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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Better or worse

A few days ago, as the London Overground was delayed yet again, I looked up at one of those ‘9x% of our trains ran on time in the last 3 months’ posters, and thought to myself: “there’s no way the overground has improved during the time that I’ve been in the UK. Or anything else in this country for that matter”. But it’s easy to complain about things being crap without actually checking them. So I did some research to find out if the things in this country that relate directly to my life have gotten better or worse during the last five years. It’ll also be a good summary post to compare with five years from now, when the effects of the brexit will have come into full force.

Public transport

To get to work I take the London Overground from Watford Junction to Euston. TFL has nice little yearly reports on the performance of the Overground [1], which they define as (iirc) ‘percentage of trains that ran within 5 minutes of their scheduled time’. According to their yearly reports, the Overground as a whole, which includes a lot more lines than the one I take, had a performance of 94.8% in 2011, and 95.2% in 2015. The only data I could find pertaining specifically to my line date back to 2013, when the Watford-Euston line’s performance was 96.64%. Last month it was 96.96%.

Things are not getting worse, apparently. The cost of taking public transport is increasing, but that’s roughly in line with inflation. What (seriously) worries me is that TFL is constantly claiming that they’re pouring all their profits right back into improving the network, yet they can barely manage even a 1% improvement over 5 years, and there’s still signal failures and train issues almost every day. Worrisome.

Lastly, TFL reporting absolutely sucks. It’s happened to me many times that a train was delayed 5 or more minutes, yet the online status report showed that there were no delays. I’m not sure if this is only happening for the Overground, but the tube lines do seem to get faster updates when something goes wrong there. It’s easy to tell because the Bakerloo line shares its tracks with the Watford-Euston overground, and the status on the website updates much quicker for the Bakerloo than for the Overground when something goes wrong. I don’t think this has improved much over the years, but don’t have enough data to prove it.

Tech salaries

Another area that obviously interests me is what kind of salary I can earn working in IT in London. I found it quite hard to get data on this as well. There’s plenty of numbers floating around, but difficult to compare them because there’s so many different job titles and qualifications out there. Speaking from anecdotal evidence, the numbers I found for average/higher-end Java developers in 2016 are higher than the Java job that I held for a while in 2010, but not significantly higher.

Lacking any other solid basis for comparison, the closest I could find to useful numbers was the average and median salary of someone working at Google. In 2011 the median salary of a Googler was £86.800, and in 2016 the average Googler salary is £160.000. I can’t really use that to decide whether things got better or worse, since median is very different from average, but it’s still interesting data points nonetheless.

House prices

It’s amazing how quickly your opinion on house/apartment prices sways once you’ve bought something yourself. In the year that we were looking for a house or apartment the prices increased insanely quickly. When we started looking we were (barely) able to afford a small house in zone 7, but by the time we found an apartment all houses and bungalows were out of our price range.

Rightmove has some good data to confirm this [2]. In 2011 the average price of a house sold in my area was between £260k and £320k. In 2016 it’s between £390k and £430k. If I was still looking I’d feel pretty crap about this, but I guess we managed to move onto the quickly departing train just before it got away. Let’s see how the brexit affects this, though..

I compared central London prices as well, just for shits and giggles, even though I’ll never be able to afford anything there [3]. In 2011 house prices were around £850k near where I work. In 2016 they’re around £1M. That shit cray.

Crime rates

Ever since we signed for the neighborhood watch mailing list we’re getting the occasional email about break-ins, theft, vandalism and so on. Since we’ve only lived here for less than a year we don’t know how things were like 5 years ago in this area, but there’s plenty of data available to compare. Additionally, we chose our area not in the least based on the low (relative) crime rate, which I’ll get into later.

In 2011 my area had on average around 200 crimes reported per month [4]. in 2016 that’s 130. That’s a pretty decent improvement. I compared my work area in Central London as well, which went down from 230 reports per month to 180 reports. Note that areas are not the same size and not the same number of inhabitants, so you can’t cross-compare. I had always assumed that Ealing, the area I previously lived in, would have much higher crime rates, because it always seemed a lot more dodgier to me than where I live now. But I looked it up and it went down from ~150 reports in 2011 to ~130 reports in 2016. It improved less than my current area, but that’s about all I can say about that.

