25 May 2010

Rail journey abandoned

This morning I tried to take a train from Brighton to Seaford but gave up the attempt.

When I arrived at the station there were long queues at all the ticket machines and in the booking office. It was touch and go whether I would catch my train. Whilst waiting, I noticed that the train was one of the class 313 stock which have just been introduced - these are the cast-offs from London Overground. They have no toilets, and as I needed to use one, I gave up, went home and then took the bus. As I have a bus pass, I saved £2.65. Surprisingly, I arrived at my destination only five minutes later than if I had gone on the train.

If one is going to travel in discomfort, there is no point in paying if one can go free of charge. And since one now has to allow 20 minutes to purchase a ticket, the train doesn't even save time.

The interesting thing is why Southern has done nothing to resolve the ticket machine problem in the five years it has had them. I have complained endlessly to Southern and even put forward suggestions for improvements. I cannot imagine I am the only one.

My personal explanation is that since Britain is run for the benefit of the handful of people who own most of it, nobody with the power to solve the problem really cares if everyone is put to trouble and incovenience whenver they travel by train.


  1. I disagree with Physiocrat's text in relation to ticket machines. In fact, I feel they are simple to use and actually save time. This is definitely the case in Derby and Brighton Stations.

    As for the rest of the writings composed by Physiocrat, surely the negativity aimed at the trains, could be changed into positivity when concentrating on Brighton's superb bus network!!

  2. The old Quickfare tickets took less than half a minute to sell you a ticket. These machines take about two minutes on average. Many people stand in front of the machines with their fingers hovering over the screen wondering what to do next. So the queues build up and you have to get to the station 15 minutes before the train leaves to be sure of catching it. I had to try three machines to get a ticket to Lancing today. The first one froze with a white screen at the end. The second one would not work unless I licked my finger. The third one was over-sensitive and you got Lll and then had to backspace. Call that progress?

    I don't think much of buses in most places in Britain. They stand for ages at the bus stops while people buy their tickets from the driver. Only a few places have a sensible ticketing system. Modern buses are big and heavy and noisy and polluting, usually with uncomfortable seats and bumpy suspension. What is there to be positive about?

    Now if there was a fleet of the kind of compact and lightweight buses they had in the 1950s, with conductors to sell the tickets, I could comment positively.

    This so-called progress has made a lot of things worse.

  3. My, my!! You must be the first person to be critical of Brighton's buses. You said they appeared, big, heavy, noisy and polluting. Are you talking about the fleet of 2010 or 1950s? Buses today, compared with 60 years ago, are far less polluting and quieter. Some even go as far as running on used cooking oil!! At the same time, they appear lighter and their low-floors provide easier access for mums/dads with pushchairs and wheelchair users. They are simply brilliant and are the pride of Britain's buses. Having sampled 'buses' in China and northern areas of England, you don't know how lucky you are.

    I dare you to find one good story when focussing on the country's public transport networks.

  4. Roger French who runs Brighton & Hove Buses is rightly recognised as one of the best managers in the industry. The problem is one that affects all buses, partly due to regulatory requirements and partly due to the high cost of labour.

    Regulatory requirements including the Disabilities Discrimination Act mean that buses are 50% heavier and considerably longer than they were in the 1950s, with all that implies in terms of wear and tear, fuel consumption, pollution, manouevrability, etc.

    The high cost of labour meant that conductors disappeared, so that new means have had to be devised for ticketing and maintaining good order. Pay as you enter means that the bus typically takes nearly twice as long to make an in-town journey than a smaller bus with a conductor, whilst blocking the roads at the same time as people queue up waiting to pay the driver or ask questions about what bus they should be catching. At the same time the lack of a conductor means that there is nobody to keep the passengers in order when they get unruly eg at closing time or when the bus is full of teenagers on the school run.

    The volume of buses in Brighton is such that trams would be a more economic and effective way of moving people around.