In the face of petty officialdom sometimes you just have to pucker up and take the pain.

Here is an irritating situation. It’s 11.30pm on a Friday night in Cardiff Bus station. You have a 7am flight from Heathrow and the coach driver is getting all chesty about putting your carefully dismantled and beautifully bagged up bicycle into the luggage compartment. Apparently it’s in the  small print rules of the online booking form. It is at his discretion to decide if he allows the luggage on or not. Just to cap it off he threateningly announces that the bus will get full up at Bristol, and he will probably remove your bike off there. Welsh customer service at its worst!

A very anxious journey to Bristol followed, where the bus did not fill up. My only guess is that the Bristol University Canoe Club failed to turn up with their kayaks. That’s the only way that luggage hold was going to become overcrowded, in my opinion (sorry un-necessary sarcasm here).

If ever there was a clear-cut example of the need to do away with petty rules and useless officials this guy was it.

During the anxious journey (while Geof was willing him a painful death through the power of telepathy) I was pondering, had we done anything wrong to wind him up? What can we do to make things better?

Had we done anything wrong?  All I could think of here was our over enthusiasm to help. Bounding forward with two oversized bags full of bicycles was obviously the wrong thing to do. Helping him to lift them into the luggage compartment must have insulted his manly prowess in some way. Suggesting that they could slide into the special tall compartment, where every other bus driver shoves them, was totally in the territory of “don’t tell me how to do my job sonny”. Finally, never ever lean into the luggage compartment to help pull bike bags forward. This (apparently) breaches so many health and safety rules that it’s lucky the police weren’t called to arrest us.

What we should have done?  I spent the rest of the trip carefully studying the driver as he picked up other passengers. This guy was master of his universe. What he wanted was a dutifully compliant person who bowed down to his superior knowledge and respected his position. The way to get ahead was to shuffle forward with your head bowed and not make eye contact with him. Offer your paperwork and maintain an air of complete helplessness and deference. Bend down to his superior position and bingo you are on the bus in no time. No hassle, not quoting of the (pointless) rules in the small print and no threats of ejection at the next stop.

Sometimes in the face of petty officialdom you just have to pucker up and take your medicine. You aren’t going to win against ‘the rules’ so it’s not worth fighting – well not this battle anyway.

By the way the experience at Heathrow Terminal 5 with the BA baggage people was fantastic; they didn’t bat at eyelid at bikes in large bags. Likewise First Great Western Trains were equally helpful on the way home, the platform staff at Reading in particular. Interestingly the driver on the bus link between Heathrow and Reading was also good. No fuss about loading the bike bags from him, in fact he was quite happy for us to actually put them in the hold. How can there be such a difference in people working for the same organisation?  Yes you’ve guessed who…… National Express.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Sometimes, when you have no other choices, you have to endure poor customer service. It’s not right, but it happens unfortunately.
  2. When faced with petty officialdom, if you can’t challenge and win the battle you may have to settle for deference and compliance with the rules…… sacrifice the battle to win the war.
  3. We will definitely be using the train next time even if it costs lots more. And joy of joys, National Express has sent an email asking for some customer feedback. Ha ha ha Geof will be completing that one……. look out!

Picture: “does my bike look big in this?”…… a beautifully packed bike at Cardiff Rail Station. Future transport method of choice.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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