Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Long time supporter of public transport jumps in the car

I started this blog – and it was arguably at it's shouty worst/best* – to moan to anyone who'd listen about my train commute to work. However, like many similar shouty blogs moaning about public transport, I soon moved through anger and retribution stage into the shoulder-shrugging total and utter apathy stage. I barely mustered a sigh when the conductor announces the reason for our latest delay, and the expletives I uttered, standing at the counter when my season ticket price increased by 27% in January wasn't even audible to the poor clerk, thrust into the firing-line by First Great Western to seperate customers from their money. But five months later and £354 a month was really starting to grate, quite a lot, so I investigated the possibility of making a saving somewhere.

To cut a not really that long, but really rather dull story short, it turns out that by driving from Bath to Keynsham and picking up the train there I save myself £130 a month**. This may seem a small victory, but believe me, the taste is very sweet indeed, especially as I consider every pound saved to be one stolen from the coffers of First Group. For those that don't know, Keynsham is about 7 miles from Bath, not halfway to Cardiff as the saving would suggest, so the petrol money in my little motor is not too bad, and before someone smart points out the cost of parking, then whisper it quietly, but it's just a pound a day at Keynsham, infact the savings easily cover my insurance too so I am way up on the deal.

So there you have it, a previous vocal supporter of public transport has been forced into his car to save money, and if it weren't for the bloody Severn Bridge Toll, I'd probably drive the whole way. Though I am now entering the third stage of the commuter, where changes are planned in order that I don't have a bloody stupid commute to get to work every day…. But more on that later…. Maybe.

* delete as you see fit.

** For those who care this is broken down as £80 saved on train ticket and £50 saved on the (outrageously expensive) monthly bus ticket to get to Bath station (also paid to First!).

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Worse At The Weekends

My wife and I decided to get away this weekend. A change is as good a break, someone might have said once. We thought we'd go somewhere easy to reach - just a single train ride from Bath - so we chose Weymouth.

In hindsight, I can't believe I was stupid enough to use FGW for a weekend break. The journey down on Saturday morning went smoothly enough. In fact it was almost entertaining; if sitting in a live episode of Little Britain is your cup of tea. We were surrounded by yoofs "Yeah, but, No but"-ing their way from Westbury, Frome and Yeovil all the way to Weymouth.

Interestingly, after listening to the said yoofs discuss tactics for fare evasion (going to the bogs when the collector arrives, hiding their booze and asking for child tickets etc), they all got away without buying tickets after the train manager announced that his machine was broken and would people please buy a ticket at their destination. It'll be no surprise to you that none of them did upon arrival at Weymouth.

At least half the people getting off at Weymouth had no tickets - I hope FGW don't use a lack of revenue as an excuse to shut down this line.

After a wonderfully relaxing weekend, we went to get the 14:00 train back to Bath. This is the first of only 3 trains that run on this line on a Sunday, the others at 18:00 and 20:09. However this train was cancelled. The SWT staff at the station had no idea why is was cancelled, or indeed if the 18:00 would run, only that a bus was being provided. I phoned FGW to find out why it was cancelled, since there was a train on the platform, and was informed that it was due to staff illness.

Outside, sure enough, a bus was on the forecourt to take us as far as Westbury where we'd have to pick up the no doubt already packed service from Portsmouth.

The journey didn't take too long as we only went to one of the intermediate 10 stations (Yeovil Pen Mill) on the way. I hate to think what information was available at the others, particularly the unmanned ones. I suppose most people just had to wait the four hours for the next one.

We arrived just after the 15:58 had left Westbury, and no-one will be surprised it didn't wait, then again, we could have been hours yet, had we stopped everywhere. A long wait was therefore on the cards, but thankfully the coach driver offered to take anyone who wanted, a lift back to Bath or Bristol given that he was headed back to Bristol. So we got back on the bus and arrived in Bath around 45 min late. It could have been a lot worse had the kind driver not gone above his duty.

Question is though, given that the bus was dispatched from Bristol, the staff illness mustt have been known a wouldn't have been easier and cheaper to send a train crew in a taxi? Or was the staffing shortage so bad that there was no spare crews anywhere?

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Did you know about E-day?

Today, was E-day. Actually, Energy Day, a day to save Energy.

The theory was that for just one day, everyone in the UK should all make a concerted effort to turn off our computers when we left work, turn our televisions off stand-by, you know the stuff. By just making a few thoughtful changes to our habits that did not even affect our lifestyle the project expected to highlight how much energy could be saved if we weren't so wasteful.

E-day ran from 6 pm yesterday through to 6 pm today, so that the staggering results could be shown on the late evening news. You could follow progress, being fed from the national grid live on the website to see how we were all doing.

