Friday, 31 August 2012

A Parable of success

A couple of weeks back, when I wrote about accessibility on the London Underground, I figured that - like most questions about TfL, its workings, its sense of ethics and fair play, etc. - I'd never really see any kind of official follow up to any of the points I tried to draw attention to.

I'm very pleased today to say that I was wrong about that: not that my efforts accomplished anything, but
"We want to keep them [the manual tube boarding ramps] and are looking now at how that will work after the Paralympics," a [TfL] spokesman said.
Reading that, you'd almost think TfL wanted to help its handicapable customers out, wouldn't you?  However, let's not forget some key sentences and facts elsewhere in the story, which I think are more illuminating of what's really the case.  For example:
However, there was one problem - the ramps were originally seen as "temporary" and Transport for London (TfL) only said they would look at their use beyond the Games "if" they were popular.
However, after pressure from campaigners and the media, TfL confirmed to Channel 4 News that the ramps are now set for a more permanent future in London.
(Ignoring for the moment the piss-poor writing style of having two consecutive one-sentence paragraphs that clearly shouldn't have been split in the first place {and therefore two consecutive sentences} both beginning with the word 'however',) the ramps were only ever intended as temporary and TfL was frankly hoping they could do away with them.  If this wasn't the case, why couldn't they have used some of the millions they invested in making for a more permanent solution in the first place?  Hmm?  And please note it required pressure from campaigners and the media to make them do the decent thing.  "We want to keep them."  Puh-lease!

You can also see the evidence in the language used by pressure group Transport for All's director, who refers to winning on the issue, and to the next battle.  And what about TfL's extraordinary claim that the ramps could be rolled out to 30 more stations?  Where the fuck are they now then, during the Paralympics?  Did we not invest enough money into staff salaries again?

Still, kudos to staff so far on the ramps for their positive attitudes:
Rather than having to pre-book the ramps, tube staff assisted users with ramps when asked and then called ahead to the destination station to ensure a member of staff was waiting for the passenger when they disembarked.
I am actually impressed by that.  I just wonder how long that attitude will continue if it becomes part of their everyday jobs, rather than a special effort given in return for extra bonus pay and because perhaps, just perhaps, the person you're helping is something important to do with the Paralympics and you don't want to get in trouble.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Garden of evil

Not content with ruining the lives of its customers, TfL has apparently branched out and begun harassing people who don't even use their services, tearing down the car park garden of Anne Naysmith, a.k.a. The Bag Lady of Chiswick.

Image pilfered from the link in the text above.

Now, admittedly the headscarf might have fooled TfL officials into believing a harmless old lady was an evil Islamic terrorist (after all, what do those bags contain?), but what really puts paid to the reasoning that the collection of shrubs, flowers and subsistence vegetables was a "security hazard" is the way that it sent its goons round when Ms. Naysmith was away.  How about doing the decent thing and talking to her, or at least giving her some advance warning?

It's times like this I'm glad I don't have a garden of my own.  Invading our private property to further its quest to suck all the pleasure out of the universe is undoubtedly the next step.

UPDATE: TfL is now lying: "TfL insisted the work had been carried out simply to replace a section of damaged fencing that was a security risk. A spokesperson said: 'The contractors were not aware of the special significance this piece of land had for Miss Naysmith and their primary concern was dealing with a safety critical issue. Obviously we very much regret the distress caused to Miss Naysmith.'"

Cowards.  Cowards to not admit it knew exactly what it was doing.  Didn't know of the significance of the land to Miss Naysmith?  It was a fucking garden!  It was obviously special to and tended to by someone.  I don't actually care about the garden, I care about the lying, which is typical of TfL's disrespect for all and sundry.

Oh, and if they very much regret the distress caused, presumably they'll be replacing like for like?

Off to a flying start

I'm not travelling on the TfL extended network today, but just wanted to point out that the first day of the Paralympics has begun with a part-suspended Jubilee line, with the rest of the "service" suffering severe delays.  This, I understand, had something to do with a fire alert.

The Jubilee line, remember, is one of those that leads directly to Stratford, where the main stadia are located.  It also crosses through central London and some of the busiest (and otherwise most touristy) stops.

TfL got huge kiss-ass applause from many for its performance during the Olympics, so I feel it only fair to point out this piss-poor start to the world's second-largest sporting event.  And since we're on the subject, while I can admit that the nemesis of all Londoners did cope well for the main event, so to speak, I'd like to know how this was possible.  With so many millions of additional journeys TfL, more or less, coped for a protracted period.  So how is it we can't have a better service generally when there isn't so much stress on the network?

