Manchester’s ‘Get Me There’ Continues To Get Nowhere Fast

I’m starting to hate my monthly Get Me There card renewal. Every 28 days I dutifully go online and log into my account the day before my expiry date (remember you can’t buy it for the day you want to travel) and every time I’m met with either a painful website or issues seeing or collecting my ticket.

This month though, was a whole new one. When trying to buy my new pass I received the on-screen error “You cannot buy any new tickets until you have collected outstanding purchases.” Firstly, this makes no sense anyway, why can’t you have a current and future pass on an electronic system/card? Secondly, I didn’t have any ruddy outstanding purchases anyway.

Fortunately, even on a Monday morning, the Get Me There Twitter squad are relatively quick to respond. A DM later and they advised my card was ‘full’ and that I needed to go to a tram stop card reader and hold it there for 10-20 seconds to delete some old tickets. Yes, dear reader, you read correctly, an electronic season ticket card is somehow full. As this was Get Me There, I actually wasn’t surprised so dutifully popped to Exchange Square and held it there for as long as possible despite the glare of an old lady waiting her turn and the reader’s own insistence that I should remove my card.

I checked my online account. I tried to buy a ticket. Unsurprisingly the same error appeared. DM’ing my new best friends once more, they came back shortly after to advise the issue should now be resolved following some cauldron-based spells at their end no doubt.

Success! I could buy my ticket!

Failure! Once purchased, both my current and new season tickets disappeared from my online account.

Usually this wouldn’t be a problem, but not with Get Me There. That’s because once you buy a ticket you have to wait a few hours and keep checking online to find out when it’s ready for collection. Another DM later and all I’ve got now is the suggestion to message again tomorrow so a human being can check to see if it’s ready for collection.

There we have it gang, the latest from Manchester’s “smart” ticketing system. The one which leaves you wanting to go back and visit Jeanie in the Travelshop who would stamp a paper ticket like a disinterested librarian back in the ‘olden days’. I’m now left wondering whether my current or new ticket will work, whether a driver or inspector will accept the above in lieu of a ‘dog ate my homework’ and also wondering how less-tech savvy people are coping with such a crumbling set-up.

At least Manchester’s buses have contactless machines on board now…oh hang on, they don’t work with Debit Cards yet.


A Commuter’s Dictionary – ‘On The Tram’

Metrolink Tram

In the latest of this very occasional series (seeing as how the last entry was nearly five years ago) we’re proud to bring to you our guide to that most modern of mechanical worms, The Tram. This should aid first time voyagers as well as experienced campaigners as they encounter all manner of mythical beasts on their journey.

Basil Brush
A person who attempts to cover their visage with all manner of powders and potions as the tram sways and swings through tunnels and around corners. These individuals are likely to go on to become talented darts players or midwives.

Penelope Pigpen
Those who fail to realise more space exists either side of the tram doors, preferring to stay as close to others as possible. Beware! These creatures are likely to tut upon a polite ask to get out of your way.

The Donald
The mysterious Trumper who insists on emptying their gas bowel on, ironically, the least breezy section of the line. Also likely to deny all knowledge of said parping despite remnants of the offending vindaloo from the previous night still being wedged betwixt their gap-teeth.

The act of preaching one’s R ‘n’ B favourites to all and sundry via the tinny speaker on your Nokia 3210. Likely to resist all attempts at either stopping or taking requests, even if it is for Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

BMXican Standoff
The short time between tram driver and youth disagreeing with each other over the concept of ‘no bicycles allowed’. Usually resolved by the tram refusing to move and the child realising it’s quicker to cycle anyway.

Turtle Power
The blissful ignorance of a backpack user oblivious to their shell having triggered the emergency alarm and calling the driver. Usually seen sprawled on the floor once the emergency brake has been activated.

Fumble In The Jungle
Said alarmist desperately pressing all the other buttons to sheepishly apologise to the tram driver and insist he’s not in any danger other than with his Mum who he didn’t inform he’d be out this late.

Station Vacation
The groups of feral younglings who spend their holidays sitting atop benches on platforms and staring into passing trams. Big fans of Gogglebox, these people are likely to end up on reality TV where they in turn will be watched. For 10 minutes.

Cantersaurus Rex
The light commuter jog (flailing dinosaur arms entirely optional) embarked upon when your tram is on the platform but you know the doors will shut in your face.

Button Gloom
The casual tap of the door button after running for said tram, on the off-chance the driver’s feeling generous. He’s not.

