London Overground’s biggest problem

Nearly every working day I take the London Overground to work. I am quite lucky: my working hours are flexible so I can avoid rush hour. The stations I get on and off are near the first stop and the very last stop on the line, so I am pretty much guaranteed a seat every time. The trains are airconditioned in summer and nicely heated in winter, which is a fantastic improvement on the Bakerloo line, whose trains may be the draftiest place in the UK. There’s just one thing that bothers me *a lot* about the overground, and it’s not even the delays. But I can’t talk about my gripe with the overground without talking about the delays.

There’s always been delays on the overground, ever since I came here 3-4 years ago. Sometimes there’s this sign in the carriage telling you that x% of the overground trains ran on time in the last quarter. I’ve occasionally snapped pictures of those signs because I never once got the impression that things were getting better. TFL is pretty good in providing statistics on their website about their service, and I’ve done the math once to check if it actually was getting worse. Turns out I was wrong on that one. But things aren’t getting much better either, and I can see those numbers just as easily go down again in the near future. There’s nothing that inspired confidence in me to believe that there’s an ever-decreasing amount of delays.

This leads me to the reason I hate the overground: the utter lack of accurate real-time reporting. The most common occurrence is a delay of under ten minutes. TFL’s strategy of dealing with this is by not dealing with this. Every TFL employee just stays absolutely silent and hopes nobody notices. They certainly won’t be updating the arrival times on the signs until well after it’s too late. This is not a hard problem! Unless the staff are utterly and disastrously incompetent they would be immediately aware of the delay. They’ve got a website that everyone in London uses to check the delays which they could update immediately, but TFL deliberately chooses to take no action whatsoever whenever this happens, I guess in the hopes that the problem will magically go away?

Small delays don’t always stay small delays, though. Sometimes a train needs to be taken out of service, or is delayed even further to even out gaps in the service, or any other reason really. That’s perfectly fine. Once something’s bad happened it of course make sense to return to normal service by whatever means necessary. But you need to report that to your customers, dammit! If I’m standing there at the bloody station for a train that’s already ten minutes delayed without receiving any information at all about the state of the service, of course I am going to be even more annoyed if I suddenly hear that the next train is cancelled and I have to wait the better part of an hour for my next service. Whereas if TFL had reported immediately on the initial delay I would have stayed home just a little longer, checked the situation from their website and would have been much better off in the end. I wouldn’t even have thought worse on TFL in that case, but if they make me walk to the station and make me wait in the winter cold when they could have told me already that there were delays, that’s what really pisses me off. The problem is not the delays, it’s TFL’s lack of reporting on it which causes annoyance.

I realize that this is not a world-ending issue. No one will die from this problem, nor does it seriously affect the days of anyone involved. I can work from home, others may take taxis or busses, and in the end everything ends up just fine. But what really bothers me about this is that it’s completely preventable. There is absolutely zero need for me or any other passengers to get annoyed at TFL for the delays if they just improved their reporting. There’s staff at every station on my overground line, which is great, but they’re all doing fuck-all whenever there’s a delay when in fact they could be reporting the delay immediately so the TFL site can update. Not reporting on a delay until X minutes have passed is a terrible idea because it’s not at all uncommon for smaller delays to snowball and become something worse.

Rant over. I am working from home today.

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