Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Going places...or not.

It is only four months since I started coming to London regularly and now I sympathise entirely with those who moan about public transport in the city. Apart from being expensive, it strikes me as being like Longfellow's mythical little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead: when it is good it is very good, and when it is bad it is horrid. And not just ordinary horrid, but infuriating, frustrating and so irredeemably horrid that it makes you forget that it is ever good. Perhaps I had forgotten, or perhaps I never knew as I had a car when I lived in London, just how long and how much effort it takes to get anywhere, be it half a mile away or ten.

I was standing on a chilly platform at Clapham Junction with the Frenchman and the Fille. We were caught in an icy, teeth chattering wind; the kind of wind anyone from Suffolk, used to bone-chilling blasts from the east, would call a "lazy wind" as in "it don't go round you it go through you". We were waiting for a train to Teddington due, according to the board, a few minutes later. A few minutes passed and no train. A few minutes more and still no train. The board changed to a later time, then a later time, and a later time. I asked a guard when he thought the train might come. He said: "It's gone". He consulted his clipboard and, true enough, there was a big cross next to the Teddington train. "It's gone," he confirmed. I said: "I don't think so. I've been standing here for half an hour and I think I would have noticed the train coming and going." (I may have been out of the country for a few years but I know what a train looks like). He said: "It's gone." I said: "Aha, it's on the board as due in another ten minutes." He looked at the board and frowned. "That's wrong. It's gone." He said the next one would be in another 20 minutes, but could not reassure me that it would not come and go without anyone noticing like the previous one. In the end it took a train and taxi to get to Teddington and we were an hour and a half late for dinner.

The Underground - as I have already complained - is creaky, chaotic, crowded, extortionately expensive and unbearably hot. Trains stop for ages in tunnels or inexplicably decide to go somewhere other than the destination you expected when you boarded them. Because you never know if a ten minute journey is going to take ten minutes or an hour you invariably end up late and stressed or stultifyingly early.

The buses are much better, but even they have their moments; drivers suddenly deciding not to go all the way to the destination marked on the front, but stopping half way and throwing everyone off; drivers that stop too far from the kerb for you to get a pushchair on (or squashed against railings when you are trying to get off - though at least the buses do not have steps as many do in France).

I am tempted to write to Transport for London with some suggestions and questions.

a) Could buses, trains and tubes do what it says on the packet ie: go where they say they are going and stop where they say they will stop?

b) In addition to the above could drivers actually stop when would-be passengers at a 'request' stop shove out their hands - as opposed to sailing past as we wave our arms about like demented human windmills?

c) Could bus drivers please be taught to drive - as I was taught - with maximum consideration for passengers. This does not include chucking the double-decker round corners and standing on the brakes at every red light, junction and stop. Heaven knows it is bad enough trying to hang on to a pushchair on the roller coaster ride most bus journeys have become, it must be utterly terrifying for the elderly or infirm?

d) Somebody please install air conditioning that works in Tube trains?

e) Can and will someone explain why there is often a change of bus driver mid route and not, as in any other country, at the terminus either end (this one baffles the Frenchman every time)?

f) Is it really so difficult to put a route map in every bus as they do in France?

g) Anyone who has the money to waste on an overpriced four-wheel-drive pushchair the size of a small car should be made to pay twice the fare. (It is almost impossible to get enormous pushchairs on Paris buses so nobody who wants to take a bus buys them - hence no need for the two-pushchair limit enforced in London.)

h) Please kill the endless stream of moronic and nannying advice: I think we know that if the bus is stopping there is a reasonable chance the doors will open thank you.

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