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

We've all been on a summer holiday

Please excuse the radio silence: have been on holiday with the family.  Off to work again on Monday, so no doubt there'll be more frequent updates once (ir)regular service has been resumed.

In the meantime, likley only 'recreational' updates, assuming I get up to anything at all in the next few days.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Not in Notting Hill

Kingston to Notting Hill. One minute late. Might not seem much, but it all adds up. To how much over a year is what this blog was set up to find out. And that's another £2.50, please.

UPDATE (23/08/12): my journey home at the end of the evening (essentially the reverse of the earlier journey into London) got me to my destination two minutes later than promised: £5.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Let the games begin

Did you remember to take your Tube Bingo card with you today?  It's the start of a new week.  I'm not working this one, but I'll be with you all in spirit!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Circular reasoning

Last night, I met up with an old friend and colleague in London Town. Part of my journey to meet him involved using the Circle line to go from Victoria to Paddington. It also involved sitting on the train at a platform for six minutes. The driver's explanation was very quiet, but I think I understood him saying that "we're just going to hold here for a bit."

That's actually one of my favourite excuses for the neat karma of the situation. We're delayed because we're not going to move on. Genius! For those readers from outside the UK (a surprisingly large number), I swear I am not making this up! I mean you just couldn't, could you?

Later that same evening, I hooked up with another friend in Kingston. The train there from Waterloo was two minutes late arriving at Waterloo in the first place. No explanation was offered.
So that's 8 minutes, or £20, total to add to the bill.

Friday, 17 August 2012

On yer bike!

Image credit: Malcolm Coles

Meanwhile, elsewhere in London, TfL admits it doesn't know when the much-ballyhooed Boris Bikes will become self-funding.

"As of May 2012 the scheme cost Londoners £145m in construction and operational overheads, with a further £80m in additional expenditure expected between 2013/14 and 2015/16.
"The total figure of £225m is more than 4 times the maximum £50m due under the Mayor’s sponsorship deal with [everyone's favourite] Barclays Bank which runs until 2018.
The difference represents a massive public subsidy both for the hire scheme and Barclays, which enjoys huge PR benefits from its association with the scheme including sole naming rights and brand placement on TfL’s website...
 "...The current levels of subsidy are being met from TfL’s wider budget which is partly derived from fares revenue."
(Emphasis and inserts mine.)

Power from the people

London Underground has decided to cancel a 30-year contract with a Powerlink consortium for the operation and maintenance of its high-voltage electrical power network 15 years into the deal.  This takes effect from next August.

The original contract had a 15-year break clause, so LU will only pay around £160 million in termination payments, poor dears.  Meanwhile, LU has claimed the "“increased operational flexibility" means "we can invest the savings made in further transport improvements for our customers."  These savings should amount to around £220 million over the lifetime of the contract.  Sounds like a good deal for the weary customer, right?

Well, let's all look out for those improvements, shall we?  And while we're at it, let's all be sure to check carefully every announced ticket price rise for the next 15 years and be ready to call foul if LU in any way suggests that said rises are even in part caused by this contract break.

You know, what really troubles me is that there's no mention of who's going to take over the operation and maintenance of the electrical power network.  Are we to assume LU will take it in-house with its trademark efficiency and attention to detail?  Or will it be left to slowly degrade into rack and ruin, with rolling blackouts, trains stranded in tunnels, entire stations left in darkness or to the mercy of flickering back-up generators like something out of a low-budget Resident Evil movie spin-off (probably the lesser of two evil?

Image credit: (not sure if original)

I don't know about you, but I'm a little excited to find out!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Hooray! Commuting will cost more. Again.

The whole rail commuting country is in a tizzy, and justifiably so: from next year, passengers on a huge number of routes could be paying at least 6.2% more for their rail fares.  That's twice the rate of inflation and could work out at more than £100 a week for some.

OK, so it's not strictly TfL's dastardliness, but even before yesterday's fares rises, rail fares here were significantly more expensive than in other countries – on average season tickets are 75% more expensive than the next most expensive in Europe which are in Germany, the Netherlands and France.  Ouch!  Still, at least we in the UK enjoy a 75% better service in all measurable ways, right?  Right?

Mark my words, TfL will be next with the money grabbing.

In all the fun and games, don't forget...

