Edinburgh buses: Appeal to customers after increase in abusive behaviour towards drivers
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The boss of Lothian Buses has appealed to customers for more courtesy and consideration towards drivers and other staff after an upsurge in abusive behaviour.
Managing director Sarah Boyd says in addition to “horrendous” attacks around Bonfire Night when youths throwing fireworks targeted buses as well as the emergency services, there has also been an increase in spitting incidents, people swearing at drivers and a general lack of tolerance. And police are having to be called more often to incidents on buses. She believes there has been a society-wide shift in attitudes and says she had witnessed it shops and restaurants too.
Ms Boyd acknowledged customers might feel frustrated at the current lower level of service due to driver shortages and apologised for that, but said it was not a reason to turn on people who were doing their best.
In an open letter, she says: “This is an appeal to all of our customers, and all who want to see Lothian Buses thrive again. As a society we’ve gone from standing on doorsteps, applauding key workers and paying tribute to their efforts, to a much less tolerant approach. It’s present wherever you look – in shops, restaurants, and most definitely on buses. It seems many people are less patient, less accepting and much less forgiving.
“I know that our service isn’t always delivering for our customers as it should be right now and I’m sorry. I know how frustrating it is to wait at a bus stop only for the bus not to turn up or to watch the street tracker increase the number of minutes’ wait when it should be counting down. Please be assured that Lothian Buses is doing everything possible to get back to operating the reliable bus services that the people of Edinburgh expect and need.”
And she makes a direct appeal to customers: “Please see our people as human beings – people who are at their place of work and are deserving of your respect and courtesy. Our drivers and other customer-facing people are seeing a huge increase in abusive behaviour. It’s abhorrent and completely unacceptable. If you are frustrated with our service and feel that we have let you down, please remember that it’s not the fault of any individual colleague. They are doing their very best in incredibly difficult circumstances.
"We are slowly turning a corner with driver shortages and we will get back to being a service that customers can rely on. And in the meantime, please bear with us, and with our people.”
‘Even just a please or a thank you goes a long way’
Ms Boyd told the Evening News: “Over the Bonfire Night weekend we saw horrendous behaviour towards our drivers, the control team having to pull buses out of certain areas to make sure people were kept safe. But drivers also report increased spitting incidents, an increase in swearing and people getting on the bus just trying to be antagonistic.
“We’re just asking people to recognise the driver is a human being, at their work and deserving of dignity and respect – and even if it is no more than a ‘please’ or a ‘thank you’, that really does go a long way and is appreciated.
"People are busy living their own lives and there's a lot to concern yourself with just now. If there are people who are frustrated – and we have let them down – part of this message is to apologise for that and say that it's recognised that if you're trying to go about your business the last thing you need is not to be able to travel. But that's not the fault of an individual driver or person in customer services.”
‘I would love it if people just took a minute to understand’
Kyle, a driver with Lothian Buses for five years, says the situation has reached “boiling point”. “The attitude all round the city has taken a turn for the worse, I'd say. There is a lot of frustration – customers are frustrated, but we're frustrated along with them. And it's not necessary to be abusive towards the staff. When I came back after Covid there seemed to be a lack of patience, a lack of understanding. People are swearing, there's abuse, name-calling, derogatory terms.
"There's maybe been some issue with the bus in front so they've missed that one, you're the next one that comes along, you’re going to take the brunt of the abuse. But the customer has to understand that's outwith your control. We just want a wee bit of understanding really.
"I don't think it's just a bus thing – I think attitudes have changed everywhere. I've seen it in standing in queues on my lunch break, waiting on something to eat – people getting grief from others, just a lack of patience. They just go from zero to a hundred, there's not time taken to understand that things go wrong. I would love it if when they are angry they just took a minute to understand it's maybe something outwith the driver's control.”
But he emphasises: “The majority of customers are great. We understand it’s a minority who are the problem.”
He says he is thick-skinned and can shrug off the name-calling, but some colleagues take things to heart. “Sometimes the comments are making judgements on their appearance. Just because they're angry at that particular moment they take it out on the driver personally, but they don't know that they're actually a really lovely person and they're really bringing them down.”
‘It's like a ticking timebomb – everyone is angry about something’
Kevin, who worked as a driver for 13 years and is now a duty controller, says his work in the control room means he sees what goes on across the network. "We're sitting there taking calls from drivers and we don't know what's going to get thrown up – for example, an abusive passenger who has made the driver feel so uncomfortable they don't want to continue with that passenger on board, but the passenger refuses to leave. Our first option would be to send a patrol van to defuse the situation and get the abusive person off the bus. If not, we have a good relationship with the police. Our staff shouldn't be subject to any form of abuse for just doing their job.”
He says incidents like that are a daily occurrence. “It could be a fare dispute because someone thinks they can put in 10p when everyone else is paying the correct fare, then they'll hurl abuse at the driver. It's like a ticking timebomb – everyone is just angry about something. Some passengers kick off on the bus, smash the glass panels on the stairs. I think society has got to look at itself.
“When I was a driver I experienced anti-social abuse, drunks and whatever, and drivers talk in the canteen so you do hear some of the things, but when you’re working in the control room, taking call after call after call on a Friday and Saturday night it really opens your eyes to how much it has increased. It's quite scary.”
‘All bus companies face huge challenges’
Transport convener Scott Arthur said: “It’s extremely disappointing to hear that Lothian Buses’ employees are having to endure abusive and anti-social behaviour. These keyworkers work hard to provide a trusted, essential service for the city and it’s appalling that they’re having to put up with this kind of treatment.
“We’ve pulled through an exceptionally challenging few years together, as a city, and I’m grateful for the indispensable role Lothian Buses played during the pandemic. We should not forget that divers faced unknown risks everyday getting keyworkers to work. The current Europe-wide driver shortage means all bus companies face huge challenges in maintaining their network, but I know the vast majority of people in Edinburgh understand this and will continue to support Lothian Buses by reinforcing a zero tolerance stance on anti-social behaviour.”