Road incidents and accidents

Getting out of Greater London by car is a huge pain, even when you’re in zone 7. I see a *lot* of bad drivers on the road, and it pisses me off every time. Apparently, and I still can’t quite believe this, the UK is safer than the Netherlands when it comes to traffic related deaths [5]. The statistics prove me wrong, but based on what I’ve seen people in the Netherlands drive way, way safer than anyone in Greater London. But them’s the stats, so there you go. I’d rant here about the terrible quality of the road infrastructure in the UK which I think hasn’t improved either, but I’ve no hard numbers on them, so I’ll leave it at that.

In my local area there were around 110 serious or fatal incidents reported in 2011 [6]. This number went up to ~120 in 2015. A mild increase, but hardly statistically significant. If you take a larger area of north-west Greater London, there were ~1400 incidents in 2011, which went down to about 1200 in 2015. I’m not sure if that increase is on par with the increase in car ownership [7].

Deprivation

One of the best sources of information when selecting a place to live is the deprivation index, which combines a bunch of useful indexes like income, crime rate, employment etc., and gives each area a relative ranking compared to all the other areas in England. The area I live in ranked better (lower depravity) than ~91% of all other areas in 2010 [8], but that went significantly down to ~83% in 2015 [9].

Even when checking the absolute numbers, both overall and for each important subdomain (income, crime, health, employment), my area got worse in every metric over the past five years. I really did not expect that. Given that the relative ranking dropped even further, apparently my area got worse at a a faster rate than the rest of the country. People in my area are now poorer, unhealthier, less employed and more criminal than five years ago.

This appears to contradict my crime rates findings, which suggests that the number of crimes reported decreased over the years. The only way I can explain this result is that the area of the deprivation index is quite small compared to the crime reporting area. It’s quite possible that my immediate local area has gotten slightly worse, and my greater local area has still improved. In fact, looking at my county’s score, it did improve slightly over the past five years. But not significantly.

Conclusion

I was quite wrong about the public transport I use getting worse over the years, but it didn’t get much better either, which is definitely not a good sign. The deprivation index roughly confirmed what I suspected, although I didn’t think my (tiny, immediate, local) area was that much better five years ago. The thing that surprised me the most was how much the crime rate dropped over the past five years. There’s very clear progress there, and I’m very happy with that.

For future research it would be interesting to compare this with neighborhoods in other countries. I wonder if other countries I’ve lived in have experienced similar trends in crime, transport and deprivation. My suspicion is that the UK is a bit slow to change, but that’s something to find out.

Sources

[1]: https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/
[2]: http://www.rightmove.co.uk/house-prices-in-my-area.html
[3]: http://landregistry.data.gov.uk/app/ukhpi/explore
[4]: https://www.police.uk/
[5]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate
[6]: http://www.crashmap.co.uk/Search
[7]: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-35312562
[8]: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/english-indices-of-deprivation-2010
[9]: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/english-indices-of-deprivation-2015

Cool depravity map bonus: http://dclgapps.communities.gov.uk/imd/idmap.html

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A wintery weekend

It did not stop snowing, and my cold did not disappear. Thursday I thought it was ok to head in to the office, but I was sorely mistaken. Friday I stayed at home and felt quite sick still. Thankfully I recovered a lot over the weekend, something which can’t be said about the weather. It just keeps snowing and snowing and snowing.

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The cat does not care.

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The weekend wouldn’t be a proper Bri’ish weekend without the customary Sainsbury shopping experience. It was surprisingly not so busy this week, probably because of all the snow.

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Going home on Sunday I was hoping to find an empty train and a quiet walk home, but the train was full of people and there were annoying loud chav people everywhere on the walk home. It’s no surprise that South Oxhey can be found on the ChavTowns website. I highly recommend reading all 300 comments on that article, they’re quite hilarious, yet sad at the same time.

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This is what my front door looked like after 2 days away.

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All in all, a quite successful and memorable weekend.

 

(Random blog fact: out of all 2698 comments on this blog, 1164 are spam. This is sad.)

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My bicycle got stolen

How annoying. As I was cycling on the exercise bike indoors, I had yet to realize that someone has taken away my bicycle some time between last night and this afternoon. If you see this bicycle anywhere in London please let me know at mrhazard [at] gmail (.com). There’s only two of them in London and I know for a fact that the other one is owned by my friend. Here’s the most recent pic I could find.

 

 

 

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Hunting for apartments

I’m on the prowl for apartments. It’s disappointing what crap you get for a large amount of money. If you think 1000GBP ($1600) is a lot of money for an studio or single bed apartment you’d be wrong. I’ve flipped through hundreds of ads of that price range, and most of it is disappointingly shit. Sometimes you can find an apartment for 300 pounds cheaper which either has already been taken or is a scam by some Nigerian rat. To get something consistently good, even as far out as zone 4-5, you have to pay at least 1500 pounds. And that’s a low estimate.

