Monday, 27 January 2014

Jacketts Coaches

On Tuesday, the 21st of January 2014, I was cycling to work as I do pretty much each working day. My commute leads me into Plymouth from the East, over Laira Bridge and along Exeter Street.
I was cycling on the last bit of Exeter Street, that goes over the top of Bretonside bus station,  at approximately 08h30, when I was overtaken very closely by a bus driver.

There are two lanes in each direction along this stretch of Exeter Street, and I was in lane 1, about a metre off the kerb, in what cyclists call the secondary position. Lane 2 was empty, and there really was no need whatsoever for the bus driver to give me such a close overtake as he had done. I could've touched the side of the bus without straightening my arm, as he went by.

This is the part of Exeter Street where it happened
 To be clear, I was dressed in a yellow hi-viz rain coat, with 3M retro-reflective patches all over. In addition, I had a steady red tail light, a second and flashing tail light, and yellow 3M hi-viz ankle straps with flashing LEDs on. Add to this the extra wide 3M reflective patches on my panniers, I know I had made myself as visible as I could.
In case you're interested, at the front I had three white strobing lights, one of which outputs 1 000 lumen and is rather noticable even in bright sunshine.

The weather was overcast, but it wasn't raining and being well after dawn, visibility without lights was good.

I followed the bus down into Bretonside bus station, and when he parked up I pulled up alongside the doors and knocked on them. The driver then opened the doors, and I politely asked him why he had given me such a close overtake.

His response was that he hadn't done so intentionally, which actually alarmed me more, as it implied he quite possibly hadn't even realised that I was there, and therefore may just as easily have run me over.
I replied by pointing out that intentional or not, he'd still given me a dangerously close overtake and in return he asked what I'd like him to do about it.

I told him I'd like him to read Highway Code Rule 163 and educate himself on how to safely overtake cyclists. For clarity, the following picture is from the Highway Code, and demonstrates how much space drivers are supposed to give cyclists:

 At my mentioning the Highway Code, the bus driver became visibly agitated, aggressive and foul-mouthed and he told me that he knows his f---ing Highway Code.
He then immediately followed up by saying "If you started paying f----ing road tax, then you can f---ing tell me what to f---ing do". Clearly the F-word is his absolute favourite.

In response to my pointing out to him that he doesn't actually pay road tax, as that was scrapped in 1937, and that he pays VED instead, he told me to go "f-ck" myself, loudly, and within earshot of a group of school kids walking by. Charming character.

At this point, he was getting out of the bus and I invited him to the bus station, to discuss his behaviour with a manager. I had made the mistake of at first having thought it was a First Bus driver, and knew First wouldn't tolerate such behaviour, but he corrected me by saying "They've got f---all to do with me."
I asked him for his name and he refused to give it. When I asked him what company he worked for, he replied by saying "Jacketts".
At no point at all did I swear at him, and I actually impressed myself by how composed I remained throughout the incident.

I looked up Jacketts Coaches and emailed them. Below is the email exchange between me and them:

"Dear Sir/Madam,

This morning, at approximately 08h30, I was overtaken by one of your coaches, registration NRBY05 HDV, displaying the number 52 on a sign at the front, inside the windscreen.
I was cycling along Exeter Street, in a westerly direction, between Charles Cross roundabout and Royal Parade, when your driver overtook me so closely that I could have reached out and touched the side of the bus, without straightening my arm. 
Exeter Street has two lanes there, and the second lane was empty at the time. I was wearing a British Cycling Ride Leader hi-viz jacket (I'm a trained Ride Leader with British Cycling) and I had one flashing rear light, one steady rear light, as well as hi-viz reflective anklets, with flashing LEDs. In addition, the panniers on my bike have large, wide reflective strips. No driver can ever claim that I am not visible on the road.

Highway Code Rule 163 clearly shows how much space drivers are supposed to give cyclists when overtaking, and I suggest you look it up and educate ALL your drivers.

I followed the driver into Bretonside bus station, where he parked up. I came alongside and asked the driver politely why he had overtaken me in such a dangerous manner. He replied that he didn't do so intentionally - which beggars belief, as it suggests he'd done so without realising, in which case I'd like to know why he wasn't concentrating on the road.

I replied that whether intentional or not, he'd still done it, and his retort was to ask me what I wanted him to do about it. I replied by saying I'd like him to read Rule 163 of the Highway Code. At this point he became immediately aggressive and abusive, and told me (verbatim) that he knows his "f---ing Highway Code".

He then immediately followed up by saying "If you started paying f----ing road tax, then you can f---ing tell me what to f---ing do". I was appalled that a professional driver is unaware that road tax was scrapped in 1937, and that drivers pay Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) instead. VED doesn't directly fund the roads.
Instead, roads are paid for from general taxation (PAYE, VAT, Stamp Duty, etc.) as well as Council Tax, which everybody pays. Additionally, VED is calculated on emissions produced, and even if cyclists had to have a VED disc, it'd be zero-rated, as bicycles are zero-emissions vehicles with FULL entitlement to use the road. Yes, even the full lane, should a cyclist so prefer.

