7 September 2004

Westbus woes

Another story about the bus company that everyone loves to hate.

Tonight I was catching the 610 home from the city, and got on with only a twenty-dollar note. I thought to myself, if they're going to charge $6 or $8 for a bus trip, they have to at least change a twenty. I think most people would agree with me in saying they should change a ten when buying a $3 ticket, so why not change a twenty for my trip of $6.90?

Unfortunately for Westbus, the driver I encountered had customer relations skills reminiscent of Milton from Office Space. That is, he exhibited the communication ability of a small rodent. Our conversation about the change issue went something like this:

Him: *mumble-mumble* something smaller *mumble*
Me: Sorry, I don't have anything smaller.
Him: *mumble-mumble* later *mumble-mumble* change *mumble*
Me: Okay, should I --
Him: *mumble* sit *waves*

After sitting for a while and watching him take two or three ten dollar notes from the later passengers, I asked him for my ten dollars back. He mumbled a bit, and gave me the note. I sat down further down the bus.

The bus stopped a couple more times before we left the city, and he encountered the same dilemma each time: talking with customers. I know it's hard when a bus driver has to do this, but really I think some minor screening of new employees could improve the standards.

We were on our way home, going through Lane Cove, and had to stop at a red light at Centennial Avenue. The bus driver jumped to his feet, turned around and mumbled at the passengers, opened the door and ran away. A guy at the front of the bus jokingly said, "I hope that wasn't bad news."

Three or four minutes later, after the light has gone green and red again, it turns out it wasn't. The bus driver was just running into the BP service station to get some change. He stood at the front of mumbling and waving his hands until the passengers came forward for their money.

Come on, Westbus, get your act together.

Drivers must be able to talk to the passengers, especially on your key routes in and out of the city. Watching the people get on who were asking for directions or questioning the fare, and just giving up at his level of interaction was frankly depressing.

Give your drivers more change. Prices are rising constantly, and it's time you realised you'll need to provide change for twenty-dollar notes on a regular basis. Bus drivers should not have to run into service stations mid-route to provide change for your customers.

Even better, use some technology, and develop a cashless charging system. (Yes, they exist, and have been used in Europe for at least 20 years.) You had one, scrapped it, promised us a new one, but we're still waiting.

Customer service. I know it's a scary term, and perhaps to your company, a brave new world. Embrace it, and let's see what happens.