The fare for my occasional journeys to London has risen by nearly 10% since 1 January. The quality of the service seems to have decreased by about the same. Just like last year then.
The ticket windows at Oxford station look just the same as they did before the recent and extremely inconvenient works there. I had hoped that the plan was to add another one to cope with the queues, but why should they bother with that? Once the cash-cow – the passengers, or “customers” as we are mockingly called – are into the station, they are probably committed to travelling by train, so what does it matter if we have to queue?
I do so for a bit, but decide to take a chance on the new ticket machines – the risk with this is the possibility that today will be one of those days when they don’t work. No – I am lucky, it must be a day with an odd number for the date. It is 08:50.
I scan the options for the Travelcard to London, what used to be called a “cheap day return” – one can see why they abandoned that name. I can’t find that option anywhere on the multiple screens. Beside me, I hear an elderly gentleman ask the attendant for help with the same option. He is told that the Travelcards cannot be bought from the machine before 9:00. The crowds turn their heads as an involuntary “F!*k that” escapes my lips.
Travelcards cannot be used before 09:00. The 09:06 is the first London train for which they are valid. The ticket queue winds round and round the red rope which they have installed to contain the angry crowds. The machines will not sell you one before 09:00, so there is only a 6 minute window to buy the ticket and catch the train.
So is this incompetence or dishonesty? One takes incompetence and inconvenience for granted with First Great Western but I think there is more in this than some dim official deliberately building a blockage into the system. Visitors and those not familiar with the system will look at the queue and decide to go for the machines. Although they plan anyway to leave after 09:00, there is no option to buy a cheap day return. So they take the only available option, the full fare.
FGW saves on the cost of the staff needed to man the ticket windows, and tricks “customers” into paying full price for the fare. They can tell the Regulator that the cheaper fares are available because they are – if you have the time to queue.
As it happens, I am saved, after a fashion, by First Great Western’s more obvious defect – the 09:06 is running late anyway. So I rejoin the back of the queue which I had abandoned, only 20 places further back than I was.
FGW have now installed a parallel set of Arrival and Destination boards each side of the old boards. By the time I get back to the barriers, the old boards are showing the 08:50 as due to leave on time (that was 18 minutes ago) and the new ones show it as having departed. In fact it is still there. It crawls off eventually and the 09:06 appears, loads up and leaves.
The Customer Service Manager (or whatever they call Guards these days) apologises for the delay – engine failure on the way up apparently. That may be well have happened anyway but that is not the reason why the 09:06 is late – it has been sitting in the sidings all the while, waiting for the 08:50 to get out of the way. So we will never know the true reason why we are all going to be late for work, miss our meetings or otherwise have our days buggered up before they even begin.