Friday, 4 March 2011

Buses: Sophisticated Simplicity

I'll never complain about buses again.

They are in the main simple, demand one fare and things that you get on and get off as fast as you got on. They still accept cash. They don't try to give you loyalty bonus points or offers of a free flight to Bristol when you have spent X thousand pounds. They are honest.

Compare that with my experience of travelling by train or plane down to the South of England. The amount of time you spend piddling about in search of a semi-reasonable fare. The average Briton's infatuation with getting a bargain has meant that anyone who wants to travel anywhere with under a week or two's notice has to pay extreme penalties to subsidise these cheap tickets.

The whole thing is a charade. It is made worse by the ninnies who boast that they bought their plane ticket for 99p. Strictly true, but disingenuous when they neglect to add in the extras such as taxes and wheelchair charges which bring the total to around £65 plus.

Booking a train ticket is the same. You check online. The prices seem high. You check another company. They are higher. You go back. The price has changed. You try altering the times and for a minute the prices come down again. You try another. You go back again and finally you realise this extortionate price is what you have to pay. You leave the screen, go downstairs to get the credit card out of your jacket pocket. You get back, press the 'BUY' button. The screen goes blank. 'I'm sorry', it says, 'but you've been timed out. You have to start again. The price has gone up.

Two hours later you have the print-out saying that you have reserved a return ticket. Then you notice it is the wrong date. And it's non-changeable, non-refundable and non-everything else. You have lost £100 and have to begin all over again.

There was a film called Falling Down where Michael Dougla's character becomes so enraged with all the injustices that happen to him during the day that he finally cracks. It was how I felt when I got to the station car park. There is not one but two car parks now. One is the usual one which now charges £11 per day. The other is a private one which charges £7. My frugal Scottish side forced me to try it.

Never again.

By the end of my conversation with a computer voice in Yorkshire, I was a gibbering wreck. I wanted to throttle it. It kept asking questions, repeating things then giving completely different information to what we had discussed. The amount saved on the car park was repaid by the time and cost of the call.

Aren't you fed to the teeth with all this computer driven profiteering? If you complain, you are in the wrong. If you complain again, you are threatened with a visit from the police. This way of doing business is Victorian. Disraeli once said:

"Never complain and never explain."

This seems to be everywhere in British thinking these days. That's why I will never complain about buses again. It is a simple way to travel. You may be stuck in traffic for four hours, be unlucky enough to sit in a cramped space next to someone with a personal hygiene problem and have to suffer a grumpy bus driver who more than likely has a heavy cold.

I prefer Leonardo da Vinci to Benjamin Disraeli for quotes I thought as I settled down in my seat on the train: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," he allegedly said. Naturally, I thought. Then the announcer came over the carriage pa system...

..."The train will stop her for 45 minutes. Engineering works."

The reply, under my breath, though sophisticated in its simplicity, was unrepeatable.

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