My memories of the Scotrail service are many and all treasured, especially this one –
Years since, I had done a bicycle tour of the Highlands, to end at Fort William for the southbound sleeper. I was late getting there, so I truncated my ride to end at Spean Bridge, intending there to meet the sleeper.
While I was riding, the electrics on the service failed, meaning that all cabin lights were out, which forced the whole train to travel light to Glasgow or somewhere to be fixed. A road coach was procured for all night pax to convey them from Fort William to Glasgow while the train moved, empty, save for driver, guard, and bar car attendant – the superb and adaptable Eddie.
They did not know that I was waiting at Spean Bridge: I did not know that I had a replacement seat on a road coach from FW.
The train rolled in and I boarded. Eddie and the guard consulted and saw me, bereft of transport, relying on the sleeper to get home to the south, and with my bicycle encumbered with camping and touring gear.
They overcame their resistance, based on my promise not to fall over in the darkened bar car, and my promise not to tell anyone (bugger, cat out of bag now). We all four made our way to Glasgow where I and the remainder of the pax boarded whatever was left of the mainline service to London.
At Rannoch, they even delayed departure for a couple of minutes to allow me to grab vittles from the northbound service trolley (the bar car being locked up out of use) on the crossover. We journeyed south in the evening gloom with only the train emergency lighting on; me, my bike, whisky, the driver, the guard, and the wonderful and reliable Eddie.
I booked my car in for an air conditioning service under warranty. At Chandlers BMW in Portslade there is a Covid friendly drop box system for keys.
When I booked the air conditioning service online it appeared that my choices were drop off for a Fastlane timed service or all day drop off for MOT.
I did not want an MOT – and the car does not need an MOT until May 2021. However dropping off for a timed service was not an attractive option for me so I ticked the box for all day drop off.
When I dropped the car off, on the checking in screen for the key drop box I wrote ‘No MOT’ and some stuff about the air conditioning, (and a spelling correction changing ‘license’ for ‘licence’). I left the keys and the car with Chandlers. I even pointed out that this was warranty work. BMW warranties are three years – reinforcing the point that no MOT was needed.
Two days later when I went to collect my car Matthew the service agent approached me with a smile (which was welcome) and some pieces of paper and the credit card payment machine. He told me proudly that my car had passed its MOT and had in mind that I should pay for the MOT – £54.85.
I pointed out to Matthew that the car was not yet three years old and therefore did not need an MOT. I mentioned that I had specified on the booking in form on the key drop, ‘no MOT’. We agreed that it now had an MOT which was good until October 2021. We agreed that I did not need to pay for the MOT which I did not need – thank you. I walked out to my car.
When I got to my car, I found that in order for the car to pass its unneeded MOT six months early the number plates had to be changed from questionable to legal. See the pics below.
Chandlers had very helpfully changed my number plates (front and rear) from questionable to legal. In order to do so, they had removed the questionable plates which were fixed onto the car bumpers by super Velcro.
When I bought the machine from BMW Guildford, I knew that for one day a year from three years thence, I would need legal plates, so I specified to the supplying garage, ‘no holes, Velcro please’. They obliged with super strong Velcro.
The supplying garage had to supply legal plates for me to leave their dealership – and they have sat in my garage for the last 30 months waiting on May 2021 for my first MOT. I drove away from the dealership, parked up down the road, and put my chosen design on in place.
Back to Chandlers – the engineer, having removed my doubtful number plates by simply pulling the plates off the bumper Velcro and seeing the location of the Velcro on both bumpers and plates, then chose to drill four holes in my motor car so that he could screw his number plates to my car with metal self-tapping screws – not even plastic numberplate screws. The bumpers are plastic.
I am a short man with a short car and short number plates and – today only – a short fuse. I have been able to cover up the damage to the rear number plate section because the holes I didn’t want can be covered up by the short plate to the rear.
However at the front the picture is not quite so sunny – in fact its wholly unsatisfactory (thank you for noticing).
In order to mount the new legal number plates on the car the fitter decided to drill two holes at the extremities of the new number plate which cannot be covered up by the questionable Velcro’d number plates. See the pics.