The Ting Tings
The noise of a ticket machine giving you change from your £20 note in as much shiny coinage as possible.

The Beep Test
The gamble of waiting for the final change coin or ticket to drop as the tram doors begin to close.

Feeling Doorly
Getting an item or body part trapped in the closing doors, thus failing The Beep Test.

Meals On Rails
The casual ingestion of random meals on board the tram. Included are scrambled eggs on toast, chicken chow mien and sushi with full array of chopsticks, soy sauce and ginger.

The winning feeling upon obtaining the seat directly behind the driver and pretending to be on a rollercoaster through some of the hillier sections of the network.

Risky Business
The unscrupulous hovering over the ‘buy’ button on the Get Me There ticketing app on the off-chance of seeing an inspector.

Said hoverer suddenly realising the wi-fi has timed out and being removed from the tram to be given a fine.

The glee experienced when finding out your tram is a conjoined four-carriage metal centipede, giving you room to dance a celebratory jig.

Finding the next post-delay tram is only likely to have room on it for your little finger and maybe half a toe.

The place where points go to die. Also the windiest place in the entire world. A rite of tram passage, every commuter must be stranded at Cornbrook station at least once in their lifetime.

The Woodpecker
The individual who believes tram doors operate by pressing the open button as many times as is humanly possible in quick succession.

We hope you’ve found this latest guide useful, and that you now feel well-equipped to embark upon all manner of tram-based adventures.

A Commuter’s Dictionary – ‘On The Train’

The English language is very versatile but many words never even make it into the spoken lexicon despite describing some of the sights we see day in day out. Well, all of that is about to change as we begin an occasional series aimed at enlightening you into a few terms that you may find useful in everyday use.

Today, we look at the topic of ‘On The Train’

Avoiding eye contact with the person who occupies the same position opposite you on board public transport each day and could be a future lover.

The line of back-arching commuters whose spines fit into the curved shape of many train doors in order to be the last ones who make it aboard an overcrowded service.

The insistence on reading a broadsheet newspaper aboard said overcrowded service.

The art of dodging ground-based urine whilst using on-board facilities.

The teenage gang doing pull ups on the luggage rack.

The youth who falls and injures himself undertaking said feat.

The ingestion of entire fruits including pips and cores to avoid the trip to a litter bin.

Fat controller
A train conductor who insists on making public address system japes on all topics including lateness and the train turning a sleeping hobo into mincemeat.

Being able to Shazam the music emanating from a particularly leaky set of £400 headphones.

Starfleet commando
The person commandeering an entire table with upwards of six gadgets under the pretence of doing work of a higher importance than anyone else.

The sneer given to anyone eating a pasty or burger on a train during commuting hours. See also: Cheese Doritos.

Those carrying suspiciously large items of luggage aboard a train.

The uncertainty over whether to give up one’s seat to an apparently pregnant bystander who may just have ingested one too many items from Greggs.

The gentle shimmy away from a snoring stranger as their head lolls towards a resting place upon your shoulder.

I hope you find these useful as we guide you through the perils of your day to day life. You’re welcome.

The Ten Commuting Commandments

The Ten Commandments
Brought to you in association with Charlton Heston.

It’s no use pretending that commuting is easy. Considering we do it at the busiest times of day, surrounded by hundreds of people all with their own agenda, it was never going to be the most fun part of the working week. Fortunately, there are some simple rules to follow which I picked up on a recent commute to Mount Sinai…

1) Thou shalt always move down the carriage

Possibly the golden rule of commuting on all forms of transport, there is very little point in simply boarding a vehicle and then just standing there at the nearest available area. The herd behind you still need to board and so you’re delaying your own journey. It’s a relatively simple equation and one that makes even more sense when the aisle spec actually gives you MORE room than being pig-penned in when the train fills up further at the next stop. Expect me to shout if you don’t do this. As Bobby Brown quite rightly once commented, that’s my prerogative.

2) Thou shalt not pay for purchases under £5 with thy Switch card

Whether I’m in a hurry or killing time waiting for a delayed train, there isn’t anything more frustrating than being behind someone in Starbucks who is using a card to make a regulation loose change payment. We don’t live in a cashless society, and the use of cards simply causes a myriad of mis-read chips, declined transactions and machine failures that could be avoided via the use of old fashioned pound notes. This one is intrinsically linked to the unwritten eleventh commandment about sensible cashpoint usage; you can usually guarantee that there are other ATMs available other than those directly next to the station platforms, so stop queuing in a triple snake of 400 people and getting in my way.

