they insist on stopping two feet out from the kerb, so it was interesting to hear this phenomenon mentioned three times by various people - I didn't get my chance to make it four!

One very conspicuous object on the top table was the Big Red Book - it's not that big, actually - which is the driver's 'bible', issued by TfL to every bus driver in London - TfL have even won an award for it! It was used a lot to clarify exactly what drivers are supposed to do - or not do - in particular circumstances. It's a great pity that it isn't more widely available. As it is, the passenger has no idea if the driver's behaviour is right or wrong ...

After the meeting, there was a short time to question individual panellists. I posed a couple to the TfL man with surprising results! Why, I asked, do TfL refuse to allow reversed-out blind panels for 'Not in Service', to make it clearly visible from a distance? Mr TfL was obviously flummoxed by this ... Black text on yellow, I explained, rather than the normal yellow on black ... But Mr TfL still didn't understand what I was talking about - 'blind' (technical term) was obviously the stumbling block, so I pointed out that it was the large thing on the front of the bus that told passengers where it was going ...

To my complete astonishment, Mr TfL declared that all London buses are now fitted with electronic indicators! No, I said, TfL refuse to entertain electronic indicators! I also pointed out that the 'Spirit of London', the bus built to replace the one destroyed in the 2005 bombings, had been delivered with electronic indicators but had been retro-fitted with conventional roller blinds.

Still the man wouldn't budge but I noticed that the Operating Manager from Edmonton Garage was between questions and asked him to clarify. When he basically re-iterated all that I'd said - including a reference to 'Spirit of London' - he didn't have much choice! Needless to say, the question (which he still didn't seem to understand, anyway!) remained unanswered! If anybody else is still confused, look at this, which demonstrates my point:


You did notice that there are two 'Not in Service' panels on that blind, didn't you?

I then asked about what I call the suicidal straight staircases demanded by TfL. His face lit up at this as he pointed out that the 'New Bus for London' has two staircases and they're both bent! I did point out that we haven't got any of those yet but there are already 8,500 buses in the London fleet! He did accept that (TfL) might have got it wrong ...

A quick check at random check shows that no fewer than 169 new double deckers (some for 169 route, as it happens) - with straight staircases - went into service in one week at the end of June ...

ITV London were in attendance, shooting lots of material both during and after the meeting - including 'borrowing' Arriva's Assistant Training Manager from me for an interview.

I overheard him later saying that he'd been asked to do one bit again but including the word 'disabled' in it - obviously ITV London have a problem with the concept of Transport for All ...

He declined, which is probably why the interview - for London Tonight - didn't appear! In fact, none of the material they shot was used. Instead, they took their wheelchair bound reporter outside and shot a different story - which didn't mention the meeting or Transport for All - of her travelling by bus - Arriva, of course! - to Walthamstow ...

Finally, the refreshments. Cups, saucers, biscuits, stirring sticks, a jar of instant coffee and two large teapots. On inspection, one contained hot water for the coffee and the other seemed to have had a whole packet of tea bags tipped into it, which was reflected in the colour and taste of the liquid it now contained. Oh yes! No spoon to measure out the instant coffee!

Perhaps I should have gone to Barkingside after all ...

3 comments:

  1. Was any member of the council's Public Transport Liaison Group present, or a council officer? And was our London Assembly member there? After all, he is a member of the Assembly's transport committee, and it was a matter of public interrest in his constituency.

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  2. Well, if any of them were there, they kept a very low profile!

    Of course, only Transport for All can say if they had been notified of the meeting in advance - I think the Recorder announcement only appeared on the day of the meeting itself.

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  3. Tends to suggest, Knowsie, a poorly organised body.

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