Thursday, 9 August 2012

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.


Anonymous said...


Obviously you've been doing this for a little while (it's now November), but I think the first post is probably the best place for this.

Clearly you're peeved at the inconvenience you're caused when a system that manages to carry about 1.1 billion people a year delays you by a few minutes, and that's fair enough - it's annoying enough that I try to arrange my life so I don't use the tube very often at peak times.

I think you're exaggerating a bit when you say it's "mostly partially to virtually completely shut down," but no matter, though I assume from your tone that you think it could be run substantially better.

Because of that, I am curious as to what you do professionally, and how you'd suggest better co-ordinating services across about 250 stations and the same number of miles of track, while ensuring that folk stay safe. I suspect you don't have a background in running a system that approaches this level of complexity, though I'm happy to be proved wrong.

However, I think you're off-beam when you make a central plank of your complaint the fact that staff are "severely over-paid." Last time I looked, station staff were on about £18k upwards - I'd struggle to describe that as overpaid.

I'd guess your main whinge is about drivers - I think they're on about £45k at the moment, rising to a bit over £50k by 2015. Sure, that's decent money, and it's more than I'm on.

But would you want to do that job, for that money? Working lates and earlies, Saturdays and Sundays? Spending half your day plunging through the darkness of a tunnel?

If you're happy to do that (for less, obviously, as they're so severely overpaid), then I wish you good luck with your application. (Given you're so careful to tell us your current chargeout rate, I suspect you won't be doing so any time soon though.)

But if you're not happy to do that work, for that money, then I think you're right, you are spiteful, and actually a bit of a cunt.



Signal Failure said...

Hi John,

Thanks for posting a comment and for taking the time to look around a bit, as well as considering where to make your statement.

Responding to you in any reasonable way is going to require more than one comment, so please forgive me if I don't go into excruciating details and justifications. After all, this is just a little folly/hobby horse of mine, and I don't really want to end up spending too much time engaging in debates as I don't, and never have, expected this blog to effect any real change in the things I'm complaining about. I'm also likely to forget things I would have liked to say and don't want to have to keep coming back and saying 'and another thing...'

I, too, manage more often than not to avoid the peak travel hours in my regular commutes and personal trips. The former is, of course, not a luxury everybody has, but that's by the by. I still end up delayed way more often than not. If you'll forgive the assumption of a little irony in your second sentence, the whole point of this exercise is to show that little delays do add up to a lot over a period of time. I think it puts in perspective the policy of refunding only delays that are over 15 minutes. As I believe I wrote in a post somewhere, proportional delay is important (two minutes' delay on a five-minute journey is arguably worse than a 15-minute delay on a two-hour journey).

Thankfully, truly horrendous delays are not the norm, though they do seem to happen depressingly often.

Well-spotted that I am exaggerating when I say the system is "mostly partially to virtually completely shut down" - I was using hyperbole to emphasise a point. I also use a variety of other literary devices and tones of voice throughout the blog.

As you've also astutely surmised, I do NOT have a background in running a system as complex as TfL's - since you're interested, I work in marketing/communications, though of course this blog has nothing to do with that. I'm not claiming the system isn't complex, and I'm not entirely certain how to better co-ordinate services. I DO know that if I performed my professional function as badly as many members of TfL's staff do, I would be fired, and justifiably so. To regularly enforce price hikes that are greater than inflation while not fixing the problems is also troubling to me - frankly, I find it borders on extracting the Michael.

One suggestion I believe I've also made elsewhere on this blog is to simply be honest about journey times. Off the top of my head, I'm not sure how TfL calculates what percentage of its services run on time, but if my personal experiences are anything to go by, anything over about 2% is probably indicative of a flaw in the method of calculation. If you know that a significant proportion of your services are going to run two or three minutes late, why not update that in the Journey Planner tool and timetables, rather than clinging insistently to inaccurate information that disrupts the travelling plans of about 1.1 billion people a year? Said disruption causing loss of time and money to individuals and businesses and, therefore, the city and the country. I realise this wouldn't improve the actual service, but it WOULD let people plan travel more accurately, alleviating the problem that I'm highlighting here.

