File in ‘unintended Consequences of a pointless election’

Here’s an interesting snippest about how a wholly unrelated decision in government (Theresa May’s decision to call a snap General Election earlier this year) can add an additional £13 millon pounds to a London transport project

For anybody with even a passing interest in how transport infrastructure works and impacts society, London Reconnections is a must read. Although articles explore the London’s transport, the nuances of transport policy probably apply everywhere in the world. For example, if you really want to understand the complexities of Transport for London’s ban on Uber and don’t want to rely on the social media outrage, then “Understanding Uber: It’s Not About The App” (and related articles) paints a much more complex (and fascinating) picture.

Buried away in a piece published earlier today is an interesting snippest about how a wholly unrelated decision in government (Theresa May’s decision to call a snap General Election earlier this year) can add an additional (un-budgeted) £13 millon pounds to a London transport project (in this case, Crossrail 2),

It is an unfortunate fact that the election and campaign may have only been around six weeks long and have seen the same party returned to government, yet the disruption caused to presenting a Crossrail 2 bill to Parliament has probably put the project back by a full year.

£13m sounds like a lot but isn’t in the case of these multi-billion pound projects. It does still have to come from some unplanned budget which must frustrate planners … but pushing the whole project back by a year? Wow.

I wonder how many other projects and plans across the country saw similar issues and what they cost.

Related:

Occasionally I write, not as well as London Reconnections, about transport issues that I see. Why not take a moment to have a look?

New People. New Trains.

I love the fact that years ago people were thinking 50 years ahead, but is it enough?

There’s almost a week to go until the end of September but today really is #SOLS day. Today’s view from my pulpit is, once again, about transport. Is it too much of a theme.

I’ve written a couple of times in recent weeks about transport in South West London. I’ve never lived in any other part of the city so I can’t comment on issues elsewhere. Although, as I previously noted, I commute into Britain’s business station, so I feel a certain amount of attention is needed in this part of the world.

South London is woefully underserved by London Underground with 250 stations north of the Thames and just 29 south1. So, for those of us South West, the major transport options are main line services into London Waterloo; trams if you’re heading around Croydon or the “misery” Northern Line2 through to the City or West End.

Back in 1974 I don’t think I could point to London on a map (being about 4 years old at the time) but somebody, somewhere, decided that about 50 years later a Chelsea-Hackney underground line might be a good idea and so started a process that leads to this day3.

The Draft Mayor’s Transport Strategy 2017 includes a plan for Crossrail 2: a line that is described as

a new proposed railway linking the national rail networks in Surrey and Hertfordshire via an underground tunnel through London 4

The line is predicted to allow 270,000 more people to travel into the central London the morning rush hour. This is equivalent to about 10% of the current capacity into London. It’s really quite a lot.

The scheme will also “unlock 200,000 new homes”5. That also seems like a big number equating to a lot of new houses. But it also seems like room for a lot of new people because we need houses for the growing London population. If a good proportion of these new houses are near the Crossrail 2 route then it should be assume that some of the people will utilise the route for their commute, after all, why not take the shiny new trains into the office?

So, if each of those houses has at least one occupier and half of those people use the new train for a commute then we have 100,000 additional south west journeys. Much of the new capacity is used-up instantly. And, assuming a single occupier properties seems on the conservative side don’t you think?

I love the fact that years ago people were thinking 50 years ahead and started to make plans. I love the fact the Mayor is promoting the project as a strategic plan. But, is it enough?

Footnotes

1 http://londonist.com/2016/03/alternative-names-for-london-s-tube-lines, Croydon Advertiser
2 Take The Drain, The Misery Line, Then The Viking Line, Londonist
3 Crossrail, History
4 What is Crossrail 2?
5 The Importance of Being Earnest: Making the case for Crossrail 2, London Reconnections

#SOLS

#SOLS is a project to get me writing on this site in 2017. You can read more about it in an entry from the start of the year.  Recently, a few of the pieces have been about transport in South West London but can also see what else I have written about in the #SOLS index.

A Trilogy of Trains

If you were expecting some kind of thrilling denouement to the train trilogy, sadly, Network Rail, South West Trains and South Western Railway look like they’ve managed the whole thing rather well considering that to do the work hundreds of trains had to be cut and thousands of people had to change their plans.

