Living as I do out in the West Country I get frustrated with traveling quite often.
Actually, I’m a reasonable person and I realise that we cannot have local roads that will cope with the abandonment of winter and the flocking of tourists in summer, so I am resigned to the fact that the M5 has bad days whenever the weather is nice or the school holidays start/end. This despite the efforts made to improve said motorway which generally (and with some notable exceptions) simply cause chaos while they do the work then simply move the jam to another point further along.
But the simple fact remains that, if we can’t get around the UK reasonably efficiently and (more importantly) reliably then doing business becomes increasingly hard. Business is not just centred upon a few cities anymore, it is spread out, it is as much in country areas as villages, towns and cities all across the UK – distributed and remote working are increasingly popular and so the workforce is more spread out.
Having said that, we all still have private and business needs to move around the country. Whilst I have many clients whom I have never met in person, I do still, from time to time, have to get to meetings – usually in London or Oxford, either because my clients are there or because it is a convenient mid-point for us all to get to. Sometimes, of course, I just want to visit friends and family or go to the theatre in London.
The trouble is, I have no idea how long my journey is going to take so I have to end up wasting vast amounts of time and losing working hours to cover myself.
This week, I went to London by train. The train was full as the one before us had been cancelled (it was commuter time). A freight train broke down ahead of us so we got re-routed. The signals broke down so we had to keep pausing. We got stuck behind another freight train for what seemed like half the journey. And then, just as I thought we might be due some compensation the train sprinted the last leg so as to get us in before the 60 minute deadline for getting your money back. There is no sliding scale. If the train is 60 minutes late you get compensation, if it is less than that you do not. We got in 56 minutes late.
I always allow some flex in my timetable so by the time I took a taxi across London (a nightmare of closed roads and building work) I was only 30 minutes late – I had paid for a Travelcard but the day was too hot and I was too late for the “leisurely” public transport option. Fortunately I could walk to my next meeting but then I had to rush back to the station for the train home – at least they leave on time!
If I could rely on train times then I could fit more meetings into the day and be more efficient. I can’t, so I don’t.
When two of us head for London, we drive. Two train tickets, even off-peak on Senior Railcards, is way more than the derv and parking cost. This is no better. To get to a 7:30pm show in London (drive, park, walk, G&T, sit, curtain up) we should be able to leave home around 4:30pm, 4pm at the latest, and most of the time this is ok. But we have had so much stress and failure in this process that we now leave around 14:00 and still sometimes have to rush in sandwich in hand at the last moment. Almost always the delay comes in the last few miles because it doesn’t take much to bring London to a near standstill. They say that we travel in London no faster than they did in Victorian times, frankly, I would be happy to reach such exalted speeds! Coming home is often fraught too as we are trying to come out of London at a time often chosen to close the motorway or flyover (or both) for maintenance.
Accidents and failures happen and maintenance and new development must be done, the problem actually arises from the fact that there is really no slack in the system anymore. Everything is creaking along on minimum maintenance and maximum load so that the slightest thing causes utter meltdown.