CARRY AN UNREGISTERED OYSTERCARD WITH NO MORE THAN £5 or £10 CREDIT. KEEP IT HANDY & KEEP YOUR WITS ABOUT YOU. STAND/SIT NEAR A CARD READER. IF YOU SEE TICKET INSPECTORS ABOUT TO BOARD, SWIPE YOUR CARD AND YOU'RE IN THE CLEAR! IF YOU ARE APPROACHED BY A TICKET INSPECTOR YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TALK TO THEM. THEY HAVE NO POWERS WHATEVER. IGNORE THEM OR TELL THEM WHY YOU THINK THE 'SERVICE' IS NOT WORTH PAYING FOR. IF YOU THINK THAT'S UNJUSTIFIED THEN YOU HAVEN'T READ THIS BLOG!
Please contact me with YOUR experiences of the 73, either positive or negative. TfL DO NOT publish the substance of complaints made to them and so we have NO WAY of knowing their scale or the particular issues involved. Aggriever have been granted a FIVE YEAR licence to operate this service and therefore have NO INCENTIVE to improve it until renewal in 2009. DO NOT PAY. ride for free in protest. This blog will tell you how and why.
Friday, June 09, 2006
:: The Man on the 73 Omnibus rides again
It's been a year-and-a-half since I've posted anything here and I'm strongly minded to revive this campaign of bus activism.
Why did I stop? Well having demonstrated to myself (and anybody who cared to listen) that nobody - and I mean nobody - with the power to do anything to improve this service would or could, I simpy gave up. In addition, my contract in west London came to an end and I began working from home, so I didn't even have to endure the miserable disservice that was and is the 73 route.
However, once again my circumstances have changed and since October of last year I have needed to travel from the Essex Road to Marble Arch on the stinking 73. In point of fact, I can and do take the 38 as far as Tottenham Court Road quite often. It all depends on which bus is less rammed with angry, sweaty humanity should they actually deign to stop in the morning and attempt to squeeze on a few more victims. Usually that means waiting half an hour or so whilst half a dozen sail by..... *sigh*.... plus ça change and all that......
Of course nothing is different; nothing I have tried has produced *any* tangible results short of using up my valuable time which could be spent on so many more pressing issues of personal interest or even day-to-day drudgery. If I have achieved anything at all (beyond leading and winning an ASA complaint against TfL) it is merely proof positive that by following the rules laid down by The Powers That Be about the correct way to raise issues and complaints is a as stale and barren as the current corrupt government that runs our lives. Once I had established that to myself (and hopefully to you dear reader) my task was done. If that sounds like a cop-out then I'm terribly sorry. But please read on and you'll see that all is not entirely lost.
So there's no real point in complaining through any of the channels on offer - that much is clear. Oh well, now that's widely known it's time to change tactics. What follows is what I suggest you can do to beat these bastards and their stinking dis-service and what I have been putting into practise:
Why should you? Think about it. You're currently paying (in advance, mind you, if you use an OysterCard) for a service you are not receiving; you are paying for the mere chance of a bus journey at some perhaps distance point after you might have wanted to actually make it - often causing you to be late; you are paying to be rammed into a poorly air-conditioned cattle car with hopelessly inadequent ventilation and rarely any hope of sitting down; you are paying to be thrown around by hard-breaking drivers who are almost hermetically sealed in their cabins and who often do not stop to pick you up or else will not open doors to let you off. Why are you paying?
It's the same old reason isn't it? "What if I get caught?" The embarrassment of being accosted by some jobsworth who glorifies in the pretentious title of Revenue Protection Officer (Hired goon) is perhaps, too much for you. It needn't be this way.
Here's what to do. Obtain an OysterCard but DO NOT register it. Put five pounds on the card or so but NEVER more than ten. Overall the important thing to note here is that if you have a low balance on the card there is no value in having it electronically attached to your name and address. To wit, if you lose your OysterCard (or have to surrender it) then you've only lost a fiver - no big deal. This is the card that you will now endlessly use to ride the bendy bus/es in your free protest. The only other things that you will require to 'vote with your wallet' is a little bit of rat cunning and the preparedness to speak up for yourself.
So you finally manage to get aboard a merely overcrowded bus at 8:45 am with your OysterCard wedged in your backpocket. Keep it handy, you *might* actually need it. You'll probably be standing so make sure you do so within arms' reach of one of the turquoise readers. If, by some miracle you've a choice of seats, go for the ones right next to the aforementioned card readers. On no account sit in the back section of the bus or some other part where there is the possibility of being cornered. Oh, I almost forgot - certainly DO NOT place your OysterCard on the reader.
