Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Get him!"- Training Tips for Rail Ticket Inspectors- What not to say !

I am coming to the depressing conclusion that rules (e.g. buying a ticket) on our railways are only for polite and non-threatening people.

The other morning I missed my usual direct train to London Cannon Street and needed to change trains at London Bridge.

London Bridge Station is never a very relaxing place and at 8 o' clock in the morning is bordering on madness with people running from Charing Cross bound trains to get on Cannon Street trains and people from Cannon Street trains running the other way. The management of London Bridge station sometime concluded that it was not possible to get these trains arriving on immediately opposite platforms, meaning everyone has to get up a crowded flight of stairs and then down an equally crowded flight of stairs to the waiting train two or three platforms away. Sometimes they like to keep people fit by advertising a train that has already left so that when you get down onto that platform you find no train and have to go to yet another platform- back up the same flight of stairs and back down a third. The effect can look like some strange version of musical chairs with large groups of commuters running up flights of stairs in formation.

Despite the fact that most South Eastern stations have ticket barriers meaning it is not possible to get onto the train unless you have a ticket (or jump the barrier), the other morning South Eastern ticket inspectors decided to introduce a random ticket inspection at the top of one of the previously mentioned flights of stairs.

If this wasn't awkward enough, they didn't stand logically at either side of the stairs but staggered at various points around the corridor that connects all the platforms. With at least half the passengers wearing Ipods or other headphones and everyone else in a hurry it wasn't clear that this was a ticket inspection point at all.

Most people were hurrying straight through. I myself had headphones (listening to the news as it happened) so carried on oblivious until I vaguely heard someone call "Get him". The next thing I knew was that a ticket inspector appeared beside me while all the other passengers carried on regardless.

I had my ticket so there was no issue but I was a little bemused why I was the only one stopped. I don't consider I look threatening and am wondering if that was the reason why I was singled out.

My brother tells me of a time he was on a South Eastern train when a three strong group of baseball cap wearing youths evaded the ticket collector by hiding in the train lavatory. The ticket collector knocked timidly only to conclude to other passengers "I think that one's a loosing battle."

The depressing moral of the story is you only need a ticket if the ticket collector isn't afraid of you.

As for my friends at London Bridge next time you want to check for tickets at some random spot at 8am:

1) Stand together at a clear point at which you expect all passengers to show their tickets and don't let anyone through.

2) While I understand that in the absence of appropriate equipment e.g. Tasers, it may not be desirable to press all passengers for a ticket, do not shout phrases such as "Get him" at law abiding non-threatening passengers. To do so is mildly offensive and likely to alienate normally allied passengers in the battle against the hooligan minority found on London trains !

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