The three greatest movie trilogies of all time, according to Empire magazine, are (at 3) Back to the Future, (at 2) the original Star Wars films and (top of the pops) The Lord of the Rings. Once I have sold the film rights to this site then my current thread of posts will be competing for the top spot.

If you’re not up-to-date here’s a handy recap montage: last month’s #SOLS post was about the Battle of Waterloo (the station not the Duke of Wellington battle) and, a few days later my ‘Will Commuters Even Notice‘ became a (not-quite) best seller on Medium.  Both discussed the state of the trains, major engineering works and the small matter of the change of franchise on the railway lines into London Waterloo station.  Assuming all is on-track (every pun intended) then Network Rail will give us our trains back on Tuesday morning.

If you see this series as ‘Lord of the Rings’ then this is the thrilling conclusion to the story. If you think of this collection more like ‘Back to the Future’ then this is the weakest of the three with a mixed plot including some strange wild west space theme. If you’re thinking that this series more of a Star Wars classic then you are sadly deluded and I don’t know that you should read any further without seeking help.

In the run-up for the engineering works, the poor people running the South West Trains publicity and Twitter machines went into overdrive reminding everybody to prepare for delays. There were plenty of warnings on the trains (see the picture on my last post). My personal favourite tweet warned of the End of Days (which, if you think about it, makes this more Lord of the Rings than Back to the Future) and you really only get the effect if you click through to the actual tweet:

 

At my local station we even got a sneak preview of the queuing system we’d be expected to stand in for 20 minutes each morning.

And then came Monday morning.  The alarm went off 45 minutes earlier and, with some trepidation, I made my way to the station.  There was some of those crowd control people I previously mentioned, lined-up to help the masses form an orderly queue.  But there was a problem with all the planning: there were no crowds.   For most of the time, I’ve had a seat on a partially empty train at a time I was warned I’d have to queue.  Pulling into Clapham Junction station at around 7am would usually find a platform crowded with commuters trying to find a space: this week more people got off the train at Clapham than got on. It was emptier leaving the station than it was on approach.   People have vanished.

Response to the #WaterlooUpgrade on Twitter seems to have come in three main topics: those who are frustrated that the train timings have changed; those that campaigned for some money back because of the disruption (even after 14 months of warnings) and those who expressed shock that South West Trains were, suddenly, quite pleasant to ride at morning peak times.

Sadly, it was’t all free ice creams and a seat on a train.  If you are completely changing the way you use the infrastructure around Waterloo station, I imagine you’ll find things that break when they previously didn’t. So, of course, there have been failures and problems and the temporary timetable extended every journey into Waterloo.  Quite early on there was a derailment which, in turn, meant extra days were added to the  most severe service reductions on the last weekend. As Modern Railways said, “every sinew will have to be stretched to hold the service together”. (1)

And in the middle of it all, with not a great deal of fanfare but a few little touches, Stagecoach bowed out and handled the franchise torch to South Western Railways.  A couple of stickers and a logo, or two, added in places.  The announcements were updated and my train was now a “South Western Railways service to London Waterloo” but it looked, and behaved, the same as always.  When railways are franchised to private operators I believe it’s important to know who is actually running (and profiting from) the service.  For the south west region,  I think it’s going to take some time for the new company’s brand to land and, even longer, for people to know that this it’s a totally different company. Still, in the midst of all the disruption, a launch party would have been inappropriate.

If you were expecting some kind of thrilling denouement to the train trilogy, sadly, Network Rail, South West Trains and South Western Railway look like they’ve managed the whole thing rather well considering that to do the work hundreds of trains had to be cut and thousands of people had to change their plans.

Sadly, the #SOLS timetable means I am posting this when there are still a 36 hours until the resumption of regular services and anything could happen. Over-runing engineering works would hardly be something new.  And unfortunately, there will be limited improvements to the old timetabled services until December so it might look like this work was in vein.  Plus, there’s the added pressure that, as part of the final stage of the London Bridge Thameslink works, South Eastern trains need to use some platforms at Waterloo from Tuesday. But, given what could have happened, there has been considerably less chaos than predicted and I am grateful for that.

Well done everyone.

 

Footnotes

(1) Modern Railways, August 2017, p7

Will Commuters Even Notice?