Now most people like to pass their journey in some sort of reverie either by drowning out the dispiriting sounds of the world outside, the ruckus of screaming harpie schoolgirls, or the dismal sound of traffic, with the ubiquitous iPods and by all means you too can indulge. For my part, I read the paper mostly (yes, alright, it's The Grauniad). But whatever you do, if you're going to 'dodge the fair' (how I dislike that phrase with all its implications of petty cheapness or cheap pettiness - I much prefer to think of myself as a refusenik on moral grounds or a civil disobedient if you will) you must keep your wits about you. DON'T put your hoody up and go to sleep in a corner, oh no, that simply won't do. You have to keep a weather eye out for fare inspectors. These guys are pretty easy to spot as they always travel in pairs and canoften be seen in groups of four. They wear white shortsleeved shirts, have regulation short haircuts and sport heavy blue multipocket vests. Tell you what, I'll get a picture of one next time I have the chance so you may know what you're looking out for. If you see one about to board the bus at the upcoming stop you can: a) swipe your card so that when he finally gets to check your fare you'll be in the clear; b) dismount and wait at the stop for the next available bus to complete your journey; c) do nothing and wait until the inspector approaches you to check your fare.
What!! I hear you cry. Why the hell would I take option c)? Well it's very simple. Ticket inspectors (unless accompanied by a transport/police officer have no powers at all. You don't have to give them the time of day. If you are approached by a ticket inspector, sorry! 'revenue protection officer' you may happily feel free to ignore them completely or, if so inclined, tell them why you feel perfectly justified in not paying for the appalling service and that you will not be doing so until TfL does something to improve it. There's absolutely nothing they can do about it. If they lay the lightest of hands on your person they are committing an assault. You may rest assured I have tested this thoroughly.
Goons are most often to be seen loitering outside of Rymans on Lower Oxford Street waiting to board a passing 73 to catch the unwary fare-dodger. The mystery is why anybody ever gives these guys their name? Who knows, maybe they don't. Maybe there's hundreds of penalty notices going out to John Smith's and Jane Q. Publics. Occasionally there's a 'Goon spectacular' outside of Angel Tube where anything up to a dozen of them loiter whilst backed up by a squad of police officers to provide the legal muscle. But such an event is rare: two in six months. Another blackspot is the stop opposite Essex Road station, but I've only seen one operation there in the morning in the last six months. At the Angel Goon clusterfuck their strategy is normally to get a goon on each door with his foot in the stairwell as if about to board, meanwhile other goons are hassling passengers as they dismount asking to see their tickets and OysterCards. It's a mystery to me how this is enforced as once you're off the bus I really don't see what right the goons have to accost you - I suspect they don't. Maybe that's where the cops come in. I'd be interested to find out more about what happens at goon clusterfucks so if you've any inside knowledge or direct experience of such an encounter do share. If you're on the bus when this happens to you my advice is to stay put. The goons will not risk overly delaying the bus and angering all the passengers by turning over the whole lot of you. Just ride till the next stop (a mere fifty yards up the road), dismount and walk back with a smile on your face.
If you do engage with the ticket inspectors do not be intimidated. However, if they ask for you OysterCard and you haven't swiped it I don't advise giving it to them as they will simply keep it to try to prevent you dismounting. Hence the need to keep the balance low and on no account register the card. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. A couple of weeks ago I got caught 'napping' on lower Oxford Street and only just managed to swipe my card as the inspectors came towards me. I was asked for my card and I confidently handed it over. I was horrified to discover that I had failed to top up sufficiently to have the correct fare and when the inspector checked I was 'found out'. He said he would have to take my details and took out one of those pads. I told him I was getting off the bus and the next stop and wasn't remotely interested in giving him my details. When the bus stopped he said "where are you going? I'm still talking to you." I replied, "Not anymore you're not. Give me my card back, please." Naturally he declined so I told him he could keep it. I lost a whole 21 pence on that damn card! Of more concern was the unfortunate fact that I had stupidly registered the card when I bought it! What to do? No problem. The minute I got home, some thirty minutes later I reported the card stolen. Luckily I had kept all the receipts from my £5 top-ups which include the card number. A salutory lesson.
But there's a new an interesting issue which I have discovered in the last week. Because of as yet unspecified and ongoing problems through the length of Islington Green end of Upper Street the buses 38 and 73 are taking fully half an hour or more to get to Pentonville Road. It has suddenly and mysteriously become as bad as the notorious Bloomsbury stretch. Yet it only seems to affect the bus lane as all the other traffic seems to flow relatively freely. The drivers cannot or will not tell why and it's becoming customary to see passengers haggling with them to let them off so long is the wait on the hot and sweaty bus.
(At this point it's perhaps worth observing that there is no penalty notice for 'improper use' on display next to the emergency operation switch above the doors on the bendy bus so if you really want to get off and think it's safe to do so then do as thou wilt - I'm not advising or recommending this at all, just pointing out what I have seen).