3) Thou shalt not conduct banal conversation

There are a few occasions when it is acceptable to speak to someone on a train:

a) When asking the conductor for a ticket.

b) When apologising for accidentally bumping into someone due to a sudden train sway.

c) Asking someone to move themselves and their increasingly offensive family of mouthbreathers out of your way so you can either move down the aisle (see Commandment 1) or somehow extricate yourself from the rickety deathtrap.

Every other reason for opening your stupid trap on public transport is entirely unacceptable. Do I care that Margaret is back in the ‘hospikal’? No. Am I bothered about how you got to the station and how much traffic there was? No. Do I need to know what you had for tea last night (bearing in mind I can probably still smell it)? No. Keep all thoughts to yourself.

Commuter Train
How to make friends on the train.

4) Thou shalt not make friends on public transport

Sometimes this can go hand in hand with the above, leading to dangerously repetitive conversations spilling over from the previous day. Presumably, if I have overheard that same joke before (accompanied by that same forced laugh) then you’re a pretty boring dullard and your accomplice is only speaking to you out of sympathy and because you historically assumed the same spec on the platform. This practice is very risky, and can lead to going for coffee or even an alcoholic beverage together. Be warned.

5) Thou shalt not bring thine own wheels onto public transport

Ah, the bicycle. A wonderful invention for a weekend jaunt into the countryside or a quick trip to the shops in the daytime in order to save the ozone layer. But let’s face it, it isn’t for carrying around with you like some sort of wheeled handbag. If you’re so serious about being a helmeted lycra-clad warrior, then maybe consider sitting on your little saddle and moving your legs in a circular motion? The trend of taking bikes on trains (without having to pay extra for the additional space taken, natch) is getting worse with the now-mandatory Brompton hate machines turning up in each carriage. Handy tip – in the time it’s taken you to transform your Decepticon, I’ve walked to work.

6) Thou shalt have thine ticket ready for inspection

Picture the scene; you get the same train to the same station every single day. You’re in a rush. So why is the last thing you bother to think of to prepare your annual gazillion quid pass for inspection once disembarked? It isn’t hard to keep it in the same pocket, or maybe even in a special pouch on your utility belt, so please don’t make me walk straight into you as if I’m performing a particularly violent piece of early-morning anal savagery whilst you fumble about. It’ll only end in tears. Oh, and you’ve just missed that connecting train.

7) Thou shalt not read large newspapers in enclosed spaces

Common sense once again, if we’re all cramped up like a jar of particularly over-friendly anchovy fillets, there probably isn’t room for you to whip out your daily rag. Even more importantly, if you decided instead to pull out your mobile telecommunication device and boot up the icon labelled “Internet”, you’d probably find news that is less than a week old anyway. I can probably reveal today what will be in next week’s editions of the litterer’s favourite “Metro” anyway:

  • Man makes pair of shoes out of lobsters.
  • Leathery celebrity mistaken for antique bedside table.
  • Being alive makes you dead one day.

Newspapers on trains – it’s what Kindles were invented for.

8) Thou shalt not buy leaky headphones

Let’s face it, very few people have exactly the same taste in music, so it’s pretty frustrating when even your own headphones can’t drown out the wailing of the latest R&B chart-botherer or the jungle bass crunk of a dance floor anthem. The only positive spin on this is my invention of the soon-to-be-turned-into-a-TV-show-hosted-by-Ant-‘N’-Dec game, Leaky Headphone ShazamTM. Not only does being able to use your own mobile device to identify the track in question highlight the biggest offenders, it also tells you which are the latest, most hateful ‘artists’ in the hit parade. Two wins for the price of one.

9) Thou shalt not bring an entourage of children and shopping bags onto commuter trains.

The scourge of many a commuter, the last minute dash for a soon to be departing train is acceptable when unavoidably delayed, but not when you’re too self-important to avoid busier times and laden with 739 bags of tat from your once a year trip to town. Let’s face it, all you’ve spent the past five hours doing is trying to squeeze your fifty stone frame into a £4.99 Primark bikini for ‘yours holidays’. No excuse for being late. And leave your caterwauling lifestyle choice on the OUTSIDE of the train next time would you?

Ecco The Dolphin
Ecco – Texting away on his very own TransPennine Express.

10) Thou shalt set ALL mobile device tones to ‘off’.