If you don't want to see the result, look away now.

It was a monumental failure. For most of the day the day we were running at 2-3% above the predicted energy use for the day. So late this afternoon they moved the goalposts;

"The National Grid refined their assessments, based on actual weather data, during Thursday afternoon"

Apparently it was colder than they expected. But we were still used 0.1% over the expected energy usage. Not that easy to save energy after all. Or was it simply that no-one knew it was happening. I only found out thanks to a departmental e-mail at work.

Did you know? Did you take part? Would you have taken part if you had known? Or do people just not care?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hidden Charges

I went to book some train tickets for this weekend on the trainline.com. There are a series of hidden costs; First you have to uncheck the boxes for optional travel insurance from Columbus at the riduculous cost of £1 per journey. This cost is ridiculous because you have to be delayed by four hours before you can claim anything, and you'll be covered by your household/travel insurance for most of it anyway.

Then you move on to the payment screen. There is a £1 charge for postage. Fair enough, that's a bit steep for an envelope and stamp, but cheaper than most ebay sellers. But what if I'm prepared to collect the tickets myself? Well then you pay a £1 ticket arrangement fee. WTF! This fee wasn't applicable when they were being posted, but now I'm doing all the leg work myself there's a different charge. Effectively this £1 is a trainline.com tax. But their taxes to not stop there.

Next there is a £2.50 Credit Card fee. Why is this? There is no charge for debit cards, so why credit cards? Unusually I'm not being facetious, I am genuinely interested if there is a real reason for this. But I doubt there is an argument that can stand up in the face of the fact that you will not be charged a credit card fee if you buy the tickets in person from the counter.

I am fully aware that the trainline is not the only company to do this. Another pet peeve of mine is Odeon cinemas. They charge a 50 pence "card handling fee", again a totally nonsense charge that you do not pay if you turn up in person. However this charge is made all the more nonsensical when despite it's implication that it is for handling the payment, it is charged per ticket. 4 tickets, one payment, but four card handling fees. Hmmm.

I'm sure that the costs companies more to sell tickets in person that via automated call centres, or on the internet, so it would be understandable to pay a premium for the personal service, but to pay more for the cheaper service is a nonsense.

Anyway, I decided I was not going to pay a £3.50 tax to buy my tickets on line, so I decided I would get them in person at Bath Spa station on my way home. I arrived at 7.30 and there were two windows open at the ticket office. Both were devoid of customers. However I was told that I could only buy tickets for that day. Or tomorrow. But not Saturday. Why not? Apparently the advance ticket windows are only open until 7 pm. It used to be that then one of the windows would become "All Tickets", but now there is no room for flexibility. Even when there are two people serving, and just one person to serve.

I suppose they want people to go on-line and pay the outrageous tax.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday, Not Fun

Wow - just goes to show you shouldn't tempt fate.

After telling you all on Friday that, despite being occasionally busy, things have been, generally tolerable on the trains recently, this morning things went well and truely belly up, and I experienced one of the longest delays of my 20 months or so of commuting. An hour and a half delay. Yep, a whole 250% increase on the usual journey time. Plus it could have been a lot worse had I listened to the mindless optimism of the train manager....

Things did not look promising at first, arriving at the station, departure board warns of a 16-minute delay. I can live with that. In fact, I quietly welcome 10-15 minute delays as it means I have time to go to the snack bar* for a freshly made bacon sandwich and a cup of tea from the local cafe rather than the station facilities, twice as nice, half the price and supports a local business fighting for its life as the south end of Bath is a building site for the next two years and their current walk-by trade = zero.

Anyhow, after coming back with breakfast, the usual 2-minute increments were stacked up until the delay was a full half hour, but the 06:56 pulled in just before the 07:28. The delay had been caused by a faulty power car according to the train manager. "bet we get no further than Temple Meads on this train", I said to my lab mate who for the last few months has been commuting with me.

Though, we did get out of Bristol, with a fitter on board, we broke down short of Filton. "We'll be going to Parkway for a powercar test and I'm sure we'll be on our way soon" the train manager announced optimistically after finally moving off after around 20 minutes. "We'll be on our way soon" he announced again after 10 minutes or so at Bristol Parkway. Anyway, not believing the guy (he must have been new, bless him), I phoned rail enquiries and discovered another train to Cardiff in a few minutes, telling the few people around me, we made our way over to the other platform. Eventually we were an hour and a half late. We'd have been later if I'd have listened to the train manager.

