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Monday, August 2, 2010

Bus Fares and Green Shield Stamps

Some people may remember the days of Green Shield stamps. These were stamps that the retailer would give you every time you made a purchase. The stamps could then be exchanged for items at the Green Shield shop. They were all the rage at one time and it was a brave shopkeeper indeed who didn't stock them and occasionally do promotions where you got double or treble the stamps. From the local corner shop to the big supermarket, Green Shield Stamps were everywhere.
One of the bus drivers in Swansea, I think it was Desmond, found a book of stamps on his bus. Des' was quite a character and he started handing out stamps with the bus fare. He told the passengers that the bus company was trying out stamps as an incentive to get more people to ride the buses. It was a good joke except then South Wales Transport started getting all these phone calls from irate passengers complaining about the drivers who were not giving out stamps. They insisted that the other drivers were keeping the stamps for themselves instead of handing them out like that honest guy Des'.
The odd thing about bus companies is that they think that the only incentive they can offer to people for riding a bus is that the bus goes down a certain street. That's it, never a thought to what else they might do to encourage more patronage. Instead if a bus doesn't carry a lot of passengers the service gets cut. That is not a business model geared towards survival or even common sense. It would be nice to point at one bus company and say "This is wrong" but it's not one company, they all follow the same suicidal tendency and if it wasn't for government funding and government bailouts, from before the word became popular, there's not one of them that could survive.
The "Experts" that bus companies listen to aren't any help either. They are more likely to contribute to the problems rather than bring positive solutions. Last year I attended a planning meeting that was being addressed by a panel of experts who spouted so much rubbish that I ended up stuttering in the effort to say something constructive and be polite. I heard talk of what had been successful in Philadelphia and Detroit and so obviously it's going to work in Los Angeles. I was wondering what dream world they live in or must they spout intellectual drivel in order to get paid. It continues with more and more of these meetings and conferences that have no relevance at all to the current passengers and are even further removed from bringing more people to the passenger seat. What was both irritating and amusing, but mostly irritating at that planning meeting I attended was one highly educated bloke who, whenever a point was made, would reply "Now how can we turn that into a positive statement?" I wanted to smack him. Not everything is positive. The world has negative and positive elements and problems are never solved by this kind of psychological mumbo-jumbo. More especially, this kind of thinking is not the kind of thinking that reflects the experience of bus riders. Before any planning can work, somebody needs to talk to real people.
Here in Los Angeles there's an organization called the "Bus Riders Union"
They're a radical group with some very liberal left wing views and that scares the hell out of the powers that be but they have real people in their membership. Some Honest to God men and women who are fed up with a company that ignores their real needs and want to be heard. I'm not talking about student activists or 60's intellectuals, they have more than their fair share of those, but the kind of people who need a decent bus service.
It's time to take them on board at these planning meetings. Maybe then we'll start to see some meaningful plans.

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