First South Yorkshire Ltd - Bus Complaints
I've been a user of public transport for many years. I've had my fair share of rude drivers, late buses, cancellations, etc.
But I have never complained to anyone. Like most people I just put up with it.
So what happens when you actually do complain? Do you get an apology? Do you get a courtesy ticket? Do you get fobbed off? Well, the answer is no. Nothing happens. Absolutely nothing.
Back in May 2019 I had to attend hospital to get my dodgy hip looked at, and made the silly decision to travel by bus. I predominantly travel by bike these days (bicycling is a good exercise for my hip), and only use buses occasionally. On this day I met with a cancellation and some rude and inconsiderate staff, which left me a bit shook up for the rest of the day, and almost made me late for the hospital.
As I'm sure any patient will tell you, getting to your hospital appointment is important. Appointments at private hospitals are very expensive, and people like me can't afford cancellations. Appointments at NHS hospitals are very hard to come by and missing one only creates unnecessary work for you, and takes appointments away from others who need them. Missed appointments can delay diagnosis and treatment. Patients such as myself who have Asperger's Syndrome and anxiety will have an even harder time coping with all this.
So I thought I'd write to First South Yorkshire Ltd. I figured I'd probably get one of those fake apologies that customer service people love to give, and maybe a free ticket. This page chronicles my bus complaint saga, which eventually drags on for over a year. Here's the first complaint letter:.
The reply after waiting two months? Sod all.
Enter Bus Users UK. Bus Users UK are a registered charity (which say it all really), whose remit, put simply, is to help bus passengers. They have a service where they claim to take up complaints from dissatisfied passengers. They have a dedicated procedure for this (click here), which I followed to the letter.
Out of that complaints procedure, my complaint ticks several of their boxes, including Driver/staff attitude, Service Reliability, Ticket Systems, and maybe Disability/accessibility issues. My letter to them included all the information they wanted. They require you to wait 14 days for a reply from the bus company before contacting them, but in my case, I'd waited two months. They claim they will confirm that they've received your complaint, and will let you know if they can help within 14 days.
Here is the letter to Bus Users UK:
I looked forward to getting a reply. I figured such a business/charity might take this matter seriously.
So, what did Bus Users UK have to say for themselves? Well, after waiting well over a month, absolutely nothing. Maybe they are just as ignorant as First.
Enter the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive. The Transport Executive kind-of 'oversees' transport in the area, and provide a range of 'customer services' and multi-operator tickets for passengers. When wondering who to complain to next, I figured the Transport Executive might be a good start. I didn't think taking up complaints on behalf of passengers was there job, but I thought they might at least be willing to advise me on what to do next, and maybe give First or Bus Users UK a kick up the backside.
Here is the letter I wrote to the Transport Executive in August:
So, what was the Transport Executive's reply? Surely they must have the decency to say at least something?
Well, no. Another two months went by, and absolutely nothing. At this point, I really can't believe the shear ignorance that these organisations are displaying.
Much to my amazement, in the middle of October, I get a letter in the post from a Carsten Hunter Esq. at Bus Users UK!
Apparently they have had an unusually high number of complaints, which is why it took them three months to send an acknowledgement letter. Unfortunately they don't state explicitly whether or not they will take up my complaint. Here is their letter:
I don't know how to interpret this letter. On one hand, if they took three months just to send a basic acknowledgement, then it could take them many more months to do any actual work. On the other hand, if they finally got around to sending me an acknowledgement, it could mean that I am at the top of the pile and will be attended to soon.
I am not getting my hopes up for either. Their complaints procedure states that they will keep you informed and allow 14 days for responses from the bus company etc. It is now November and I haven't heard anything further from them.
What to do now?
Good question. It is important to note the final paragraph in Mr Hunter's letter: "Please note that the bus industry is unregulated and has no ombudsman." This basically means that there is nothing you can do, unless there has been a breech of contract which you can sue them for.
I wrote a summary of this to the letters page in the Rotherham Advertiser. It took them quite a while to publish it, which isn't surprising; every week for the last few months there have been people writing in to complain about buses.
Another correspondant, Rob Slow made reference to my letter. He described my efforts as "heroic". I was quite chuffed to hear that :). Here's his letter:
I'm actually surprised to see that he would be willing to pay more for a better service from First. I often pay higher prices if I know I'll get a better service, but in this case, I certainly wouldn't. First have always been one of the more expensive operators in our area, and here in the Wickersley area we have competing services from Powell's and Stagecoach who are both cheaper (and always have been).
