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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Witness the shitness

As the title suggests, yesterday was another bad day for #SWTrains. Incidentally, I'm currently at 24% for all journeys that have been delayed (by 5 mins+) or cancelled this year. Sigh. Anyway, apologies for no longer blog yet this week - it's been a bit manic at work and I've been rather taken unawares by the level of involvement required to keep up with all the twitter banter. Can you still use the word banter? It's a bit shit actually, let's call it 'twitter socialising'!? That sound terrible too... Oh, you decide what you want to call it!

In the absence of a proper blog, below is a collage of some of the piccies I recieved yesterday. It gives you a decent insight into just how woeful their service is.

Friday, 23 March 2012

You win SWTrains - a guest blog by @monkeybuxton

Introducing another ordinary commuter's story. Thanks @monkeybuxton for taking the time to write this. Gosh, if only there were something we could do to change this appalling abuse and complete monopoly over passengers:

I realised the other day that I've been travelling on SWTrains for nearly 11 years. First in my bachelor days in Chiswick, then from Twickenham as I began to settle down, and finally out to the very edge of the M25 to start a family. And it's that little girl that's caused the problem.

Delays and cancellations just used to mean 20 minutes standing on a cold platform, or being half an hour later than everyone else to the pub. But now it's more than that. Being late for work means I sometimes don't work my contracted hours. But being late home means that I miss that precious 30 minutes with my daughter. Just to dwell on that for a moment, there are days when I don't see my daughter because of the poor and unreliable service that my train company provides, and that kills me.

It happened recently, on Valentine's Day, and I made my third ever complaint. The guard shut the door in my face and the train left early after a late connection forced me to do an unsuccessful 'Weybridge Dash'. The nice man in Customer Services sympathised and empathised (he has a daughter of his own and so completely understands how frustrated I must be.) I've just had my reply; they've checked the data and the train left on time, all correct procedures were followed, it's up to passengers to be there 30 seconds before departure etc etc.

And that's when it struck me. You've got me SW Trains. Because of where I've chosen to live, and because it's too far to cycle and the traffic's so bad on the A3, you've got me. I'm slinking off defeated with my tail between my legs. You don't care about me and I can't make you. You win.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Reimbursed a little, pay a lot-oh

Before I start may I send my thoughts to the poor lost soul who fell and to the poor, poor driver of the train involved at Surbiton. Moments like this are, of course, completely out of the control of SWTrains.

But what is in their control is to manage the shit storm that follows, both from a logistical and emotional point of view. Fair play to @SW_Trains that team really did do their best, but even then, the emotional overtook and there was unnecessary use of sarcasm and often emotive retorts where they were not warranted. I even witnessed an old contact of mine getting irate and I've known the guy for years, he is just not like that. But when faced with 'email here' or 'if you check our Charter' he rightly felt aggrieved. 

I have mentioned this unholy Charter (A Delay Testament if you will) before. I took the time to read it today. Following the mornings delay, I thought I would print it out and read it on the journey home, which, as luck would have it, was delayed. Or in the words of the charter 'incidents that are caused by incidents beyond the control of the rail industry'. Fair enough, but this list also includes something rather ambiguous: "If we have published in advance an alternative timetable". So if I am reading that right, if you tell me in advance (note they do not offer a time frame) then I cannot claim? Riiiight, well that's super. And how clever of you, you can therefore negate the need to pay anyone most of the time.  

And even when you do, the amount is so measly that I have even been contacted by people telling me their exact figures. To summarise their woes; I get a little and pay a lot-oh. Coincidentally that is what I think of the overall service. 

To qualify for this discount (amount of which I will get to) you need to buy either a monthly or yearly ticket. Rather pointing passengers in the direction of increased lining of Shoveller et al's pockets. So if, like me, you buy weekly or daily tickets you can f off, basically. And what amount do you get if you do qualify? 5% (or 10% if the ever more spurious "reliability figures" are not reached), which sounds great but don't forget earlier about that spurious exclusion. And to get this meagre offering, 88-95% punctuality  rates (depending on service) need to have been missed. Which we all know happens, but which mysteriously disappear with a few information updates on their website. Oh and a bit like when you get vouchers in high street stores, any reimbursement you do get is in the form of #SWTrains vouchers. Am hoping for some in a birthday card myself! 

