National Express: Invoking the State Secrets Excuse

On December 14, 2016 I was heading to work and as I was approaching campus on Gibbet Hill Road. Right around here:

As I am heading down the hill a National Express bus driver overtakes me despite me controlling the lane as there is an obstruction on the left hand side of the lane. The bus came close and without having moved away I would have likely been hit.

The bus stopped at the University of Warwick interchange and after catching up, I tried to talk to the driver about maybe giving cyclists a bit more space. He immediately blows me off and says that he doesn’t need to be following a cyclist and that I shouldn’t be in the middle of the lane. The bus company also didn’t like for him to be late and so he would have to hurry up. At this point I decided to call the bus driver in and snapped a picture.

The bus driver objected to me taking this picture as he felt it invaded his privacy. I tried to calmly respond that there was no invasion of privacy as he was in a public space, that I only took a picture of the bus for identification purposes and that at any rate his right to privacy stands against my right to not be run over by someone who had plenty of time to discuss his supposedly proper behavior with me.

Two days later I receive a response that I should expect to hear back within 7-10 working days. This being the holidays I didn’t expect much of a response until the new year, somewhat apprehensive about the recordings potentially being overwritten.

On January 4, 2017 – after not hearing from National Express – I try to gently nudge the company for a response. I receive the following message one day later:

Dear Markus

Thank you for your further email.

I am sorry for the delay in getting back to you. We have seen an increase in the volume of correspondence. Regrettably, this has meant that some customers have not received a reply as quickly as we would like. I can assure you that steps are being taken to address this.

I’m concerned to hear about the poor driving standards and conduct of our driver that you’ve reported.

Safety is our number one priority and I can assure you that the standards you’ve mentioned are not tolerated under any circumstances. I have therefore forwarded the details to the driver’s manager so that the driver can be seen within our internal procedures about this.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention, please don’t hesitate to contact me again if I can help with anything else.

Best wishes

[name omitted]

Customer Liaison Officer

You can judge for yourself whether you think that this is an actual response or whether it is devoid of any meaning whatsoever. In my book it qualifies as the latter. I thus asked that I receive an actual response to my concern. Shortly thereafter I receive a phone call from a restricted phone number.

The Customer Liaison Officer, let’s call her N., is on the line and I thought that this was a pleasant surprise. She inquired how she could help me any further. I said that the email she sent me was meaningless as I had no idea what it meant. She replied that she was not at liberty to divulge any further information and that legislation prevented her from saying anything further. This piqued my interest and I said that I would like to know what the basis for such an assertion would be as I would like to know (I’m a recent arrival to the UK still, after all). The conversation turned sour after that. N. pretty much treated any information as a state secret (my words) and said that the information provided would be all that would be released. Whether she could “help me any further” to which I responded “yes, I would like to actually receive a response!”. I was again hit with a “Can I help you any further?” to which I responded: “Yes, please pass me on to a supervisor.”

A couple of hours late I receive a call and have a very cordial conversation with N.’s supervisor. I did not note down her name. The short of it is that National Express thinks that people who almost got hit by their drivers should be left in the dark as to what the company is doing. To be fair, N’s supervisor explained that complaints are taken seriously (thank you!), but that they are dealt with internally and that it is National Express’ policy to not let the complainant know what happens.

So here is my problem with this: my assumption has to be at this point that National Express is not doing anything. I appreciate that National Express wants to protect its drivers from frivolous claims and I think they should. That’s what the CCTV footage is for. What is not OK is to hide behind a policy that completely shields its drivers from any responsibility – at least as far as those endangered by their drivers can ascertain. I did not ask for any identifiable information. I simply asked for the steps that National Express took in the aftermath. I was told that the supervisor had dealt with the situation, but was not told whether that person took a look at the footage; whether the driver underwent additional training; whether there was a reprimand and never received an apology for the behavior of the driver (I did hear that N.’s supervisor was “sorry that you feel that way”).

This is the 21st century and no longer a time in which secrecy about the steps that a company takes when its personnel endangers someone should win out. I offered that I would be happy to talk to National Express about this policy because frankly it makes the company look bad. I don’t have any hope that I will get a phone call any time soon.