This is a photograph of the front of one of the buses I took to get home this evening, taken so that I could get a record of the vehicle number. What you can’t see in this photograph is the driver – clearly one of First Manchester‘s finest – giving me the finger through the windscreen. Presumably this is what they mean in their customer promise when they pledge to provide “helpful, friendly driving staff”.
It hadn’t been a very successful evening. I’d got to the bus stop at the top of Oldham Street in Manchester at about 8.40pm, hoping to catch a bus towards Oldham. Between the 83 and the 183/184 services, there should, at that time on a Sunday night, be a bus every ten minutes. Nearly thirty minutes later (!), an 83 arrived (this kind of interruption in this particular service, unfortunately, is not at all unusual) – destination Sholver, so this was the 9.10pm service (God only knows what happened to the 8.50pm 180 or the 9.00pm 83, but that’s all part of the joy of travelling with First Manchester). There was quite a crowd waiting to board this service – this stop is the terminus – and as I boarded, there were a lot of people behind me who were also trying to get on the bus. In front of me, there was a woman who was trying to buy a ticket from the driver. In order to avoid creating a bottleneck at the door, I stepped around her while showing the driver my pass. You’d think this would be the sensible thing to do, right?
The driver didn’t like it. Oh no, he didn’t like it at all. He started shouting at me – I hadn’t said a word to him at this point – telling me off as if I was a naughty schoolboy. The best gem in his stream of invective was the part where he told me he couldn’t bloody multitask because he wasn’t a bloody woman. Now, yes, there is a way of delivering that line that would put a (sexist) comic spin on it – but no, he was deadly serious. It was a full-on tempter tantrum – one which other passengers commented on – and it was provoked by nothing more than my trying to step aside so that other people could step onto the bus. Since there were a lot of people trying to board behind me, I said nothing and took a seat; a couple of people behind me, though, did tell the driver he was out of order.
When the bus arrived in Oldham about thirty minutes later – I connect there to another service – I had a choice. I could get off the bus and say nothing, which would probably have been the wisest move, or I could tell this driver that I found his behaviour unacceptable and ask for an apology. On the one hand, given his temper tantrum when I boarded, clearly there was no way any complaint about his behaviour would end well. On the other hand, I am a paying customer, and I am not prepared to be yelled at for the heinous crime of stepping to one side while holding up a bus pass. I do, though, understand that sometimes people snap in the heat of the moment (because, really, my holding up a bus pass while simultaneously stepping aside to allow space for other people to step up onto the bus must have been so excruciatingly stressful for him that it’s a wonder he didn’t end up with PTSD), and I think it’s only fair to ask for an apology directly before putting in any kind of complaint – if he’d said sorry, that would have been that. There was, sure, probably also an element of my having just Had Enough after enduring day after day after week after week after year after year of appalling service from this company. And anyway, First Manchester‘s complaints process, more often than not, is a waste of time – either they don’t bother to respond, or they send an insincere and sometimes badly-spelled letter of apology, and then three days later the exact same thing you just complained about invariably happens again.
So, when the bus had stopped at Oldham bus station, I went to the driver, told him I’d found his behaviour unacceptable, and suggested he owed me an apology. I didn’t raise my voice. I didn’t use bad language. I did, I suppose, offend him simply because I refuse to be bullied, but that’s not my problem. The predictable result: more yelling. He doesn’t come to my workplace to tell me how to do his job, apparently, and I could bloody get off his bloody bus. During this rant – which went on for rather longer than those couple of sentences – he was pink and shaking with rage, and repeatedly jabbed his finger at me. Nice.
Again, let’s go back to First Manchester‘s pledge to provide “friendly, helpful driving staff”. This particular gentleman was so friendly and helpful, he must have undergone intensive training. When you encounter this level of rudeness, the management deserve at least some of the credit. This driver would not have started shouting in the first place unless he knew he could get away with it.
I got off the bus – I was getting off there anyway – and stepped in front of the vehicle (which wasn’t going to be leaving for a couple of minutes, there was a line of people waiting to board), and got out my BlackBerry to take a photo of the vehicle number on the front (on First Manchester‘s newest buses, this number is not clearly visible anywhere inside – it’s somewhere up above the driver’s head, and given that he was yelling at me and shaking with rage, asking him to move his head a bit so I could see the vehicle number was probably a non-starter). Guess what? More yelling, loud enough that I could hear it through the windscreen. I wasn’t going to take his photograph (I wasn’t trying to), and if I didn’t put my ****ing phone away he’d call the… whatever, that’s when I stopped listening and walked away. As I walked away, he gave me the finger; he’d already done so once as I was taking the photograph. Again, nice. Presumably there’s a page in his training manual which outlines in detail under exactly which circumstances that gesture may be employed.
Now, OK, asking for an apology, given his previous volatility, was probably “asking for it”. But this is a company whose front-line employees, again and again, seem to be under the impression that they are entitled to treat their customers like dirt (it speaks volumes for First Manchester‘s management that the vast majority of drivers can’t even manage basic courtesies like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’), and really, enough is enough. His original behaviour was thoroughly unacceptable, and I don’t have to stand there meekly and accept being yelled at for no good reason by some arrogant jerk in a tatty uniform who gets off on treating his customers like crap, just because he can. This evening’s experience, granted, was particularly bad, but it’s not as if rude drivers are at all unusual. Polite drivers are the exception, and they’re rare enough to be worth remarking on. This evening’s driver, though, was something else. For a start, somebody that angry is probably not fit to be in charge of a vehicle on the public highway, much less any kind of vehicle carrying paying passengers.
So, yes, I’m still waiting for that apology. I won’t be holding my breath. For First Manchester, awful customer service is simply par for the course, and unless they start employing people who know the difference between customers and cattle, that isn’t going to change.
Note – credit where it’s due: over the past week or so, the weather here has been dreadful, and has caused significant disruption on the roads; First Manchester have done a much better job, this year, of keeping services running through bad weather and keeping their customers informed than they ever have in the past, and that’s an encouraging sign. But today the snow was mostly gone, and services were running normally, and their impressive work over the weekend does not excuse or in any way mitigate the treatment I received this evening.