Disjointed Connections: Why the UK Public Are Actively Encouraged To Drive First
Here is my tale of travel woe; When to my home post Joe Wick’s The World’s Largest HIIT Workout With Joe Wicks I attempted to go; What should have been smooth and straightforward was horrendous and I write this hoping that local authorities will right poor connections with amend(ou)s
It should have been a straight forward journey. We finished early due to not breaking the world record (but having an awful lot of fun trying) in Hyde Park. I was returning from one city to another; it was a work night; most of what I experienced shouldn’t really have happened (but it did).
Having got back late as (for some unknown reason) trains from London Waterloo to Southampton drop to one an hour from London Waterloo a previous night, I decided to take the earlier train to Eastleigh as I could connect with a Southampton link at Basingstoke. The underlying reason for doing this is the bus which departs Southampton Central Station at 21:48! If I got the 21:35 to Southampton I arrive at an unfortunate 10:48 and have to hang around for another 20 minutes ish for another bus or get a taxi. The taxi was the quicker and safer(ish) option, but I wanted to avoid the taxi payment this time. If I got the Basingstoke connection, I would arrive in at 10:44 giving me a hopeful 4 minutes (if needed) to run over the footbridge and get the bus.
The first spanner in the works was a highlighted issue — someone had walked on the tracks at Southampton which was causing delays from 8.30pm onwards. I only saw the mention of this having got on the Eastleigh train at 21.08. The guard (though making regular announcements) didn’t come through the train for the entire journey so I couldn’t ask — my phone repeatedly cut out (thanks Three) so it was hard to check. I didn’t want to get stuck at either Basingstoke or Winchester. Getting off at Eastleigh and getting a taxi seemed the sensible option.
Second spanner in the works — I got off at 10.32pm at Eastleigh — no taxis at all. So much so that a guy at the taxi rank and I had a chat about it. He booked an uber and left; I tried phoning a taxi company only to be told that no taxis were available until 11.15pm, which I declined as too late. What I should have done was get on the replacement bus service to Fareham as this probably would have stopped at the next stations down and saved me what happened next. I was quite upset at this point as it was getting late on a work night and I needed to get home. Only booked taxis were pulling in. There are no obvious cab companies next to the station nor is there a bus stop. There is a bus station a short away, but I’ve got no idea of timetables at this time of night. What was bad was that I was an obvious lone woman standing around in a fairly deserted station as various men jumped into taxis and two vized up staff had a chat — no one checked if I was ok or offered to share a taxi. Perhaps this isn’t adulting rules, but it is unchivalrous and frankly unkind.
Foolishly but reasonably, I decided to walk from Eastleigh to Southampton Airport Parkway. I didn’t want to do it as it was a)late and b) dark, but what were the options? There was a security guard by the car park which was reassuring, but after that the path (though by a busy road) was dark, poorly lit and frankly overhung. Steaming with anger at the whole annoying situation, I decided to use the torch on my phone — partly because I could shine it at someone undesirable coming towards me to give me get away time if needed. Stomping past some horrible dark overhung bits and a park with gloomy carpark, I survived — even with a wobbly drunk guy coming towards me. Thankfully he was mumbly and just inebriated, but there is the fear as the figure looms towards you. I powered over the pedestrian crossing and found…an empty taxi rank at Airport Parkway….
I decided to get a bus or try and get back on a train to Southampton Central. Crossing over the footbridge, I saw a bus whizzing away. The next train was 11.28pm. I felt like crying with fury by this point as I was nearly an hour later than I wanted to be; the platform was also deserted. But it also was what it was, so a train would have to do. I tried to check if there were any further buses coming but Unilink bus timetable was unclear. I tried phoning a second taxi company who couldn’t help me due to caller ID not showing on my phone and their policy — I tried to fix it and didn’t, they couldn’t help me. I could have downloaded an app! Thankfully then a bus pulled up and I leapt on it, as the livetime on the dark bus stop showed that it left in 9 minutes. I was the only person on the bus. Double blessing, it turned out as this bus was the last bus for the evening (just before 11.30pm!!!!) I remained the only person on the bus to my destination stop and after a short walk, I was back home. It was around 11.45pm by then.
Essentially, the message from Southampton is don’t use public transport. You are encouraged to drive not bus or train for a commute as bus and train times don’t match up in the slightest (nor do bus times allow for passengers needing to travel further to get on a train, such as running over a footbridge). The stop at Southampton Central is slightly away from the entrance to the station. Southampton Airport Parkway is impossibly designed as the stop drop off means crossing a car park entrance (which doubles up as a drop off point) and a sprint over a footbridge. The return journey is even worse as if the bus has left you have to fling yourself over a busy road and run up the road to the stop, again crossing another car park entrance/exit first. Basically if you aren’t run over in some form, you get to use a train! The only resource which merits a crossing is the airport. Planners just haven’t thought through how pedestrians which actually use and access these resources. The stop itself is a gloomy black hole, or the other side (if you make the sprint and the crossing over), a stick — but you can sit on a low wall. However you can exit the black hole and sit on an idling bus (if the driver lets you) for up to 15 minutes.
I really appreciate bus and train drivers and the job they do — however public transport is turning users into third class citizens. It is, simply, easier to use a car — from costs to luggage storage to safety and cleanliness to convenience and timings. It shouldn’t be, but it is. London and Manchester manage good transport — but cities such as Southampton seemingly can’t (or won’t?) Frankly having been made repeatedly late or hung around waiting for buses to turn up which don’t, I am seriously considering ditching the bus for a bike.
