A letter from a commuter

by Peter Watt

Dear Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband,

I just got in from work, and catching up on the news I saw that the two of you had another spat at PMQs today. It got me thinking and I feel the need to share something with you. You may need a bit of imagination, but bear with me.

It is early in the morning, a cold and wet day. You are tired, the kids went to bed fractious and woke early. You are rushing to get the train for work and when you get to the station there is a queue. What do you do, go to the machine or try the counter? Your heart starts to beat faster as the clock ticks towards the arrival of your train and the queue is moving slowly. Finally you get your ticket and if you had the time you would make some witty ironic reference to the ticket vendor about the absolute bargain that the several hundred pounds for your monthly season ticket represents.

With seconds to spare you race up the stairs, past the pool of vomit, broken bottle and smell of stale urine. The train doors open and you and several hundred other people attempt to board an already overcrowded train. Several hundred pounds on a ticket and there are no seats. Instead you seem to have paid for a column of space that is slightly wider than you. Move even slightly in any direction and you will invade someone else’s space. The train smells of wet dog, assorted perfumes and at least one person in breathing proximity had too much to drink last night, followed by a kebab. Still at least it is only a short journey.

And then the train slows and stops. A few minutes later it starts again, very slowly, and then stops. Ten minutes later you have barely moved and a tiny quiet voice emerges from above. Unfortunately, due to the chorus of other people’s music playing through their personal headphones you only catch three words “sorry”, “signal” and “problem”. You look at your watch and start calculating. As long as you are no more than 15 minutes late arriving, then walk very fast to the tube and as long as you can get on the first tube, then you should be OK. With a bit of luck people will still be gathering for the meeting when you arrive and no one will notice. Still you can read your book whilst you’re delayed – except of course you can’t quite turn the pages without knocking the woman in front every time, so you give it up as a bad job. At half a page a journey this book should last a fair old while. On the other hand, she doesn’t seem too bothered that she risks injuring herself and others whilst using her eyebrow tweezers.

Finally, 20 minutes late, you arrive and run to the tube while calling the office to say you might be late. Silently you curse yourself that once again you have allowed your optimism to override reality and have planned your morning schedule on the basis that the trains will run to time. You swear you won’t do it again, that you will sacrifice breakfast with the kids in order to ensure that you aren’t late. All is going well; you still might make it – but no. Again the travel Gods are against you, and it takes four tubes to come and go before you finally get on one. All the time that you are waiting, the train despatcher is trying to be funny and entertaining over the tannoy in a forlorn attempt to keep commuters spirits up. The tube is even more packed than the train and you have to bend yourself into the only available space. Believe me you know what the “squeezed middle” is on the tube. Up the escalator, queue to get out of the ticket barrier, get stuck behind some plonker whose ticket clearly isn’t working.

Finally you get to work only 15 minutes late – could have been worse. The meeting has only just started as you weren’t the only one with travel problems. In fact one colleague is still sat on a train outside the station, and has been for 30 minutes.

And then imagine that on the way home there are more delays, more overcrowding.  And then imagine that this is repeated day in and day out. Week after month after year.

And then imagine that you get home and catch a glimpse of PMQs on the news. The two of you, Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband, going hammer and tongues at each other about train fares. “It is your fault”, “No it’s your fault” you shout at each other. Well do you know what?

I could not give a damn whose fault it is.

The truth is that neither of your parties has managed to make the railways work, and both of you are to blame. I have absolutely no confidence that you will sort the problems out. I have every confidence that you will put my fares up again and again. I do believe that there is sod all that I can do about it and that the fare rises are on top of the rises in fuel, utilities and food prices. And I am pretty angry.

Neither of you have the slightest idea what it is like to have to go through this every day.  The impact on my stress levels, the impact on family life, the wasted hours and time as meetings, plans and work is delayed. Your showboating that you actually care about the issue has no impact, as I know that it is insincere.

Now I hope you can imagine why it is that I am so cynical about politics, about politicians and about the two of you.


A Commuter

(one of millions)

PS – apologies for the rant.  I feel better now and regards to Samantha and Justine.

Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party.

Tags: , , ,

5 Responses to “A letter from a commuter”

  1. Nick says:

    Yep, and 35 billion is going to be spent on a line that isn’t used by commuters.

    7 million a day in interest charges.

    All for 100K passengers a day.

    Will they pay the extra 70 quid on a ticket?

    Nope, So you as a commuter are going to get shafted.

    So the priviliged few who want to get to Birmingham quicker, get their perk, which is you paying over the odds on your tickets for a deteriorating service, so as the money can be diverted.

    For example, for the cost of Cross rail, another elephant, London could have had 140 DLR extensions. That assumes no efficiency improvements after building the first 10.

    Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool could have had entire DLR systems (and probably more cities) for the cost of HS2.

    But who cares. Labour wants HS2 so its Northern MPs can get home for the weekend, faster than they can now.

  2. Tim Sewell says:

    Well perhaps if we as a party had been a bit more courageous (although quite how much courage would have been required, given the weight of public opinion in favour) and renationalised the railways things wouldn’t be quite as bad as they are now.

    I seem to recall that you may have been somewhat closer to the seat of power for at least a portion of that period – I presume, given your dismay at the rail situation – that you lobbied the leadership hard for such a course of action.

  3. Tim Sewell says:

    Should be ‘closer to the seat of power than I’

  4. David says:

    Whilst I’m not a fan of HS2, I don’t think its proponents do enough to argue how it would benefit commuters. Switching the intercity traffic to a dedicated line will increase capacity for commuter trains both on hte lines and in the stations, particularly Birmingham New Street.

    Disagree on Crossrail, although I think the Chelsea Hackney scheme would have had more merit.

    What the HS2 debate highlights is that the direct cost users pay for train services is nowhere near the cost of building the infrastructure

  5. Tom says:

    At least there were no women putting on make-up on that particular train journey….

Leave a Reply