The fact that I can no longer count on both of my hands AND feet the number of times I have assumed Ecco the Dolphin is aboard the same train as me, clicking away, is deeply, deeply disturbing. I really have no idea what people get from having keypad tones set to tap-tap mode, other than it being some form of reminder that their hearing still works, or that they are still alive despite their obvious lack of mental capability. Also on this list are those still chuckling to themselves at their ‘hilarious’ “Help! I’m in your pocket!” ringtones, along with the clown car horn honk and the radar text alert. For clarity, no, you’re not a ship’s captain or a kidnapper. Well actually, you might be. And you’re definitely a clown…

The Commuter Scoring System

Regular subscribers here and to my Twitter feed will be more than aware that I have lots of fun each and every day dealing with transport, the general public; pretty much life in general. To sum up how my mind works on a day to day basis, I’ve decided to reveal the factors that determine just how miserable I’m likely to be on any given morning.

I begin each day with 100 Morning Points, but a selection of events can make this rise or fall, and here are just a few examples of how:
(Note – these are in no way copyrighted by me, so feel free to play along at home. And when you hear this noise *ting*, please turn the page).

Train Delays
Minus 456 points.

-10 points for having to get up at 5.30am.
-10 points for the bus being late.
Additional -5 points if it’s so late you miss your train.
-5 points for every banal conversation overheard before having a chance to insert headphones.
+10 points for seeing someone run for the train only to have the doors shut in their face.
-20 points if it is you.
-10 points if the train is so busy you are massively interfered with.
+5 points refunded if it’s by a fitty.
+10 points for beating Running Man out of the station.
+15 points for your preferred Starbucks staff being on duty and having your coffee ready before you’ve even ordered it.
+5 points for Mentalist Man making beheading gestures.
+10 points for seeing someone trip up the stairs in Piccadilly Station.
Additional +5 points if they were carrying coffee.
+5 points for getting your favourite spec on the tram.
-10 points for the tram breaking down or being insufferably slow.
+5 points per fare-dodging scumbag getting hoisted off the tram and publicly ridiculed at Pomona.
-5 points for every copy of the Metro left on a public transport seat.
-5 points for each person getting the work lift to anything lower than the Third Floor.

Generally I am left with so few points each morning that my life force ebbs away like the skeleton graphic on Knightmare, leaving me a withered old bag of bones by the time I hit work. Nevertheless I get on with it, and look forward to out-scoring myself the very next day.

You can of course extend this into a fully-fledged game of Commuter Bingo, and to give you an example of a potential scoring system, see the gallery below. Enjoy.

Modern Life Is Rubbish

I always feel a little resentful on the day I part with another £100 monthly train & tram ticket, but when it’s a Monday as well, you know it’s not going to be much fun.

I do think though that things could be so much better if people were more considerate and less incompetent.

I know I bleat on about First Manchester’s godawful peasant wagons but it only takes a few small tweaks to make things at least 50% better. At the moment, the things turn up late with the wrong number and/or destination on the front and the driver never has any change. Surely better training, better punctuality and greater attention to detail can’t be too hard to find?

At train stations, I know why there aren’t any bins, but what are the alternatives? Why hasn’t some genius thought up a way to prevent the strewn Metros, Gregg’s coffee cups and heart attack pasty wrappers from littering the platforms? And while they’re at it they may like to consider enforcing that smoking ban they’re so keen to bang an auto announcement out about too.

None of this is of course helped by the general public. I don’t think I can remember the last time a polite hand stifled a yawn or smothered a hacking cough. Instead there seems to be a competition going on to see who can contort their face the most whilst bellowing out a noisy yawn or how far it’s possible to shower one’s infected bodily fluids over others.

People should all have one basic mantra to live by; go about your business in a manner that respects others. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much of this going on anymore.

Instead we’re left with a place that no-one cares about anymore. A place so run-down and poverty stricken that it may as well be in the third world. The cost of basic foodstuffs goes up whilst unemployment does the same. The attitude of your average man on the street is no longer full of the Bulldog spirit, it’s one of thinking they are owed all the trinkets they desire rather than having to work for them. The whole mentality of this country is wrong.

As it stands, this country doesn’t need multi-million pound infrastructure investment anymore, it needs to be taken out the back and put out of its misery.

Solving Problems On Britain’s Train Lines: Free Consultancy For National Rail

As a child I was taken to Bristol Temple Meads station during the summer holidays and would while away hours spotting some of the majestic steam and diesel locomotives that powered much of our great nation. Noting down their names and numbers in my notebook, this was a great, simple (and presumably cheap for my parents) pleasure in an age before cameraphones and Netscape Navigator, but it was all good clean, harmless fun.

