london’s burning

Well I’ve just been on a flying visit back to London for a series of business meetings, which explains the lack of new postings over the last few days. I’m pleased to say that every meeting went well and hopefully some new business will result from it. It was also great to catch up with my daughter S and son-in-law I who looked after me so well. But the main point of this posting was to reflect on getting around London – now I can judge it as an occasional visitor rather than a weary commuter.

First thing I did upon landing was pick up a London free newspaper to check the headlines and what did I find? All bar one of the British hopes at Wimbledon had gone out in the first round, the underground was proving to be unbearably hot and uncomfortable, and there were unsavoury and lurid headlines about former Blue Peter presenter John Leslie. Nothing much changes.

I’m not sure about the allegations surrounding Leslie but I can vouch for the uncomfortability of the tube. It is hot and crowded down there. I see that Tfl had been installing fans in some concourses to assist the flow of cool air but it was pathetically inadequate. If Tfl are so determined to rid central London of private cars then surely they have an obligation to make public transport as pleasant and easy to use as possible. We are well into the 21st century now and is it too much to expect for carriages to have air conditioning these days?

It’s not just that though that makes me resistant to using public transport. I landed at Stansted and wandered down to the rail station to catch the Express into C London. I had about an hour to get from the airport to a key meeting at the BBC at Langham Place. I have to tell you that calling this service Stansted Express is a stretch. It travels so slowly and makes at least 3 stops before creeping into Liverpool St. The Stansted Crawl would be a more accurate description. But worse than that was the fact that I couldn’t buy a C. London travel card at Stansted station ticket office. I could pick a single destination but I was going to be making several trips on the tube that afternoon. In the end I bought a single fare to Liverpool St and then had to queue again there to buy the Underground travel card. Needless to say I missed my first meeting and had to re-schedule it into an already crammed next day.

Why is it so hard for the various transport companies and authorities to show some imagination and provide joined-up services and tariffing/ticketing? The Oyster card has been a great innovation but for every bit of sound thinking there are far more examples of disconnected policies and practices. Bendy buses cost a fortune to introduce and now at even more expense, Boris wants to can these and re-introduce the Routemaster buses. Politics and commercial self-interest are getting in the way it seems to me. Can’t we find anybody to think through a co-ordinated transport policy for London and the rest of the UK? Giving the task to Love-that-Nestle Prescott, a man seemingly unable to integrate a sentence let alone a transport system, was a huge mistake and a wasted opportunity. It’s only 4 years away from the world descending on London for the Olympics and in the 4 years since I worked on the Bid, things seem to be going backwards.

I made something like 20 journies on trains and tubes and buses and in taxis in a 2 day period and not one was especially pleasant or trouble-free. I also spent a lot of money doing it and felt that it was poor value. The most pleasant way I found to get round town was to walk. It was almost as quick and cost-free, though lugging a clothes bag and work bag around at the same time was warm work. Underground London’s burning, I was hot and bothered. Thank the Lord I don’t have to do it every day now.



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