There are many reasons why I despise local rail operator Scotrail, this is only the most recent.
I freelance, and am booked for work on a day-to-day basis. Due to a colleague’s injury, I have just picked up ten consecutive days covering his shifts, and the thought of relying on public transport for the duration does not appeal. I wracked my brain trying to think of any option that would provide me with a car at zero notice.
The army truck my sometime-boss owns, which I drove four-hundred miles for him, is stationed in Glasgow’s outskirts – I thought the hurdle would be finding secure parking for it outside my home, but I quickly learned that (although taxed and insured) the MOT is out of date and so I am unable to borrow it. My current work owns cars but they are on private land, and while I have just been insured to drive for them, the pool cars are untaxed. My brother-in-law has bought a second van for his apprentice, but in the course of past discussions it transpired its MOT is up too, and if has since passed then it will be so that the apprentice can use it daily. I considered the expense of hiring a car for the week, weighing the cost against the convenience and the fact I am earning – this plan was quickly shot down today when a phone call confirmed that I need to put a four-figure deposit on my credit card in advance: my immovable credit limit is half or a third of what they all require and, due to tedious past financial issues arising from not always having work to go to, there is absolutely no way for me to acquire a card from any other provider. It would appear the train is my only option.
This morning, departing before the ticket office opened, I tried to buy a weekly ticket on the train. The conductor told me I would need photographic identification, which is fine as I keep my driving licence in the wallet I take everywhere, but he clarified that what I actually require is a passport photo of myself to be used to create their document. That, unsurprisingly, is not something I habitually carry. I asked him to waive the fare, with the intention of buying a pass at the destination station, and he said there was no way that was happening. Trying another tack, I asked if I could have my purchase of a return ticket refunded in the office when buying my pass – this, I was told, would be at the discretion of that staff member.
Arriving in Dumbarton, I went straight to the manned booth and made the same enquiry, also gathering pricing information to allow me to make a comparison and check the potential saving. This very helpful gentleman talked me through the options, gave me the required card and talked me through how to attach a photo using the transparent self-sealing plastic to make it valid. He advised that it need not be a strict passport photo, in the sense of what is required by international customs, just that size. naturally, of course, there is no photo machine at the station and it is in an industrial area. I thanked him and left, frustrated that I had not known this yesterday when the full Art Department was in – I could have sent one of them a photo from my phone to print out for me.
The day progressed, my mind whirring as I figured out my options. On arrival at my home station, I nipped into the office and asked when they close tonight – one of the issues is that I am leaving every morning before the station staff begin their shifts, making it impossible to make the purchase ahead of boarding. The rather upbeat woman informed me, and we discussed the possible nearby locations of places (such as the supermarket) which may have a photo kiosk. Making a slight detour to check this out, I was suddenly struck by the recollection that it could be any photograph of the correct size, and the simultaneous realisation that I have several 6″x4″s at home showing me with one or other or both of my nieces. I quickened my pace.
I burst through my front door, digging through all available images – not wishing to butcher any nice ones, but in the end only finding one suitable. I tore open drawers to retrieve my scalpel, steel rule, and cutting mat, and reached for a fine-nibbed permanent marker. Taking the dimensions from the blank pass I had been handed earlier, I trimmed and attached my likeness then hurried straight back out – to find a sign in the window of the office saying that the staff member was indisposed elsewhere and that tickets should be bought on the train. I could see her in the back room, however, and she eventually came out to speak to me. I had been buoyed on my journey back, having overcome the problem and decided that, combined with her geniality, I would buy the pass and ask her to do me a kindness and refund me the return I had had to pay for today. This was a fine theory, but I had overlooked one thing.
Building on our rapport, we looked at the possibilities and viability for the seven-day pass. It could start from today, or from tomorrow, and what would suit me better? I explained the employment situation, and enquired if validity from today would permit me the return of money already outlaid for travel – oh! How the mask slipped. No way, not as a favour or as a niceness, she would have her “knuckles rapped” if she were to do that for me. However, now I was in possession of the correct card with its image of my likeness, I will be able to buy the weekly pass on board tomorrow morning. I asked if she was certain, since I had (it seems) already been lied to by one employee today – about staff discretion being any sort of factor. This was confirmed, but she offered to sell me it there and then as I was deciding whether to obtain it at that moment or in the carriage in the morning, and was unable to understand my reluctance – until I revealed my thinking: if I do not see a conductor on my way in, I do not need to pay to travel. Her demeanour changed instantly, “Oh well, if that’s the route you want to go down.” It was clear the conversation was finished, and I realised my key oversight – Scotrail are cunts.
I had my Twitter account permanently suspended for calling Scotrail cunts, in partial jest after I banged my head, due to terms and conditions which that social media Hell-site alleged I had breached – there was absolutely nothing in that statement contravening the terms and conditions they quoted at me, but they nevertheless refused to reinstate my account. I should still have the screengrab somewhere, to be posted below if I can find it.
Above: Far from my best work, but does this tweet breach any of the the rules mentioned?