South West Trains, South Western Trains. You say tomato.

Window sticker warning of rail disruptionIn January 2016, it was reported that my local train operator, South West Trains had achieved 81% customer satisfaction. It always seems to me that there is a general feeling that our trains are no good but I think that’s a pretty decent figure. So, when Transport Focus’ autumn 2016 survey reported that the number was 83%, you’d think the company was moving in the right direction, wouldn’t you

As I noted in my piece about the upcoming disruption (starting in just a few hours) at Britain’s busiest station, London Waterloo, there are already plans to increase capacity by 30%. This increase is, in part, achieved by lengthening platforms to allow longer trains to run. This is in addition to the extension of most of the suburban platforms on the network and the extra carriages introduced in 2015/6 as well as the previously announced £210 million Desiro City trains that are due to enter service after the works are complete (part of the “biggest increase in capacity on this network for decades” [source]) adding 150 new carriages.

Given the frequency of trains at peak hours, this must mean that the lines are pretty full. From my local station, there are 12 off-peak trains per hour (or 1 every 5 minutes) into Waterloo. Network Rail are squeezing extra capacity in but that means massive disruption to get us there. But what next?

Well, despite all these longer platforms, extra trains and high customer satisfaction score, South West Trains lost their franchise. From August 20 2017, and for the next 7 years, First MTR South Western Trains Ltd (a joint venture between & Hong Kong’s MTR Corp) will run the service.

South West Trains 1990s LogoSouth West Trains been the only private operator of the service since I moved to London. Prior to 4 Feb 1996 the service was public, part of British Rail’s Network South East operations. I imagine over the coming months somebody may repaint the train. I’m sure there will be stickers over the old logo and I imagine that there will lots of promotion for new a shiny new web site and some new social media feeds.

But, really, will anybody actually notice?

South West Trains, South Western Trains. You say tomato.

Of course, franchises are not awarded on train colours or fancy logos. They’re awarded on the promises of service and money (this franchise is actually a net contributor to UK finances). I can’t argue the money part (see this article about “payments over the core period with a real net present value of £2·6bn”) because I can’t really work out who spaying who at any point in time. So, I’m looking at their services,

The first, “30% more peak seats per day at London Waterloo by December 2020” seems to be remarkably similar to service improvement already promised by South West Trains (and noted in my piece about Waterloo).

“Simpler fares with pay as you go smart cards” seems to me to be a decent proposal but no details on how it’s better that SWT’s existing smart card offering.

Of course there are promises of community engagement (“Increased engagement with local stakeholders” and “The biggest rail operator apprenticeship scheme in Britain”) which are all welcome but will have limited impact on the core railway issue: service provision.

Top of the promise list is “The introduction of 750 new suburban coaches” which are promised by 2020 (so will be in service for about two-thirds of the franchise). But these are, ultimately, replacing the new Desiro City trains that are coming later this year (they haven’t even been introduced yet). In 2020 it seems that its a case of out with the new, in with the new.

There are currently 1400 train carriages on the SWT network. It’s not clear from any of the promises (both from the incumbent and new provider) how many are really additional carriages rather than shiny new replacements.

Yes, there are train refubushments (unless you’re on the Isle of Wight there are only promises of “proposals”) which include wifi and at-seat charging. These changes are welcome if you can get a seat to plug your phone into & the on-board wifi isn’t over capacity because the train is full.

All this seems to me a change for limited gain. The new franchise will benefit from the improvement works at Waterloo and the introduction of the Desiro City trains but so would the existing supplier, who arguably, doesn’t see any benefit from all the work they have put in to get to this point. The new operator is adding new trains but taking away new trains and, even if they are better in some way, they won’t be here for a while.

I don’t doubt that there will be improvements but, as a humble commuter on the busiest line in the country, it seems to we’re getting either things that have already been promised or cosmetic changes. I wonder, has it been worth all the expense of the franchise process? As I mentioned in my last piece on the topic, if passenger growth continues, where will real new capacity come from in a few years when the promised 30% is filled?

So, what does the Mayor’s Transport Strategy propose as a solution to the overcrowding problems on the south west lines into London?

Crossrail 2 anyone?

{Have something to say about this post? I also published on Medium so why not comment there?]