I chose to have specially made number plates that suit my style and my choice. They come without garage advertising or a post code on them. The new plates given to me in order to pass the MOT that I did not need and did not ask for and specified not required have Chandlers advertising written on them twice – each.
I pointed out to Matthew that I choose not to wear Gap sweatshirts or Nike shoes because I don’t choose to advertise megacorp, and that if somebody wants me to advertise Chandlers then they best be paying me to advertise Chandlers. I await the garages response.
To be continued.
I am not unaware of my vanity, and my choice of vehicular decoration. I am cognisant of the real world problems around us and the impact of them on everyone’s life. I know that there are bigger and worse difficulties for all of us, but today, I just don’t care. I took my car in for a service which is incomplete and got it back, perforated and uglified.
I hope that this piece amuses. If you want to troll me or insult me, go somewhere else. If you want to add humour or encouragement feel free to do so.
Should I –
Dear Steve Wadd,
Thank you for your email in regards to the new 700 trains introduced to our service. I would like to apologise for any discomfort you experienced when travelling with us.
I appreciate your comments regarding the safety of a crowded train and we can understand why full trains can cause concerns with safety. It must be made clear that safety is of paramount importance to us and will not be jeopardised.
There is no evidence to suggest that crowded trains carry any additional safety risk. Millions of passengers travel with us each year and travelling by trains continues to be a very safe way to travel. The industry view is that this is an issue of comfort and, although it is less comfortable to stand, there is no significant additional safety risk. We are working closely with industry colleagues to increase the amount of rolling stock, thus increasing capacity during peak times.
I would like to go into some detail in regards to the background, and decisions that went into the design of this new fleet.
These particular trains were designed by Siemens the manufacturer, to meet a specification developed by the Department for Transport in consultation with train operators and other stakeholders. These parties included UK train crew, cleaning and maintenance staff and engineers and were designed specifically for the benefit of the Thameslink Programme. They feature the latest in passenger information technology and intelligent climate control as well as excellent accessibility for passengers with mobility issues and, when fully integrated on to the Thameslink route, we believe they’ll make a real difference to every journey.
Looking at the ratio of seats on board , this was deliberated on at the design stage . A survey prepared for Transport Focus in a joint project with the Department of Transport and London TravelWatch highlighted that “The majority of passengers in the sample recognise the underlying design objective to increase capacity during peak times especially by increasing the ratio of standing spaces to seats rather than how the seats are presented.”
The full research findings are available on the Transport Focus website in a document entitled ‘Thameslink Rolling Stock Qualitative Research’ although we appreciate that many customers do not necessarily agree with this outcome, there is a real balance needed between seating and overall capacity to meet the needs of ever growing customer numbers.
The survey also picked up other areas that were seen as important to the customers surveyed and included:
• Safe and comfortable standing was the number one priority
• Wanted more personal space
• ‘Three plus two’ seating was disliked
• ‘Two plus two’, perch and tip-up seating was welcomed – also on outer routes
• Wider stand-backs around doors welcomed.
I would like to assure you that all feedback that we receive is passed to our engineering team who are currently working alongside Siemens to ensure that these trains meet the current passenger demand. Further to this, following recent feedback, I am pleased to be able to tell you that we will be introducing back seat tables and Wi-Fi which will be retro fitted in the coming months.
Plug sockets were not fitted at the time as most tablets, smartphones and laptops have a good battery life – and as very few Thameslink passengers will have journeys of not much more than an hour, the increased costs outweighed the benefit of being fitted. This has however been discussed further and we are exploring the possibility of having charging points added. The decision on this will be made in the coming months.
Thank you for taking the time to contact us. I am sorry that you feel that the quality of your journey has been reduced because of your personal preferences around fixtures and fittings but still hope that the introduction of these trains will improve your experience whilst travelling with us.
Customer Relations Advisor
The new 700 trains operated by Thameslink are smart but horrid.
Exactly like it is.
For those wishing to see the real world, pay a visit to the County town of Sussex, Lewes.
There, in the town centre, demolition of the old new Magistrates Court is nearly complete.
Princess Diana of Wales opened it while still married! Thats how long government memories last.
“What a day I had the other day, I tell you. Had to go to court, I was the prosecution’s star witness, me. Not that I should get ahead of myself, mind.
