Daily Archives: 3 November, 2009

Britain’s first £1,000 rail fare

worst public transport in Western Europe?

worst public transport in Western Europe?

Apparently Britain now has its first £1,000 rail fare. This is now the cost of travelling from Newquay in Cornwall to somewhere in Northern Scotland.

Its a traversty that our rail transport system has got to the point where ANY journey can cost anywhere near that much. But then our public transport in this country, when compared to countries such as Germany and Holland, is a traversty all over. Not only is it expensive, it is also unreliable and slow. As the country which gave steam engines to the world, and did probably more than any country to introduce trains and steam technology to the four corners of the globe, its very sad the state our trains are in. Its been happening since the end of the war, when Dr. Beeching closed most of the branch lines. Lines which would be ideal nowadays for commuters in certain areas, or could have been run as heritage steam railways lines.

I think anyone would have a hard time arguing that privatisation was a good thing. It was the equivalent of selling the family silver with no regard for how it was going to be looked after. Any naive ideas that making the railways into a business would mean extra investment were just pie in the sky. The priority of any business is to make money for the shareholders, and that is what has happened. All the time they put up fares and under-invest. People will never ever leave their cars all the time getting on a train is just so unfeasible.

Germany’s rail system is a great comparison. You can travel from Munich to Hamburg in something ridiculous like 4 hours. Their trains travel at ridiculous speeds, are excellent value for money, and are very often on time to the nearest minute. The service you get from Deutsche Bahn is incredible. And in Holland, you can travel from Schipol airport to Oosterbeek near Arnhem for something like £8. The equivalent journey in England, Portchester to Gatwick, costs over £20. And its slower, less comfortable and less reliable. I definitely feel that the reason behind these differences are cultural, not economic.

Something as vitally important as rail transport should never be in the hands of people who can squeeze it for all its worth with no regard for providing a service. Plenty of countries have state control of public transport and make it work. Solving problems in tranport are not even about throwing money at them, but about a change in ethos, banging peoples heads together. There are too many franchises split up around the country, when having save five or six would be much easier. The same companies own all the franchises anyway, just under different names. And they are always far too quick to put up prices – £50 for a return from Portsmouth to London is just not on. You cannot run a service as a business, you can incorporate sound business practice, but you should not foregoe the crucial customer service aspect for the sake of money. The same thing has happened with the commercialisation of University Education.

I mean, we must be the only country in the world who think a cycle lane is a piece of tarmac painted red. In Portsmouth they randomly stop and start all over the place. What are you supposed to do when it stops, get off and walk with it? In Europe, cycle lanes are separate parts of the road, kerbed off with a small reservation in between, and only cyclists can use them. Thats why people dont cycle in this country, because its so unsafe.

Maybe its a cultural thing, but we just dont really do public transport like we should and could. Its a shame because there are long traditions of British railways and bus services, that seem a thing of the past. People like Brunel and Stephenson would be very disappointed I fear.

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new vision for Universities?

Lord Mandelson has laid out his vision for the future of English universities, stressing the “customer experience” of students and ties with business.

Speaking on Radio 4, he said that students should be provided with more information and also promised a review of University funding. Lord Mandelson said social mobility must be promoted more and universities were not “factories for workers”. But he said universities also could not be islands or ivory towers and had a crucial role in the country’s economic prosperity.

From a personal perspective, I feel that Higher Education is something that makes or breaks a country. Get it right and you have a flow of well qualified young people into industry. Get it wrong, and you have a glut of young people with poor degrees in irrelevant subjects.

Maybe I weas naive, but when I started my degree, I thought that universities were about students. After three years, I changed my mind considerably. They are about lecturers and researchers. International students are quite well looked after, as they provide quite a bit of income. Students are almost treated as annoying distractions from research, even though they pay the wages. There are too many Ivory towers in Academia. While Universities have become a business, they have not adopted any kind of customer focus.

You really do not get your money worth from University. The contact time with lecturers is minimal, the quality of teaching is just not there, and the only evidence of investment is in big swanky new buildings. The emphasis is all wrong. It feels like one big sausage factory, complete with a Vice-Chancellor turning the handle. For some reason the Government seem obsessed with the amount of people leaving University. Quantity over quality. People feel pressured into going to Uni, or go because they dont know what else to do. Does the country really need thousands of media graduates, when we are short of plumbers and electricians?

It is all too easy as well to drift through University and come out with a below par grade. Too many people go to Uni to ‘grow up’, which is very well but you’re there to learn, first and foremost. If you can’t do that then you shouldn’t be there. Also, I have seen far too many well-off people breezing through Uni, when there are probably countless poorer people who would love the opportunity to further themselves.

My solution would be to limit the amount of places at University, provide a fairer level playing field and allow people to progress based on their talent, enthusiasm and potential, not their wealth. Universities also need to be taken to task, too often they are a law unto themselves with regard to policy and spending.

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