Battle of Waterloo

In just a few days, from 5th August 2017, I expect a modern day battle of Waterloo as passengers at Britain’s busiest railway station fight for carriage during a period of “significantly fewer trains” when platforms 1-9 will be closed so work can start to extend those platforms for longer trains.

202 years ago, somewhere around where Belgium is on the map today, the Emperor of the French, a man who is immediately known by the use of the word Napoleon, was defeated by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle Waterloo. Those not around in 1815 may refer to the 1974 Abba song, although I think ‘surrender’ has a somewhat different meaning on the battle field than it does in the song “Waterloo – knowing my fate is to be with you”.

There’s a bridge over the Thames named after Waterloo (the battle, not the song) and, in turn, when the London and South Western Railway opened a station in the area in July 1848 it was named after the bridge, in fact Wikipedia says it was originally called as ‘Waterloo Bridge Station‘.

In just a few days, from 5th August 2017, I expect a modern day battle of Waterloo as passengers at Britain’s busiest railway station, now referenced in your station guide as London Waterloo, fight for carriage during a period of “significantly fewer trains” when platforms 1-9 will be closed so work can start to extend those platforms for longer trains. Appropriate emoji’s at the point are a happy face for the prospect of longer trains and the scream for the next 23 days commuting experience.

That’s basically half the platforms closed at a station where 100 million journeys start or end every year. Even though work has been planned in the summer when — hopefully — there are marginally fewer commuters that’s still a big hole to fill. If you’re already standing with your nose in somebody’s armpit on a morning peak service, the promise of “Services and stations will be busier than usual, especially in the morning and evening peaks on weekdays” is probably pretty depressing.

For some months, Adecco (“the largest staffing firm in the world”) have been advertising for Crowd Control officers to support the “blockade project which will positively transform the journeys of millions of people”. A nice spin on, what I imagine, will be a fairly thankless task to keep commuters calm: trains and stations have been plastered with signs warning of reduced (or even, no) service for most of the year but I can already see the Twitter outrage from those who did not get a personal visit for a member of engineering team. If you use expensive noise-cancelling headphones on your morning commute you may be forgiven for having missed the non-stop announcements warning of the works. The rest of us don’t have an excuse.

There will be the usual frustrations of people failing to get somewhere important — or standing around somewhere else for a long period of time, waiting — but I don’t see how any of this is avoidable. Maybe I should make the month off.

Of course, after all this work is complete we are promised capacity for 30% more passengers during the busiest parts of the day when 100,000 people pass through the station. The trouble is, in the 24 years I have been in London passenger numbers on these lines have more than doubled, making Waterloo the busiest transport hub in Europe. That’s a more-than 100% increase over that time. If that growth carries on at a similar rate then the extra space, which we’ll probably already fill, will be also be bursting in 6 or 7 years. These works are making a better use of existing infrastructure but what options do we have beyond that? Where will new trains go in 24 years from now?

All in all seems like a sensible time to have applied to run the trains into a half-closed station, don’t you think?

“Waterloo – Finally facing my Waterloo”

Hidden London: Clapham South Deep Level Shelter

Each morning as I walk across the Thames, I look to my left and see the sights of St Paul’s Cathedral, the gherkin and Canary Wharf. It’s an amazing – almost iconic – skyline.  Although radically changed with the modern skyscrapers, can you imagine what it must have been like just over 70 years ago when a hundred or more doodlebugs, or the V-1 flying bombs as they were more officially known, could be filling the sky and you didn’t know what their target was.1

Early in the second world war, London had been bombed by the German Luftwaffe – a period known as The Blitz. In spite of early attempts by the government to lock them, Londoners took shelter in many of the city’s Underground stations. In addition, parts of the Underground were used to store national treasures.  Today it’s on an unused branch line, but in the 1940s Aldwych tube station, that I visited once before, protected artefacts from the British Museum from the damage aerial bombing could inflict.

At the height of the bombing, there were demands from the public for the government to provide more shelters. The government turned to the London transport authorities – who had the technical experience building below ground – to build new shelters. And, even though the bombing raids over London had subsided, a total of 8 deep-level shelters we’re built (although 10 had been commissioned). All the new deep shelters were built near existing tube stations: the unrealised dream being to bring them into service as railways post-war.