Since the glory days of the mid 80s locomotive movement and the subsequent privatisation of the entire network, it could be argued that things have gotten a little silly on Britain’s trains. I for one have been using regular services into and out of Manchester for the past 11 years and before that was a frequent flyer (railer?) on trains between Sheffield and Bristol in my University days. Regular readers will be familiar with my trials and tribulations aboard the old puffers, but I thought it was time to stop moaning about the quality of the service (or lack thereof) and instead focus on a few ways in which I can help to make the whole kaboodle better. Listen up National Rail, this one’s for you.

1) Trespassers on the line.

There have been a few times when my trains have inexplicably slowed down and even stopped, even on short 15 minute journeys. After sitting there for a while presuming there had been a signal failure or somesuch, the conductor has then announced that there have been reports of “trespassers on the line” meaning the train has to either stop or run at a reduced speed. Now, to me this just means that these trespassers (whoever they may be) aren’t going to be taught a lesson, as they will have succeeded in delaying hundreds of people who are going about their daily business. My suggestion, therefore is that the trains should actually speed up, thus scaring the pubic hairs (if they have them) from these urchins. I’ve been on board a train when it’s hit someone and despite a bit of a bump (imagine a truck going over a large bag of cow legs) and a lengthy delay to hose down the nosecone, little harm was done, so I see no real reason why this delay cannot be overcome.

2) Ditherers

The act (or art) of boarding a train is relatively simple. You should stand next to the soon-to-be-open doors, allowing plenty of room for people/pushchairs/Bromptons to disembark before filing on politely and making your way to a seat or a standing position WITH AWARENESS FOR HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE STILL TO BOARD BEHIND YOU. There are many issues that can confuse matters including a) trying to find your reserved seat, b) not knowing if you’re on the right train and of course c) trying to get on a busy commuter train with a week’s worth of shopping or a full-sized mountain bike.

All three elements cause dithering as people look up and down the carriage trying to ascertain, Crystal Maze-style ‘what they have to do.’ I propose what is essentially, again, a quick and easy solution; cattle prods. Just as UEFA employs additional touchline officials at major tournaments, surely Britain’s train operators can employ additional conductors (I’m solving Britain’s unemployment crisis here too) to keep an eye on problem doors and ‘encourage’ anyone taking too long (I’m flexible on what the dither-time cut off should be) by giving them a short sharp shock?

3) Platform Alterations

One of the main issues that delays trains is the amount of people concentrating more on their Android mobiles and Dr Dre headphones than they are on boarding a locomotive. I would, therefore encourage more platform alterations to keep people on their toes and get them to pay attention. It’s pretty dull that I know each and every night that my 1756 train departs from Platform 3. It’s been going on for a while now, and in all honesty, I’d quite like a change, so why not mix it up? Maybe try a rogue Wednesday on Platform 10 (training people how to get on at an even-numbered platform in the process) The amount of drones left behind due to a lack of awareness would only serve to free up more space for us sensible folk and ensure that the conductor isn’t stood waiting for Jemima Waddleduck to trot up at the last-minute with her 15 Primark bags and 29 children. She would still be quacking away on Platform 3 unaware of the possibility that the train isn’t always as predictable as her.

So there we have it, three simple suggestions, and I know there will be a lot more. If only National Rail, Network Rail, or whoever bothers turning up to work in the morning and pretending to run our train lines would pay attention, I don’t hesitate to think that Britain would be a far, far better place.

Public Transport Part Two – How Bad Can First Manchester Get?

You may remember some time ago, I did a little write-up of just how late my various forms of public transport were over a certain period of time. It was getting pretty ridiculous, so I decided to write the following to First Manchester just to try and find out why they offered such a consistently poor service and why they failed to deliver on offering service updates via social media:

Dear Sirs

I write to complain strongly about the quality, or lack thereof of the service you are providing.

I have been using the 408 route between Stalybridge and Oldham for about three years now, and in that time, I have witnessed a whole host of failures to provide what I would call a decent service and one which I would have no qualms about handing over £58 a month to be given in return.