Your driver continued swearing, and told me - in public, with a group of school children walking by within earshot - to go f-ck myself.

Is this the standard of driving and behaviour you expect of your drivers?

I'd like to know with some haste exactly what you intend to do about this.

Kind regards,"

The first reply I received was this:

"This is a quick email just to state that we have received yours and will be dealing with the complaint immediately.
Thank you
Office Manager"
 The following day, having heard nothing at all, I emailed them again:

"Hi Dannie,
Do you perhaps have an update on this matter?

Here's their reply:

"Dear ,
We have investigated the complaint put forward by yourself. We have spoken to the driver in question he politely told us that it was you that swerved towards him and he had given you enough room. Unfortunately a bus cannot move as quickly as a cyclist. The driver also informed us that when you went down to the bus station he did infact apologise immediately it was only when you continuously pursued the matter and started to swear at the driver that he did so back. He apologised the matter should have ended there. 
Rather than waiting for us to get back to you with the conclusion of the matter you have gone onto post slanderous allegations across social media. This is an action that we do not take kindly to. 

Here's my last email to them:
"Dear Dannie,

If you feel I have slandered your company in any way, I suggest you proceed with legal steps. Good luck with that, as you won't get very far.
I will now endeavour to obtain CCTV footage from Plymouth City Council, which will clearly support what I had claimed. 

I find it extremely disappointing (though entirely unsurprising) that your firm simply won't accept that your driver had done anything wrong at all.

Let's evaluate things, shall we? 
1) I didn't swerve at anything, but instead your driver overtook me in a dangerous manner.
2) Your driver wouldn't have apologised at all if he didn't accept that what he'd done was wrong.
3) I am not in a habit of swearing at people and I certainly did not swear at your driver at any point.
4) I was polite to your driver, and walked away when he became aggressive.
5) I notice you didn't comment on your driver's incorrect views about "road tax", which suggests your firm holds the same views.

As a final note, Dannie, stating verifiable facts is not slander. I expect your solicitor would tell you the same.

Kind regards,"
Think about it for a moment - why would ANY cyclist endanger themselves by swerving towards a bus weighing however many tonnes? What could that possibly achieve, other than place the cyclist at great risk? Who would be stupid enough to do something like that? Certainly not me, nor anybody else, I expect.
Yet Dannie from Jacketts Coaches thinks it is entirely plausible. The mind boggles!
As for the next point, supposing I was suicidal enough to swerve at the bus, why would the driver apologise to me? That simply doesn't make any sense, and the fact that the driver admits he apologised indicates he acknowleged that he had done wrong.
That makes a mockery of their claim that the driver had given me enough room!
I did NOT swear at the driver - not even once. In fact, I didn't even almost swear, and I remained calm thoughout. I'm still pretty chuffed at myself for having remained calm.
Now as for my "slanderous allegations on social media", here they are - this is what I'd posted to Twitter:
"Had a run-in with a driver from @JackettsCoaches this morning, following a very close overtake he gave me despite an empty road"
 "The @JackettsCoaches driver became abusive & aggressive when I politely asked him why he didn't give me any space when overtaking"
 "The @JackettsCoaches driver said "If you started paying f---ing road tax you can f---ing tell me what to f---ing do""
"The @JackettsCoaches driver didn't like it when I told him that road tax had been scrapped in 1937 & loudly told me to go f-ck myself" 
"I emailed @JackettsCoaches & received a reply saying they're looking into the matter. Not holding my breath, to be honest"
"Oh, he is. A Class-A idiot and a foul-mouthed dangerous driver that shouldn't be on the road."

Then after their last email to me:

"Had an email back from @JackettsCoaches re. the incident where their driver gave me a close & dangerous overtake & ranted about road tax"   
"Sadly, as I expected, @JackettsCoaches say that a) I swerved at the bus (because cyclists are kamikaze pilots, right?)" 
 "b) @JackettsCoaches say the driver then apologised to me (whatever for, if he'd supposedly done nothing wrong) & c) that I supposedly swore"
"@JackettsCoaches didn't comment on the road tax rant the driver gave me & don't accept that he swore at me AT ALL." 
"Oh, and @JackettsCoaches said they're VERY unhappy about my "slanderous allegations" made on social media." 
"It seems just getting @JackettsCoaches to accept "road tax" doesn't exist might help!"

Now Jacketts Coaches very recently landed a contract from Plymouth City Council to run two or so bus routes. This means the people of Plymouth effectively paid that idiot of a driver to endanger my life (and who knows how many more?). That is simply not on!

Companies that expect to receive public subsidies paid by YOU should ALSO have to ensure that a) their drivers are safe, b) their drivers know and keep to the Highway Code and c) their driver agree to abide by a code of conduct.

Without these in place, the system is open to abuse, as this incident clearly demonstrates.

I'm rather disappointed that Plymouth City Council would award companies such as this ANY contract, and I view this as Plymouth City Council failing in its duty of care towards all road users.

As such, I will be campaigning hard to get the council to implement a compulsory cycle-safety scheme for ALL public transport companies it licences to use public roads.