The shelters were eventually used for their intended purpose in the latter years of the war when, in June 1944, the flying bombs were sent to attack the city.

Last Sunday, as part of London Transport Museum’s Hidden London series,2 I visited the deep-level shelter at Clapham South. The above-ground pillar box can still be seen just around the corner from the existing tube entrance. The shelter is connected to the station but the walls have long-since been sealed forcing visitors to descend (and return later) via a 180-step spiral staircase. The lift, it appears, either not in working order or no longer fit for public use. It’s not easy on the knees but, somehow, not quite as many steps as it sounds.

Clapham South Deep Level ShelterBelow ground is a fascinating place. Wartime pictures of the shelter show the kind of Blitz-spirited Londoners that only seem to appear on old newsreel films.3 In reality, the space built for almost 8,000 people, must have been cramped, crowded, smelly and – probably – very loud. Even with the welcome addition of the canteen-served jam tarts that were not subject to the ration book, I can’t imagine it was the nicest of places. Admittedly, the feeling of 120 feet of earth above you probably went a long way to making it a sanctuary from the horrors above the ground.

DSCN0755-7The tunnels through which you are escorted on the tour are astonishingly clean & tidy – having been most recently used as a secure archive storage facility – but it’s clear from the remaining bunk beds that life would have been cramped. Row, upon row, of the stacked bunk beds could have given almost 8,000 people safety in the Clapham South shelter; your particular bunk marked on the ticket required to access the shelter. Most people would have to bring their belongings down in to the shelter each time they went; exceptions were made for people whose houses had been destroyed by the war. That’s 180 steps with mattresses and other personal items that you wanted to keep with you.

Post-war, the shelters have been used as a hostel for visitors to the great exhibitions of the Festival of Britain in 1951, places for incoming migrants to stay until they found permanent accommodation or as army barracks. In later years, the Clapham South shelters were the aforementioned storage facility while a nearby tunnel, that you don’t visit, is today used to grow salads under LED lighting.4

Walking across the Thames bridges in the August sunshine is a world away from the realities of wartime in the city: the Hidden London deep-level shelter tour a small, but important, reminder of what people went through and a fascinating insight into the ingenuity of the city to protect citizens in more difficult times.

Hidden London

If you’re interested in the Hidden London series of tours, visit the London Transport Museum site to see when the next series is scheduled.

About BEWA 2016

BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August) is a project aimed to get me writing in a blog style again. I wrote an introduction to kick the series off while the first proper entry championed an Olympic legacy.  The third discussed my fascination with location data while what should have been the fourth entry was more of an Oops. There is a page with the #bewa collection (including those from last year).  Fingers crossed I am back next week. I’m sure @curns will mention it.

Footnotes

1 V-1 flying bomb, Wikipedia
2 Hidden London, London Transport Museum
3 Clapham South Deep Level Air-Raid Shelter, Subterranea Britannica
4 Growing Underground: A Visit To Clapham’s Deep Level Farm, Londonist

Networks & Connections

I don’t know what it is about the railways that fascinates so many people but it does. As I type, there’s a mysterious world of trainspotters taking pictures of Diesel Multiple Units from the far end of station platforms somewhere in the UK. Certainly, it’s an important/large enough passtime for the BBC to have devoted three hours of evening TV hours to Transporting Live a few weeks ago week.

I’ve often wondered if this is only a British phenomenon? I am not sure I understand that although I will admit that, as a child, I crossed out bus registration plates in a book that listed all the vehicles operated by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive. Bus Spotting: it was Pokémon Go for a 70s childhood.

Perhaps it’s not that hard to explain after all.

However, I do have my own fascination with the networks of the railways. There’s something about the running of an infrastructure that moves thousands of people daily that really interests me. Previously, I’ve highlighted the complexities of the Oyster smart-card system and written about the Hidden London visitor series which can take you to disused parts of the Underground network.

Fellow London commuters frustrated by the levels of service provided by the Southern franchise right now will rightly not be interested in the history of the network or Oyster permutations: after all, what good is a fare if the trains have been removed? But they may be interested in this from the London Reconnection site: “Meltdown Monday: How Southern’s Problems Run Deeper Than Disputes” which provides interesting background on why the current problems are not as simple as an argument about who closes the doors.

