Tag Archives: public transport

Morning is broken

The little man with the tiny backpack runs up the steps of Embankment tube, wriggling like a wee ginger salmon with a tazer up the shitter. He looks very much like Alan McGee. I’m so certain he’s Scottish I’ll eat a haggis if he’s not despite assurances haggis is filled with colon juice, battery acid, insects and whatever else radge bastards assault themselves with.

I’ve missed him in the past two weeks, my bespectacled chum. But we’re together again Alan, me old fucker. The ‘festive season’ is done. We’re back in the commute.

Continue reading Morning is broken

But it’s cheap

There’s pleasure to be had in the very act of argument, provided it’s about something meaningful and not “I can’t believe you didn’t reply to my text, it’s like you don’t even love me”. Sometimes you can lay out the most coherent arguments in a debate, trumping every opposing idea with the calm dexterity of Lincoln or Aristotle, knowing no sane person could resist your electrifying reasoning and that they will undoubtedly embrace your philosophy with immediate effect. You lean back contentedly, basking in triumph.

And your opponent slowly lifts their gaze from their smartphone and says: “Hmmmm? Oh, sorry. Just sorting myself out an Uber.”

I’m not imbecilic enough to think I can prevent a single person I know from adopting this logic as their own: traditional taxis are expensive; public transport is the preserve of lunatics and the damned; cheap taxis would be brilliant; Uber offer cheap taxis; there are considerable downsides to Uber; they’re cheap, so fuck it.

Why would anyone pay more for something than the minimum they’re allowed to? It’s a question that goes to the heart of who we are as ‘consumers’. Do you see the inherent value in something and believe you should pay what an item or service is worth? You’re probably at least vaguely socialist, even if they word conjures up images of bearded men printing pamphlets nobody will read. Or do you think the value of an item or service is not somehow built within it but decided by ‘the market’? You’re probably a scumbag, and you know it but don’t care.

Uber’s offering is straightforward: use a phone app to find a car registered with their service in your vicinity, and that car will take you where you want to go, for cheaper than a cab you’d hail on the street. You’ll need to know where you’re going, because chances are the Uber driver won’t given he only started doing this last week. How much the ride will cost you involves some mysterious combination of speed, distance, availability of cars in the area, whether it’s raining or Pancake Day and how successful the CEO was at the roulette table the previous night.

Your driver will have been through rigourous background checks, to make sure he hasn’t complained to any previous employers about working conditions or attempted to join a union. He could be a champion rapist of course, the criminal background checks are cursory at best, but what’s a cab ride without an edge to it? Boring, and who needs that at the end of a great night out with the girls?

And it’s cheap.

A black cab, however, is a relic. The driver will try and talk football to you all the way, he’ll go all round the houses to charge you more and you can’t even get one with your phone when you need one. Only of course there’s an app for that now too, most drivers have no interest in talking to you as you dribble and fart drunkenly on their back seat and, given they actually know the streets of the city thanks to the furiously hard tests they have to pass, they could actually be getting you where you need to be quicker than if you had to Google Map it for some dickhead whose geographic knowledge is inextricably linked to the satnav he can’t stop talking at him in Mandarin.

Black cab drivers are self-employed and pay taxes like any other small business, and not many of them make such fabulous wealth from their job that it’s clear they could easily live off lower fares. Uber also pay taxes, “in full, in all jurisdictions they are due” as they no doubt put it when accused of being dodgy bastards. And as any good capitalist knows, register yourself in Luxembourg or Equatorial Guinea or somewhere and watch as your UK tax bill legitimately shrinks to nought while George Osborne chuckles paternally at your mastery of international fiscal affairs.

But it’s cheap.

Think about the last time you did whatever job it is you do. Think about the effort you put into each task, from replying to emails to knocking up slidefuls of presentations, taking part in crucial meetings and generally making a good employee of yourself, and money for someone else.

Now, just for a moment, be honest with yourself. Do you think someone could have done all those things as well as you? Doesn’t matter who, just anyone given the training you’ve had. We all know we’re replaceable, that’s how they terrify us into behaving ourselves, so there must be people out there who could do your job as well as you. What if they offered to do it for less money than your company pays you? Would you say it was fair for your employer to replace you with the cheaper model?

What if they weren’t quite as good as you, but capable enough to get most of the job done to a satisfactory standard? Still fair enough? Because if at any point you’ve felt that little spinal shiver suggesting you’re one management shrug away from destitution, it might be worth thinking twice before firing up that app in an effort to save yourself £6 for a journey from Hammersmith to Harrow that might leave you with a sore arse.

