I don’t seem to be endearing myself to the Park and Ride clientele. Yesterday a lady got on in the town and told me she’d mislaid her car park ticket which gives a free bus ride to the car park. “I’m sorry” I said, punching the car park fare stage into the ticket machine, “that’ll be 95 pence”. She looked rather startled that I should be charging her and then told me she only had a £10 note. “That’s no problem” I told her “I too don’t have change” (genuine, I often take no money at all) “but I’ll give you a change voucher for £9.05 which you can exchange for cash with any other driver who has it in their bag, or at the bus station. At least it means you can get back to your car”. This made her face display even more displeasure.
I hate this sort of situation. It is 99.99% certain that she had bought a ticket and lost it because no one would ever want to go to an out of town car park with nothing near it except to get back to their car. If she hadn’t bought a car park ticket she would be in for a £60 fine when she got back. The bus ticket is a tear off portion of the parking ticket which is left on display in the car. So I really can’t see any attempt to swindle a free ride here. However, since I’ve been doing these Park and Ride loops, only a few days, I can’t recall a day when I haven’t been jumped by an Inspector. On one 90 minute duty I got jumped 4 times! Including one stop where 2 inspectors AND the Operations Manager got on checking my ticket machine and the passengers on the bus. So there is no way in the world I’m opening myself up to disciplinary action by allowing the lady who lost her ticket a free ride. I’m thick skinned but I could see some drivers thinking they were being victimised by such intense checking of their bus. I asked the Controllers if I was being suspected of something and they assured me not.
Following the reduced MegaBus services (Monday to Saturday) which I wrote about on 16 March, we now have to do some Park and Ride work in Winchester. Yesterday I had to do four loops of the car parks to town, to the rail station and back to the car parks. I don’t think I did very well. Driving only Megabus for the past 14 months has caused a huge reduction in my telepathic powers – people at bus stops stared at me, I stared back but I couldn’t read their minds. No hands were ever raised to indicate that they wanted my bus and not the number 1 or 69 which were in line behind me. The flags on the stops say “Request stop” and since no hands were raised to request me, and the thought waves were not on the same frequency as my antenna, I passed them by. Then in the mirror I see a bunch of people waving at the back end of the bus trying to request a stop! Why can’t passengers request that the bus stops as it approaches a bus stop rather than after it’s passed the stop?
After doing this stint on Park and Ride I had to sign my module off and pay in the huge takings – 20 pence! Nearly all passengers present car park tickets which provides a free ride, if you don’t have one an in town hop costs 20 pence which is how I managed to earn so much money for Stagecoach.
I’m not sure how much detail to give on this (don’t want to give others ideas) but yesterday two young ‘ladies’ managed to travel from Brighton to London on ONE ticket. MegaBus don’t have a ‘buy one get one free’ policy so the second traveller effectively stole the journey! I rumbled the scam just after the second one got on and did my best to prove it but the accomplice destroyed the evidence in front of me. They may think they’ve got away with it but since we know the ticket number used we have ways and means of making it difficult for them to use MegaBus again.
This is perhaps a good time to explain why MegaBus passengers who’ve missed their bus can’t catch the next one, or catch an earlier bus if they arrive early. These passengers usually see that there are empty seats on the bus and often get upset at being refused when there is space. This is understandable and I’m sure that they’re decent honest people but not everyone has been honest in the past. MegaBuses don’t have computers on board, each driver starts his day with a print out listing each ticket number on each journey. The passenger shows the driver their ticket number when boarding and the driver ticks it off on the printed list. Here’s the problem, a driver has no way of knowing that someone else didn’t use the ticket number on it’s allocated journey and this second person is trying to get a free ride by saying they missed the earlier bus! The same is true in reverse, if you allow travel on an earlier bus you have no way of cancelling that ticket number on the later bus so again it could be used be a second person. MegaBus discovered that this was actually happening. We used to be as helpful as possible and often allowed early/later travel but the actions of a few ‘thieves’ have put paid to that and spoiled things for the majority.