Most recently, on Friday 2nd March, I got a train back from Manchester to Stalybridge and then stood at the bus stop outside the station waiting for the last 408 service of the day which is due at 2319 (although this isn’t strictly true as it is supposed to leave Stalybridge bus station at that time, so by the time it gets to the train station stop it is usually 2320 or 2321 at the earliest). Nevertheless I was there from 2316, and at 2340 after no bus had arrived, I had no choice but to get a taxi home, costing me an additional £10 on top of my monthly pass price. I was unable to phone your premium rate “helpline” as this had closed many hours previously, so there was really no other way to find out what was going on.

A few days before, on the 28th February I was waiting at Stalybridge bus station for the 1819 408 service but it didn’t turn up  pre-its usual driver change-over until 16 minutes over its departure time. When it did arrive, it only stopped to let the previous passengers off at a stop opposite the queue of us waiting to board, before disappearing again without letting anyone on. It was only by over-hearing a child laughing about someone being sick on the bus that we presumed it would be replaced shortly by another vehicle and had been taken off to be cleaned. Really though, it would have been far more preferable to receive some form of communication from the driver or alternatively from the driver in the pool car waiting to swap to that vehicle. Neither offered anything.

Presuming another bus would turn up as a replacement shortly, I waited. And waited, and continued to wait. Eventually it was 1919 and STILL no bus had turned up, and neither had the next one that should have departed at 1919. Eventually a bus arrived and let us on, but this was either ONE HOUR AND EIGHT MINUTES LATE if it was the 1819 or still eight minutes late if it was the 1919. Even better, no explanation or apology was offered by the driver.

These are just two recent (and in my view, inexcusable and avoidable) examples though. Last year during the heavy snow, I checked your website to confirm buses were running, which it said they were. I still ended up waiting an hour for one, which promptly drove straight past three of us waving at it. We then had to wait another hour for the next service in freezing temperatures. According to your phone helpline the bus was running normally which was obviously not true.

On another occasion, I was awaiting the bus at Stalybridge (where numerous First services pass through) and a bus approached the stop but had no number on the front. I assumed it was out of service, only to realise after it had passed by that it had 408 on the rear. I’m sure you’ll agree that it isn’t much use if your buses don’t publicise where they are going, unless you expect every passenger at every stop to flag down every service on the off-chance it is the one they need?

I am just really struggling to see how things are getting any better or how any efforts are being made to do so? The only improvement I can see is the new ticket machines installed recently which mean drivers no longer have to hit the things with a shovel to get them working, and in all honestly this should have been rectified years ago.

Your drivers frequently turn up with headphones in or listening to music through their phone on loudspeaker, and on more than one occasion I have seen them smoking in their cab, something which I believe carries a fine for passengers?

I would just appreciate a response as to a) how the service in general is being improved and b) how you intend to communicate better with your customers. I fully appreciate that there will be matters outside of your control that affect the running of your service such as traffic, and knowing how the general public can be at times, I also appreciate that the job your drivers do probably isn’t the easiest in the world. However if I can see some pretty basic flaws in the whole operation, surely you can? If a bus is going to be consistently late at busy times is it not better to amend your timetable rather than also disappointing your customers?

I note that you have a Twitter account, @FirstManchester, with the profile description: “Follow us for news, events & updates. For journey questions or comments ring us on 08457 88 11 55 or send your details via our Contact Us page on our website.” The last time I checked though, you don’t appear to have used it for over a month, the last tweet being back on 5th February. As it is 2012 I would strongly suggest that you look at your use of social media to better your service, rather than just setting up an account for the sake of it as appears to be the case currently. A cursory glance at Twitter shows the sort of shocking service you appear to be offering, not just to me but to hundreds of others, and by ignoring this first hand feedback, you are in real danger of irreparably damaging your company for good.

This letter was sent to First Manchester on Friday 16th March. It is now two months later and I have yet to receive a reply.

I had another “incident” with First Bus on 17th April. I had finished at an appointment early and so made it to Stalybridge bus station at 1615 ready for the 1619 bus home. I waited. And waited. And continued to wait. Eventually I telephoned the Traveline, supposedly for service updates. They confirmed that there were “no known disruptions to the 408 service”. As I didn’t want to be a victim of Mr Sod and his law, and witness a bus drive straight past me after I walked away from the stop, I waited a little longer. Eventually, nearly two hours later, I found an email contact form via the First website, and so I wrote:

Re: 408 service.

It is 1805 and I have been at Stalybridge bus station since 1615. Two buses should have arrived in this time, but none have. The advertised Traveline say they aren’t aware of any disruptions, so I want to know what on earth is going on?

