I went up to London last week to visit some friends.
I was planning to catch the 10.38 to London Victoria. Only when I got there, with ten minutes to spare, the ticket office had just closed.
Why would they close the ticket office ten minutes before a train was due to arrive? It’s a busy train, being one of the early off-peak services that retired people use.
What’s worse, the ticket machine outside was out of order. There was a queue, with a young woman in the front, trying to pick up tickets she had bought online.
She was stabbing at the screen with her finger and cursing under her breath.
Someone else left the queue and went to bang on the window of the office, trying to get their attention.
Just then a consignment of boxes arrived, and the couriers were trying to get into the office as well. They were knocking on the door as the customer was rapping on the window.
Eventually the office opened, with barely a minute to spare. More people had turned up hoping to catch the train, and a large queue formed instantly.
There was a general air of angry frustration in the waiting room. People were laughing just a little bit too loudly, as if they were about to break into hysterics.
Most people managed to get their tickets, fortunately, and those that didn’t would have bought their tickets on the train, so nobody got hurt.
Even so, is this really the way to run a railway?
It’s all to do with privatisation. The way to increase profits is to squeeze down on staff costs. Less people doing more work means more income for the shareholders.
The big con, of course, is that when the rail system was privatised, we were promised that rail subsidies would cease.
In fact the opposite has happened. The rail system now costs the tax payer much more than it ever did when it was publicly owned.
Such are the joys of neoliberal economics. Less pleasure, more profit, and an end to civilisation as we know it.
From The Whitstable Gazette, 08/12/2016