The Criminal's Charter

After a couple of weeks complaining about other things I am returning to the subject of two earlier blog entries as I just can't leave it alone. And of course because there is still more to say.

Yes, I'm going back to talking about travelling on the railways. So far the majority of the negative things I've been saying about train travel have been to do with fellow passengers. This isn't surprising, as Other People are generally responsible for 95 per cent of trouble, irritation and annoyance in the world. However the third and final whine in the railway trilogy concerns the attitude of the railway people themselves.

A while back the railways - who were probably all one nation under the flag of British Rail at the time - stopped calling their users "passengers" and started calling them "customers". I seem to recall something of an outcry at the time, complaints about over commercialisation and the inappropriate application of a business model to a public service. However, I didn't mind. After all, being a customer implied "customer service", surely. Perhaps the general level of service would improve with refunds when trains were late, free cups of tea and any number of other exciting and luxurious things.

It never really happened of course and recent events have started making me wonder whether "customers" was the word they actually intended to use at the time. Judging by the way members of the public are treated by railway staff these days, I'm beginning to think that perhaps "suspects" might have been closer to the truth. There's the whole overkill when it comes to what they rather wankily call "revenue protection" for a start - when they're having a crackdown the numbers of inspectors present at the station where I work beggars belief. A little mental arithmetic and it's not hard to see that they're very likely spending more on inspectors' wages than they would ever have lost to the small proportion of dishonest travellers.

It's not just fare-dodging paranoia though; there seems to be a general policy across the railway to treat those travelling on it like second rate scum. There was a recorded announcement that was often played recently in my local area:

"You are reminded not to put your feet on the seats. It is very antisocial and unhygienic."

Now hold on, you can't talk to your customers like that - calling us antisocial! In addition the way the announcement is "reminding" us makes the assumption that we're guilty until proven innocent - it implies that we're perfectly aware we shouldn't put our feet on the seats but keep doing it anyway. How about something like "for the convenience of your fellow passengers please do not put your feet on the seats"? Simple, effective and above all polite.

However, its not just the announcements that are downright rude - there are offensive posters too:

"Maximum penalty for trespassing upon the railway is DEATH! (if you accidentally get run over by a train, ha ha)

"People caught vandalising railway property will be SHOT! (on CCTV camera, ha ha)

Then there are all those posters about not verbally abusing their staff. Of course it goes without saying that railway employees should be able to go about their duties without being abused. But surely that's the same for all of us? You don't see notices of that tone in banks or shops for example. Perhaps if they spent less money on poster campaigns and more on the service itself people would have less to complain about and therefore the more bad-tempered members of the public wouldn't be tempted to have a go at the hapless railway employee...


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