I have been using the railways to visit cities around the UK to make some speeches. One of the things that comes over most strongly to me is the negative and aggressive approach they take to their customers in many of their official announcements.
On Wigan station recently they kept repeating an announcement telling passengers they should not smoke on the station. They told us that the station included the ticket office, the entrance, the toilets and the platforms, in case we did not understand what no smoking on the station meant. They told us we would be fined if we disobeyed. There was no offsetting announcement wishing us a good journey, telling us of the station’s facilities, inviting us to use the waiting room out of the wind or saying there was a coffee place.
When joining a train at Euston in the morning there are often announcements warning you that you must not board or stay on the train if you do not have a specific peak hour ticket for that particular train. Again, the pill is not sweetened in any way. You are told you must get off the train immediately if you have the wrong ticket, and wait for your later train. Why don’t they welcome you aboard, and say if you would like to travel on this train but have a ticket for a different one, they would be happy to upgrade you for a supplement?
On some trains you are also told you have to be an unpaid policeman or support team member. You are told you have to observe packages and behaviour of your fellow travellers carefully, and report anything suspicious. Fortunately on the last couple of trains where I have been told to do this, the carriage was so empty that there were no other passengers in my view, so my duty was easily discharged. In a busy train this could be an onerous requirement of travel to seek to satisfy yourself of the behaviour of others when you have no powers to do so.
There is little or no attempt on trains to sell you other items which might assist on your journey. The captive clientele is left in their seats without seatbelts. Heavy luggage is left unrestrained in the racks above your head if you are in a carriage with other passengers.
The staff providing drinks and food where that is part of the service are often friendly and welcoming. It’s the system and the official announcements that leave one wondering. When I go into my local supermarket I am not confronted by announcements telling me to avoid shoplifting, to pay the full stated price or instructing me that I must not smoke. If there are announcements they are usually about special offers and products I might like to buy. Why are the railways so different? Why can’t they take the laws of the land for granted, and just do what it takes politely to check tickets or deal with any unruly passenger who does misbehave? Why aren’t there more positive announcements of ways they can help improve your journey and enable you to use the time on the train more productively? Why isn’t there more flexibility in the way they do handle passengers on trains? Why do they not offer upgrades to first for a sensible fee where they have lots of empty seats?