Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Power of Information

A guest blog by @BigDoodyBoy

So, Monday 29th of October 2012 was another of those days Southwest Trains would like to forget. Overrunning engineering work and 2 passengers taken ill had a devastating effect on morning services with some lines not restored to full operation until after 16:00.

If there was any doubt as to the effect, you only need to look at the photograph I took at 08:45 of the lower concourse at Waterloo. It clearly shows that no-one was arriving.

Commuters were taking to twitter in droves complaining about a lack of trains and a lack of information. Three incidents bringing a whole network to an almost complete
standstill certainly warrants complaint although given how often it happens there must be some intrinsic logistical nightmare that just cannot be overcome. What intrigues me, though, were the complaints about lack of information. For the first time ever, I did not experience this problem and what a difference it made.

We have all heard about information being power and we all believe that having better information would allow us to better manage our own travel options in times of adversity.
And so, we've all complained vociferously about its complete absence when Southwest Trains services go into meltdown. But would having better information really affect your decisions and effect a better outcome? From Monday's experience, I would say "yes". In fact, it would have to be a resounding "YES!".

By 07:00 text alerts and twitter had informed me of problems on my line. Information was available on the t'interweb about the cause, status and the actions being taken. National Rail Enquiries live boards showed services running late, those delayed and those cancelled. I could also get arrivals information that corroborated the anticipated delays and monitoring this over breakfast showed that nothing was getting worse. All I had to do was choose one of three possible services which, given the information available, looked like the best one to get me past the problem area with the least disruption. The outcome? I took a diverted service and arrived at Waterloo only 5 minutes late but almost 15 minutes sooner than Southwest Trains anticipated. The fact that all of the information was correct, consistent and not subject to change at a moment's notice was a both a welcome surprise
and a key point in achieving the result.

But what of others who just turned up? Well, on the train, at every stop, the guard announced that the service was diverted and gave details of the new stopping points. No- one could complain of not knowing where they were going nor be under any illusion as to how long things would take.

This may have been the perfect storm of information availability, accessibility and reliability but it illustrates just how powerful accurate and timely information can be.

So, Southwest Trains, next time you fail to run a decent service, at least provide actionable information to all affected people. You never know, they might actually start thanking you for it!

Thank you.

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