“It was about that bit of a do I witnessed that time, you remember? Didn’t know where to look, me, so ended up looking right at it and giving a statement to the police and that.
“So I got this letter through saying I had to go and give evidence. The nice police man had told me I would do. But the letter, the letter only goes and tells me I had to go to t’other court. You know, the one three buses away.
“The local one, the one in town, well they’ve only gone and shut it down. Do you know Joan? You do, you do know Joan….. Joan, with the funny looking eyebrows? Got a son…
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Jan Zeber graduated in law in 2014 from the University of Bristol, where he chaired the Freedom Society. He is now a Researcher at the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
Research last year showed that the Government wastes £120 billion a year – it’s that stark fact that has made cutting waste such a crucial part of any campaign for lower taxes. That means cracking down on all sorts of spending and the functions of government that aren’t crucial to a properly-run country – but access to justice should not be in that category. Sadly, with legal aid cuts, politics might have trumped pragmatism.
Empowering people against the might of the authorities is a task that we at the TaxPayers’ Alliance share with the Criminal Bar, and other branches of the legal profession that rely on legal aid. In contrast to molly-coddled public sector bureaucrats enjoying “flexi-time” hours and cosy pensions, letting a junior barrister make a modest living by ensuring justice is served to those who stand accused of crime, are embroiled in child custody battles or were unfairly treated by the machine of the public administration (working seven days a week with no other benefits, I might add) seems like the proper way to spend taxpayers’ money. The right to access justice is a fundamental one.
Nevertheless, when in 2010 it was decided that the Ministry of Justice should bear its share of cuts, the £2 billion legal aid budget was not protected. Ken Clarke, then Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, was charged with delivering £2 billion (about 22 per cent) worth of savings from his department.
His plans showed that there were, and still are, areas to find savings in the Ministry of Justice. First in the line of fire, quite rightly, was the slack in MoJ governance – reducing the number of and streamlining the department’s quangos, restricting recruitment to key posts and scaling back consultancy engagement. Underused county and magistrates courts were also asked to contribute. But as close scrutiny by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee revealed, a worryingly large proportion of proposed savings look dubious not just in terms of justice, but also whether they are savings at all – many are expected to cause higher costs elsewhere.
Legal aid is a particularly stark example. The rise of litigants in person, that is people involved in court proceedings who do not have legal representation due to funding not being available, causes costly delays to a process which can hardly be described as justice. Further, given that legal aid is mainly used for areas of law which affect public services such as clinical negligence, social welfare, family law and of course criminal law, any creaks in the machine caused by reduced funding will have a knock-on effect on the cost of these services. It is estimated, for example, that the NHS may shoulder £3 for every £1 slashed of the clinical negligence legal aid budget, as part of a total of £193 million of unintended costs in other sectors, throwing up serious questions over the MoJ ‘savings’.
Instead of exerting further pressure on the functioning of the justice system, already stretched to the limits of legitimacy, the incumbent Justice Secretary should consider making savings in areas which, if scaled back, will prompt innovation and streamline the system.
In the criminal division, aside from overall better management of the system in order to reduce cases with unnecessary delays, there is scope for greater use of magistrates’ courts, especially if we allowed Justices of the Peace to hand down more severe sentences. A Justice of the Peace is a volunteer, and an average magistrates’ court case costs £3,000 less than exactly the same case would cost in the crown court. Many less serious white-collar crimes could be taken out of the courts altogether and be dealt with as a regulatory matter, the punishment being disqualification as a director, for example.
What often is missing from this debate is an emphasis on the need for all parties to accept that the times they are a-changin’. There are good reasons for opposing too much streamlining and being weary of ‘conveyor-belt justice’, but the least that is expected from the legal profession is co-operation in finding the best route forward. As the High Court found two months ago as a result of a legal challenge to the consultation process, ‘something clearly did go wrong’.
Whether the Government chose to omit representations from criminal legal aid lawyers on crucial issues because they knew they would not like what they heard, or because they knew what they hear will not be helpful and co-operative, remains unclear. But it does show that both parties would do well to look past prejudice and vested interest, and start thinking about what is best for the general public.