21 May 2008

Coach driver announcements

Recently I travelled on a large number of National Express coaches in one day. I did so with a friend who used to work for the company. As the largest scheduled coach operator in the UK, NatEx coaches are instantly recognisable; indeed their name was recently ranked as 179th in a league table of World Superbrands. On virtually all the occasions I've travelled on NatEx coaches in the past announcements by the driver have been made.

This is true of rail, ferry and plane journeys I've made. Each and every announcement has been slightly different as each has been made by a different person, each adding their own 'edge' to the announcement (or not as the case has been sometimes). Last July First TransPennine Express started running new Class 185 Desiro trains in the LEYTR area (Cleethorpes - Manchester Airport) and they have automated announcements so they now form the solitary exception for announcements made on transport in our area; every other I can think of has a human being make the announcement at least in part, if not in full.

My first journey was from Peterborough to London Victoria on the 0735 NatEx service 448 to London. The driver - a jovial chap named Alan - made a thorough if not a little farcical announcement as we left the city. He likened the toilet at the back to his garden shed and proceeded to warn ladies not to catch their tights on his lawn mower in there! There were, however, very sincere overtones in the announcement - I especially liked "if you have a problem come and see me; if you don't then please don't complain about anything when you get off". Perhaps a little too direct for a formal announcement but nevertheless a commonsense statement that other drivers, I'm sure, have managed to refine.

The next trip was aboard one of the 15 meter Scania Levantes on the 1045 Service A6 to Stansted Airport. The p/a volume was far too low and the driver seemingly felt he had to shout to make-up for the lack of volume (perhaps he'd not been shown the volume knob?). His announcement was brief and concise: seat belts, no smoking and a description of the 4 emergency exits on board plus the locality of the fire extinguisher and first aid kit.

Comparing the two there is much going for Alan's announcement on the 448 earlier on in the day - humerus, friendly yet sincere in places. But it was rather lengthy. I didn't mind the length of the announcement too much but what if he never variates it? What if I catch his coach tomorrow and find myself again on board next week? It could become tedious. What about those in a bad mood, on their mobile phones or wanting to sleep? They'd much prefer the A6 driver's announcement (he didn't give his name). I feel there is much to be gained from a short, concise announcement though in the end the ultimate decision is the driver's and it could be best for he or she to decide on the style of announcement against the 'feel' he or she gets off the passengers that have just been loaded.

Later on during the same day we found ourselves boarding the 1635 Service 210 from Heathrow's T5 to Wolverhampton, though we alighted 15 mins later at the Central Bus Station. I must confess to allowing a wry smile to creep between my ears whenever I hear someone with a Birmingham accent make an announcement on a coach. I just recall a story Jasper Carrott told once about how one of his friends had got himself stood with away fans at Aston Villa's ground and had managed to give away no clue he was a local supporting the home team until half time when he shouted over "Oy! Jasp! They've run out of cowing Bovril!" in a broad Brummie accent. I now just think of "cowing Bovril" every time a Birmingham accent is heard from a p/a.

My thoughts of beef extract products soon disappeared when our driver elaborated on the legal requirement for all passengers to wear seat belts. He said that those who didn't could be fined up to £1,000 and have 3 points added to their licences if found not to be wearing a seat belt if a Police officer boarded at any point. I've never heard the £1,000 fine be mentioned before! It may well be for a driver of a PCV but so too for a passenger? Again how can the Police issue a someone who doesn't drive with 3 points on their licence? If my parents were caught by the Police sat on board the 210 coach devoid of a seat belt each, my 52 year old mother who's never ever sat behind the wheel of a car would only have half the punishment given to her compared to my dad who would be £1k lighter plus 3 points heavier???

I think not. But the announcement was otherwise concise and pointed; as too was the announcement made by the Service 031 driver on the 1655 service from Central Bus Station into London Victoria.

The last trip was on the 1800 Service 448 back to Peterborough. The driver wore a name badge stating Bally yet gave his name as Dave when calling in two "no shows" at Golders Green - very strange. His announcement wasn't as long as his counterpart's travelling south this morning but was perhaps the clearest of the day.

Certainly with NatEx not enforcing strict without-deviation set announcement they allow their drivers to give the human touch to them. This can backfire with the ridiculous '3 points for not wearing a seat belt' but then the automated First TransPennine Express announcements do not make passengers laugh as the first driver's announcement on the 448 did. The fact that things are done as they are is testament to the way drivers do make their announcements - if a flood of complaints came in then NatEx would no doubt insist on a strict, itemised list of things to say, the fact they don't would seem to suggest all is well out there with the nation's largest coach operator.

I'll end with two clips from YouTube. Both contain the same announcement made by a female driver on the 420 service between London Victoria and Birmingham. The announcement starts at Victoria and doesn't end until Marble Arch - some 2 miles further! So long was the announcement that the camera (on which t'other Editor was recording it) expired! This lady received a round of applause at the end. See what you think!

PART 1 of 2

PART 2 of 2