Thursday, August 23, 2007

You want to talk? Let's talk

The recent appearance of an article about this blog in a local newspaper has led to a small flurry of appearances on local TV and radio.
The latest of these was on BBC Oxford, and while I was on air, the presenter Bill Heine read a statement from First Great Western, which suggested that the company is always happy to listen to people's problems, and that it seemed that some people (I think they mean't me) simply didn't want a constructive dialogue with them.
It's half an hour later, and I'm still fuming. A dialogue is exactly what I do want, and now I've decided to try and get it, since they've laid down the gauntlet. I'm not sure whether the comment came from a press officer, or from someone in management, but it's typical of First Great Western's approach of "stick your fingers in your ears, shout 'la la la, I can't hear you' and pretend everything's fine"
So, I've now decided to call the press office myself, and see if I can get myself a bit of dialogue with someone. But first I need to know - do you feel First Great Western is happy to listen to your problems? And if not, what would you ask them if you had the chance?
I'll be happy to pass on your grievances, and will let you know what they say in response.
Hell hath no fury like a commuter scorned.


Anonymous said...

why do you hate FGW because you dont know how to travel by rail?!

First Great Western and their staff are one of the best in the country Intercity rail networks are not the easy to manage and for the people who moan who cant get a seat i have a few tips for you
1. Dont travel at rush hour
2. Reserve your seat
3. If you dont like crowded trains take the coach.

also do a bit of reading into the terms of carriage if a train is packed you can ask the train manager if you can sit in first class without cost.

Yes public transport is a pain but we have to live with it.. if you want to have a go at a TOC have a go at "c2c" for their rubbish customer service, poor security and running of vandelised trains.

no one is forcing you to take the train, i hate the London underground but i chose to travel by it when i can take the bus around london

Ollie said...

Anonymous: I feel your comment was out of line. At no point in this blog has the owner stated any hatred towards FGW Staff, the impression I get is the hate that performance is poor yet paying extremes for it.

A train manager can let you in First Class, however it is down to discretion they can also say no, it is not a given right.

On c2c would you prefer they cancel your train due to damage? c2c from figures I have seen have reasonably good performance compared to FGW.

Saying someone doesn't know how to travel by rail, when they do it every day is out of line.

I hate FGW said...

Thanks Ollie, I appreciate that.

Thanks for your comments anonymous, it gives me the opportunity to make a few points:

1 - I work in London. I have to travel during rush hour, I can't really choose otherwise just because I feel like it.

2 - I have successfully reserved seats in the past, as you would know if you'd read a little further into the blog, but cannot always choose which train I'm going to travel on.

3 - A coach from Pangbourne to London? Really?

4 - When the train is full, I've asked to sit in First Class before, and have been turned down.

5 - Commuting to central London by car is not a sensible option, and surely we're supposed to be using public transport when we can?

I'd ask you a question - why do we have to "live with" bad public transport? I wouldn't mind so much if it was cheap, but it's not.
And the point is, I can't choose to use a different company, so I can't vote with my feet. In fact, if you've read my latest posts, I have said that things are getting better. I really do try to be reasonable about this, please don't make me out to be an ignorant fool who "doesn't know how to travel by rail"

Anonymous said...

c2c only have to cover london to shoeburyness whereas FGW covers a lot more area.. so the figures are unfair thats why TOC's like Virgin FGW, GNER and other intercity lines have "poor profomence" where the smaller franchises like crap2crap (c2c) and islandline have better ones cos they have less ground to cover so its easier to manage.

and yes i would rather they cancel a train if its dammaged cos i rather travel in a train that is safe then one that is dammanged
costs go up, trains get busy live with it. rest of us does.

Insider said...

Dear oh dear anonymous. Much as I always appreciate people coming to the defence of FGW, how about we agree to leave it to me in the future.

Your point about the figures being unfair is incorrect. Whilst it is true hat intercity services make longer journeys and therefore have more opportunity to accrue delay minutes, this is accounted for by the threshold at which a train is considered late.

I disagree that you would pefer a cancelled train if it was vandalised. Once you have spent a couple of times travelling on one train with three trains worth of people, you may begin to feel that the saety aspects of that journey outweight the safety aspects of a vandalised train.

(Even though, in line with HSE studies, I would publicly state that there is no more of a safety risk travelling on acrowded train than on a non-crowded one, but it's not very comfortable, is it?)

I feel that you have been needlessly rude here and your opinons are ill-informedI suggest we bring this particluar trolling session to a close.

Anonymous said...

i have read your comments with interest, but i can not understand what drives people to set up web-sites that rubbish a service that you clearly use day in day out. what is your underlying hatred?

I hate FGW said...

