What Constitutes a Monopoly?

Posted: May 30, 2012 in Cycling, Rant, Travel
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

19:03, 19:03, where art thou 19:03?
Deny thy timetable and refuse thy platform;
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my transport
And I’ll no longer be stuck at:

Effing Paddington.

With the privatisation of most, no all, of the utilities came the promise of improved service and better value brought about by competition. With Gas, Electric & Telephone, I buy into this: potentially there is scope for competition though I’m not sure how much. With water, where is the competition? Where is consumer choice? I don’t see it, nor do I get it. Of course you could go down the same route that I have and have a bore hole installed but this comes at a price and isn’t a viable option for everyone. My real issue however is with another privatised ‘utility’, rail travel.
Yes, I know, rail travel isn’t a utility, or is it? There are many definitions of the word utility found in the dictionary, one of which is

▸ noun: a company that performs a public service; subject to government regulation

This kind of suggests to me that Rail Travel falls into this category. Sometimes however, it feels to me like a contained dictatorship: they make the rules, and that will be the end of it. After all, what are our options? We can’t exactly choose an alternative rail company can we? All the others cover different parts of the UK. Surely, this makes them a monopoly.
Let’s face it, if you were consistently receiving bad service from a supplier, would you stay with that supplier or would you seek an alternative. Obviously, unless you were barking mad, or inept, you would look around for other options. Yet, if we seek constantly bad service from rail company, such options don’t exist. Now I know that in extreme circumstances, the government can strip a company of its franchise but that isn’t exactly a responsive process and I would question it efficacy. We can of course complain to the company, we can complain to pressure groups, we can do all manner of things but in the meantime bad service may be resumed during which time, we the humble passenger [without whom, there would be no rail service, no jobs, no salaries] continue to suffer late running trains, cancelled trains, over crowded (some might argue dangerously) trains, overpriced trains. comfortables trains are nice but there continue to be those chugging ‘local’ trains making what I would unacceptably long commuting journeys. These trains are horrendous. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, in mid winter, the heating may be switched, sometimes not: it all depends on who’s crewing the train that day. On most such trains, the windows are incapable of staying shut. With a lack of heating and a winters morning, this makes for a chuffing cold morning commute.
Now I know stats will probably show that the percentage of late or cancelled trains is within a tolerable level of acceptance but believe me, it isn’t. Not when it affects the same core group of users day in day out as they make their way to and from work.
So, what has caused me to write this when the temperatures is at 25c rather than -2c or worse. Well I’ve just experienced a week of torment, although the weeks before weren’t much better.
I used to catch the 06:01 from Hungerford to Paddington which meant I was catching the early morning chugger. This was fine though as it did mean I got into work at a reasonable time. It also legitimised me leaving a little earlier at the end of the day. Then, the letter came through the letter box (where else!). ‘We will be working on the line, actually replacing the line: but don’t worry, we’ll keep the noise to a minimum’. Bugger! I thought, this won’t be good. To give them their due,they worked through the night, every night and they didn’t disturb us one bit. But, come the morning, well that was always going to be interesting. You see, the 06:01 is the first train of the day and was obviously dependant on any line work having completed in time. I think you probably know what’s coming next, don’t you? Anyway, as you’ve probably guessed, I arrive on the station at 05:50 (I like to be early), bought my weeks ticket and waited, along with all the regular fellow commuters. Then it started. “We are sorry to announce that the 06:01 has been delayed by 5 minutes” – oh no hang on, it’s been delayed by 17 minutes. Hang on a minute, isn’t the following train due in at 06:17. Oh no, don’t worry, that trains been cancelled so now the 06:01 will need to take the place of two trains. Oh hang, sorry, the 06:01/ 06:17 has now been delayed by 25 minutes. Hang on a minute, if you wait much longer you’ll clash with the 06:40. I should have realised, they have that covered: the 06:01 and the 06:17 have been cancelled and everybody will have to the 06:40. So that’s 40 minutes extra in bed I missed out on. The following day was a little better, no train was cancelled but they were late. And so this became a recurring theme.
Now, as I understand it, claims for compensation are allowed if you are delayed by more than 1 hour. So far, the latest my journey has Been is 54 minutes. Over any given week however I suspect that delays would be over that.
In normal life, services are more often than not measured by KPI’s with measured service availability of x%. Let’s be generous and call it 95% over a rolling 5-day work week. Then, let’s impose a penalty every time that KPI’S isn’t met such that they have compensate those regular commuters who pay in advance. Such a penalty would be a percentage of the travel card they purchased . Maybe, just maybe the rail companies would look harder at their performances. Of course, the government is there to ‘tell them off’ every now and then and can, and will, fine them for poor performance. I believe that Network Rail are to be fined £24m for 13.7m late trips. Wow, that’s great, but who gets the money? Not the poor travellers who experienced the real consequence of those late trips. And don’t let me get started on the subject of consequential impact. That’s never taken into account. All we hear is a recorded message saying ‘We’re very sorry for the late running of this train, and the inconvenience it may have caused’. Balderdash, words are cheap, unlike the fares.
Every evening, my thought, and that of everybody else is not ‘will the train leave on time’ (they’re pretty good in that department) but ‘how late will it be getting to its destination’. My train is always delayed getting into Reading. Why don’t they just change the frigging time table to reflect the inbuilt delay, expected to last for the next year or two.
On one of these ‘extended’ trips, I heard how one trip from London to Bristol, a distance of 114 miles, took over 6 hours. It wouldn’t have taken much longer if I’d cycled, in fact I can think two young lads at home who could have beaten the train. Maybe that should be a challenge for me. To cycle home one Friday (London to Hungerford, 65 miles). Hmm, it’s doable. Let me mull that one over a while and I’ll come back with a decision at a later date.

OK, I’m going to stop now, I’m rambling already. I’ve said my piece and feel better for it, so:

Byeeeee.

Go Podge, Go

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