The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman finds fault with the Council for not updating expired bus timetables in a timely manner, causing out of date information to be advertised. However, the Ombudsman does not find fault with the delay the Council experienced in implementing updates due to COVID 19. The Council has agreed to complete the updates within twelve weeks and make a payment to Mr X for the time spent pursuing the matter.
- Mr X complains the Council has failed to maintain local bus timetables, resulting in out-of-date timetables and timetables that are difficult to read. Mr X complains this has caused problems for himself and other residents when trying to access public transport.
- Mr X complains the Council should not have used COVID 19 as a reason for not completing updates that should have been completed prior to COVID 19. He also complains the Council has not completed the work it agreed to complete in its stage 2 response.
- Mr X also complains about the delay in the Council’s complaint handling of his complaint.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- This complaint involves events that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government introduced a range of new and frequently updated rules and guidance during this time. We can consider whether the Council followed the relevant legislation, guidance and our published “Principles of Good Administrative Practice during Covid”.
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word 'fault' to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered Mr X’s complaint, and the information he provided. I also considered information provided by the Council. I sent a draft of my decision to Mr X and the Council, and considered the comments I received before writing my final decision.
What I found
- The Council has a responsibility to print and maintain bus stop timetables in the village where Mr X lives.
- Mr X complained to the Council that it was not updating bus timetables when the times or routes changed. Mr X pointed out that in some places, the timetables were three years out of date, and others were due to expire in January 2020.
- Mr X complained that he and other residents rely on the local bus service to access necessities such as food shopping, banking and health services. Mr X complained that by having out of date timetables, he and other residents did not know when buses would be arriving.
- The Council responded to Mr X and advised that it had scheduled new artwork and updates for the timetables, which would have been agreed in March 2020. However, COVID 19 had meant that this had not happened, and therefore new timetables were not distributed.
- The Council also advised that COVID 19 had prevented some bus companies from updating their timetables due to the need for temporary timetables during the pandemic.
- The Council apologised to Mr X for not updating some of the timetables, but remained of the view that COVID 19 had prevented it from being able to do so. It advised Mr X that updates would be in place by the end of September 2020.
- Mr X complained to the Ombudsman as he did not feel COVID 19 was a suitable reason for the Council not updating the timetables, as they had expired before COVID 19 came into affect. Mr X also complains that the updates advised by the Council have not taken place.
- During my investigation, the Council advised Mr X’s complaint has helped to identify gaps in service. When an operator changes its route and ceases to call at a stop, the operator does not necessarily remove the out of date timetable. In addition, whilst an operator will change the composite timetable and their own literature, they do not remove other operators’ literature. The Council has agreed it will review its processes to eliminate these issues. It has also recently inspected the town centre bus stops and made arrangements to remove or replace any out of date literature.
- The Council has also since advised that Town centre bus shelters display large posters with a map of the town centre, bus stops identified with a unique letter and a ‘You are here’ information. The posters are updated periodically and were due to be replaced in 2020 to reflect stop alterations made by operators. The refreshed artwork has been signed off and the posters will be printed and installed in the bus shelter cases in January 2021.
- I uphold the part of Mr X’s complaint the Council should have updated the bus timetables prior to COVID 19. In the issues Mr X raised, the timetables had all expired prior to the end of January 2020, with some having expired in 2016.
- I acknowledge that this incorrect information would have impacted Mr X and other residents when using public transport to access necessities.
- The Council should have better managed its administration and implementation of new timetables to ensure that new ones were ready to be implemented when the old ones expired. By scheduling new timetables to be approved after old ones expire, the Council knew there would be a period of time where out of date information was being given to the community. I find fault with the Council not updating the timetables in a timely manner.
- However, I accept the Council’s view that COVID 19 has now caused delays in updating the timetables. It was not possible for the Council to predict a worldwide pandemic, and the impact it would have on services. I accept that it would have been more difficult to coordinate updates during this time, especially as public transport companies were using temporary timetables.
- It is my view the timescale given to Mr X in the Council’s stage 2 response was a suitable remedy for this part of the complaint.
- However, the updates were not carried out and the Council has now said that updates should be completed by January 2021. I find fault with the Council for not carrying out the updates or informing Mr X of any delay.
- Mr X initially submitted this complaint in March 2020. The Council’s complaints policy sets out that stage one complains should have a response within 10 working days. The Council responded to the stage 1 complaint after 35 working days.
- Mr X then escalated his complaint to stage 2. The Council’s complaints policy sets out that complainants should have a response within 20 working days. The Council responded within 15 working days.
- Whilst the Council response to Mr X’s stage 1 complaint as late, the Council has since apologised to Mr X for poor complaint handling. It is my current view this is an appropriate remedy.
- Within 4 weeks of this decision the Council has agreed to:
- Apologise to Mr X and pay him £100 in acknowledgement of time and trouble spent pursuing this complaint.
- Within 12 weeks of this decision the Council has agreed to:
- Implement the changes set out in the stage 2 response if COVID 19 does not prevent this, and provide evidence of doing so.
- Mr X has complained about this matter several times. The Council has agreed it will review its strategy for updating timetables to ensure a timely role out of new ones.
- I have completed my investigation. I find fault with the Council for not updating the timetables in a timely manner. I do not find fault with the Council for the delays caused by COVID 19.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman