Thursday, 17 July 2014

TFL's Compassionless Bus System

It is gone 2am. I am on my second bus home from work, having worked an eight hour shift. I am tired. Everyone else on the bus is tired. I am looking forward to being in bed.

My bus, the 33 from Hammersmith to Fulwell, pulls into its stop at Barnes Station. A couple of people get off. A handful of people are waiting.

A woman with a broken leg gets onto the bus and swipes her travelcard, valid until 4am. The machine refuses it. The woman shows the driver the travelcard and explains that it's valid for nearly two more hours, it's late, can she just get on the bus?


Someone impatient squirms past the woman with the broken leg, swipes their Oyster card and gets on.

The driver tells the woman to get off the bus. The woman turns, as if about to.

The guy behind her tells her to stay on the bus. He swipes his Oyster card and tells the driver he'll pay for her fare too.

But London buses don't accept cash any more. The driver refuses the guy's money and tells the woman to get off the bus. The guy insists that the woman stays on the bus.

"Mate, she's got a broken leg, I'm not letting her get off this bus in the middle of the night."

The driver kills the engine.

Anyone who hadn't noticed until now, is suddenly aware of the tension at the front of the bus. A disgruntled, yet curious, murmur spreads through the passengers. From where I'm sitting at the back, I can't see the driver. The woman shrinks away from people staring at her, mumbles, "It's fine, it's fine, I'll manage."

The guy gets angry. "Mate, I'll pay. I'll give you money. She can't walk home like this." And so on, to an unresponsive driver, getting increasingly worked up until he calls the driver a dickhead.

This is not a good move. Ever. I know enough about working in customer service to know that if someone swears at you, most places will consider that abuse. I don't know exactly the rules for TFL, but I know that a lot of workplaces will give you one warning for you first swear word and will stop dealing with you on your second on grounds of verbal abuse.

The driver, I imagine, told the guy not to swear at him, to which the guy replied, "But you are a dickhead."

And then he got asked to leave the bus, having already swiped his own Oyster.

He called the driver a dickhead a bit more, then left the bus. The woman went with him.

The rest of the people on the stop got on the bus. The driver started the engine. As he pulled away, the passengers who had started whispering amongst themselves about the disturbance grew louder.

It's gone 2am.

She's got a broken leg.

Should've just let her on.

And, actually, he should have. When TFL introduced the cashless bus system, one measures they said would be part of it was "Refreshed guidance for all 24,500 London bus drivers to ensure a consistent approach is taken when dealing with vulnerable passengers". If anyone can be considered "vulnerable", I think, it's someone with a broken leg who needs a lift home in the early hours of the morning. In this instance, it seemed like someone who was averse to confrontation, too. She kept apologising to people in the front rows of the bus for delaying their journey. If these regulations don't make exceptions for injured people in the middle of the night, I would sincerely question their definition of the word "vulnerable".

I am honestly ashamed of this system. And I'm ashamed of the way that no one could help. I don't know if anyone wanted to, but as long they don't accept cash and a lot of people don't have contactless cards, it's not easy to help people out. If your fare is short a few pence, someone helpful can lend you a bit. But with this system in place, people aren't allowed the opportunity to help out.

Last night, at 2.50am, I boarded my second night bus and swiped my Oyster card. It didn't take. I looked at the driver. He shrugged at me. I smiled and got on the bus, foolishly assuming that the shrug meant that he wasn't bothered.

The driver killed the engine.

I was half way down the bus. I turned, confused. My friend told me not to worry, it wasn't about me. I sat down. Everyone else sat down.

The driver left the engine off.

Someone said, "There's a problem with someone's fare."

I got up and went to the front of the bus.

"Are you actually going to stay here?" I asked.

The driver shrugged and stared out of the window.

"I can't top up," I told him. "The tube station is closed, the top up machines are locked away."

The driver shrugged.

"You want me to walk home? It's 3am nearly. My house is an hour away. There is nowhere nearby open where I can top up."

The driver shrugged, stared out of the window.

A woman in the front told me to use my contactless card.

"I don't have one."

"You're screwed, then."


I don't want a contactless card. If I lost it, it'd be too easy for someone to spend a lot of my money very quickly. If they went into five shops and spent £20 using the contactless technology, I'm out £100. I don't have enough money to just lose £100 like that. It's also far too easy, provided I don't lose my card, to buy lots of cheap junk because it's easy. Ease of purchase is one of the main reasons I have so much rubbish I don't really want off eBay. I don't need it to be easier to buy cheap crap.

And I don't see why I should compromise my opinions of contactless cards to accommodate a system I actively oppose.

My friend tried to use her contactless card, but the machine refused it because it was for a Australian bank. We offered to pay the driver, and he refused to take our money because London buses are now cashless.

Although, last week, from the back of the bus, I had been aware of everyone on the bus being of the side of the injured woman who wanted to get home, for some reason last night I feel painfully aware of everyone wishing I would get off the bus so they could get home. Maybe I imagined it. Either way, it was a nasty feeling.

The driver refused to look at me, instead staring directly out the window and just shrugging when I tried to appeal to his sense of human decency and compassion.

Eventually, another passenger pulled out a contactless card and swiped it for me. I thanked him. A lot. He told me not to blame the driver, "it's just his job".
The cashless bus system they have introduced in London is disgusting. I don't care if it is just his job, you don't push people out into the street alone in the middle of the night. It's common human decency, and the system that not only allows but forces this to happen is putrid and sickening. Frankly, if my job called for me to kick any human being out into the streets in the middle of the night, I'd break the rules until I lost that job, then I'd cause an internet storm by telling everyone that the reason I lost my job was because I showed basic human compassion.

The new measures they have introduced to make this transition easy aren't nearly enough. The "one more journey" measure (where your Oyster will go into debit for ONE bus journey only) is stupid, especially if, like I do, you have two or more night buses (or even day buses) to take. The exceptions they will make appear to be vague. I have Googled for some guidelines about what kind of exceptions they will make - what they would consider an emergency - and I can find nothing. I fully intend to phone them (on a day when I don't have to rush off to work) and find out what the rules are specifically. 

So far, it appears to be that, no matter who you are, how vulnerable you are, how late it is, or anything, if you can't pay, the engine will be turned off until you get out of their hair.

I have had arguments with corporations and companies before. I expect to be treated fairly by people who are taking my money. And if I find that I'm not being treated fairly, I stop using them. I don't eat at McDonald's, I don't shop at Tesco's and I don't buy from Amazon. I can't boycott TFL. I need to use public transport to get to work, so that I can earn money to pay my rent and buy my food, so that I can live. I depend on them to survive.

And as long as I do, I consider it my responsibility to make sure their services remain fair.

1 comment:

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