Highly commended moments of the Passengers Charter that I didn't have time to get into detail about due to trying to watch The Killing: 

- "We work to make sure a person's disability is not a barrier to using our service" I have witnessed passengers asking the twitter account to help them due to things like cyclists taking up seats and there has been no change to these people's situation 

- "We always aim to provide as many seats as we can to minimise the number of passengers who have to stand" An insult, certainly on my route, where if you get on after my stop, you have no chance at peak times. And that is 30 minutes (if the service manages to be "95% punctual" to use their parlance). And I have heard from a lot of people who live further out and stand for much longer than that. 

- "Closed circuit TV at all South West Trains" and yet it took one irate Australian man and a camera to catch that blasted #phonethief The guard at the station (who was shown clearly) let the thief past. Even though aforementioned chap was screaming at him for help. 

- On a lighter note they "offer expectant mothers who are holders of a Monthly or longer Season ticket" (apparently mothers who just travel on the day/week don't deserve this) a complimentary upgrade to First travel when no Standard Class seat is available. 

So you lucky lucky ladies, get procreating! 

An Ode to @SW_Trains

Until I have time to do a full blog (damn you work for getting in the way!) here is a few thoughts on the twitter feed of SWTrains, recently lauded by their PR team for reaching 10,000 followers. No one in the article seems to have pointed out why so many people are following them and so I wrote a little poem:

There once was a social institution

With delayed trains still part of solution

They kept us updated

But it never equated

To good service,  therefore, I’m still so disillusioned

COMING SOON: A riveting read; confessions of a Passenger Charter

Thursday, 15 March 2012

"What is the London Eye?" and other pertinent questions

Today I discovered there is another side to SWTrains. A side that was equally incompetent but unlike the actual service woes, came with a smattering of: ignorance and massive deviation from reality. 

Did anyone else attend the 'live' chat with the mysterious 'Directors'? God, it was awful. Mainly the answers felt automated, were often repeated word for word for different people's questions, and didn't resolve (or offer timings for) any important issues. There was only one resolved question (and when I say 'resolved' I mean one that was actually answered succinctly without a huge amount of guff masking the lack of an answer). I'm sure the title has given it away, but in case you've missed that, it was:  

"What is the London Eye?" 

So bravo Mr Shoveller, you did a great job on answering that. 

But delve any deeper than some spurious tourism query and the answers were so waffly and inconclusive, you would be forgiven for thinking a PR agency had written them. Which may well be true of course. On matters of importance: 450 trains, Woking speed restriction, announcements, blue trains, service level, all answers were found to be deeply lacking in substance. In my humble opinion, of course. 

I couldn't possibly talk about all 210 questions, but here were the main topics and some choice guff-filled answers. And please bear in kind, they are neither the full questions nor answer, but should give you a flavour: 

1. When will we see a 5 day travel card? (Mark Ames) 
"We are developing our product range"... So.... Never? 

2. Why do SWT not offer refunds on all delays over 30 mins like Southern? (Anon) 
"We offer 5% off season ticket if, on average over the last month the service has fallen below our Published Charter" ... Not read their Charter? It's up there on the best seller list. 

20. Why does twitter feed contain so many spelling and grammar errors? (Anon) 
"We believe our way is the best way to keep our passengers up to date"... About delays I assume you mean? 

35. Given that passenger demand is still growing what plans are there to increase capacity? (Anon)
"Whatever the solution, it will require significant investment"... From us poor bar stewards I assume? Not Stagecoach and their £121 million profit made in 2011? 

45. How many passengers can you legally fit on one of your suburban coaches? (Anon) 
"There is no legal limit"..."We allow for 4 people per square metre." ... Now just think of a metre squared and picture 4 people on it...  

60. My pregnant wife received verbal abuse from passenger when she asked him to move his (non-folding) bike so she could get by (Anon) 
"The issue of enforcing the bike restrictions we take very seriously and we have rebriefed our station staff and train guards on monitoring" ?.. Really? Not so as many on twitter would notice! 

