Saturday, 30 June 2012

Handling the London Waterloo rush hour on Twitter

South West Trains' commuter @JDGWarren surveys the shoes and delays from his control centre
It was 8 30 on a Friday and a man was threatening to put his bag on the seat next to him just as the train pulled into a packed Wimbledon station. 

As angry commuters remonstrated with him to make some space, My6percent was left with a different problem - geese on the line at Clapham Junction.

As South West Trains unofficial social media Czar, she knew thousands of commuters were about to be delayed. And many would turn to their phones for information.

At 8.33 she tweeted: "foul play on the line at Clapham. More to follow."

There was a lot more to follow. Being Friday, this was Fridayshoes day and by the time the geese had flown more than 150 pictures of loafers, sandals, winkle-pickers and plimsolls had been sent out - double the usual number.

But My6Percent was unruffled. "It gives me a shoe-induced high".

"I'm one of those sandals with socks kind of people. There are some lovely trainers out there and I try and to put myself in their shoes, so I know what I'm talking about"

"As South West Trains are so clearly not delivering a decent service, we need to keep each other happy. Fridayshoes helps deliver that."

Thursday, 28 June 2012

#FridayShoes - The rules of engagement

Dear, dear FridayShoes! I think it started as a way to stop us all just moaning about our commutes and, as usual with social media, quickly took on a life of it's own.

#FridayShoes is a game. A silly, addictive and fun game, that is meant to celebrate all that is unique about fellow commuters shoes. If you are reading this and you have never played, have a quick search on Twitter for 'fridayshoes', you'll soon see what all the fuss is about.

We would like you to join in and why not eh? It'll be Friday, nearly the weekend and hopefully you'll see someone with shoes you either really admire or are really amused by. It isn't meant to be a cruel game though, so no trolling please.


Find a fellow commuter with shoes you like the look of

Take a picture showing them in all their glory

Tweet the picture, using the hashtag #FridayShoes

Everyone else who is playing will then be able to find your entry and I will try and Retweet as many as I can (although I do still have a job to do, so apologies if I miss any)

The winner is chosen by concensus. We've tried doing a poll, we've tried Facebook, they don't work. In all the frenzy of shoe-finding, I guess that is understandable.

Winner is announced at about 8pm, leaving you the entire day to search out those killer heels, ridiculous wedges, lurid-coloured trainers or (the old classic) sandals with socks.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

South West Trains: Feeling The Squeeze - A guest blog by @lyricalbankster

An average commute for many

A guest blog by @lyricalbankster

In a couple of weeks’ time the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) is due to publish its latest stats on over-crowding on the UK's railways. Figures published a year ago may have suggested South West Trains was doing OK, but a quick glance behind the numbers tells a very different story: one of cramped and deteriorating conditions much worse than those endured by customers of other operators.

As a curtain raiser to the publication of the new figures, which are based on the performance during a three-month period last autumn, let's examine the previous report for an idea of what to look out for this time round.

That report was entitled 'Peak Crowding and Passenger Demand' and the first thing to note is that in the league table of over-crowding, SWT appears to be performing reasonably well compared with other commuter operators, although it does have the highest proportion of over-crowded trains arriving at a London terminus.

For the morning rush hour the 2010 figures show SWT carrying 3.4% over-capacity. By comparison First Great Western was an eye-watering 18.5% over-capacity, while Southern and National Express East Anglia were a snug 5.1% and 4.9% over respectively.

In the evening, over-crowding is generally much less as commuters stagger their journeys home - but SWT actually rises up the ranking in the league of shame for the PM peak, overtaking both Southern and NEEA .

So how does ORR measure over-capacity? The figures are based on the booked formation of the service.

An allowance is made for standing passengers and it is here that SWT is short-changing its customers in the most shameful way.

The ORR report is clear: "For most train operators the standing allowance is based on 0.45 sq metres per person. However for South West Train a figure of 0.25 sq metres is used."
Yup, SWT believes a fully grown adult should squeeze into a space half that deemed appropriate for most other rail commuters.

Remember too that both consumer magazine Which? and the Daily Telegraph have noted that even the 0.45 sq metre allowance is well below European Union rules for transporting livestock.
But the miserly space allocation may explain SWT's apparent reasonable showing in the over-crowding table of shame - it crams twice as many people into the same space before it is considered over-crowded.

So how many people are squeezed into these appalling conditions? Luckily ORR has the numbers: they make uncomfortable reading and even more uncomfortable commuting.