I received an auto reply as follows:

I am writing following receipt of your recent comments. 

This incident is currently under investigation and the details of your complaint have been passed on to our Customer Service Team. 

We are looking into the matter and as soon as we have finished the investigation a response will be sent within 10 working days.

Thank you for your continued patience.

Kind Regards

First in Manchester
Website Team

A 408 bus eventually arrived at 1820, two hours after I had begun my wait. I asked the driver if this was a horrifically delayed service and he responded no, it was the 1819 service. Up until this point I had no idea that I resided in the North West version of the Bermuda Triangle where buses can simply disappear into the ether. To make matters worse on this occasion, the driver also got the route wrong and so the journey took an extra ten minutes than it should have.

In typical delayed First Manchester fashion, I received the following response to my email 11 working days later on 2nd May.

I write in response to your email recorded with us on 17 April 2012.

Firstly, may I say that I was sorry to read of the difficulties you encountered on the 17 April, and specifically as a result of the failure of the 408-bus service to operate as advertised from 16:10 hours. 

My enquiries into this matter have revealed that this problem resulted from traffic congestion that the services to run over 35 minutes late.

I can assure you that every effort is made to keep any delay and disruption to passengers to an absolute minimum but, unfortunately, in such situations, it is inevitable that some inconvenience will result and the inconvenience this has caused you is very much regretted. 

Please accept my apologies for this lapse in the quality of our service. I do hope that you will not be deterred from continuing to use our services and that your future journeys will be trouble free.

Yours sincerely
Miss M Shaw
Lead Customer Service Agent

So, not only do they get the bus time wrong, (it should be 1619 not 1610), their grammar is pretty poor, and apparently this bus was just running a bit late. So why didn’t it ever arrive? And why did the 1719 not arrive either? And why did it take them 11 days to tell me a load of old rubbish which I know for a fact is not true? To me, this sums up First’s attitude to customer service. I am in the process of drafting yet another letter mainly to try to get a response to my first one, but now to also ask why their email response was so incorrect.

Hands up if any of you think I will get any form of response…

Northern “Epic Fail” Rail

Well, it’s a been a long time in the offing but after yet another train-based debacle, I can’t keep it all solely to Twitter and Facebook anymore – the Northern Rail rants are going large.

For those of you who aren’t aware of Northern Rail, here is the intro on the company’s Wikipedia entry:

“Northern Rail (often referred to simply as Northern) is a train operating company that has operated local passenger services in the north of England since 2004. Northern Rail’s owner, Serco-NedRailways, is a consortium formed of NedRailways (the British unit of Nederlandse Spoorwegen) and Serco, an international operator of public transport systems. When it won the Northern England franchise, the consortium had already secured the contract to operate north-west England’s Merseyrail network in 2003.”

All sound okay so far? Well it didn’t get off to the best of starts. The new owners didn’t actually start to operate the franchise immediately, as they were expecting extra trains to be freed up by the extension of Manchester’s Metrolink tram service, which itself was hugely delayed.

The majority of my experience of Northern Rail is on the relatively short (15 minute) trip between Stalybridge and Manchester Victoria. A season ticket between these two stations currently costs £68 per month. I also have the choice of using TransPennine Express trains from Stalybridge to Manchester Piccadilly, but Manchester Victoria is generally a more convenient destination for me, for both commuting and social purposes.

The trains I get are typically British – old, tatty, smelly rattlers, some of which were built as far back as 1981, making them nearly as old as myself. The fleet of TransPennine Express trains used to be pretty ropey themselves in all their maroon glory, but following a complete overhaul of the fleet about four years ago, these trains are now a lovely, quiet, shiny transport heaven.

The 7.30am Stalybridge to Manchester Victoria service is my main commuter train most mornings. I am not that naive that I expect a commuter train to Manchester to be really quiet, after all it’s called rush hour for a reason. I’m also not that stupid that I would expect trains to always be dead on time. Delays happen and I’m not blaming Northern Rail for idiots jumping in front of trains or other issues out of their control. Even so, I would expect to be able to actually get on a train if I had chosen a particular one to use. But since the closure of the Oldham line (to free up the route for Metrolink development) many commuters have chosen to travel to other nearby stations on the Stalybridge line in order to get to work. Surely, the closure of this line should have freed up more carriages to compensate for the increased passenger numbers? No. The 7.30am was still a two-carriage affair which was generally full upon arrival at Stalybridge.

