Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Travel - at a price

I've had a frustratingly, infuriatingly, pointlessly expensive weekend.  And it could have been even worse.....

I work in Leicester all week and go home by train to London at weekends.  I buy my tickets online during the week.  A seat on the 14.57 Leicester-St Pancras service on a Friday afternoon costs £12, a surprisingly fair price for modern-day robber barons East Midlands Trains whose fares dwarf those of other operators and who, unfortunately, have the monopoly on journeys into and out of Leicester.

Last week, though, I didn't get round to buying my tickets until Friday morning.  Sure enough, the price had leapt to £48.  And none of the other trains leaving that afternoon was any cheaper.

Cost of my tardiness: £36.

The boyf and I are off to Belfast in September, volcanic ash permitting.  I'm to 'marry' a friend and his other half.  I am not licenced to perform civil partnerships, so Stephen and Ravi will do the legal bit quickly and quietly beforehand.  I will then invite them to declare their mutual love and commitment before weeping friends and family in beautiful Belfast Castle.  I am honoured and can't wait.

Ryanair seats are £30 return, substantially less, you'll notice, than a Leicester to London, bought-on-the-day single from East Midlands "just give us yer money and no-one gets hurt" Trains.  Brilliant deal.

But mind that mouse!  Don't, whatever you do, click one of the little aeroplane symbols thinking you're selecting the flight detailed alongside it.  I did - and ended up booking the 6am red-eye in both directions.  I knew that changing the journeys would incur a penalty.  I didn't, however, anticipate its increasing the cost from £60 for the two of us to A HUNDRED AND EIGHTY POUNDS!

Cost of my careless clicks: £120.  Total needless spend of the weekend so far: £156.

On Monday morning, I set off for another week on the wireless in Leicester.  The Victoria Line was up the spout.  Commuters were packed onto the platform like the proverbial tinned sardines.  An already heaving train finally limped into the station.  About one in 10 of those waiting managed to elbow their way on.  For me, with a large suitcase, the situation was hopeless.

I went back up the escalator and beeped out, thus paying £1.80 on my Oyster for a journey Transport for London had been unable to deliver.  I suppose I could have argued my case with an official but time was tight.

I hailed a cab.  The ride to St Pancras Station was agonisingly slow, roadworks at Waterloo proving particularly sticky.  I arrived just as my train pulled out, so the taxi fare was another £20 wasted.

Cost of London Underground's eternally fragile signalling system: £1.80 + £20 = £21.80.  Total needless spend of the weekend so far: £177.80.

Missing the start of your show is one of radio's great no-nos and I was now seriously doubting whether I could make mine.  But, joy upon joy, another fast train to Leicester, the 09.25, was leaving in minutes.  I was saved! 

However, East Midlands Trains doesn't let you use your ticket on the next train if you've missed yours -that wouldn't extort the maximum cash out of its long suffering passengers, you see - so I knew I'd be caught by the ticket inspector on the 09.25 and fined £62 (or, rather, required to buy another ticket at the standard price, as they prefer to think of it).  Yes, that really is what EMT does to you for daring to catch a train a few minutes before or after the one you're booked on.  You dyed-in-the-wool motorists can't believe what we public transport users put up with, can you?  At times, neither can we!

Anyway, I should have simply put my ticket through the slot at the barrier, boarded the train and subsequently paid my fine.  Instead, I foolishly asked the charmless jobsworth at the barrier whether my ticket was valid on  the 09.25.  "No," he replied, "you need to return to the ticket office to buy a new one for this service." 

But if I did that, I wouldn't have time to catch this servie!  Couldn't I just jump on board and pay the fine?  "No."  I really would get into terrible trouble if I didn't catch that train: couldn't he make an exception?  "No."  By now, he was physically barring my way.

Swearing - and not entirely under my breath - I descended the escalator en route to the ticket hall.  But then I had an idea.  I came back up the 'up' escalator, calmly walked back to the barrier avoiding eye contact with Mr Charmless Jobsworth, stuck my ticket in, went through, and caught the train with seconds to spare.  Hah!

And it got even better: when the inspector came round, I gave him my ticket and, sure enough, he immediately clocked that I was on the wrong train.  "I know!" I gushed, all faux innocence.  "The Victoria Line was hopeless this morning, so I missed the 09.15 by moments.  Thank goodness for the 09.25!"  Had The Revenue Team been working that train, he explained, they'd have made me buy a standard price ticket (the £62 "fine").  But they weren't, and he was going to let me off! 

East Midlands Trains, it seems, had made the fatal error of employing a reasonable bloke!  I'm sure they'll soon rumble him and replace him with a charmless automaton, but I was in the clear.

"In future," he said, "just explain the problems you've had getting to the station to the staff at the ticket barrier, and they'll stamp your ticket and let you through."  Somehow, I both kept a straight face and refrained from saying: "Have you actually met the barrier staff at St Pancras?" 

Cost to East Midlands Trains of inadvertently employing a decent human being: £62.

So, what morals do we draw from this sorry chain of events?  Well, there are so many, you can take your pick.  For example:

a) East Midlands Trains are &%$"£*@!!!!!!
b) silly computing errors can cost you dear
c) in London, you're always only a signalling failure away from disaster
d) I'll never be rich

However, I prefer e):

e) it's only money: I've still got my health and strength and people who love me, not to mention more Diana Ross CDs than you could shake a stick at.  What's £177.80 compared to all that?

Thank you for reading.  My spleen is now fully vented.

PS: can you lend us a tenner?


  1. Hi Bill.

    As they say some things never change. I remember the same crap when I used to work in the smoke, then travel home to Blackpool, many years ago.
    Here in Hollywood, they would never pull such
    "More than my jobs worth stuff"
    America has many things wrong with it, but being helpful when working isn't one of them. But they do say " Have a Nice Day" aghhhhhhh
    Best way to deal with the Brit attitude is still "Bollocks" Luv Christian x