Thursday, February 05, 2009

We are so like our roots

While we complain about our Melbourne public transport, especially during the extremely hot weather last week when the train system all but collapsed, it was interesting to see that there were massive disruptions to London's public transport after heavy snowfalls.

Oddly, although other European countries suffered similar weather, only London's transport fell in a heap. Might it be that we followed the English model of privatising public transport and so we suffer in a similar manner?

Heat in Melbourne and snow in London. Who would have thought?

Personally, I was not overly impressed with the London Underground. While I was so excited to be using the LU, the stations were drab, gloomy and hot. The trains were very hot and rough riding. There seemed to be a lot of stationary waiting between stations.

But it has a truly marvellous coverage of London and you can get to wherever you want to go pretty well by the LU without a long wait for a train.

There are some fantastic blogs and internet stuffs on the London Underground if you have a bit of a search. I came across this piece below linked to this blog, which is an extract from an article in The Guardian. Keep in mind this was back in 2000. I am sure a lot has changed, or maybe not.

Apparently the money was reasonable so Jesse got the job

"I took the job in good faith, with a half-formed plan to let all the fare evaders off, take night walks in the tunnels and even be friendly to the weary public. I was, after all, one of them, born and bred in the shadow of the underground roundel, and I had this dream of a station where the locals would know we were on their side - a place where only tourists would buy tickets and we would have a friendly word for the regulars at the end of their journey."

Obviously Jesse could not fulfil this plan!!!!

"I found that the general public seemed to be, for some unfathomable reason, pissed off all the time. Once, early in my career, a man laden with luggage approached me at the barrier and asked to be allowed through the gate. Naively, I asked for his ticket. Luckily, the gentlemen was happy to put me straight, at no charge. "You f?***&%g c**t. You want to see my f?***%g ticket do you. You want me to put all my bags down to show you my f?*&&g ticket? I'll show it to you when I'm f?***g through, you f?***g c**t . . ." Meekly suggesting that showing me the ticket either side would require him to put down his luggage made no difference. .....

"Rudeness comes in many forms, from the tramp who wants to beg in your ticket hall to the young whippersnapper who wants to get himself and 13 mates through the gates with one child's travelcard. There is also the faux-rebel who wants to prove himself by being rude to a uniform. This kind of person saunters straight past you at the barrier as though he is hard and bunking the fare and then, when you pull him up, gives a great big sneer and produces his monthly travelcard."

That's top I must remember that one myself. Anyway, Jesse continues:

"You soon develop tactics to maintain your self-esteem. Some are noble, but the most effective is simply to be ruder, faster - which is no mean feat - and the experts at this game are the booking clerks, secure behind bulletproof glass. The clerk's life is an exercise in frustration - trapped at the window, doing a job that requires concentration but little actual intelligence, faced with hordes of incomprehensible and indecisive idiots who are all trying to maximise the amount of effort you have to put in just to sell them a ticket. After days or, to be honest, hours of £2.10 tickets bought by credit card and unintelligible tourists on top of a rush-hour crowd of miserable Londoners, the more sensitive clerk starts to wilt, and only dishing out tongue lashings, not always appropriately, can restore his sense of pride.

"Why are you always so rude?" one customer asked the ticket clerk on my duty. "The others here are always nice." "Well come back when they're here then," he replied. On another occasion a customer couldn't believe what he had been hearing. "I've never heard such rudeness in all my life," he exclaimed. "You want to get out more," came the response.

Jesse to be fair realises that beyond the "rudeness", "acute stupidity" and "braindeadness" of passengers, we've actually got a lot to put up with:

"Of course, the familiarity Londoners have with the tube tends to be familiarity with overpricing, overcrowding and under-running. The consequences of 30 years of efficiency savings has left a skeletal system that has no slack to accommodate the inevitable mishaps. In addition, the inexorable rise in passenger numbers means that even a fully functioning train service is bursting at the seams......

"The current crisis on the national rail system is a sure indicator of the direction the underground is taking as management fragments and the staff are required to be multiskilled, in order that one person can do three people's jobs. If the underground has avoided the catastrophes of the train network, it is only because it has not yet succumbed to the full-blown idiocy of privatisation."


  1. If the guy with the bags who would not produce his ticket spoke to people here like that he would soon find himself eating the pavement to which he was previously standing on!
    I liked reading this post Andrew, it does show that the LU also has its problems, and some are not so dissimilar to our own.
    I spoke with a Doctor at work the other day. He said to me when he lived in London for 2 years that coming home and buying a travel ticket here proved to him one is less expensive to travel on the bus/train/tram here than it is to go just a few stations along in London.
    Did you also find this Andrew?

  2. "...there were massive disruptions to London's public transport after heavy snowfalls."

    Not just London, Andrew. It's the same every year. First snowflake of the winter and the whole of Britain grinds to a halt. To be honest, I think it's just an excuse for everyone not to leave the comfort of a warm fire.

  3. Goodness, you mean the powers that be didn't reckon on Winter rearing its ugly head again, Brian?
    Just like our powers that be seem to file Summer heat under "F" for "Forget" :P

  4. Hey Andrew, check out my blog to collect a pretty reward :-)

  5. Anonymous11:20 am

    We all know Zurich and Vancouver both have the some of the best operation models of railways in the world.

  6. I think it was about the same as we would pay in dollars Cazzie. Effectively more than double. But locals would use their stored value Oyster Cards and pay much less.

    Brian, there just seems not to be the will to make things work.

    No doubt here and there Jayne, there is a huge reaction, but we know it will be the same next time.

    Cool Deb. Will go there now.

    And without the bureaucracy Reuben.