Thursday, March 08, 2007

To Fight or Not To Fight?

I've always cared a bit too much about public transport. I think this has come about for a number of reasons.
  • I don't drive, so it's the only way I can get around.
  • I like to get around; my mates live all over the country and I work 60 miles from where I live.
  • My father worked in the Rail Industry, and as young kids we used to go on holiday by train.
  • There is no way we'll tackle climate-change in the UK until people get out of their cars, and they wont get out of their cars until there is decent alternative.
  • And finally, I think I have some deep-rooted socialist principles that are fighting to show themselves above my very white-middle-class background.
It distresses me that the railways are being run into the ground, and it pissed me off when my train fare rose by 13 % in January (despite my government-dictated salary rising by 1%). So for the last 4 months I have been waging a war of words with First Great Western and the Department for Transport.

First Great Western, to their credit have usually responded quickly to my letters, often with rail vouchers (or bribes, as I call them) and I've even had a reply letter from the Managing Director (with more bribes). I suppose FGW are good at dealing with complaints because they get so bloody many.

The Department for Transport are a different breed though. Here you are dealing with bureaucracy, secrecy, people who wont answer the bloody questions I ask them. Here you are dealing with Civil Bloody Servants. How can it possibly take 3 weeks to reply to my letters? Especially given that I seem to get the latest automated "somone's complaining about FGW" letter. I think they are hoping I will have calmed down and gone away by the time they reply.

This democratically elected government is supposed to regulate certain fares for commuters, such as weekly season tickets. They are also supposed to protect fares in areas where one company has a monopoly on public transportation. In Bath, First group run every train and every bus. If that's not a monopoly on public transport, then I don't know what is. And yet in my last letter from the DfT;
I should like to confirm that the fares regime is consistent with government policy. The majority of passengers continue to travel with tickets where increases are limited by government regulation.
So that's alright then. The majority of commuters get their regulated, inflation +1% rise, and in the South West we are shafted. And just to rub our noses in it, we are shafted by the worst performing franchise in Britain. For January-February, FGW missed all their performance targets for reliability and punctuality. The have also fallen below all their rolling annual averages for reliability and punctuality for all five service areas they run. They are, in short, fucking crap, and fucking expensive.

So, having had my rant, should I continue to send fruitless letters in the hope that someone somewhere will listen? Or should I calm down, let my blood pressure normalise, and realise that the world is a shit place where the man will continue to fuck us over.

To fight or not to fight - that is the question.

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