Archive | July, 2013

Dangerous service, absent customer service: welcome to easybus

23 Jul

I’m publishing here a copy of the letter that I have sent to the customer services, and separately, the refunds department of easybus, a business providing bus shuttle services between three London airports and the city itself. I used the service coming home from Gatwick in June this year and their driver forced three people to squeeze into two seats (myself, my boyfriend and a stranger), meaning there was one less seatbelt for us than is legally required. This was after breaking the contract made between passengers and easybus that, if you already hold a paid for ticket, you will be given priority to take a seat on your scheduled service over those who turn up without a ticket. In fact, one bus refused to let us on and gave priority to a bunch of people who turned up without tickets; the next bus allowed more passengers without tickets on first, then squeezed myself and my partner on to the one remaining seat in the front alongside another passenger without a ticket. What followed was a very scary ride home in the early hours of the morning.

Why am I publishing this letter? Because I have sent it to two postal addresses for easybus complaints, the chairman and head of PR at easygroup, and I’ve tweeted easybus with my complaint, all over the last seven weeks. The single response was a one-line reply from the PR saying that someone would be in touch: over one week later, of course, no one has been in touch. I have now advanced my complaint to the ‘regulators’ – though they have no legal powers even to force easybus to respond, but they’re all us British bus users have. I hope they can get easybus and/or easygroup to act like a professional business, rather than a stone.

Three worrying things: one, I’ve told easybus about their having appearing to have broken the law, or at least, put passengers in grave danger. Two, they have failed to defend themselves against that serious accusation. Three, they don’t appear to care about the reputational risk in complaints being made public, and complaints about complaints being made public. A quick Google search shows a long list of angry people who have complaints about easybus, some of whom have contacted the business and experienced the same wall of silence. I’m willing to wager that few people will have made as many attempts to give the business opportunities to put this right as I have given easybus and easygroup. And yet the silence remains intact. So as a customer, I am left with no other forum but the public one, publishing my letter and my frustration. As a journalist, I’m extremely tempted to write about this for a travel supplement or magazine: surely then they’d take note?

It feels very much like easybus has a habit of ignoring complaints (based on what I have read online from others who have had no response), and hopes to simply keep making easy money from a poor service while relying on the fact that their silence is backed up with a sore lack of powerful regulators or ombudsmen. Complaining about this has taken my time and money, neither of which any of us have to spare on poor service, and the bodies I’ve contacted to help me (Bus Users UK and London Travel Watch) have no powers to compel easybus or easygroup to modify their attitude.

7th June 2013

To whom it may concern,

I write with a serious complaint about your service and to claim a full refund on the two tickets I bought for your service from Gatwick Airport on 07 June 2013.

On the morning of 07 June 2013 my partner and I were waiting for your easybus service to collect us from Gatwick North Terminal. We had bought two tickets and had our printed ticket/receipt with us. Our tickets were timed for 00.40 but we were waiting from about 00:00 for an earlier bus, as stated as permissible by you as printed on the ticket. As we had bought and reserved two seats that your ticket stated were able to be used up to one hour before or after the time stated on the ticket, we expected to simply board the next bus.

When the next bus arrived the driver made the choice to admit 4 passengers who had no tickets and were paying on the spot. I showed the driver my ticket as these people were boarding, and reminded him that he is bound, as the ticket states, to let us board as a priority because we have already got tickets. The driver refused us still and admitted these other people who were paying on the spot.

Further, he had at least two empty seats in the van and two in the front: when we wanted to board using these the driver stated that he could not allow this because he was going to collect more people from the other terminal. We were therefore left no choice, with the terms of the ticket broken by your driver, to wait for the next bus.

When the second bus arrived, we were sure to show him our tickets first as there was one other individual waiting to board who had no ticket, and the bus looked almost full. This driver said that all three of us must squeeze onto the two empty seats in the front, as it was likely that the next service would not show up at all. I was incredulous at this. I know that it is a legal requirement that easybus ensures each passenger has a seatbelt: one of the three of us would be forced to go without. I reminded the driver of the rules stated on the ticket which meant that he was supposed to prioritise pre-paid customers, and should allow myself and my partner to take the two last seats, not to squeeze a third person on between us without a seatbelt. I reminded him that to do so would mean easybus was breaking the law and putting its passengers in danger. He simply responded that we had no choice and argued that it was an act of charity to let the third passenger (who had no pre-paid ticket) on despite having no seat for her, because of the likelihood that no other bus would show up that evening.

We drove into West Brompton feeling very much at risk: my partner is very tall and practically sat with half his backside up against the door to make room for this on-the-spot customer to share my seat. I was in between them and felt very unsafe with all of us squashed up together. As we were so squashed up, my partner and I tried but failed to find and secure the two seatbelts available. The third passenger had no belt available.

As a consequence, easybus broke the law and put all three of us in great danger in order, as I see it, to squeeze in one more paying customer than is safely possible in your vehicles.

The law states that only one person is legally permitted to sit in each seat fitted with a seat belt. It also states that it is the passenger’s responsibility (aged 14 and up) to ensure they wear a seatbelt on a minibus or coach. Easybus removed the possibility of being able to discharge this responsibility by implying that there may not have been another bus for several hours if at all that morning and forcing a third passenger into two seats and leaving absolutely no room to move or fasten the available seatbelts.

In the easybus terms and conditions 7.1 on passenger behaviour, it states that passengers “must wear the provided seatbelt at all times whilst the vehicle is in motion.” How could easybus expect passengers to comply when it knowingly allows in a passenger for whom there is no seatbelt available?

You can read the legislation on seatbelts here

When we complained about our experience to the driver he said that the first driver should not have left us as it is the driver’s responsibility to make these decisions. However, I want to stress that I take no issue with our driver. The two drivers we encountered appeared to be under pressure with driver or service drop-outs that evening (which begs the question of whether we would simply have been left without any bus whatsoever had we tried to take the 00.40 service that the second driver claimed would not likely turn up).

My issue is with easybus and the way it runs an entirely shoddy and dangerous service. This service resulted in two drivers overriding the contract between passengers and itself to prioritise customers with tickets in hand, and failed to guarantee the safety procedures it is legally required to.

I have four things I want easybus to do to respond to this complaint as a matter of urgency:

Refund in full the £17.98 I paid for two tickets, and the £2.20 cost of sending this letter to easybus refunds and easybus customer services by Royal Mail Signed For second-class postage in both cases (because you do not provide an e-mail service).

Explain why on-the-spot customers were prioritised on these two occasions over two pre-paid customers who should, as stated on your ticket, take priority.

Explain how easybus defends breaking the law by failing to provide one passenger a seatbelt, and forcing two more to go without being able to use their seatbelts.

Declare whether easybus pays commission or any other form of incentive or reward to drivers for taking passengers who pay on the spot.

I have sent this message to the office of the chairman of easygroup. The same letter is copied to the easybus refunds department and the easybus customer services department.

I hope that you will respond soon, in writing (you can e-mail me or respond in writing through the post).


Melanie Stern