Yes, the trains are regularly late or cancelled, with stops frequently dropped to make up time (and the employees are, at best, grumpy or, at worst, liars) but at least all the money goes to a Dutch firm operating internationally instead of being used to improve service and infrastructure. There is an existing counter-argument, often posited on Twitter, that Network Rail is responsible for upkeep and maintenance of signalling and so on – not Scotrail. However, my view is that this is an unwelcome legacy of privatisation – companies charge passengers an extortionate amount to ride on a system whose upkeep is the burden of the government and, by extension, the taxpayer. Scotrail may not technically be required to pay towards the permanent fixing of issues which regularly delay them, but I refuse to believe that shareholders in Holland are of greater importance than commuters in Scotland when it comes to the allocation of generated revenue.
I continue to wonder how or if I can swiftly make the switch to four-wheeled self-driven transport.
I think that cigarette-smokers are selfish and obnoxious in their habit; that people who vape are as bad, or worse, due to the vast plumes they exhale; and that I would be morally justified in spitting in the face of anyone who blows smoke into mine. I also dislike Scotrail, my local purveyor of late trains – I run a parody account on Twitter based in my dislike of them, I have been broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live talking about my dislike of them. I do not want you to go away from this thinking, “Maybe he quite likes Scotrail” – no.
In a series of pointless endeavours, I think my favourite – in terms of sheer ineffectiveness – was Scotrail’s taking the time to post No Smoking signs across their open station platforms. Have you seen it deter anybody? I am constantly at various stations across Glasgow, and I have never once seen somebody, on the verge of igniting their cigarette, notice the signage and reconsider. Most days, I let it slide – easier to be silently annoyed than to engage with someone and ask them to act. The only thing less pleasant than the stench of tobacco smoke is a belligerent smoker who is being denied nicotine. Furthermore, in the absence of any visible staff, you are directed to make a complaint via the Information Point, essentially a speakerphone which offers no privacy and which broadcasts loudly across near-empty platforms. To do that invites a whole other level of conflict, as you plainly grass someone up, in front of them, rather than address them directly.
I have considered why Easter Monday was different. It is fair to say that I am naturally grumpy, and for a rare moment I found myself enjoying relative peace and quiet, on a deserted platform, on a bright and sunny and comparatively warm day. This brief enjoyment was interrupted by the new, unmistakable, and disagreeable odour of burning tobacco – the source of which was quickly identifiable as a woman standing opposite me across the tracks. I watched as the sole Scotrail employee, doing her rounds and wearing her yellow hi-viz vest, approached this person breaking at least the rules, and possibly the law (despite it not being an enclosed space, I think the legislation was extended to encompass it. Scotrail is certainly quoted in the media as saying they would involve British Transport Police in such instances, should anyone refuse to comply with the ban.)
There was no admonishment. The woman, who had since sat on a metal bench, looked up as the employee passed, and there was some simple greeting in that moment – a smiled “Hi”, a slight raising of eyebrows perhaps: a shared and friendly acknowledgement of each other’s existence. The employee continued on her way, reaching the nearest No Smoking notice just seconds later. It was at this point, having observed the behaviour several times before, and with time on my hands as I waited on my delayed train, that I took the main course of action pursued by many of us – and used social media as a means of complaint.
Scotrail’s online grouch responded quickly, wanting to know if I had “made the staff aware.” Aware of what – the rule of law? A gap in their training or in their enactment of it? Of the duties involved in carrying out the job for which she was being paid? I answered with a degree of cheekiness, expecting this conversation to go nowhere – as most complaints to Scotrail (and all of their cancelled trains) do. It was their next reply that firmly angered me.
“Our staff wouldn’t walk past somehow smoking and not say anything,” I was curtly informed, with the blind indignant allegiance often reserved for use by the parents of children who bully, or who otherwise commit misdemeanours. I know what I saw. I could have filmed the infraction, and provided visual evidence, but I am not given to this imposition on people’s lives – you do not want to be recorded doing your job unsatisfactorily, nor having a wee seat with your bags of shopping, neither do I and I have no desire to make such intrusive records of other people. There is likely to be footage, of course, thanks to the prevalence of CCTV cameras – all they would need to do is look at the coverage of Platform Two, from 2:10pm on Monday 17th April.
Our conversation proceeded exactly as predicted. Not content to merely disavow facts with a quickness to rival that of America’s premier liar-in-chief, they also mimicked President Trump’s use of the “gaslighting” technique. Finally, defending themselves by referencing my choice of vocabulary, I was promised assistance and promptly ignored – the wall was up, no correspondence would be entered into because I had written a sweary-word. I could let them know next time, they said, and they would act. I countered that I had let them know this time, but they had showed no interest. Why would I waste my time again? Why did they waste theirs, putting up signs that seem to be purely decorative? At best, complaints are discouraged (“Please use the loudhailer to alert the entire vicinity”) or mishandled, and, at worst, they are completely disregarded and your personal credibility will be disputed. I was eventually given a link, to make it formal, but I have no reason to believe it would achieve anything. Instead, I have written and will publicly share this, feeling better that I have used the experience creatively.