Friday, 26 January 2018

A Barely Defrosted Steak Pie - Leeds Commuting

No one likes biting into a  barely defrosted steak pie, at least no-one I know. That's how I feel about travelling by Northern Rail at the moment. It will keep you alive but it is not satisfying and you end up with gravy and ice on your face.

I have been taking the train more recently, my car died. I bought a folding bike. I end up on the Harrogate Leeds train one or twice a week now.

The trains usually run on time, there are new ticket machines, you can buy tickets online via an app and there are more, quicker trains on the route I travel. The staff are pretty friendly these days and they are trying to turn around a brand that was badly tarnished by under investment in the last decade.

Northern Rail get quite a lot of stick and in fairness some is deserved. I am often one of those  winding up their social media account on twitter, I doubt doing this though is the vehicle for change I would wish. It is more a reflex action for their decision to run an account that seems to designed to deflect people's attention away from the reality of the service they provide. A service which even they know is far from perfect. If their account was one that was actually interested in helping travellers who are often stuck at a station as a service fails, or is short formed and so rammed to the gunnels, or because in my most recent case water was leaking in though the window seals as we wound our way to Harrogate in an overstuffed 2 car train where 4 cars is the norm. Perhaps people would be more inclined to give them a break?

The fact that they are still running some 1980's bus bodied pacer trains long beyond their design life is shocking. My dad helped design these at the end of the1970's they were a 15 year stop gap that's a very long gap to stop. I make it 35 years or so. I have not travelled on such poor trains since I rumbled round the Peloponnese in the 1990's. These leaky, inefficient, noisy, hangovers from the last millennium do nothing to justify the £10.60 return I pay to travel 34 miles. The industrial action that is a blight on services sporadically is not helping their cause. Two train crew operation seems likely to endure, sort it out Northern.

Trains are full, even outside of rush hours they are busy, they must be turning a profit and they receive considerable government subsidy. If we are to get even more people into trains and off the roads we need a better railway yet. The train operators have to do more and they need to keep up the pace or they should expect more whinging and scrutiny form people who are in my case at least trying to travel more sustainably than a single occupancy car journey.

They must do more though, even though I think things are on the up they could do worse than consider some of the following:

1. Carnet style tickets you get a 10% discount  or some such for buying your journey's upfront in blocks of 10 or a dozen (and Northern get the cash upfront too) and you use them over a maximum 6 month period. This works well elsewhere and the regular but not daily commuter like myself gets some benefit.

2. Do something about their pricing structure. Some fares are discounted if you buy upfront some are not. Working out season ticket prices requires the persistence of a saint. If you split your tickets you save money, this is all just avoidable and exploitative crap.

3. An oyster card style app has got to happen hasn't it? Buying a ticket is still a right faff.

4. Travel for kids and students is priced as though they are merchant bankers, they deserve way more price breaks than they get. We should do better for our young people.

Much of the whinges above are probably not even things that Northern could fix but WYCA and Chris Grayling could, we deserve better. I'm not asking for Crossrail 2 just something that doesn't leak and is cheaper to travel in than a car.  I want to do my bit to fix congestion, but I can't do it on my own.


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