In the light of a breakdown, Geordie Lad wonders about performance
Something quite unusual happened this morning. My bus to work broke down.
It wasn’t one of the usual vehicles. It was a spare, held for my route. For the nerdy among us, it was a Wright-bodied 05-plated Volvo B7TL decker but, to the ordinary passenger, it’s almost identical to the brand-new B9s that usually operate the service.
What happened was the offside rear suspension air bag burst. I was sitting over it, facing another passenger. We looked at each other quizzically. It didn’t sound right. There was an audible bang, followed immediately by the loud hiss of escaping air. The ‘suspension low’ warning came on in the driver’s cab, and eventually the ‘low air’ warnings activated themselves.
We pulled into the stop just a few hundred yards ahead. The driver did a quick walk round and it was clear the bus was leaning to the rear offside. But there was another two buses just three or so minutes behind us, so all passengers were transferred and no one suffered a long delay. Between them, the following buses were more than able to lift all the passengers. The bus control room was contacted, and a fitter with a spare bus despatched from the nearest depot. All ended as well as could be expected.
So what have I learned from this experience?
Well, as far as the passengers are concerned, a breakdown is a breakdown is a breakdown. They’re not interest in whether it was a burst suspension bag, an oil leak or a faulty rear thrusset pouch—it’s a breakdown.
Then, it doesn’t matter that the next bus was just minutes away and that the real delay was insignificant. They’ll tell the passengers on the following two buses that theirs broke down. And everyone on the following two buses will have seen the stricken bus and, if they were asked in a survey, the survey would say that people say that one in three buses break down.
Finally, the bus that broke down was ‘old’ compared to the ‘new’ one, but to the passengers they look, sound and feel the same. As far as the passengers are concerned, it looks as if the brand-new fleet that the operator launched in a blaze of publicity is inherently unreliable.
So, those were my observations on Wednesday morning. The question is, though, how do we overcome the impression that such incidents create?
I have a theory. When I climb to the top of a hill, I can see a long way – I can see the horizon. But you don’t need to climb a hill to see a horizon—essentially, your horizon is as far as you can see at any time. This morning, the horizon limit was along the road, over which we were relieved to see two approaching buses. Now, although we know that there’s something beyond the horizon, not many of us bother to climb the hill to see the view.
Surely, our job, as an industry, is to expand passengers’ horizons by giving them a glimpse of the bigger picture. The railways report their performance figures and explain things when they fail to meet them. Perhaps it’s time the bus industry did the same.