This evening though, I received an unexpected bonus, courtesy of FGW's uselessness. The 19:49 from Bristol, calling at Oldfield Park, so my 20:22 made an additional call. There were some Mardy people on my train, who had been cold at Temple Meads for a while, but for me it was a shorter walk home. You win some, you lose some.

*If you too are a Bath commuter and have ten minutes to fill, rather than spending a fortune in the station Pumpkin or Crusty Sandwich fooderies, take one-minute walk up manver's street (straight ahead - see map) and though Railway Street on the left, is a building site, defiently holding on, just around the corner is the Snack Bar . Very friendly staff and perveuyours of a most excellent bacon sarnie.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Writing Part 2

Did a bit more on the story. Don't get too hooked, don't know how much more of this I can churn out. I'm already struggling, a bit. I have a lot more respect for novelists already.

“So when did you last see Will?” Mike asked.
“Oh don’t you start, you’re as bad as the police. Don’t you think I feel bad enough already?” Jeff replied.
“I know, I’m sorry, I’m just trying to get a few things straight in my head that’s all.”
“Can’t believe it. I didn’t think he needed walking home or anything. He’s twenty-three for Christ sake, not twelve.”
“Yeah, but you said he was pretty drunk.”
“No, I said I wish I could drink like him, he was really putting it away but didn’t seem to be any worse-for-ware.” Jeff paused, his eyes were moist and you could tell he was holding back tears. “And besides, I’d had enough by that time, he said he was going on to meet some of his Uni mates at a bar, so I left him trying to hail a cab outside The Dove and I walked home. That was about twelve-thirty.” Jeff stopped again, turned away from Mike and wiped away a tear.

Mike got up and went to put the kettle on in the kitchen. He left Jeff to deal with his grief, and went to deal with his own grief, his headache and the information the police had given him.

They had explained that Will’s body had been found between two blocks of flats just around the corner from their flat. The police believed he’d been mugged, tried to put up a fight and had ended up being strangled. This didn’t add up to Mike, Will had been mugged a couple of months after he’d moved in and had sensibly just handed over his wallet and phone. He couldn’t believe Will would be a have-a-go hero even after an evening full of beers.

Mike couldn’t think straight, he had a hangover from hell. He fished around in the kitchen cupboard for paracetamol, popped a couple, poured himself another pint of water and gulped it down. He made two teas and returned to the lounge, he couldn’t remember seeing Jeff so quiet.

“There’s something that doesn’t make sense though, don’t you think?” Mike asked, putting a tea down in front of Jeff and sat next to him.

“Eh, what?” Replied Jeff, jolted out of his trance.

“Well, what was Will doing down by those flats? It’s the wrong direction for being on his way back from the Dove, or from the bars or the night bus, there’s not even a kebab house down there.”

“Maybe he was dropped off by a cab down there.”

“Suppose, but why not outside the flat? Doesn’t make sense. Unbelievable.”

“Now you mention it,” said Jeff getting off the sofa, “something else doesn’t quite make sense.”

“What’s that?”

“What kind of failed mugging ends in strangulation?” Jeff was now animatedly pacing up and down. “Muggings end in stabbings and shootings, not people being strangled.”

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Fun

It's been a while since I've had a moan about FGW, this is due concurrent bouts of commuter and blogging apathy. To be fair to them, there does seem to have been some improvements recently too. Which is no bad thing. But after a crappy journey home this evening I thought I'd have a little whinge.

Every Friday is the same, the 5.30 train to Portsmouth is jammed to the rafters. I normally try and avoid getting this train by going for a pint or two after work and get a later train. However this evening I was absolutely knackard and had a stinking headache so I braved the student shuttle. So called because as well as the usual daily commuters, who usually fill this service on their own, we also have dozens and dozens of weekend travellers and their assorted luggage.

Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge people using the train to get away for the weekend, it's a great idea, but it would be nice to have an extra carriage on this service. However, in recent months I have been educated by various bloggers, but in particular the excellent Insider, and I know understand that there are no more carriages, and FGW's hands are tied by a Labour Government's transport policy that barely cares about public transport in the home counties and frankly don't give a shit if it doesn't start/finish in London.

So anyway, given that there are no more carriages, and I'm sure this problem is not unique to Cardiff, I believe a little should be done to encourage the weekenders to get earlier or later trains. So why can't FGW stop selling their cheap tickets on this service. Most of this evening's suitcase brigadge has their big trainline tickets (why are these not the same size as usual tickets?) and were kicking regular season ticket holders out of reserved seats. Slightly unfair I'd say given that technically season ticket holders can't book seats. So why not remove the cheap tickets from these services as an encouragement to use earlier and later trains.

At worst, the same people will get on the train and FGW would make more money, so it's surely a solution that would appeal to the management.