All I want for Christmas…
Claire Walters, Chief Executive of Bus Users calls on operators to make this Christmas special for all their passengers
It's not far away now and many of us will start working out who's going where for different days over the festive period, what we'll be eating, other than too much, and scratching our heads wondering what on earth to buy friends and family this year.
Of course, for thousands of people, this isn't going to be an issue. Not because they're from a different religion or don't approve of the commercialisation involved but because they have no chance of going anywhere because there won't be any buses where they live on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. It comes as no surprise to hear that emergency admissions to hospital, calls to Samaritans and other helplines and suicide rates all increase exponentially in the run-up to and over Christmas.
Unless someone offers to and can collect isolated people, or they can afford the extortionate price of a festive taxi, or even bigger cost of a hotel Xmas, they will have to settle for watching the rest of the world having a lovely time on TV. Again.
In this 24-7, we never close world, the only time it's acceptable to stop providing public transport is at Christmas. The time when people get together and remember old friends, old times, long-lost cousins and usually raise a glass or five with them to celebrate. That means they can't drive home and not everyone has a spare bed or sofa. Taxi companies make a mint over this period so isn't it possible that a special Christmas restricted timetable might actually be viable?
I know lots of people will argue that bus drivers and other staff have families too and need a break- I wouldn't argue with that at all. I would, however, be amazed if a call for volunteers to work on Christmas Day didn't produce at least a few responses from people desperate to escape a family do for a few hours or drivers who don't celebrate Christmas or whose families are too far away to spend the day with.
If you consulted with social services, Day centres and voluntary organisations locally and devised and offered a route that picked up and dropped off from the places you know are needed, even if it's just for a couple of hours in the morning and in the afternoon to get people home again, just imagine what an impact this would have on the people who are usually completely isolated at that time of year. How good would it make all those involved feel? If you're not convinced yet, just think about the great PR your company would receive if you were canny about it...
In recent years, a few operators have started to offer services on Boxing Day, which is really helpful, not just to the usual passengers but to all the shops starting sales on that day and everyone trying to escape their hosts or hangovers.
We would urge all bus operators to think hard about it this year and at least have some conversations to see if you can do anything to make this Christmas really special for people for whom it's normally a time to forget.
So now is the time to start lobbying your local bus operator or depot manager to ask if they can make someone's Christmas special this year. In the meantime, well done to all those operators already running services including EastCoastbuses, Nottingham City Transport, CityFox and National Express who will be running Christmas day coach services to London for the first time ever!