Monday, 29 June 2009

Tales from St Pancras and Waterloo

The new barriers were installed on the domestic platforms at St Pancras station earlier in the month, though according to reports they may presently only be in use at peak times. They are by Cubic, who are also responsible for London Underground gates, rather than Scheidt and Bachmann so may be more robust from a technological point of view, but they are not (yet) enabled to take smartcards.

Anyway, a friendly notice has now appeared on the station: "There was a queue at the ticket office. / I had to run for the train / I thought I could pay on the train / I was late for work.

"No ticket - No excuse. Deliberate fare evasion will not be tolerated. If you have the opportunity to buy your ticket before boarding you need to."

So we now find that people who have previously chosen to pay on the train are conflated with deliberate fare-dodgers. The rail industry now seems obsessed with the idea that every passenger is a potential criminal.

Meanwhile, a story appeared in the Independent by Deborah Orr about the ticket gates at Waterloo:

"The man at the Guildford railway platform seemed like a good sort as well, even if he was not a Samaritan, and advised us to go to platform five and the fast train to London, instead of the slow one we were about to board. Alas, at Waterloo, our tickets wouldn't open the barrier, which mystified and baffled us until an attendant pointed out that our tickets were to Clapham Junction only, and that we'd therefore have to have a word with "the management".

The management insisted that we'd have to get on another train and return to Clapham Junction, which we'd only just passed through without stopping, or pay a fine which they would have to calculate, but would definitely be at least £20. Wouldn't it be more sensible, I asked, just to let us out, than to force us to take up two scarce seats on a rush-hour train for no reason, or to punish us financially because we didn't see the point in this pointless exercise? Apparently not. Forty-five minutes, and five layers of "management" up, a besuited and busy chap called Sam Bourne agreed that since I'd convinced him there was no deliberate attempt at fraud, just £2.40 for the Clapham-Waterloo extension fare would secure release from the station. It took a while, but there was some wisdom to be found among the staff of South-West Trains.

What can I say, more generally, about this odd little day trip, except that it is, to me, just another tiny illustration of how the Pharisee mentality has won, and that rules trump all, including common sense, sympathy, logic, kindness, fellow-feeling and personal initiative. Staying within the rules, however counterintuitive they may be, is the curse of our age and time and place. Just look what it has done to Parliament. It's woeful that a preacher from 2,000 years ago could see the perils of living by intractable rules more clearly than anyone from our leaders to our "customer service attendants" can today."

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