But, as my hairy journey demonstrated the other night, the whole infrastructure is rotten in the state of Southampton. It just doesn’t work. Whilst this may be very exceptional circumstances, getting back at a reasonable time completely fell down and frankly put me at risk — it was unsafe. Thankfully I was resourceful and thought my way through, but it wasn’t great and has made me determined never to get that earlier train to Eastleigh ever again, unless I can connect smoothly. Partly this may be due to my reluctance to use Uber — ethically and because their drivers aren’t regulated in the same way as taxi cabs through the city council. Whilst there is a risk in getting into any strange car, Uber’s seem more risky somehow because they are affiliated private vehicles and private drivers. I should perhaps have tried to get off at a stop and see what was being shown about Southampton, or booked a taxi in advance, use more apps than phone calls.
In the back of my mind, are Sarah Everard and so many other women who, like me were going about their business and trying to get home safely, doing all that should to stay safe, and yet still the worst happened. Every time I get on a bus, wait at a bus stop, get on a train, switch train carriage, check who’s walking around me or walking too close, too fast, the cars which seem to drive too slowly or shout comments from the window or honk, or the white van drivers, am on a deserted train platform in the dark, these thoughts are there in the back of my head.
Whilst public transport is public (so risky to an extent) it should enable safe and effective travel to get from local and national place to place, reducing traffic on the roads. Since the Lockdowns in the UK, national policy has encouraged car owners to get in their cars, whilst discouraging public transport. Due to the ongoing rise in the cost of living I am now paying more for less — hence the bike idea. The service should also match the price — for £130 a month I get the privilege of standing in a grubby corridor with no sockets to plug in a gadget every morning and a seat and socket on the way home (and this is on a 5–10 carriage train) and, it seems, no air con. European cities can do it, bigger cities can do it — why not Southampton? Why is good public transport limited to the city centre only and anywhere else takes an hour (and 2 changes) by bus (only 10 minutes by taxi!)?! Why is getting to work easily and on time something that only car owners can do? It’s noticeable that the glassed in bus stops have been repeatedly smashed all along the Avenue and Winn Road in Southampton; whilst sad and costly — it’s also a sign of how public transport isn’t valued (although so many use it).
How To Change Things….
Livetime that actually works and reflects what is going to happen (including when buses are cancelled or break down)
Taxi companies next to stations so that you can book in person as well as online/through an app
Safer waiting areas at stations and bus stops — waiting rooms are generally grotty or lacking seats on platforms
Buses not idling or waiting at bus stops because of timetables — generally they always end up running late
Connections — reduce the gaps and weird timings in bus timetables — matching trains and buses, as well as some transition time, into them
Lose all the complicated names for train tickets — make it easier all round
Improved staff uniforms at stations — bring back ‘Fat Controllers’. Whilst we laugh at the bristly station masters of old with their epaulettes and watch chains, they had something, apart from dazzling caps — oozing confidence and professionalism. The high viz, polyester, fleeces do not project this and staff are either lovely and helpful, or oddly aggressive.
Improved pedestrian access to stops and waiting areas which encourage better queueing (often non-smokers are losing as smokers use the shelters)
Better litter disposal areas on trains as they are dirty and not well cared for
Loyalty schemes for public transport users which reduce the costs of tickets and travel (not 10% in a coffee shop of choice)
Better food and drink facilities near to and at stations — if you want proper, healthy food at a decent price, don’t go to Southampton Central! There is a Costa opposite, but surely Southampton could emulate London Waterloo and have a better range of outlets nearby or in the concourse itself. (To be fair — Bristol Templemeads is the same and it’s a 20 minute walk to anywhere to get anything else)
More carriages for obviously busy services (Bath Spa and Southern I’m looking at you here and 7.30am from Southampton Central which is rammed despite 10 carriages)
Public transport should be as good as getting in a car — otherwise people won’t do it (and this is why air travel works so well!)
Public transport costs are shockingly high — if the service was excellent, say Orient Express style or something in the style of Agatha Christie without the murders I wouldn’t mind, but what really am I and others paying for (apart from the privilege of getting somewhere without driving/walking/cycling and for a lot of expensive hassle?)
Abolish First Class on all trains — it’s a waste of space and barely any different to regular seating apart from the price — have some business class seats if you must (and allow all space to be overflowed into on busy trains)
More seats! (on platforms and in trains) and sockets everywhere!
Quicker pedestrian crossings with better timings to cross all of a road or large junction — Southampton lights used to favour pedestrians, now the car is king — I can waste 2–3 minutes just trying to get across a junction to get to the train station from standing at a pedestrian crossing
Paths which are lit well and not overhung and decent paving (not dented tarmac which has been dug up, refilled, cracked)
Get rid of the 6 seater carriages — they just don’t work if you have luggage or are a solo traveller
Paths which are for walkers only (not mixing pedestrians up with bikes and scooters or forcing walkers against the traffic)
Pathways which are away from traffic and safe, with plenty of passing space — I’ve often found guys in a chivalrous way try to push me into the hedge or fence or some other narrow space by using the inside part of the path. I tend to walk in the road because this doesn’t feel safe (nor does being in the road!)
Really clear seating policy — a lot of people just don’t get the seats at the front of buses which are for those who need them or the spaces for buggies, wheelchairs etc.