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Nouse on the buses: speaking with the MD of First Bus

Nouse and First Bus discuss student's recent dissatisfaction with First Bus and how the company has been coping with the pandemic

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Image Credit: Chris Sampson

ONE THING MOST York students agree on is their dissatisfaction with the First Bus service provided in York.The recent “error” on the First Bus app, which saw the popular option of bulk buying 10 Yorkey tickets for £10 removed, as well as the restriction of the Yorkey Card to exclusively University services has perpetuated this dissatisfaction.

In light of this, Nouse interviewed First Bus York’s Managing Director, Marc Bichtemann, to understand his thoughts on the issues students have with First Bus as well as their current operations in York. We began by asking Marc how he would like to respond to the historic animosity between students and First Bus. Marc went on to explain that he feels as though the issue between students and First Bus is a “a historic perception of First Bus from students and it hasn’t moved with the time,” and that it is “difficult to put your finger on where the animosity between students and First Bus comes from and I think a lot of it is just people hearing it from other people and I think the reality of the situation is very different.”

However, he did address that there are significant issues with the service in York, stating that he is “realistic enough” to understand “that buses in York are significantly affected by the congestion around the city centre and that has a massive impact.” Ultimately, Marc believes that this overshadows the “the new services we have put in to make sure that all those connections, as well as new connections, are there to serve students.” Mark reinforced his earlier point,stating that he does not believe that there is an “inherent issue” between students and First Bus. Instead, Marc believes that there may be “isolated cases that aren’t perfect,” but that “what probably gets forgotten in that sphere is that there is a lot of stuff that doesn’t get mentioned.”

He goes on to explain that “we have drivers who have worked the University services for years, who know exactly what a student might need to know and the support they need for using the bus before the student has even entered the bus.” Specifically, Marc states that “we get a large number of international students and our drivers are absolutely fantastic with those students. I will always hold my hands up to a driver who manages to explain the ticketing arrangements and the free travel zone to individuals whose first language isn’t English and whose English may not be great – they are still able to get the message across and help those students.”

Upon asking, Marc went on to describe what training the First Bus drivers undergo to deal with students,especially those on the more challenging night service. He told us that “all of our drivers go through customer service training and that actually starts even before the training – it starts at the recruitment stage so when we recruit drivers, we want to make sure they have a perception of what good customer service is” He goes on to add that “especially with the student services, we give the drivers tools to give them the additional information and awareness of the different needs of customers,” stating that this awareness of different needs comes in useful as “a customer who rides on a nine o’clock morning bus to work has different needs to those who travel at three in the morning back from the club.” He tells us that “our drivers tune into that and make a judgement call on how they respond to those customers and their differing needs."

We then asked Marc to comment on the recent issues being raised by students, this being the erroneous removal of the 10 for £10 option on the app. He began by reassuring us that its removal was,indeed, “an error” and that “when we found out about it, which was brought to us by student feedback highlighting the issue, one of my team jumped on and fixed it.”

Marc suggested to us that the current COVID-19 pandemic caused further disruption with this issue also.On this issue, we asked Marc how First Bus has adapted to the current situation and whether they are still operating a safe yet efficient service.He told us that they have “implemented very stringent cleaning procedures– our buses get disinfected everyday in service in addition to the overnight cleans.
After discussing this, Marc then went on to describe how positive the reaction in York has been to their “facemask policy ”.He stated that “in York, the facecovering compliance is the best we have across the business,” but also “especially among the students.” Marc said that he had “personally been out on one of the University services and the students without exception had face coverings on and that was very positive to see.”
In terms of making sure their services are still running efficiently with the challenges social distancing pose,Marc said that they have “segregated customer flows, which we have done through making the dedicated campus shuttle,” and that they have also“also put an extra five buses, an almost 50 per cent increase in vehicles in the University network.”

Marc then wrapped up by telling us about the recent work FirstBus have been taking to improve their emissions, stating that “Our emission reduction across the board is at 95 percent compared to what it was before”and that they are “working on making York an all-electric bus town.” In his final statement to us, Marc asked whether his thanks to his drivers could be published.He said: “I would also like FirstBus drivers to be recognised – over the past eight months or so they have been the real heroes of keeping keyworkers moving, of keeping the Uni-versity connected and so on. I think they are sometimes missed in that recognition. That recognition needs to be there, and I would like to thank my team for their work over the past months and I ask students to join in with that as well.”

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