On BBC1′s Breakfast this morning there was a piece about www.ozbus.co.uk who have started a London to Sydney bus service. Simon Calder, The Independent’s travel correspondent, was being interviewed about it and was asked how people could be sure they’d cope with 85 days on a bus. His suggestion was that they try the Scotland to London Megabus service first! It made me wonder whether the old saying “all publicity is good publicity” is actually true?
Crazy as the idea sounds it does have an appeal. A few years ago I travelled overland to Beijing on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The journey should have taken 7 days but infact took 8 because floods in Northern China meant a long detour had to made. Travelling like this means that you actually see the slowly evolving physical appearance of people along the way – from Western to Chinese. You see the changing landscape, plain, tundra, mountains etc. The train stops fairly frequently, not for long enough to leave whatever station you’re at but long enough to get off and stare at things and perhaps buy something. Irktusk is at the southern tip of Lake Baikal and on the platform here are woman selling smoked Ormul which they carry threaded onto long twigs. The fish is absolutely superb and I wished I’d bought more. Talking of food this is one of the worst aspects of the journey. The dining car is Russian for the first 5 days and its food is from the old Russian school of cookery – take one cabbage, boil for several hours, serve with a dollop of tomato sauce on top and a piece of ‘meat’ which was proabably last used as the sole of a shoe before being served up! I gave up going to the dining car and lived off stuff I bought at the stations where we stopped. Had I known it was like this I would have carried some provisions such as tinned corned beef etc. Once the train crosses into China a Chinese dining car is attached and it all gets better!
China is fascinating. I avoided western hotels and establishments there staying in a hotel in the hutongs (lanes) in Beijing. No English spoken and no English written. My first mistake occured with an hour or so of arrival, I picked up the tv remote control which only bore Chinese characters, pointed it at the tv and kept clicking – nothing. I went to reception and signed that I wanted someone to come with me to my room, they came and I pointed the tv remote at the television and clicked to show that nothing happened. They weren’t very polite, they laughed at me :-) That remote was for the air con, the tv remote was in a drawer! I ate in the local restaurants and never saw another westerner. Ordering was fun since I couldn’t read a menu or speak the language. Other diners were very tolerant of me walking around their tables and pointing at anything which looked nice and indicating I’d have that too. Visits to these restaurants were a cross between a visit to a restaurant and a zoo. One wall was lined with tanks and cages holding small animals, tortoises, snakes and fish. Diners pointed to the specimen they wanted which was then taken to the kitchen, despatched, cooked and sent back to the diner. The only thing which I did this with was a fish which came back whole and steamed. The great achievement was being able to eat it entirely with chopsticks.
I’ve just come across this story ‘Scent of a woman gets up bus drivers’ noses’
which tells of two different bus drivers in Canada who refused to carry a
woman because they didn’t like her perfume!
Can’t say I’ve had a problem with perfume smells on my bus, it’s more often
neglected body hygiene or carry on hot food which causes a stink. Megabus
forbid the taking onboard of hot food but sometimes it gets past the driver
because it’s in a bag and doesn’t give off its full aroma until it’s opened,
usually after the bus has started the journey and it’s difficult for the driver to
pull up and do something about it. Why is it bus passengers seem to favour
anything which has been lovingly deep fried in Duckhams 20/50?
Smell is one of the reasons why Megabus drivers try and stop the front two
seats directly behind them being used by putting their bag, jacket etc on this
seat. There’s little worse than driving whilst breathing exhalled garlic breath
from the passenger right behind you. The other reasons we don’t like people
literally breathing down our necks is that we hate being hit by sneeze spray
or, to have someone talking loudly into a mobile phone for hours only inches
from our ear when driving. One of the few benefits of driving the double decker
Olympians was that you actually had a cab in which to sit and be away from
the passengers. The ‘new’ coaches give you no space or privacy.