The Italian tourist on Paddington station asked me
“what times are off-peak travel times?”
Gradually realising the sysem craziness I reply
“That depends which direction you are travelling, peak time applies to trains into London in the morning and out of London in the evening, so if you are travelling into London in the evening – there is no peak time
but I’m not sure”
Then I asked my Londoner friend for clarification
“Are there peak time restrictions on the tube?”
My friend didn’t know about ‘peak times’ so we assumed that tube trains within London didn’t have travel restrictions based on time of travel. How could this Italian distinguish between tube trains and other trains when they use the same stations? Should we say ‘you can travel on the grubby looking trains that are travelling around London, sort of, at any time”? I felt daunted. Such a simple question, such a complex answer.
Then, to make matters worse, I remembered that at peak times you can catch some trains which are not covered by the peak time travel restrictions, so added
“You can travel at peak time with a non-peak time ticket on some trains, normally the slower trains, but some of the fast trains”
The Italian looked suitably baffled. We hadn’t really helped her. I had a passing thought of Franz Kafka, imagining him stuck on a train station trying to get out of London at 5pm. No matter how good your grasp of the English language, this explanation, this system is
- fundamentally confusing
- really difficult to remember even if you can work it out in the first place.
it’s not designed to make ticket purchase and use easy, its evolved to satisfy diverse organisations that lack customer perspective. The best pracitcal suggestion that we could give the Italian was
“Find the train you want to travel on and ask one of the rail staff if it works, and what’s their best suggestion, it’s the only way to be sure”
When I asked a train station employee at Reading main station he whipped out a PAPER leaflet that listed trains that travel at peak times but accept off-peak time tickets. This work-around suggest that the service providers recognise the problem. The cute, archaic, work-around made me smile. But why not make it easier for the traveller in the first place (or time)!
Currently peak travel times are defined by a mixture of train
- service provider (not applied on the tube)
- direction (relative to London, and maybe other citiies?)
- train speed (sometimes)
I know what name I’d like to give the ticket pricing and travel system, but that’s unpublishable …..
Your’s huiffily, wendy x
PS here are the peak travel time trains from Paddington that accept off-peak time tickets: