Of all the topics that could have dominated our discussion, I wasn’t expecting bus journeys.
A couple of weeks ago I ran a workshop about creativity in business, with a room full of Masters students.
12 nationalities represented, many different sets of life experience. But when I asked them to work in groups on an issue they would like to change, 4 out of 6 groups chose bus journeys. Why?
Because they’re a major pain.
Grumpy bus drivers who don’t seem to like students, expensive tickets, Wi-Fi that is promised but rarely works, no room to put your shopping bags, not even any way of queuing at the bus stop to make sure you have chance of getting a space when the bus eventually arrives. It’s an old, old set of annoyances.
What an introduction to life in the UK. What a great impression to leave people with.
I’m surprised we don’t see more bus stop punch-ups to be honest. When you think about it, they’re a big intersection point for lots of different stresses and strains. To break it down a bit –
Grumpy bus drivers – are they on strike, or just feeling like they should be?
Here they are, being paid less than the cost of living, having to deal with jumped-up students who get nice new accommodation built for them right through the city while other people around here can’t find anywhere to live at a price they can afford.
Expensive tickets – don’t people realise how much it costs to run a bus service?
We’ve got drivers asking for money, ever-higher energy costs, a fleet that constantly needs repairing, and a load of unprofitable routes to run. But according to the media, we’re almost as money-grabbing as the train companies. Why are students complaining anyway? We run free bus services to Sainsbury’s every Wednesday afternoon. What more do they want?
What happened to supporting local trade?
How are we supposed to keep independent retail alive on our high streets if you’re ferrying people for free, right up to the door of a major supermarket? Students live out of town, get ferried in for food, then head straight back out again. Not so much as a cuppa bought from the high street.
– Just a short summary of the points raised by students with a bit of context thrown in, courtesy of other stakeholder conversations we’ve been hosting about place-based innovation.
Even in this paraphrased form, it’s pretty clear to see that the current system isn’t working well for anyone.
Walking through the stage set of a bus stop in this way helped students to see things from all sides. An ecosystem becomes visible. They could see their place within it. They could also appreciate their role and agency in making it work better. Suggestions started to flow, like a multi-trip (rather than weekly) bus pass, bought in advance to make the driver’s job easier. Tie that prepaid card in with discounts at local stores and hey presto, you have a happy Business Improvement District.
I asked the question at the start of the session – who here is confidently creative?
One and a tentative half hands went up.
An hour into the workshop, students had some structure to their thinking and a well-defined challenge to work through. Less than an hour after that, students presented back a range of logical, practical, and often downright radical plans for action.
Their own combined creativity had opened up a flurry of ideas, arriving all at once. Just like those buses.