Examples of bad customer service experienced by Sanjeev Sabhlok

Climate control/ air-conditioning/ heating in Ventura Buses

This is a response to my inquiry re: why buses are so terribly hot. I’m going to have to chase up the Australian Design Rules issue, as well as the alleged audits. Some other issues to follow up, based on further correspondence:

Don’t ask don’t know don’t care (don’t survey passengers to identify issues; don’t allow for easy complaints)

Don’t read details in the complaints

Don’t investigate thoroughly (putting on demister while heating is a false cause!)

Don’t replace under-seat vents

Don’t try to understand the physics of bus heating (like solar cookers)

Don’t know how to fix AC thermostats (mostly defective).

Perhaps a table on these lines:

Issue | Primary responsibility (Driver/ Management)

* Make it difficult or impossible to complain (tick management)
* Do not listen to complaint carefully (ie. listen with ears closed) (tick management)
* Do not put on A/C (tick drivers)


ISSUES
– The reality drivers NEVER experience the problems experienced by passengers so how can they report???? And there is no place in the bus to report excessive heating. So WHO knows about this? When a passenger repeatedly chases up (as I have done) even that is denied.

– how can an audit occur when no complaint is allowed or received, or if received, denied?

-This is a highly defensive response. DENYING the problem doesn’t make it go away, simply demonstrates a thick-headed bureaucratic attitude.

– reminds me of a Third World bureaucracy.

– no signalling mechanism to let the driver know that the bus is hot (e.g. when A/C is switched off), but when complaint is lodged with the company/ department, there is sheer denial.

(The following supercedes my ad hoc posts during 2009).

Excessive variation in temperatures within Ventura Bus Company buses, mostly towards the hot and suffocating side

ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

by Sanjeev Sabhlok, an unhappy passenger

While buses perform a valuable service to the community, some of them act as sauna baths in the inside, causing profuse sweating, suffocation, and headaches to passengers.

PROBLEM

The stated policy

Ventura has a policy on climate control inside the buses, which effective aims to keep the temperature at 22 degrees. The thermostat cannot be altered by Drivers. The new buses have 2 opening windows only to ensure the air conditioners work effectively. Since the introduction of the additional air conditioned buses into our network it is very rare to receive climate queries even though we serve over 24 million customers per year.”

– Managing Director of Ventura Bus Company, in an email to me.

Reality: This policy simply does not work! Winter is the only tolerable time to travel in many Ventura Buses. I sweat it out badly most days in spring/ autumn and summer, during which it feels like travelling inside a sauna, leaving me exhausted, and suffocated (almost). At the same time, one freeze in some of the buses because of excessive cooling. Temperatures are usually the highest at the back of the bus.

1. Too much variation in temperature, mostly too hot

a) On many warm days some bus drivers do not switch on the air-conditioning. Given the solar cooker effect of large glass windows, the still air inside the bus creates sauna like conditions.

b) When air-conditioners are switched on, the result depends on the quality of the thermostat, most of which are defective. As a result, many air-conditioners spew hot air even when ambient temperatures are warm. While hot air is preferable to no air (for movement of the air is better than sticky, stagnant heat) the result is miserable. On the other hand, some bus air-conditioners blow cold air even when the temperature is freezing. As a result, temperatures inside a bus can vary from 15 degrees (or lower) to 35 degrees or higher.

c) Some buses have heating vents below the seats which blow hot air at around 50 degrees. One’s trousers and bags become really hot to the touch, but problematically, these under-seat vents add a huge amount of heat to already over-heated buses.

2. Ventura Bus company does not monitor temperatures

For the last eight years since I’ve used public buses (earlier this was called National bus company) I have not seen anyone come in to measure bus temperatures.

3. No feedback sought by Ventura Bus Company

Ventura Bus company does not maintain any readily available system to receive feedback from passengers. There is no suggestion box on buses, and bus numbers are not painted inside. When one gets down a bus, by the time one assembles one’s thoughts, the bus has moved on. It is therefore extremely challenging to make note of bus temperatures for specific buses and provide feedback. Indeed, customer service in Ventura was hostile to my initial reports of a systemic problem, insisting that I must talk to the individual driver first – whereas the problem is systemic, not bus driver related. I had initially thought that drivers control heating and cooling separately. Later I discovered that when a driver switches the AC, it uses the thermostat to control what it does (heating/cooling). The problem is therefore not a driver problem at all, but a systematic defect of the air-conditioning system. g) A customer service rep. asked me to identify the driver – but this is not a one-driver issue! Yet, I did identify drivers twice – out of possibly twenty drivers who had similar issues. Of course that didn’t solve the problem!

Summary of my temperature reports on a few buses

I tried to note bus temperatures (table below), but these observations are only indicative since I may have made mistakes re: bus numbers.

Bus No.

Date

Time

Experience

1650 AO

31 March

9 am

Very HOT! (in patches, because of below seat heaters)

1651 AO

25 March and 31 March

9 am

VERY HOT!

1651 AO

14 April

6:30 pm

Same bus is now very pleasant. Good combination of heat and cold – don’t know what is the reason for this strange transformation.

1652 AO

19 March

9 am

VERY HOT

1655 AO

23 March

9 am

very hot!