65. Is there an end in sight to the current level of engineering works? 
"I'm afraid that there is an engineering programme of track renewal"..."In conjunction with National Rail we are trying to concentrate works to affect Sundays only rather than the whole weekend"... And weekdays I presume we're just not going to mention? 

75. How are you planning to deal with the recurring swan problem (Robert Steele) 
"We ask our drivers to sound the train horn to encourage the swans to move away" ... And they weren't doing this before?!   

Best question of the day 143. Dear Mr Shoveller, you were very scathing about "vociferous passengers on the Portsmouth line" complaining about 450s. Did it occur to you that they might have a point? (Ben Towers) 

He got the same stock answer as every single other 450 question (of which there were many. In short, we will be doing nothing. 

209. Do you feel a £20 refund on a £4020 season ticket reflects the level of your performance? 
"You have not provided details of your journey, so I cannot categorically state whethere you have received the correct discount"... Well, I did accurately provide details and I can categorically state that you ignored my question. 

Raking the Muck


Today, is the day to have your say on SWTrains service, or lack thereof. As previously mentioned I don't hold out much hope of succint and relevant replies. In case they decide to by pass all of my questions entirely, I asked Mr Shoveller (above) the following:

See my record of your service @my6percent. So far in 2012, 23% of my daily commute into Waterloo from Kingston have been severely delayed. Severely in my terms being more than 5 minutes. When can I expect a 95% success rate? I would appreciate if your answer did not contain flowery language and did contain real dates for service improvement.

A lot of customers report issues with cycle use: When, where and at what time they are allowed, disabled passengers reporting denial of seat by cycle users and on the opposite side of the coin, cyclists reporting abuse from fellow passengers when they are travelling legally (as far as they are aware). How do you propose to raise awareness of this issue and how will that manifest itself?

Your company has recently joined forces with Network Rail. To us twitter users, NR are often the ones blamed for engineering works overrunning and any railway-related problems. Is this fair? And now that you are one happy family, what can we SWTrains users expect to improve as a result of the merger?

As mentioned in an earlier question I asked, thus far in 2012, 23% of journeys have been severely delayed (anything over 5 minutes). I pay over £200 a month for this service, therefore, as the service has failed me, am I within my rights to reclaim money to the value of delayed % (approx. £50 per month)? And if so, how do I go about doing so? Please no "call this number and speak to customer care", just simple answer required.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Your call is important to us and will be answered as soon as possible

The daily grind

The beauty of twitter is it has allowed all us disgruntled commuters to get together and have a right good moan. What it doesn’t do is solve any of the underlying problems with the service. Pick one of your favourites: train so full I can’t get on, train so delayed I’m late regularly, train is lost in the Bermuda Triangle (or delayed engineering works, if you’re less creatively-minded), train is too small for number of passengers, train is too expensive for me to afford food (or on other side of the coin First Class has steerage passengers in it, get ‘em out the cheeky bar stewards)… You name it, the @SW_Trains twitter account has heard it (I know because I read it daily – you could call me a train spotter I suppose) 

From what I gather the twitterati over there are very good, they always answer, try and provide up to date information and warn of delays. But is that what it should be set up for? Isn’t it a rather sad indictment of service levels when all your social media team are doing is fire fighting? And how many of you have actually had queries resolved through using it? I don’t even try and lodge complaints with South West Trains a) lucky for them, I’m pretty lazy b) my assumption, from reading others moaning to the social team about a lack of response, is that they won’t answer me anyway. 

Tomorrow between 2 and 4, when most people are at work and therefore do not really have the time to participate, South West Trains are holding an ‘ask the director’ session online. And who are these directors? Well according to @SW_Trains other than the MD, a Mr Shoveller (Shoveller Shite, as I once rather cruelly tagged him) they are all nameless. I don’t know about you but I’ve worked in large corporate companies and there are directors for all sorts. For example say they have a PR Director who is attending – really how much sway are you going to hold by their response? They’re duty bound to mould the truth to whatever the party line is. I will submit questions to be answered, but as with the twitter feed, I don’t expect a single thing to change as a result. 

And judging from the reaction I get daily from commuters eager to vent a collective angry spleen, neither do you.

COMING SOON: Raking the muck. Questions for Mr Shoveller - which I would wager, he will not answer succintly.