This delay has a knock-on effect for the 73 further down the line. I'm sure you've all been caught out on one of those aggravating journeys when you get on at point 'A' to go to point 'F' only to be told at point 'D' that the bus is terminating. Any attempt to engage the driver in discussion about this apparently random termination will result in your being told that the destination was clearly displayed on the side of the bus when you boarded. Correct, I'm sure but extremely irritating none theless, most especially when you are now in a crowd of upwards of forty hapless people standing at the roadside outside Warren Street station all waiting for the next bus. The point in all this is that this is now happening to four 73 buses out of five which although clearly marked with destination Victoria when you board on the Essex Road will change their sign at some point in the journey and kick you out at Oxford Circus.
So the obvious question arises: what if having boarded on the Essex Road and swiped my OysterCard I am travelling to Victoria bus station and I am unceremoniously turfed out at Oxford Circus? I have paid my fare for the entire journey but I will have to pay AGAIN if I actually want to complete it - to say nothing of the inconvenience. Naturally, I was curious on this score so I took the trouble to enquire. On Wednesday morning last, already running an hour late for work, I asked the driver who had just terminated the journey what happens in such cases. He said he didn't know and that I had a valid point. I specifically asked him about obtaining some sort of ticket indicating I had already paid (of course I hadn't) but answer came ther none. He didn't seem to have the slightest idea about TfL policy on the matter. Truth be told neither did I.
So I took the trouble to ring the complaints number: 08453007000 (press 1 immediately or listen to the prat bore on) and took it up with the operator. I shan't bore you with details of the heavy dose of complaint I laid on her other than to say she positively assured me that ALL drivers were trained to know that in such circumstances the passengers can request they be issued with a continuation permit or somesuch. I begged to differ. I informed her that in all my days travelling this route back and forth I have never once seen anybody obtaining a 'continuation' ticket from a driver. Doesn't happen. Moreover, is it really TfL policy that umpteen people are expected to form an orderly queue next to the driver's cubicle whilst he checks their cards and doles out a mysterious permit to travel ticket? What are these mythical tickets? Do they exist? What can they be like? Has anybody out there managed to obtain one? If so, how?
Better yet, the very next day I tried again when the same thing happened and I was turfed off at Oxford Circus. I asked the driver what's supposed to happen. This guy was a lot more forthcoming. He told me in no uncertain terms that drivers DO NOT issue such tickets. He was quite categorical that he was a driver and that any revenue collection or ticket issuing duties were no longer within his remit. There you go.... the proverbial horse's mouth. So I rang the London Buses switchboard back and told them I now wished to complain about them, the switchboard operators who had given me false and misleading information. Yet again I was assured that the bus drivers all knew the policy and had been trained accordingly. This was too much for me to stomach any longer. I'm afraid I rather let him have it. I implied that if he didn't mind I should rather prefer the evidence of my own eyes and experience than his contradicting blandishments. I asked him if he had ever travelled on the route in question and when he confirmed that he had not, I suggested that it was I rather than he who might therefore be considered an authority on the subject. Alas, utlimately all of this was once again just so much hot air. The poor fool went through the entire gamut of options available to me for complaint whereupon I was bound to inform him that, having exhausted all such avenues and a few more besides, I now considered myself perfectly at liberty to avoid paying the fares in whatever peaceable manner I saw fit. If by some chance I am ever caught 'bang-to-rights' I shall contest the fine in court, represent myself and cause such a stink to TfL and Aggriever they will rue they day they ever attempted to issue me with a fine.
I encourage you, dear reader to do the same. Call it fare-dodging if you must but hey, it's clearly the only language they understand.
I attach a link to an old article from the Evening Standard which, of course, entirely misses the point in its usual way:
The last paragraphs are so good they are worth quoting here in full:
TfL claims its surveys show fare evasion on all routes is only 2.2 per cent and is even lower on bendy buses, at 2.1 per cent. A spokesman said: "There's nothing new about fare evasion and there's little difference between the bendy buses and the Croydon Tramlink or Docklands Light Railway. They are open systems.
What is more surprising is that we have got 98 per cent of people paying the correct fare. The fact is we are doing better than ever at catching people."
But TfL has admitted it needs to do more. It is to boost inspector numbers from 200 to 250 and may increase the £10 penalty fare.
Anybody out there been surveyed by TfL recently? I know I haven't. I have repeatedly given them the benefit of my wisdom such as it is ad hoc and pro bono, ad nauseum in voice email and writing. I'd like to find out more about these laughable surveys. Maybe it's time for an FOI request or two. I'm also thinking of podcasting one of these awful journeys and doing some surveying of my own.