... to claim your money back for delayed Tube journeys.  Any delay of 15 minutes or more than the advertised journey times entitles you to claim a refund from TfL.

So, while I'm sure I'm late to the party, I'd like to point you in the direction of the excellent Tube Tap - an iPhone application that makes it easy for you to reclaim some of your wasted money, if not your wasted time.  Everyone seems to have iPhones these days.  The app, I believe, costs £0.69 (I've seen £1.99 too, but Tube Tap's own site gives the lower figure), but a single successful claim will more than pay that back, making for great ROI (for any captains of industry reading this).  It's also free for the 'Olympic period' - not sure if that includes the Paralympics, but you should get it now anyway!

I don't think it's available for smart phones on other operating systems, but if anyone knows of a similar product for the inestimably superior Android OS, I'd be very grateful if you could shoot me a line.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A couple of link updates

When coming up with the idea of Tube Bingo (which, to my knowledge, is my own creation, but apologies to anyone who thinks I've nicked it from them), I neglected to reference the excellent London Underground Delays Excuse Generator on Going Underground's Blog.  I think my ones are the most usual, but the former are certainly more inventive!

Anyway, both links are now in the link section as well, obviously, as in this post.  Enjoy!


Travelling into London this morning I thought I'd take TfL's advice and for once change at Surbiton to jump on the fast train, rather than take the direct (but a whole four minutes longer, when you include the changeover time).

This proved to be a mistake, since the incoming train developed a 'technical fault' - meaning, for the sake of my weekly game of Tube Bingo, that the doors wouldn't open.  This all added up to an exactly 10-minute delay, netting me another (theoretical) £25.

It's almost enough to make you pleased at these almost daily setbacks.  If only I thought I would ever actually see any of this money.

UPDATE: I just realised that this is my 10th post.  Double figures: wooHOOOO!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Of Paramount importance

Just picked up on an interesting story being pushed by Transport for All via the UK Press Association about the readiness (or not) of TfL's network for the Paralympic Games, due to commence just a couple of weeks from now.

I'm rather ashamed to admit that the accessibility of tubes, DLR trains, buses and boats is not something I tend to think about all that often, and never in conjunction with the Games. You can read through the stats yourselves in the story, but TfL's response is in keeping with the usual delay explanations - i.e. refusing to actually answer the issues:

'Transport for London (TfL) said it installed 16 manual ramps at Tube stations to improve access during the Games. Mark Evers, TfL's director of Games transport, said: "We hope to continue using the temporary ramps after the Games."'

In what sense are they temporary then? Something's fishy here.

'A TfL spokesman added that 58% of bus stops in London were fully accessible and was expected to reach 70% by the end of this financial year.'

Which is when? In time for the Paralympic Games?

'London 2012 was the most accessible Games ever held, he maintained.'

Ever held where? In the world? That would be impressive. I somewhat suspect he means in London, however, in which case you'd be shocked if they weren't. And what measures of accessibility are they using to support this claim? Ones agreed by/with which third party organisations? You see? No detail, just avoidance and thin excuses.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Changed my mind

I got an offer to head on out to Kiwi House to watch some of the track and field events last night. The venue may have been dire (and somehow I doubt was much better before the BBQ explosion a few days ago), but the atmosphere was terrific. We were even visited by Kiwi Olympic (gold) medallist Lisa Carrington.

Not even the seven minute delay on a supposedly 13 minute journey from Waterloo to King's Cross could take the shine off the evening. Then again, I don't get out much these days.

UPDATE: Just realised I forgot to tell you the reason for the delay. Well, there wasn't one. I just stood on the platform waiting for the tube to which I had to change (since Waterloo to KX isn't direct). I guess that counts as a delayed arrival of the incoming train? Whatever, it wasn't announced or excused.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Don't expect much and you won't be disappointed

I'm not planning any travel by public transport this weekend, so don't expect much from me by way of updates. (I won't always update to say I'm not going to update, it's just that the blog is so new I didn't want anyone to think I'd got bored/lazy and wandered off already!)

Friday, 10 August 2012

A dirty business

And so, the latest London Underground strike enters its second day. Has anyone even noticed? I see nothing about it on TfL's web site, that's for sure, though I admit to only checking the homepage and using the search function.

The issue, of course, is that the cleaners feel they deserve a bonus for expected additional efforts that will be required of them during the Olympic period. By my count, this makes the fourth attempt by those employed (directly or tangentially) by TfL to hold London, and by extension the UK, to ransom during a period of unprecedented international scrutiny. A truly Olympian effort, I'm sure you'll agree.