1656AO

24 April

9 am

Like a blast furnance inside – outside temperature was 17.5 degrees

1656AO

9 April

6:30 pm

Freezing cold in bus even though it was already cold outside. This is very similar to 1651 above. Don’t know what is happening.

1657 AO

1 April

9 am

better than other buses. However, still a bit on the hotter side.

1658 AO

24 March

9 am. Good. A bit on the cooler side.

1659 AO

getting a bit better (seems OK – but likely I’ve mixed up number plates)

CAUSES OF THE PROBLEM

In addition to below-seat heaters and non-functioning thermostats – and drivers who do not switch on (their defective) air-conditioning system, the following issues exacerbate the problem:

a) Buses trap huge amounts of heat. With big windows, buses absorb sunlight in large quantities and act as solar cookers. Temperatures inside buses can easily become 6-10 degrees C higher than outside. Recall that kids actually die when left in the back of a car for even 40 minutes on sunny days. The same effect is at work inside buses, multiplied manifold because buses have huge windows.

b) Windows are sealed. Modern buses to not allow air to enter from any nook or cranny (unlike old ones that had large windows and gaps in various places). As a result there is no air flow inside buses, causing severe suffocation (apart from the foul smell of over 50 passengers).

c) 50 radiators inside the bus: Body heat. The body heat (37 degrees) of 50 or more passengers in the bus significantly increases heat build up inside buses.

d) Switching on the AC depends on drivers’ heat sensations: Whether the (often defective) air-conditioner is switched on at all depends on whether the bus driver feels like turning it on. Drivers, however, are not a good judge of heat inside buses. They face a lower temperature than passengers because:

Drivers come to work by car (they are not sweaty after having walked uphill for 5-10 minutes to get to the bus – like many passengers have to do)

They board the bus 30 minutes prior to passengers getting on, hence they have cooled off.

They have a seat in a wide-open space where there is frequent motion of air as passengers come in and out, so they don’t experience the still air that passengers experience when ACs and fans are kept off.

they have no humans around them, hence no heat ‘radiators’

they can open their window easily (and many do) whenever they want to; passengers can’t.

Thus, drivers usually don’t experience the ‘still heat’ and suffocation that passengers experience.

e) Passenger own body heat can often be very high: Passengers often walk uphill for 5-10 minutes at great speed to get to the bus in time for work. Sometimes they run. And passengers often required to wear woollen suits and ties as part of their work attire. Drivers wear loose clothing, and are stagnant and therefore much cooler.

f) Passengers would rather faint than complain: Social psychology tells us that passengers are reluctant to complain about temperatures unless they are virtually going to faint. In large buses it is also impractical for each passenger to go to the driver to discuss the bus temperature.

g) It is a very bad idea to ask bus passengers to inform drivers about the temperature. A customer service representative of Ventura gave me as the customer the responsibility of walking over to each bus driver and complaining about the bus’s temperature. (She did not send me the formal company policy which directs passengers to talk to drivers about bus temperatures, but since she said this in writing – see below – I presume this must be company policy):

Customer Service representative:

“Dear Sanjeev, All you need to do is ask the driver to turn the heating off if it is too warm! Kindest Regards, Customer Service Ventura Bus Lines / National Bus Company”

“Is there a problem with asking the driver to turn the heating off? If you have asked and a driver has not been accommodating then I would surely see your problem”.

Problems with this approach

Passengers on at the back of the bus, with standing room only, can hardly be expected to walk up to bus drivers and complain. Passengers should in any event not speak to drivers in moving buses in the interest of bus safety. It is also dangerous for passengers themselves to walk inside fast-moving buses. Clearly this particular Ventura Bus company policy is seriously flawed and must be changed.

SOME SOLUTIONS

I asked Ventura Bus company to conduct a study on this matter but they declined this request. However, based on my understanding so far, the following solutions would be relevant to the resolution of this problem. In particular, (1) and (2) will make a big difference:

1. Seal off the below-seat heaters. There is no justification for these below-seat heaters found in old buses, given that buses already heat up excessively. When one’s leg comes in contact with the vents of below-seat heaters, one can literally get singed, even in winter, for the temperatures near these vents exceed 50°C. Use of such heating vents on arm days adds significantly to the problem.

2. Investigate the functioning of thermostats. Temperature sensors in most buses are non-functional; being either of poor quality or not designed to sense temperatures across various parts of the bus. Better and functional sensors would help ease the problem.

3. Publish a passenger comfort policy. Bus designers presumably consider human factors and set out conditions of its use to ensure passenger comfort. However, such policies do not readily exist on any government website. Policies in this regard should be published. In particular, the policy must require temperatures to be kept between 18-20 degrees inside the bus, instead of the 28-32 degrees that is commonly experienced even on slightly warm days.

4. Paint bus numbers inside the buses. This will allow passengers to report problems.

5. Put a suggestion box in each bus with a few sheets of paper readily available that people can write on and lodge complaints.

6. Ask Ventura executives to walk uphill and board buses and experience average passenger experience themselves. If they never travel in buses they can’t understand what is going on to their passengers.

7. Review temperature policies in consultation with passengers.

8. Ask drivers to not overheat buses when the weather outside is mild. If they notice passengers removing jackets and sweating inside the bus, they should switch off the heater (if they can!! – I gather they don’t have any control on that – so this suggestion may not be relevant).

sabhlok

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