24 January 2007

Not Chuffed

I can't say I approve of the recent protest by my fellow commuters in Bristol and Bath against First Great Western. Apart from anything else, making sure that your consumer action group gets as much publicity as possible on the very day it's breaking the law by using a publicly-funded service without paying for it, isn't a terribly impressive way of claiming the moral high ground.

Nonetheless, I am most displeased with F.G.W. For weeks now they've been saving money (and raising those all-important shareholder dividends) by running underequipped and overcrowded train services, charging commuters extortionate prices for the privilege of being crammed into carriages like cattle. (Albeit cattle in suits and ties, who instead of being taken to abbatoirs to be electrically stunned and slaughtered will be spending a day behind a desk in an office, staring at computer screens, mooing and chewing the cud in a perplexed kind of way.)

Yesterday my train to work was so crowded it couldn't physically fit me on board. People were standing all the way up the corridors of both carriages, crammed in around the doors and apparently in the toilet as well. (I didn't even know that the service in question had a toilet, but evidently no expense had been spared. Oh, wait.) Of the half-dozen people waiting at our little branch-line station, four managed to squeeze on board after some shoehorning by the guard, while I and one other were turned away. I had to take the bus to Bristol Temple Meads to get a later train, arrive at work an hour late and forego my lunch hour in order to catch up. Grr.

Petty law-breaking and catchily-named pressure groups aren't the way to go, however. Instead, I urge everbody in the South-West to participate fully in the spirit of the free-market philosophy espoused so fervently by this government and their marginally less liberal predecessors, by refusing to give another penny of your money to F.G.W., and instead granting your custom to one of the many comptetitors of theirs who run trains along the same routes.

...Oh, that's right. You can't, in fact, do either of those. Because while the Government passes out marketarian propaganda with one invisible hand, it's using the other to hand over functional monopolies to companies along with millions of pounds of public money, thus effortlessly combining the worst aspects of a state-run monopoly and a profit-driven private company.

That it then makes pathetic excuses for them, instead of enforcing basic standards of customer care, helps to ensure we don't for a moment mistake its sheer corrupt contempt for the public interest for anything so naïve and charming as incompetence.

[Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are not endorsed by anyone other than me. Even the cats are looking dubious, actually. But honestly. T'ch.]

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