So that's (up to) £850 for general London Underground Staff, £1,000 for tube drivers, £500 for bus drivers. What (if anything) will the cleaners get? After all, it's only fair that they, too, now receive their payout. And presumably all this extra money - which will find its way onto our ticket prices, I'm sure - will ensure we, and all our capital's guests, experience no issues with transport or dirt for the duration of the Games, right? Right?

Think I'll apply for a job with TfL.

A tranquil bus journey

Kingston, Cromwell Road Bus Station to Hampton Court Gardens. TfL's journey planner tells me when the bus will depart, and that the journey will take seven minutes. The bus is six minutes late in departing, adding another £15 to the bill.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Introducing... Tube Bingo!

We've all been there: stuck in a hot, sweaty tube train, indefinitely delayed in a dark tunnel between stations. Sometimes there are excuses, sometimes there are not, but there is a certain stockpile from which the drivers and station announcers can choose.
So reliable is this, in fact, that you could - if not set your watch by it without some serious re-examining of the entire concept of time and space - make a game out of it. I know I've often thought so. And so I have, and I present it to you, dear reader, in the hopes it will at the very least alleviate some of the regular tedium (is there such a thing as irregular tedium?).
The rules are simple: print out your card and take it with you on your daily commute. If you are delayed, tick off the reason in the relevant box. The next day, do the same - Monday to Friday. If you're lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it), you'll line up excuses in a row, column, or diagonal: congratulations, that's a tube bingo!
Make sure you shout "BINGO" really loudly, so that you can share your triumph with your fellow commuters, who will also be playing. Bit of competitive spirit never hurt anyone.
Also, be sure to pass your completed Bingo ticket on to the station manager as you leave the station on Friday evening. Maybe if enough of us do, they'll start to get the point.

First blood

I took a trip last night from Hersham rail station to Turnham Green so I could meet an old friend for a wine tasting at High Road House. I hadn't seen him in a year and was really looking forward to it, not least because the tiny terror means I don't often get an evening off.

TfL's published journey time for my exact trains and tubes was 56 minutes. In reality, the trip took 1 hour and 41 minutes - nearly double what was advertised.

To be fair to my train driver, he kept up a nearly running commentary on the progress of the delay and reasons for it. Sadly, he hadn't bothered to calibrate the PA system so most of what he said was inaudible. I think it had something to do with some kind of medical issue on a train in front of us. Obviously, I hope those involved are OK now and, without further details, I can't really claim that's TfL's fault. However, a 45 minute delay seems excessive nonetheless.

EDIT: in the interests of fairness, the journey home (via tube and night bus) was spot on at 41 minutes.

Yes, I'm aware of the irony...

I've never blogged before, so bear with me. Updates may be infrequent at first, and will often be fairly mundane. Particularly interesting stories will be shared as and when I have the time, since between my infant daughter and work I can't promise a regular service.  Hopefully there'll be some funny stuff here from time to time.  And, if not funny, then at least rude, intolerant and lacking in basic empathy.

The start of our journey

Anyone who uses the tube regularly knows that it's not only expensive (and getting more so all the time), but frequently delayed and mostly partially to virtually completely shut down. The stock of excuses used is not so large and ranges from the faintly amusing to downright insulting. The tube is sweaty and overcrowded and staffed by severely overpaid people who nonetheless feel the need to strike at leat two or three times a year. Then have the cheek to act incredulous when people get pissed off with them.

To add insult to injury, as the powers in charge raise the price of our tickets, when we do see any of this money going to improving the service, rather than inflating already swollen salaries, it goes to things like the "modernisation of Shepherd's Bush Station" (Central Line). For this privilege, we just have to do without the station for most of the year.

Here's a little hint: we don't want more space age stations, we want you to splash out on some new light bulbs to fix the signal failures. In short: make our trains run on time and more frequently; don't just give us a nicer place to wait when it all goes wrong.

Out of spite, I thought I'd keep track of how much of my time the tube wastes. To do this, I'm comparing the published average journey times for any given journey I take each day with the ACTUAL time the journey takes (I'll repeat any and all excuses given for delays, or else my own explanations when no official ones are given). The difference in the two is the time of mine that has been wasted.

I'll keep a running tally of this time and how much that would equate to had I been free to use it to provide my professional services (at a current rate of GBP150 per hour) had I not been stuck in a hole in the ground. And I'll send my invoice to TFL at the end of the year. Ha.