I started today in the foulest of moods. No, that’s not strictly true. I started the day in a great mood – after yesterday’s relative lie in and an early-ish night I was well-rested and refreshed, I’d enjoyed a mini workout last night (followed by some truly horrific living-room-dancing to Glee!), so feeling pleasantly achey, and I awoke JUST before my alarm, so pretty much woke up naturally. I stretched, got up, made tea, got dressed, left for the station more or less on time… and, of course, my train was delayed.
Only by 20 minutes, but as I’ve explained before, this makes a difference of at least 40 minutes to what time I arrive at work, and a good hour to what time I get home. Tonight, rather than 5.30pm, I therefore got home at 7pm. This was down to a series of unfortunate but unrelated public transport issues. I knew this would be the case – and I did so want to start my long weekend on time!
I think my biggest pet hate when it comes to late trains is the lack of apology. I pay almost £300 a month for a service that, at least once a week, the railway-powers-that-be fail to provide. The recorded auto-apology that comes across the tannoy pretty much the moment the train is due doesn’t cut it – there is no sense of “sorry” to a robot. Also, telling me the train is 8 minutes late and then offering NO SINGLE FURTHER ANNOUNCEMENT until it arrives 22 minutes later? Not good enough.
But it’s when they don’t even provide an explanation that I really fume: it only takes “signal failure” for me to simmer down, but just leaving the late hanging sets me on the boil…
On Wednesday evening I arrived at the station in plenty of time for the earliest train I can ever hope to catch, only to be met by crowds of people. There had been a jumper just south of Oxford, and as such no trains could get through. Everything on the board was marked as delayed or canceled. But there were announcements and apologies every few minutes, and staff were milling about answering questions (yes, actual live STAFF – not even robots!!) and as such, there was no point getting wound up. Euan used to work the trains sometimes, and from stories he’d brought home my initial worry was for the crew, particularly the driver, of the train that had hit the jumper – I mean, that’s gotta be one of the worst experiences to go through. I settled into the cafe with a cup of tea and my book expecting a LONG wait.
Then someone had a rare moment of genius. The Manchester to Bournemouth train was coming in to Oxford more or less at the time the Bournemouth to Manchester would have been going out. Unable to go south at all, some genius had the bright idea of emptying the travelers from that train and sending it back North instead. Such a simple idea, you may think, but so beyond anything I would ever expect from the railway services here!
The result was amazing. I left Oxford 20 minutes later than planned, on a train full of chirpy happy people who, having expected the worst, were delerious with relief! People were smiling at one another, chatting to their neighbours, thanking the train manager. The miserable commuters gave way to the decent human beings behind their stolid masks! And my mask of misery lifted alongside theirs!
It’s amazing the difference public transport can make to a person’s mood. We rely on someone else to deliver a service, and when they fail to come through we feel cheated and depressed. But it’s the feeling that they don’t care whether they have made any impact on your day that really depresses me. Good customer service costs nothing, and a sincere apology can go a long way.