I wrote a [rather long and bluntly worded] letter to the chief executive of Bus Users UK, basically to tell them how useless their industry is at customer service. Their complaints procedure does explicitly state that you can write to the chief executive if you are dissatisfied. I come across as a bit harsh in the letter but I don't think I am being unreasonable.
This will be my last letter on the subject unless I get an enthusiastic response along with compensation for the wasted time.
Much to my amazement, the chief executive, Ms Claire Walters, actaully replied, and included a stamped addressed envelope. Her letter was dated the 6th January, but didn't get postmarked till the 20th. Evidently it takes them a very long time to get things to the postbox. The signature was a facsimile (not done in pen), and the handwriting on the envelope was the same as that from Mr Hunter's letter. I wonder if Ms Walters is a real person?
Apparently they have been delayed due to illness, bereavement, and everyone's favourite excuse - Annual Leave.
Basically, they want me to tell them to persue my complaint, which I already told them to do twice in my original letter to them. They also admit to failing to adhere to their own complaints procedure by deciding in December to not follow it up, but not writing to me to tell me.
Looks like I now have to try and tell them what I have already told them. At least this letter I can send at their expense.
In this letter, I explicitly ask them why they don't follow their published complaints procedure. Will they answer?
I have now received a letter from Dave Fairey, whose signature was done in pen, but looks suspiciously similar to Mr Hunter's, although the writing on the envelope is clearly different, so I will assume Mr Fairey and Mr Hunter are different people.
Apparently they have forwared my original letter (the one at the top of the page) to First. I do hope they have included a massive proverbial kick up the backside with this, as First already have the letter at the top of the page. I sent it to them in May.
Mr Fairey conveniently didn't bother to take the time to answer the question about why they don't follow their own complaints procedure.
I finally got a response out of First. Is it any good? Well, it came from a 'Tier 3 Escalations Specialist'. After reading that job title, I needed a beer.
They didn't really do anything other than apologise for the rude driver. They didn't apologise for the delayed bus. Given that half my letter was about that, you'd think they would. They also weren't willing to compensate me for the wasted time.
I figured I might as well waste more time and write back to First/Bus Users UK, and demand some reimbursement for the stamps.
At the time of updating this page in April, neither had replied. As I had spent so long on this already I though it would be futile to chase it up any further. Then, at the end of April, I got a letter from Mr Hunter asking if the matter had been resolved to my satisfaction.
You'd think they would know it hadn't if they had read the letter to their Chief Executive in February.
I couldn't even be bothered to type my reply to this one:
Amazingly they acknowledged me quite promptly this time.
Notice the bit about becoming a "supporter". The linked webpage doesn't seem to work properly but it mentions "donating". Do they really expect me to donate money for such a shoddy service?
They then manage to promptly forward me a response from First:
In this letter they clarify that they will not tell me the outcome of any 'investigation'. At this point I will take it for granted that they do indeed investigate these things.
How about the ticket machines? Well, it looks like the policy on faulty ticket machines is to refuse travel now, and apologise later. This sounds like a rather bad policy to have when you consider that many passengers will have already paid, or will be making further purchases later in the day. This sort of policy will only lead to disgruntled passengers complaining about being unable to travel on a perfectly serviceable bus - Like yours truly perhaps.
They still claim the original complaint letter was never received at Olive Grove. I decided to put a claim in to Royal Mail to claim back the postage cost (I have successfully done this before), but they only accept claims made within 80 days of posting. They wouldn't accept this claim as it was made over 300 days after posting.
It is good that they are willing to offer me some free travel as a good will gesture. This will cost them virtually nothing but be at least somewhat useful to me. As this letter arrived in the middle of the so-called "pandemic", when most buses were canceled, I said I would take the free travel as some day tickets rather than a week ticket, as I only tend to use buses once or twice a week anyway.
I try and be reasonable in this letter to First. After all, First may provide a shoddy service, but I cannot blame them for Bus Users UK's even worse service. I also wrote to Bus Users UK. I tell them to shove their donation requests up their arses, and I can only hope they are more use to other passengers.
First sent me seven Day tickets as a goodwill gesture! I finally got a useful outcome after pestering them for a year!.
Now to find somewhere to go on the bus.