Signal Failure said...

I'm not really sure I DO make TfL staff pay rates a central plank of my complaint, though it does irk me for the whole doing-a-bad-job-fired thing I mentioned above, and in any case if you came away with that impression then clearly the problem with expression is mine. However, I think you've over-simplified things when you talk about station staff and drivers. There are many more types of job at TfL, up to and including CEO - which I think I'm entirely justified in saying is overpaid, given the lack ability to make the organisation perform as it itself advertises. I'm not the one telling them how fast/regular/whatever their services are supposed to be. Don't promise what you manifestly can't deliver, that's all. I may not be the most talented person in my profession in the world, but I damn well do what I say I'm going to do and move heaven and earth to minimise impact on anyone who would be affected if for reasons beyond my control I cannot. And, incidentally, £18k is what I was paid in my first job, which was considerably more highly (albeit differently) skilled than a station staff member role, and - I'm willing to bet though happy to accede I may be mistaken - required a much greater level of education (and no, not a degree in marketing or underwater basket weaving or anything like that).

You're also right in that I wouldn't want to do a driver's job. It does not sound fun or even interesting, though I suppose if the trains DO become fully automated, I could spend all my time reading, in which case I would honestly jump at the opportunity. The fact remains, however, that they chose to do those jobs in that they signed a contract that they knew full-well included early and late shifts, weekends and the occasional bank holiday (which, by the way, I don't believe firms are OBLIGED to give employees off), as well as the dark tunnels, lit only by the trains' powerful and far-reaching headlights. Striking and sulking and whinging about these things after signing as (presumably) grown men and women in possession of their full mental faculties, and in doing so holding the city to hostage, is childish and irresponsible. Despite this morning's drop in unemployment, there are still plenty of people out there who'd be grateful for a job with such a high salary. Though it's not practical, I sometimes wish TfL management would sack the whole bloody lot of them and retrain staff from the unemployed - but on contracts that specifically prohibit membership of the domestic terrorist cells that are their trade unions and, of course, strike action.

I suppose I am careful to tell you my charge out rate. Mostly because it would be pretty dull to say I'm going to charge TfL for my professional time and then keep it a big secret what that would actually be. I'm guessing - and it's just a guess, mind - that you're more annoyed about what it is, rather than that I tell you it per se. Would it make you feel better if I pretended it was minimum wage (those who ARE on minimum wage and have to use the system spend a significant portion of their daily income on this shoddy service)? I CAN let you know that the means by which I came to that figure are not quite as simple as I have, for brevity's sake, made them appear. That's likely going to be the subject of another post further down the line, in the interests of transparency, and I may even adjust the running total accordingly, depending on what kind of feedback (if any) I get when I post it.

Signal Failure said...

Finally, I don't quite follow your logic in saying that, "if I'm not happy to do that kind of work, for that money", I'm a cunt. However, it's your opinion and I respect your right to have it. Just as it's MY right to voice MY opinions on this blog too. I don't see how it makes me a cunt. A hypocrite, maybe, but not a cunt. And not even really a hypocrite, since obviously I wouldn't go into a job that's worse paid and has worse conditions than the one I'm in. You can bet your sweet life, though, that if such a job were my best option, and I took it, I would damn well do it to the very best of my abilities and without the frequent showboating.

Just in case it needs saying, though it shouldn't: I am generalising here. We all generalise about all sorts of things, and it's a good job we do, or we'd be here forever covering every possible exception to every conceivable statement.

Anyway, thanks again for your time in commenting. If you don't agree with my views, I hope you'll at least appreciate that I haven't censored them despite the personal attack, and that I've taken the time to respond to them seriously and at some length. If you do, please don't be disappointed if I don't come back to further comments on this thread (and I may still if they're particularly interesting). As I mentioned already, this is just a bit of fun for me and I don't want it sucking up ALL my private time.

Take care now,