In the morning rush hour, well over a quarter of standard class passengers arriving at Waterloo on SWT have been standing - that's the highest percentage of any terminus station in London and equates to more than 27,000 people on a typical day. Just shy of a quarter of morning SWT commuter trains are deemed over-crowded. In the evening peak over a fifth of passengers are standing.
SWT supporters will argue that this is because Waterloo is London's busiest commuter station. Well not exactly. London Bridge and Liverpool Street put on more services and carry more passengers.
To be absolutely transparent, more standing passengers arrive on a typical day at London Bridge, but remember as they're travelling on non-SWT services they've got twice as much space as their Waterloo counterparts, and still the percentage of over-crowded trains arriving at London Bridge is less than a fifth.

So why is SWT entitled to shoehorn its passengers into half as much room as other train operators?
According to two written answers by government ministers in 2008, it's because South West Trains uses Class 455 units which have been "specifically configured with low density seating and appropriate grab rails for standing passengers to ensure that passengers can stand in relative comfort for short-distance journeys".

What those answers did not say was that Southern also uses the Class 455 units and it still allows the standard 0.45 sq metres of space for standing passengers. London Overland and certain Southeastern 'Metro-style' services have also been granted a dispensation - a far-from-comfortable 0.35 sq metre allowance, but that’s still the equivalent of two pairs of size-12 #fridayshoes larger than SWT allows.

In fact South West Trains is being disingenuous at best if it is using the 0.25 sq metre allowance across its entire network. The minister's written answer in 2008 specifically says the reduced allowance should be for services using the Class 455 units - by no means all SWT services - that "stop within 20 minutes of leaving Waterloo". For plenty of SWT services - including Waterloo to Woking, identified by the Daily Telegraph as the second busiest commuter route in the country - the first stop is more than 20 minutes after leaving Waterloo, even on the rare occasions that there are no delays.

The ORR today appears to imply that no passenger should have to stand on services that don't stop within 20 minutes of Waterloo.

Crucially that's not the same as saying passengers shouldn't have to stand for more than 20 minutes. But it does add weight to the argument that on services with a first stop of Woking, Basingstoke or Winchester passengers unable to find a seat in standard accommodation should be allowed to sit in first class areas.

It is worth pointing out that in her "Delivering a Sustainable Railway" report presented to parliament in 2007, the then Sectary of State for Transport Ruth Kelly did address the issue of seating and appropriate standing times. She insisted all passengers on so-called "inter-urban" services were entitled to a seat.

She added: "For commuter services, these planning standards [set out in the report] provide that passengers should have 0.45 square metres of space, equivalent to just under five square feet, and that passengers should not normally have to stand for more than 20 minutes."

That was five years ago. We should have a clearer idea in just a couple of weeks if we are any closer to that ambition, or whether, as many passengers fear, the trend of last year has continued and we're further away than ever.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

South West Trains Montage of Misery - Jubilee Weekend to 20th June

London Waterloo - Always a delight to commute here on South West Trains delay days!

Here are some choice pictures for your delectation, depicting the Misery of South West Trains commuters. They include a couple of choice shots taken during the 'Olympics Dry Run' where, it was universally agreed by those travelling on South West Trains, they failed. Or, to use twitter parlance:

#SWTrains #EpicFail

Friday, 15 June 2012

Boo, hiss etc.

It is very hard to write about a Strike without having formed your own opinion by the time you've finished typing the word itself.
I personally have never agreed with them that much, I'm from very much a righty background and our household did most certainly not carry the Thatch card. As an adult, I've probably become more tolerant, if that's the right word (and I'm not sure it is) of the idea of a group of people holding a management to ransom. 

Normally when I've thought about strikes, it's been the way the media have mostly reported; Nurses ditching their shifts in favour of more money, boo hiss etc. But here at South West Trains we have a whole different, not wholly emotive report. The media may well try and make it so of course. God only knows whether they'll bother with it at all, when Timmy Mallett is appearing at The Leveson. 

Most people I spoke to on Twitter about it - Should the SWTrains staff strike over a lack of bonus over the Olympics - were mainly of the opinion that they shouldn't and maybe they are right. But I don't agree. Ssh no one and I mean NO ONE tell my Father! 1 day in 5 (my average over 2012 so far) I am held to ransom by South West Trains and their appalling service. I don't get any compensation from them. Not a single bit. And I should. 

So why should I begrudge their staff the opportunity of getting what they think they are owed from their board of directors? Yeah, it'll make my journey unbearable and delayed. But they already are. Mine may not be a particularly popular view, and a little bit lefty, but there we have it. Whether they strike or not, my train will probably be delayed (1 in 5 days at least) so let 'em argue over a few hundred quid. If I had the opportunity to strike on South West Trains, I'd take it.