In which The Author contacts the BBC
I found this on an old 3½” disk at home a couple of days ago. I’m reproducing it here as a preamble to the next-but-one entry Nice Work If You Can Get There – and as an indication of just how little the situation has changed in nearly twelve years.
PM BBC News Centre London
7 January 2001
Dear Sir/Madam, For the past five days the news has been dominated by in-depth reports into the state of Britain’s rail network. We have heard sad tales of commuters struggling into London on ageing rolling stock running on a decaying infrastructure, faced with increasing delays and yet another round of fare increases. We are told that the industry needs billions of pounds worth of investment. We have heard reports that the network is ‘six engineering resignations’ from total meltdown. We have even been told that Transport has overtaken Health and Education at the top of the Government’s list of priorities.
It’s funny how the issue of transport only makes the headlines when London-based media folk, City financiers, senior civil servants, business leaders, and other ‘movers and shapers’ are affected by problems on the railways. Earlier, I listened to Simon Montague’s report of his journey into London from Ascot, during the morning rush hour. I doubt if Mr Montague realised for one moment that the plight of those unfortunate commuters is exactly the situation which affects thousands of people across the country every day, week in and week out – bus passengers.
Ever since deregulation, 15 years ago, the bus services in my part of the country have been shot to pieces. Before that one could obtain up-to-date timetables which enabled one to plan journeys the length and breadth of south Wales. Now, even the few timetables on display are at least a year old, and hopelessly inaccurate. ‘Services’ (and I use the word in its loosest sense) appear to run to suit the drivers, rather than according to what schedule is supposedly in effect. You cannot ask drivers for accurate information – most appear to have only rudimentary language skills, and little knowledge of the 24-Hour Clock. Obtaining information about connections between rival operators’ services is little short of impossible. One merely waits, Micawber-like, in the hope that something will turn up.
Rail passengers who think their rolling stock is old or uncomfortable should try sitting for nearly two hours in what appears to be a converted bread van for a 20-mile journey! Those concerned about safety should not even contemplate leaving their Networker units, for fear of a heart attack on the spot. How many rail passengers have been delayed because a vital piece of the mechanism has come off in the driver’s hand? (I’m perfectly serious!) Meanwhile, those who moan about late running and cancellations should bear in mind that they can claim compensation from the rail operators for the inconvenience caused. Not only that, but there is a clearly-defined procedure for dealing with passenger complaints. We have one Traffic Commissioner, covering the whole of Wales and the West of England, who will deal with a grievance only when the bus company has thoroughly investigated it first. Since most phone calls to bus companies appear to go unlogged, and letters appear to be filed straight in the bin, what other course of action do we have open to us?
The local authority claims that it has no brief to take action against a privately-run company, even though without a licence from the local authority, that company would be unable to operate. The Welsh Assembly claims that responsibility for Public Transport was never devolved from Westminster. The Department of Transport fails to accept that we have a problem.
Of course, Prime Minister Thatcher summed up the attitude of her government, and those which have followed, when she described bus passengers as ‘failures in life’. When a Prime Minister treats the public with such contempt, is it any wonder we get Third World services?