What drives me is the frustration of receiving a bad service for a large amount of money, when there isn't really another viable option.
Anyone who commutes regularly on First Great Western seems to understand this, so can I take it you're not a regular traveller?

Anonymous said...

It's not the FGW staff in the frontline you should take it out on - it's FGW management (or complete lack of it). When the Conservatives sold the railways off we all knew it was 'jobs for the boys'...and boy has this been proved

I hate FGW said...

But I don't take it out on frontline staff, never have and never will. The badges are simply a visual way of showing our unhappiness, when all other lines of complaint seem to come to nothing. Don't worry, I'm hoping a chat with management will be on the cards soon, and I will be happy to ask any questions you would like to put to them.

Anonymous said...

It's catch 22 isn't it, you have government saying we should go green, yet in some cases it's more expencive to travel by train, and the money we do pay for tickets we don't get a over all decent service.

The badges are a great way of showing customers issue with a company that clearly doesn't listen as i have myself tried to get tickets refunded and talk to some one.

Good luck and you have my support.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on getting the publcity you have managed to get.

1, you should definately challenge them on some of the very high fares - go prepared with some extortionate examples

2, I think you should also bring up lack of information in times of disruption and the secrecy about departure platforms at paddington

3, It would be decent (and good for staff morale - which can only be a good thing for everyone) if you could make a distinction between the generally good effort made by hard working people on the ground and the management who ought to be closely managing the troops not bidding for the next franchise or passing the blame.

4, If they start trying to pass the blame to NR or the DfT (not that they would dare bad mouth the DfT) you possition could be that the passenger really doesn't care about the internal organisation of the railway and if that internal organisation is really a problem them First Group should be lobbying to get it changed as tehy are now the largest franchisee in the country and must carry some weight. I find the idea that FGW are unable to get accurate information about delays from NR laughable - First Group must be NR's biggest customer and if NR don't treat them well they should start throwing their weight about.

Good luck


Anonymous said...

What I hate most when things go wrong with the service is the attitude from FGW. No apologies and no acknowledgement that you're being inconvenienced. For example, the recent flooding on the Oxford-Didcot line had knock-on effects to Reading-Paddington local services with a number of cancelled trains. Generally the same trains were cancelled each day for a week but there was no information on the FGW website and no posters on stations. To me they're not bothered if their "customers" waste 30 minutes or more kicking their heels on a platform. Their attitude seems to be "if you don't like it, lump it!"

Good Luck,

Economy Klaus said...

The real test of the quality of the FGW service for me is as follows: I work in London and live near Chippenham. Every now and then I have to return home from work early to collect my kids from I can't be late. The question then, is: what time train to catch in order to guarantee being on time?

For me the answer is that I need to catch the train one hour before the one I really need to in order to be sure - that's two trains ahead of the timetabled train that would get me to the nursery on time. And that is a mark of a pretty poor service when I have to build-in contingency time of one hour on a one hour and fifteen minute journey!

Jules said...

Always happy to listen???? Then why is it that whenever I have complained to them in the past have they taken almost 2 months to reply?
Also, it's been over a month since I've seen a train on time despite getting returns 6 days a week, when can i expect the next one?
And last of all, which baffoon in Great Western decided we'd rather have pretty painted stations with pretty hanging baskets with flowers in rather than more train carriages and on time trains???

Those are the things I'm most interested in getting answers to...

Anonymous said...

just a word of support, please keep up the great work in letting FGW that they can't provide a pi$$ poor service and think that we're just going to accept it. other train operators manage it so what is the excuse for for their incompetence?
You give us all a voice...

Anonymous said...

As somebody involved in watching the "operations" of FGW everyday, I can only say that I have great sympathy for the originator of this blog......

Simon said...


It would be useful if senior FGW could hold a number of public meetings to discuss their service with their customers?

A simple presentation, open questions submitted in writing at the start of the meeting, and an open discussion about the issues.

There is nothing like open discussion for encouraging understanding, and you never know we may become more sympathetic towards FGW.

Anonymous said...

Great blog.
As an employee of FGW (train-driver)it's always interesting to hear about passengers experiences.
It may interest you to know that the only people who hate FGW more than the passengers are the employees.

I started when it was British Rail, it really saddens me to see the state of the railway these days. The senior management do not have a clue on how to run a proper service.....keep up the good work.

Great Big Veg Challenge said...

Dear oh dear oh dear. Blogging about commuting brings conflict into your life...
Now vegetables - they are a different matter. Its heart-warming smily faces all round and no angst.
Can I ask all you commuters out there - including the FGW staff who clearly have a stressful life to look into their fridges and construct a vegetable face, photograph it and send it to our blog. Then come back to this blog feeling calm and at one with the world.

Anonymous said...

