The power of the uniform

Travel to FOSDEM ran smoothly, with just the one glitch.  But it bothers me, because it shouldn’t have happened.  And if it can happen once, …

The Eurostar arrived back at St Pancras a couple of minutes late, but nothing serious.  If I could get to Paddington in 25 minutes, I could get the 13:06 train; if not I’d have to wait another hour in London.  Not a prospect I was keen on, especially since the sleet was falling (there had been snow crossing Kent).  So I headed straight for the tube.

… where I was refused entry.  My ticket was one issued by Eurostar, from the Eurostar terminal through to Plymouth.  It was in a large size, so I couldn’t just use the automatic entry.  And the dumb woman on the manual entry refused to recognise it!

A moment later, another passenger appears (presumably from the same Eurostar train as me) with a similar ticket.  When she too is refused, she explains that she makes this journey regularly and it’s never a problem (well, why should it be?)  Eventually she convinces the idiot to let her through.  Since my ticket was the same, I assumed she’d now let me through too, but no, “I already told you, you have to go to …” well, I’m not quite sure where, but I think it must’ve been someone’s ticket office.  So that’ll be queue up to be told I have my ticket and I should just go ahead and … be turned back again by the idiot in uniform.

Still trying to convince her, I pointed very clearly to where my ticket said “From  LNDON ESTAR CIV”, and the little cross that denotes that a ticket includes a tube connection.  “So where the hell is LNDON ESTAR CIV if it’s not here?

At this point, I see another London Transport uniform: a little man has appeared alongside the moron.  So I tried showing my ticket to him.  He starts off with “That language you used to my colleague is not acceptable“, to which I agree but point out extreme provocation.  He goes on to say that is assault on a member of staff – I guess that’s his training showing through.  But to his credit, he takes my point, and finally lets me through.

I arrive at Paddington at 13:08 for a 13:06 train.

All of which leads me to wonder, what’s the point of having any ticket at all, if a person in uniform can just arbitrarily refuse it?

And next time I hear some horrifying figure for the number of assaults on London Underground staff, I shall know better than to take it seriously.  I wonder how widely that particular nonsense extends?  Perhaps it’s the norm amongst public-facing organisations, at least in the public sector?

Posted on February 10, 2010, in transport, travel, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. ARG! I’m frustrated for you.


  2. There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. The number of assaults is bound not to take into account the number of times petty jobsworth staff block people from getting to their trains in time.

    Similarly, that drop in unemployment in Q4 2009? Well, did you know that if you go away for a week (say, to go back to family over Christmas), you are marked as “no longer looking for work”, and taken off the unemployment list? This happened to my partner.

    Never believe the statistics, especially when the public sector are reciting them.

  3. Travel officials are officious litigious pricks. This is a major reason why I never use public transport. (The other being there is none up here.)

  4. It was an experience like that that persuaded me never to buy a through ticket for use on the tube, unless it came in the credit-card-sized format that fits in the automated machines.

    The machines cock up maybe one time in ten thousand. The uniformed staff – I dread to think, I’d be surprised if it’s less than one time in a hundred.

    But that experience was in the mid 1990s. Nothing new here.

  5. The usual approach when I worked in London, was to just climb over the barriers if your ticket didn’t let you through (Of course I was younger and more agile then).

    Most are about as motivated to stop people who have crossed the barrier as they are to know how to do their jobs properly.

  6. Tim – most of them are perfectly reasonable in my experience. But the “normal” ones don’t make a story to blog about.

    vet – I had no idea they were sending the big tickets until the d*** things arrived 😦

    Simon – the thought crossed my mind. So did what happened to Mr Menezes. I have (as you know) a beard, and was carrying a backpack, which might make me an obvious suicide bomber to a certain kind of idiot. The other concern was longer delays if the normal police got involved.

  7. All those posters they have up – showing a nice thick coat ‘its not designed to cover a thick skin’

    Perhaps not – but it does a jolly good job of covering up a thick c*nt

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