Or maybe we just leave everything to ‘the market’. Sorry cabbies, it’s just the way the game works – if you can’t take the pressure of your job, ferrying ungrateful bastards around a city that seems to hate you, Iain Duncan Smith is peddling job advice at food banks now. You can use your comprehensive knowledge of the streets to find the busiest and most lucrative spot for your wife to attract businessmen to suck off to pay the kids’ school dinner fees. And though you’ve put your entire adult life into being a cab driver and dealing with all the shit people throw at you, ‘the market’ has decided punters deserve a simpler, more convenient service, so thanks for everything and the current is generally fiercest around Rotherhithe this time of year.

Sometimes a service is worth defending, not for tradition’s sake but because the alternative underlines how frighteningly disposable every one of us is. Black cabs will die, an honest occupation will go with it, Uber will put their prices up and the moment driverless cars become a reality they’ll be all over it like Cameron on swine. And when your boss calls you into his office and tells you you’re being replaced by Sergei, who can’t speak a bean of English but by Christ can he Powerpoint, spare us the whimpers that your skill and experience make you worth that extra couple of quid because you brought this on yourself.

Still, it’s cheap, right?

Blood-lipsticked snarls and animal skin

South of the river: the area simultaneously patronised and fetishised by those North London dwellers who, from the well-educated podium of up their own arse, view areas such as that far flung world of Lewisham (zone three and less than ten minutes from London Bridge, if anyone cares) as akin to a land where the women are clad in blood-lipsticked snarls and animal skin, while the men strut and stab in equal measure (sometimes at the same time).

Firstly, you’re thinking of Essex with that description. Secondly, perhaps you’d be able to actually visit the damn area and realize that it’s really not all that bad (and actually, knocks the socks off the North in many ways – culture, community, art) if it weren’t for the fact that the revamp of London’s transport is fucking us over in a way that hasn’t happened since the damn council stole Deptford’s anchor.

“Come to Lewisham!” the property market says, “come to Deptford! to New Cross! You’re minutes from London Bridge and you don’t even have to step foot in the area you live in!” This is no exaggeration. All across the South East, new complexes of self-contained hellholes are being set up – you want a swim? Nip down to the intensely chlorinated, fluorescent pit in the basement! You want a drink? There’s a bar on site! Never mind Ravensbourne River, complete with ducks and swamped in wildlife – never mind Deptford Creek, with the polyamorous trio of swans that come out in summer! Never mind the countless dive bars, family pubs, art-student drinking holes – never mind all of that! You’re right next to the station, and all you could ever need to maintain the position of your head firmly up your brutally waxed anus is right here in this hideously reflective complex we’ve put up as an eyesore and insult to the poverty stricken area you’ve demolished further by hoicking up property values and driving out the people who made the area an artistic, creative hub in the first place!

Aren’t you proud? Aren’t you happy? Can you SENSE MY TONE?

Some of these smog-kissing buildings stretching with disconcertingly lithe reach (yoga classes at 6pm on Mondays in the gym located handily in the basement, naturally) far over the heads and wallets of the original citizens of these poverty rife areas – the flats contained therein aren’t actually all that expensive, if you’re on the dole. There are some with sections that are still technically owned by the council, and these bourgeois-despised abodes lurk within the same four walls as those occupied by the City worker, posh-nob rabble – the difference being use of the facilities in the building, and a different entrance/exit for the respective classes within the complex itself.

Heaven forbid the two different species should cross paths! Wouldn’t it just ruin the atmosphere of their hip sanctuary; so carefully designed to blot out the raw, environmental material of the area so greedily raped for the privilege of delivering, say, the party-piece of that whispered story about the ‘stabbing that happened just down the road last week’. Ho ho! Fill up the champers, will you? Let’s put it on the expense claims. You there! Pay for our bubbly alcoholism while we verbally bitch-slap you with our privilege!

A side-effect of this atrocious new approach to gentrifying (ahem, I think they mean ‘pimping out’ without the permission of the metaphorical hookers) the area, is the focus on ‘improving’ travel in the South-East. This basically means that the Overground – a system that has worked well since installation and serves Croydon/Clapham/Crystal Palace to Islington – is down every weekend, because the only reason to keep it running smoothly is to enable commuters to get in and out of work with no hassle or potential overload of South-East air exposure. Never mind the fact it’s the only system that many South-East London dwellers really have to reliably get in and out of Central London or the outskirts.

The most recent set of reconstructions on London Bridge, the other common ‘reliable’ link to and from the South East, come in union with the upheaval of the Overground, and once again take place pretty much purely at weekends. Take the tube, you say? The ground of the South East is chalk. Chalk which would be better suited to scrawling dicks on the walls of the bastard stations that are more often than not out of action. Chalk that you would be well advised to smear over your hands to cling like a deranged Spider Man to the walls of the Underground tunnels, as that would probably get you there quicker than waiting for the fucking Bakerloo at rush hour. But that’s irrelevant. Because down here, there are no tubes. It’s Overground, train, or a painstaking haul up Old Kent Road that has you tearing your hair out before you’re halfway up it on a weekend. All we have is the Overground. You bastards have no idea.

