Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Communications and Stupidity

It's last Friday and yours truly was on his way home. Arriving at Baron's Court I was greeted by a whiteboard with the following message.

*** There is no service between Acton Town and Rayners Lane.
*** There is a shuttle service between Acton Town and Rayners Lane

Since I travel to and beyond Rayners Lane this was of no little importance. I read the board carefully once more in case my brain had softened on the walk to the station. But no. The two contradicting statements were still there, proclaiming to all (and indeed sundry) that the staff at the station had no idea whatsoever if a key part of their transport system was working or not.

I swallowed hard and dared to ask the ticket collector. He looked puzzled. He inspected the board. He opined that the shuttle was running. He did not seem concerned to amend the board and I left him at the barrier (just as well really, I didn't want him following me home) and descended to the platform.

The Piccadilly was in a mess all right. Trains to Heathrow were running but very slowly, and three were backed up to Hammersmith, the next station along. The one at Barons Court was so full it was hard to get on so instead I took a District train that came in conveniently at that moment, got out at Hammersmith and found a far less crowded Heathrow waiting.

Now here again I raise the issue of London Underground's appalling communications. They could have said that the best thing was to take another line. They did not, merely advising us to take the Heathrow to Acton Town and change. So because there seemed to be some room on the train, I boarded. The doors shut very soon afterwards and then, and only then, did the driver announce that it was going to be very slow going. Too late to disembark. We crawled out of the station and juddered and ground a very hesitant route to Acton Town, arriving about 35 minutes later (normal journey time: 7 minutes). The driver, bless 'im, did take the trouble to apologise to us a couple of times during the long minutes of inertia. Nobody else did.

Fortunately the shuttle was running, one came in a few minutes later and apart from a longer than usual wait at Rayners Lane for a Met line to Ruislip, the worst was over.

So, the New Year is only three weeks old and I've done yet another "customer charter" claim for a refund, making, what? three or four already. Is this the start of a downward spiral? Last year's clear improvement in operating standards seems a long way away right now.

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