£285,000. Sounds a lot, doesn’t it. It’s pretty much the average for a detached house in Bournemouth, for instance. And it’s as much as a traffic commissioner can fine a poorly performing operator when you have a fleet of about 800 buses, as does First Manchester. As, indeed, the north western traffic commissioner did, following poor punctuality, as reported to her by VOSA.
There’s an argument, though, that in business terms, £285,000 isn’t actually a great deal. That’s not to say that First could do without the fine. But it equates to about 0.25p per passenger journey per annum or, discounting those travelling free, less than a penny per paying passenger journey… even though, ultimately, the very same passengers who’ve suffered the poor punctuality will pay the fine. Unless First choses to buy two fewer buses and, even then, some passengers will suffer older step entrance vehicles for a little longer.
The outspoken and feared Mrs Bell feels that the imposition of a hefty fine was the only way to ensure First tackled poor punctuality. This seems to suggest that First’s management doesn’t care. At the public inquiry, it may have seemed that way. I’m sure that they do, very much. May be under the older regime the purse strings were very centrally controlled with an emphasis on extreme cost control. Now, First is managed differently. Local managers will not want a repetition of something so potentially damaging as this negative PR.
How to tackle such poor PR? Wouldn’t it be nice if First could convert the £285,000 fine into some sort of customer benefit. That way, the users might feel that they’re being compensated rather than seeing a large slice of their collective fares going to the DfT. Examples of how this might work could include:
- Reduced season prices for a period of time
- Free travel on one evening
- Low flat fare on one weekend for child concessionaires
- Free travel on Christmas Eve
- The establishment of some sort of customer charter or guarantee
- A contribution to infrastructure, shelters, a bus lane, etc.
Or perhaps I’m just being naïf.