Things do get a bit easier if you let agencies help you, but then you have to deal with agencies. Like the age-old regex quote: you have a problem, you decide to solve it with a regular expression, now you have two problems. Agencies are like that.

I will keep trying. I am committed to at least 6 months of London. Let’s make it happen.

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A day in the life of London

We went out to London last Saturday for what turned out to be a wonderfully random day out. It reminded me a bit of some of the outings I had in Tokyo. London did its best to show itself a proper city, with all kinds of things happening everywhere. Here’s a little photo report of a random Saturday in London.

We started our afternoon off with some crêpe-y goodness.

This was followed by a walk in the park where The People of London were leisurely relaxing on the grass.

There were some deck chairs in the park, but apparently sitting on a chair is something you have to pay for in this city. Sitting tax, indeed.

Passing by a map of the park I noticed these interesting IP addresses.

We sat down in the park and took a break. In a timespan of about 30 minutes the area next to us started to fill up with people. Lots of people. They suddenly started cheering and a cloud of smoke rose above them. At first we thought that they set the deck chairs on fire, but as it turns out it was the scene of the monthly protest to legalize pot. Apparently we just happened to choose a spot in the park right next to the biggest pot party in London.

A short wander away from the park brought us past these mysterious creatures:

After that we headed for the south bank and visited a good photography exhibition showing some of the best photos of 2010. I definitely appreciate photography more than abstract art.

Annoying Photomatix put a logo in my photo. This is the last time I used Photomatix.

We happened across a ‘real food’ festival on the way back to Waterloo station, which offered various kinds of foods, although mostly burgers, sausages and cheese.

Here’s Waterloo station in the sunset:

A day out in London wouldn’t be a proper day out if it didn’t end with a tube ride home.

Arriving back at my place I found that the sky turned into a nice pink color.

… and that was London!

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London

I’ve chosen once more to reside in London for the time being. On Thursday I moved into my new accommodation, and I’m only slowly getting used to it. Walking around the area, I am reminded of my time here last winter. Kebab shops everywhere. Polish off-license stores. What does off-license mean anyway? The buildings are shoddy. Everything looks grimy. Even on a sunny day I can’t help but think of rain. It’s just the kind of image that the city gives off.

One of London’s most interesting points is its people. One of London’s least interesting points is its people. I don’t know what to say about the people, really. While most of London is fairly… predictable, you can always count on the people of London to create a few surprises for you. They make life here interesting. Yet at the same time I can’t help but feel disdain for the ‘common lower-class Londoner’, even though I technically am one myself right now, albeit with a slightly funny accent. I like the people, yet I dislike them at the same time.

It’s so easy to compare London to Holland. They’re right next to each other. I find it boring. Mundane. Does the mundane-ness in Europe increase as you go further north? The south seems more random, more spontaneous. But also more messy, more chaotic. The best part about going south is that the southern places are built around the sun, whereas northern places are  built around the rain. London is built to keep warm in winter, and to keep the water out when it rains. It doesn’t really handle summer well. It’s a dreary place.

But London’s dreariness is its strength. It’s exactly the thing that I must focus on in order to enjoy it. British humour must be terrible indeed for one who does not appreciate cynicism. Thus London must be terrible indeed for one who does not appreciate rain. It’s a purely subjective experience, of course. My view on London is greatly shaped by my previous experiences in life, most notably the five years that I lived in Japan, the rest of my life living in Holland, and most importantly, how those two lifestyles contrast with each other. It greatly reflects upon how I think about London. I’d like to think that it also makes me appreciate London more, or at least in a different way.

I intend to immerse myself in London over the next couple of months, but unlike before I have no intention of becoming a Londoner. I have no desire to become more ‘integrated’ or to improve my British accent or anything like that. All I want to do is observe the place, absorb it, then move on to sunnier pastures. Preferably to some tropical island. Like that English accountant I met on the Seychelles who never wanted to go back to England. Or San Francisco. I wonder how I’d feel if I lived in San Francisco.

To those of you who lived somewhere else before moving to London, how do you feel about London? How would you describe it? And why do you stay? Or why did you leave?

Side note: for an engineer I appear to make my major life decisions based on my gut feeling rather than on logic. But I’m ok with that.

Side note 2: after writing this bpost I realised that this is a crap description of London. I wanted to share it anyway.

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Snow in London

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