People have warned for years that London’s transport system will start to collapse due to the sheer number of people using it. That is unlikely and gentle degradation is a more likely outcome. What consistently seems to get overlooked, however, is the possibility that two or three problems, relatively small and insignificant in themselves, can come together to produce a situation that is hard to unravel and even more difficult to solve.1

How many of us travelling on the railways understand things such as Dwell time or Sunday Rest Day working?

Basically on large parts of the railway, still, Sunday is not a rostered working day for train crew, and management is reliant on people working rest days to provide a service.2

It’s worth a read if you have the time while staring at the platform display hoping a train will appear.

Footnotes

1 Meltdown Monday: How Southern’s Problems Run Deeper Than Disputes: London Reconnections
2 ibid

Coming Up

I guess I could have tried to make this the first in the 2016 Blog Every Wednesday in August series. However, last Wednesday I said that the quote and link format, although a blog staple, is not the BEWA way. I felt this post would be cheating. I may regret that next week when I have to find something to write about.

Hidden London: Aldwych Underground Station

I took another tour of a hidden London Underground station last weekend. This time it was of Aldwych (formerly, Strand) station which has a fascinating history. Originally planned as the terminus of the Great Northern and Strand Railway, even by the time it opened in 1907 it was a little used spur of – what is today – the Piccadilly Line.  Closed in 1994, Aldwych can still be seen in films and TV programmes and, very occasionally, as part of a Hidden London tour.

Fearing that the station would be little used, economy was sought during construction. Only one set of stairs & passages to the platforms were completed. The eastern platform was not used for trains from 1914 onwards.
The eastern platform, shown here, was not used for trains from 1914 onwards, although they were used to store national art treasures during the world wars.

Fearing that the station would be little used, economy was sought during construction. Only one set of stairs & passages to the platforms were completed, and only about half the platform area (at the south end where the short trains would stop) were tiled. The remaining passages were left incomplete and never opened, all passengers using what would have been the exit passages to access platforms and lifts …

The Aldwych branch was never well patronised. Before the time of its closure only 450 people were using the branch each day. From June 1958 the line began operating only in rush hours as off peak traffic was almost non-existent. The line was considered for extension to Waterloo on many occasions throughout its history but due to financial limitations and lack of demand, this extension never came to anything.

There’s a few more pictures in a Flickr album: https://flic.kr/s/aHsksZdTtV

The station was originally called Strand but was renamed Aldwych in 1915 when the nearest Northern Line station became Strand (now, that's Charing Cross)
The station was originally called Strand but was renamed Aldwych in 1915 when the nearest Northern Line station became Strand (now, that’s Charing Cross)

Footnotes

Source: Hidden London: Aldwych Closed Station, © London Transport Museum, p3/p18

Oyster Complexities

Something I learned this week about the complexities of managing London’s smart-card ticketing system,

Starting with 700 stations, Oyster does not know the destination when you tap in. So the system has to hold 700 times 700 possible fares.

Then there are alternative routes, where you have to allow for people doing ‘weird and wonderful things’. As a result Oyster allows for up to 32 different routes between any origin-destination pair.

Then there are peak and off-peak fares. Here Oyster has built in ‘stretch’ which could accommodate up to 16 different time bands over the day.

Add in adult, child plus youth, senior, unemployed and other concessionary fares and the total number of combinations in the system comes to 216 million fares. That is, of course, irrelevant to the customer, who knows that, however he or she travels between Zone 1 and Zone 2, the peak fare will be £2.90.

Source: Modern Railways magazine, March 2016, p73

Improved By Design

A couple of months ago I wrote a thing about receipts and the utter pointlessness of P, T and M on that piece of paper. Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting piece of writing was it? On the other hand, it appears I’m not alone with this line of thinking. Jack Dorsey, you know one of the chaps that invented Twitter, apparently spoke at the US National Retail Federation’s annual Big Show conference (I suspect they are, close to what I thought was, a receipt industry) about this problem and ways the receipt can be better used as a communication tool to customers. If I was so inclined, I’d claim credit. You know, something along the line of how smart people follow my thinking. But, that’s pretty much a long-shot huh?

