Max (hawkida) wrote,

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Paying Up

You don't need to know me for long to realise that I hate the train company I am forced to use in order to get to work - Southwest Trains. They run a shoddy service on run down trains and generally make getting to and from work an unpleasant experience. And then, when you get to Waterloo, they have the audacity to THANK you for using the service - as though there's actually any choice in the matter. They leave it until the last minute to advertise the platforms, causing crushes of people charging across the station. The trains smell musty and unpleasant and I wouldn't be surprised to hear there's an overly high ratio of spores in that air. There are graffiti problems, the seats are broken and slashed, the windows are filthy and many just won't shut. The trains are extremely old stock, with slamming doors that leave a draft. The seats are too small so you're forced up against other passengers. The staff strike regularly in pay disputes causing me to have to travel to the next town along to travel on the reduced service - reduced to the extent that you're lucky to even get a seat. The trains are supposed to take around fifty minutes but they actually take around an hour. There are no announcements while you stand in the freezing rain at Fleet station for a train that should have turned up ten minutes ago. And when the train does arrive, chances are it won't have the advertised number of carriages.

A monthly ticket costs �225. An annual costs �2226. A simple return ticket is just over �18.

While I was in America my train ticket expired. Knowing that I'm moving soon, there was no reason to renew an annual ticket. However, I discovered something interesting. I knew in advance that tickets are rarely checked - when they are checked it comes in flurries - three times in one day, perhaps. Or once a day for a week. But in the meantime you're left alone and not hassled. Many people just don't buy tickets. I know this because when the inspector turns up and asks to see it they buy one. This is infuriating. They aren't meant to be on the train without a ticket - they are supposed to be fined ten pounds and sold a single ticket. But no, what actually happens is they buy the return they should have had, and if they don't get asked to present a ticket they get the journey for free.

So I thought sod it. I could probably go unnoticed for a day or two without a ticket - and I did. Then, a few days on, I encountered the interesting discovery. Despite the fact that the annual ticket I hold has the expiry date stamped accross it in writing larger than anything else on the ticket, if you hold up a season pass the ticket inspector just nods and moves on. I did this four times. Now, the ticket did say "February" so perhaps they just didn't look closely at the number. But four different inspectors were fooled by this, while I sat there, ready with my fake excuses of not having noticed.

But last week the month ticked over into March, which means my ticket becomes more obviously expired and my "didn't notice" excuse appears less valid. So I planned to buy a ticket. I actually have no qualms about getting 10 days or so for free - it's overpriced and the refunds offered for those strike days are a joke. Maybe that's immoral in some people's view, but why the hell should I fund all those other fare dodgers and put up with the crappy service day in, day out? But enough's enough, and I thought I'd buy a short term ticket over the weekend.

Well, the plan to go and buy a weekly ticket failed over when I completely forgot about it. So this morning I got onto the train without a valid ticket again. As we approached Waterloo I thought I'd managed another free ride... until just as we pulled in the inspector/conductor appeared.

I couldn't do it. I couldn't pull out the blatantly expired ticket and wave it at him. Maybe it was because there was more chance of it being noticed, maybe the guilt I tried to bury was kicking in. But I couldn't bring myself to pull out that pass and act confident. "I think I've left my season ticket at home," I lied. And he sold me a ticket, no fine, and told me I could get a refund if I presented it at the ticket office along with my season ticket.

Tonight I buy a weekly. And when I move I say goodbye to Southwest Trains. Can you guess which of these two events I'm actually looking forward to?
Tags: commute, trains

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