Obviously there are a few definitions of “full” when it comes to Northern Rail commuting; 1)’Nearly’ full – each seat is taken and there is a single line of people all the way down the aisle and a few standees in the areas near the doors. 2) ‘Still room for a few more’ full – People are smeared up against walls and doors and wedged into each others armpits. This ensures they cannot fall over due to train movement as there is no physical space to fall into.

Eventually Northern Rail seemed to learn that leaving so many people behind at Stalybridge and Ashton simply wasn’t acceptable, and so started to run one of the larger two carriage trains on this service. Even so, it still became too full. On one occasion, the train did not even stop at Ashton as it couldn’t be risked that more people may have crammed themselves onboard. This must’ve been a tough break for those who actually wanted to get off at Ashton.

More recently, four carriages started to appear on the 7.30am service. This isn’t guaranteed however, and I would estimate it only happens 75% of the time. For the other 25%, it goes back to being the two carriage nightmare, and on these occasions, I find myself not even trying to get on, preferring to wait for the Piccadilly train. And here’s the rub: why should we, as the paying customer be forced to put ourselves out due to the inadequacies of such a vital service?

So, this is just my morning commute. The trains in the opposite direction are equally as bad, if not worse. I generally have the choice of either the 17.14, 17.27 or 17.57 trains back to Stalybridge each evening, but I have recently learned that the best bet is the 17.27, as the other two are full to bursting a good five minutes before they even depart. Again, I appreciate they are going to be busy as they are commuter trains serving all stations out to Huddersfield, but when I’ve had half days off I find trains in the middle of the day with only a handful of passengers are still the same size. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that you need more carriages at busier times does it?

I have had plenty of other shambolic experiences on Northern Rail trains too. Only last night, a Northern Rail train back into Piccadilly failed to materialise, with no warning or explanation. The next one was half an hour later, meaning I missed my connection to Stalybridge and I was forced to spend a small fortune on taxis in order to get home. I will be outlining to Northern Rail that this is unacceptable. I could even try invoicing them for the taxi, but to be honest I don’t expect to get a response. The company has a captive audience relying heavily on it for a range of commuting and social needs, and unfortunately it simply isn’t up to the job.

I should be free to choose which train I get – I pay enough for the privilege. I should be free to travel in some form of comfort. There are always those more deserving of a seat than myself and I don’t necessarily expect to sit down, it’s only 15 minutes after all. I would just like to be able to stand somewhere without another commuter grinding against me the whole way.

It doesn’t just appear to be Northern Rail customers that have these issues either – during recent Metrolink work to “improve” the service, I have heard numerous horror stories about how trams disappear, or are hugely delayed, or break down constantly, or are too full to board. Again, customers have chosen to travel in the wrong direction for a couple of stops so that when the tram turns around they can guarantee they will be on it.

So, is this symptomatic of this country? I don’t think so. I have no idea why TransPennine Express seem far more capable of running a train service than Northern Rail. If the Government really want to cut car use and encourage people to take public transport, should they not step in and force companies such as Northern Rail to adopt some of the good practices that other companies (such as TransPennine Express) have taken on board?

People are so sick of the shambles that is Northern Rail that they have taken to editing the Northern Rail Wiki entry to express their disgust. A disgruntled individual has even taken to setting up the Twitter account @northernfailorg to retweet everyone else’s hatred of the company and the “service” it provides. People are posting pictures online of the shabby trains and the rampant overcrowding. 

The problem is, it doesn’t seem to make any difference. Emails to the company are ignored. Comments to station and train staff are met with indifference. On some occasions, I have heard the train conductors encourage passengers to complain to Northern Rail in the hope that something is done. To reiterate, that is Northern Rail employees encouraging people to complain about their own employers. What sort of company is this that forces its own staff to take such drastic measures?

So, when will it change? No idea. Maybe if everyone refused to pay they would soon learn? But then Northern Rail would probably claim they couldn’t afford to run the services. All I want is a clean, efficient service that gets me from a to b in relative comfort. Is that really too much to ask?

Free Paper Littering

Okay, we’re off again. Why oh why do people think it is big and indeed clever to leave their free commuter rag on the train seat when they get up? Do they really think that another five people will come along and say “oooh I was desperate for the Metro today, thank golly gosh someone has left me a copy!” NO.

It is more likely that chavs will rip it up and chuck it around the train. Or that the poorly paid cleaners will have a sh1t load of work to do at the end of the day tidying up after you idiots.

It is no better than littering so sort it out please.