Recently I’ve been back onto the trains and buses to travel around a lot more. I do it as often as I can, not just because of the green aspects, but because I quite like it; I get to look around and to think in a way that I can’t afford to do when I am driving, but looking around and thinking can lead to seeing and realising. For someone who has a long record of customer service seeing and realising can mean trouble.
The first thing that strikes me as I head to my local station to catch the train is the £1m+ scheme to “improve” the station forecourt. This was apparently done because those responsible felt that the old one did not portray a good image for the town and there was allegedly an issue that first timers leaving the station could not find the town centre; quite what part of walk straight on and you can’t miss it was causing a problem I’m not sure, but a couple of signs would have cost a lot less than several months of disruption and over a million quid.
What upsets me most about this scheme is the appalling waste of space, for we now have a vast area of nothing that folks wanting to get between the station entrance and a bus or taxi have to cross. Surely in the interest of portraying a decent image we could have allowed them some sort of cover, but no, they are now far further away from the shelter of the canopy than they were before this idiotic vanity project was commissioned.
And then there is the question of the station car park, where the main access to street level is down a set of stairs that deposit you at the side of the main road 100 metres away from the station and which have been unaltered certainly in the 30 years that I have lived in the town. To have included an improved access in the new scheme would have been simple, but once again, no.
The station is predominantly used by people who live in the town and work elsewhere or vice versa, so the question of the occasional first time visitor is nonsense, but were the needs of the regulars taken into account? No they weren’t.
So on to Paddington, where the concourse is somewhat tidier that it used to be, but once again there have been new works completed that have not improved life for the people who use the station. The cab rank is now a hideous walk from the ticket barriers, and this is somewhere that used to have the cabs run right through the middle of the place. Now your cab is a cab ride away, and the access to the Hammersmith & City line has been moved to the far end of the new cab rank and about twice as long a walk as it was before. Improving things for travellers? Hardly: You’re stuck with the extra walk to the Hammersmith & City platform, but why cab drivers are offering to drop you off by the front entrance to the station to save you the time and expense of going around to the new rank?
That is a lot of ranting on my part, but I’ve managed a lot of projects over the years and all of them were intended to make things easier for those who used the results, not to make life harder. The way that we worked was always to be talking to users and trying to understand their needs. Regardless of why the project was commissioned or scoped, we always asked what else we could improve.
Sure there will be times when something new inconveniences a minority of folks, but the aim should always to be to bring a benefit to as many as possible. To my mind neither of the above has achieved that aim.