A little digging is a fascinating thing. It seems all sorts of pieces of paper could be improved with a small amount of design expertise. I was drawn to the idea of improving the receipt during an extended attempt to claim expenses for a recent trip. That trip included a train, a flight and several taxis. I know taxi paperwork is being improved: Uber and Kabbee do a great job of just emailing you the receipt after the journey – no more scribbled bits of paper that are incomplete. How many times have you had to add information to a taxi receipt yourself so that it was obvious what it journey it was for? They’re clear on where I have been and how much the journey cost. And email makes them easy to retrieve when it’s time to claim those expenses from the people that sent you there.

Peter Smart's Boarding PassAs it turns out there are plenty of other people who think train tickets and plane boarding passes could also be improved. These are a bit more complex as, unlike many taxi receipts they have to be shown while the journey is in progress. To that end they contain lots of little nuggets that mean nothing to you and me but might be crucial to the ticket inspector or air stewardesses’ ability to quickly interpret the ticket. I like Neil Martin’s version of the British Rail ticket (others have had a good go too). But for some innovative thinking, take a look at Peter Smart’s version of the airline boarding pass. If you’ve ever had to look twice at your pass to see which terminal/gate you’re going from then this redesign couple be really helpful.

What I particularly like about both of the examples I’ve shown is the removal of industry speak. Those little airport codes, you know LTN to WAW, are really London Luton to Warsaw Chopin in real, human, understanding. Why not just say that? Unless the product is a business-to-business tool where the people using the system speak the language of the industry it’s never a good idea to confuse with codes and jargon; and even in industry-specific systems I’m not always convinced. In the airport the departure screens don’t show WAW so why should the ticket?

There will be those who think a digital ticket/boarding pass is the solution but that experience needs improving too. My British Airways mobile phone app once showed a partner airline’s flight number for the journey – so the on-board crew were very confused – and I’ve known people who have stood at the front for five minutes or more rebooting a crashed phone so they can show a ticket and take their seat. Paper may be around a while for those things.

Now I just need an original idea for something to redesign.

Further Reading: This post is a follow up to I Don’t Want A Useless Paper Receipt and is also the third in my BEWA posts. The first a rather random post, BEWA: Sound the alarm! All the letters have been taken. Last week’s post was Elsewhere: Writing the perfect RFP.

A Mastery Of Technology

Technology is good for us. But sometimes it gets the better of us. Like today when it wasn’t that helpful. My train was rebooted this morning. I was heading to the airport and sat in my train seat waiting to leave the station. I had a nice cup of morning coffee in my hands (I was still in England, it’s civilised like that).

I am writing this episode of .org on one side of the screen while watching an episode of Queer As Folk (US version) on the other side of the screen. I’m playing it from my computer’s built-in DVD. I am doing this as I am sat in a hotel room in Oslo. See, the relentless march of technology allows me to mutli-task in ways I would never have imagined a few years ago.

You could almost say I am stunned. But I am not. I am just bored in a hotel room.

Having said that, it would be great if all that technology stomping around the world managed to get a coffee machine or kettle in this hotel room. As it is I had to take the lift and fetch a cup of over strong coffee from the reception area. Really, Scandinavia is supposed to be so much more advanced. All this wood, heated bathroom flooring and sweet herring is all well and good but I want a good old fashioned cup of Costa Coffee and there isn’t one to be had.

Sorry, back to that relentless technology marching. I am seeing sleek back and silver gadgets marching in perfect unison through Red Square; USB cables tightly rolled and ready to attack at the first sight of an invasion. General Mac and Air Marshall Windows quietly surveying their battalions with stern pride and swelling chests full of medals. But this is modern tech. It would fail. It would let you down. The connector would be the wrong size or the driver would be missing. The intruders would conquer and a few bits of bare wire and broken hard drives would litter the streets.

See, I am well aware that technology is not fool-proof. How many times have you sent that email to somebody who should not have been on the cc list? How many times have you wasted half the paper in the printer because you forgot to check how that document would print? How many times did your Sat Nav take you the wrong way down a one-way street? How many times have you called somebody on your mobile that you didn’t mean to call? How many times have to had to reboot your train?