I have a suspicion that the comment about not wanting a constructive dialogue applies to More Train Less Strain (MTLS) and not to you! Personally, I would agree with that. MTLS’s objectives are far too political for my tastes and their form of direct action, while it may be in a good cause, isn’t exactly constructive.

In any case, well done with the publicity and good luck with your dialogue!

CJ Harrison said...

Every commercially savvy company should be in constant dialogue with their customers: it’s the only way to maintain competitive advantage in today’s challenging marketplace. There are, however, two particular considerations when it comes to train companies.

The first is that because of the way the system works there is an inbuilt disincentive to be customer centric. Arguably, a train operating company’s (TOC) primary ‘customer’ is the government which grants and manages the contract to run train services. A train company can annoy passengers as much as it wants, but if it abides by its franchise commitments and keeps the government happy it can be relatively secure in its tenure. That is not a recipe for customer responsiveness and it is not a model emulated across other private companies, most of which have to consider the end user first and foremost.

The second is that dialogue involves listening as well as talking. Customers are very good at talking, and rightly so. However, under the current system it just isn’t possible to meet everyone’s needs. Resources are limited, franchise specifications are often painfully tight in both financial and operational terms and there are a multitude of stakeholders to consider which means conflicting demands need to be balanced. So, even if a train operating company does listen, it isn’t always in a position to act – and sometimes for very good reasons. There is a degree of responsibility on the part of passengers to at least listen (though not necessarily to agree) to why TOCs can’t do all the things they would like them to.

All of that said, train companies should listen and they should engage in regular dialogue with customers. There are easy changes they can make, there are many ways in which they can improve and there are many lessons that can be learned – including things that they may not have considered. Corporately, it is also good for TOCs to listen: it fosters a degree of goodwill and it makes things easier in an operational sense.

As to First Great Western, are they good at listening? I don’t think they are all that bad. Both Alison Forster and Glenda Lamont have attended many open forums where passengers could air their views. I also understand that they have engaged, on many occasions, with Graham Ellis and his group. Stakeholder forums are also held regularly and there are several meet the manager sessions throughout the year. On top of that there is the customer panel which is supposed to gather public feedback and report it back to senior management through structured meetings. I also suspect that communication with regional assemblies and councils is ongoing throughout the year.

Could more be done? Absolutely.

1. Now that the majority of franchises have been let, I think First Group as a whole should lobby the government far harder over the way in which the railways are run. I think they should be much more forward in discussing alternative ways in which the railways could be run more effectively and in a more customer centric way.

2. I think there is a potential opportunity to hold large forums in major towns and cities to gather feedback from a wide cross section of the travelling public. These should be attended by very senior management.

3. Better and more regular communication via the website. Possibly an online forum where people could submit questions and receive answers from directors. Maybe a webcast by a director about problems and how they are being solved.

Those are just a few ideas; I am sure there are many more.

The bottom line for me, though, is that while communication and dialogue are both vital they key is being able to act on it. And it is that ‘action’ part that is extremely difficult at the moment all because of the way we have structured our railway.

graham said...

CJ Harrison Writes:

"As to First Great Western, are they good at listening? I don't think they are all that bad ... Could more be done? Absolutely." I'm in agreement with you on that (and thanks for the "mention in dispatches". I could have a lot to comment on / on this subject! In a nutshell? I've seen it from both sides.

I run a business where customer's comments and requests are our lifeblood but - with the best will in the world - we can't do everything that each person wants. Most we have actually heard before and looked at - often ruling them out as impractical (economic or other reasons), or because of other negative effects. And it can be very depressing and expensive too to keeping telling people "no", politely and with reasons, time after time. So, yes, it's easy to be less tahn perfac at listening, and it's easy to appear to not respond to inputs.

But I am also a customer (and in my case an inquitive by positive one). So I will ask, and I have tended not to just take the glib answer given, but to look and learn into the background. And with a smaller number of people who have leared more into the rhyme and reason, who take (I hope) a balanced view and look to the positive prospects and future for all parties' interests then - yes - FGW can listen, respond, and help. And so can the other parties involved in the system such as the DfT, by the way!

Anonymous said...

C J Harrison raises an important point.

FGW have taken much critism because of problems both under their control and problems not under their control. Because they have been unwilling to pass the blame on to NR or DfT they have arguably taken more stick from customers than they deserve. Now must of the UK franchises have been awarded for the next few years and First Group has taken a large slice of the pie, they no longer need to avoid upsetting the government and can start listening to their customers more. So don't let them get away with passing the blame to DfT or NR. If they try that tactic you should ask what First Group plc is doing to raise concerns with the governemnt and NR. First Group are a powerful organisation in the nation, it would be nice if they could start using this power on behalf of gheir customers and their shareholders (who can only benefit if the customers are happy)