Yes, honestly, my train was rebooted this morning. I was heading to the airport and sat in my train seat waiting to leave the station. I had a nice cup of morning coffee in my hands (I was still in England, it’s civilised like that). I was thinking ‘which terminal?’ and wondering if those people on the platform were going to be charged excess baggage for the small van-load of cases they were taking. Then the train driver announced a small problem they were working on. A few minutes passed. We were late. The driver came on the tannoy again: now the power would be turned off and back on again. We weren’t to panic as we were plunged into darkness and the doors locked themselves. So we sat there in darkness with all the power gone. And then somebody switched us on again and – as with all turn it off and on agains – we were good to go. So we did. Go, that is.

Seriously, they turned my train off and then on again to fix it.

And it was at that moment I knew that technology had gotten the better of us. Machines now rule and we are relegated to the bit parts (every pun intended).

Powered By Rotting Fruit

The Swedes, god-bless their efficiency, have come up with a train that is, effectively, powered by that rotting fruit.

I don’t know if it is the glorious sunny weather or something else altogether but, right now, commuting life in London seems so much more pleasant than it used to be. I have no idea why that is but my morning battle with overcrowded South West Trains doesn’t feel to bad right now. Perhaps these new trains really are making a difference. Of course, if it is getting better the rail bosses have still managed to stir up controversy again by suggesting further peak-travel charging for using the railways. There’s nothing likely to get people stirred up than a story like this. I mainly feel for the poor people from the rail companies having to justify these statements. Lost in all the furore about this was the news that the Swedes, god-bless their efficiency, have come up with a train that is, effectively, powered by that rotting fruit you throw away each week. What a great idea.

M6 Toll Speeds My Day

The M6 Toll Road really did save me a lot of time today.

You may recall that I’ve written a great deal about transport in the UK (from congestion charges to grid lock via snow disruption) and I am in favour of a properly integrated transportation infrastructure in the United Kingdom. I am also in favour of public transport and really against the continual building of new roads around the country. However, if we are to build new roads in the UK lets make them all like the M6 Toll road. Returning to London from Shrewsbury today, we took the M6 Toll to speed our journey and it really was much quicker. The time and stress saved is worth the money invested. I know it won’t be a popular opinion but if you don’t want to pay the toll a viable alternative exists.

Still, I just wish they’d make the trains more reliable and integrate them with buses and make them nice and comfortable.

A Pointless Rant About Trains

I am not shocked at the mediocre service. I am not shocked that the staff on board couldn’t care about the confused passengers. What amazes me is that I took two trains and for the majority of both journeys the trains were full.

Today’s illogical rant follows in a moment. Do not be alarmed. An emergency exit is located here and here.

Virgin Trains have made a big deal about the investment in new trains. And the trains were very nice – the airline style at-seat audio was a nice touch. But the service was still below par. On the way north last weekend  the train had been changed and so seat reservations were no longer valid (yet our seat numbers were still there). They seems to have removed the at-seat buffet (which is handy on a full-train so you don’t lose your seat) and the train terminated early.

I am not shocked at the mediocre service. I am not shocked that the staff on board couldn’t care about the confused passengers (are you in my seat or not?). What amazes me is that I took two trains and for the majority of both journeys the trains were full. And by full I mean people were sitting in the parts between the carriages, on the floor in the cold, draughty bits (as an aside, how come it can be so draughty and ventilated and the toilets still smell?). Every train I ever take is full. To work in the morning. Home in the evening. North to visit my parents. South to visit PY’s parents. So why do we always hear about the lack of money in the railway system?

Aliens Eat London Commuters

It stunned me that I could walk onto a platform on the Northern Line at Charing Cross station and find it deserted.

rush hour
rush hour

I posted this picture over a Flickr tonight as it stunned me that I could walk onto a platform on the Northern Line at Charing Cross station and find it deserted. All the best movies had alien invaders clearing the streets while our lonesome hero wandered the empty streets and echoing buildings. It was very strange indeed and a great relief when somebody else made it to the platform and stood waiting the few minutes for the next train. I’ve spent the day in central London training some customers on our software products and so have been on my feet all day, talking. I find it quite hard to be engaging for six hours of so and do find it very disconcerting when I can see the participants interest wane. I imagine it’s a great relief for all that we make it to the end of the day. I was glad to head of for a meal with friends – which is why I was taking the train!