Now. Let’s wrap this up. I call to you, my fellow South-East London citizens:

Let’s swarm the tracks at rush hour!

Let’s adorn the faceless, snooty blocks of commuters with street art!

Let’s drop the stolen anchor on the walkway circumventing the high street, forcing them to take the two minutes extra to walk THROUGH the district they’re destroying!

Let’s get Crazy Eyes on Deptford High Street who gets in your face and spits that he “only wants thirty pence” every day, all day to follow THEM to their platform!

Let’s… oh, hell.

I forgot. We’re voiceless. We’re background noise. We’re being forced out, and if we were to string our wallets on thread and have a conker battle, they’d knock us into the ground. After all, isn’t that what matters? It isn’t you that counts. It’s what you can offer – and this migration of gentrification insidiously replacing the sweet smell of green smoke with the crisp stench of green notes: they have us pussy-whipped in a way that hasn’t been seen since… oh, yeah. The theft of the Deptford anchor. Have I mentioned that? Just have a fucking Google.

Heaven Below

There are roughly 9 million residents of the fair city of New York, and most of them are forced to regularly engage with the dark, piss-soaked abyss of the subway system. Unless you can walk to work (rare) take taxis everywhere (expensive) or are homeless (sucks), or you have a death wish and choose to cycle to work (which I did often, sometimes arriving at my office genuinely surprised at still being alive), you are hereby sentenced to share a very small, sealed space for an unpredictable amount of time, at least twice every day for the rest of your working life. You will share air, germs, unwelcome advances, viruses, silences, stares, frustration, judgement, proselytising, uncomfortable temperatures, standing space, uncomfortable seats, screeching noise, and a variety of smells (good and bad, often very bad) that you cannot escape, with every other cog like you.

During your sentenced subway rides, you will encounter (often intimately) people you otherwise would not have believed existed. In that human-as-spectacle sense, the experience will be fascinating. Documentarians, take note: the New York subway provides more of an in-depth look at the private lives of modern city dwellers than any film you could ever hope to produce. Where else could you expect to find such a diverse cross-section of people, and in such intimate detail? It is both unexpected and illuminating to witness the usually-private rituals of people who are so rushed for time that they are forced to carry out their morning hygiene practices on the train, shoulder-to-shoulder with their neighbours. To wit, during one oppressively hot summer morning commute I learned that the man sitting one seat over preferred to clip the toenails of his left foot first, and that the woman jamming her colossal behind into the too-small space between me and toenail man suffered from early morning flatulence. What’s more, had I not been crammed onto that seat I might never have noticed the “Heaven Below” tattoo that was peeking out from the expanse of her buttocks as she descended on me. Heaven itself, in all its blazon glory was amongst us on the morning subway!

Without this slow and uncomfortable underground journey, I might never have known the sheer scale of a truly enormous ass. I have born witness to asses so big they cover three subway seats with ease, spreading across the hard plastic like a non-Newtonian fluid. What’s more, without the subway I might have continued to assume that the only place I could throw garbage was into a garbage can. No longer must I endure the indignity of holding my own trash until I find a suitable receptacle to dispose it in. Now when the subway doors open at each stop I can throw my empty wrappers or the thoroughly-sucked bones from my bucket of fried chicken onto the platform before the doors close and the subway leaves, my dignity intact. If that isn’t American freedom, then I don’t know what is!

So thank you, New York City subway. I have learned many valuable lessons from my countless forays into your often foul and stinking belly. I know you are not just a vessel to transport me from A to B and back again in a slow grind to old age and dissatisfaction; you are my resting place when I am too drunk to stand, my toilet when I can’t hold it any longer, my conjugal bed when the time just gotta be right here, right now. Thank you for reminding me that I am not above the struggle; rather I am in the shit with all of your followers, and I’d better take something to shield the nail clippings and fried chicken bones flying at my face. Or get out and fucking walk.

A man without a car

Until very recently I hadn’t been on public transport in about 10 years, probably not since I was a student. As a student I had to use trains and buses (oh the injustice, having to mingle with the similarly unwashed) but at that time I had no real concept of the code of public transport.  Well, after 10 pints of snakebite (a drop of blackcurrant juice is one of your 5 a day when you’re a student) you usually don’t understand the code of being human let alone some code of public transportation.

Fast-forward ten years and after working in sales (yes, I’m a wanker) and enjoying company cars for the majority of that time, I find myself without a car. Me? A man without a car? Bollocks.  Starting over again in my career resulted in me having to face facts, one of which was that I was going to have to use public transport – properly this time.

And there is most definitely a code when using public transport. Few people follow it as rigidly as they should. The code goes like this.

One: you turn up at the bus stop or the train station, whatever takes your fancy. Look around and gauge who is there before you. This will come in handy.

Two: the vehicle arrives. It doesn’t matter if the fucking thing stops right by you, rolls out the red carpet and you get piped aboard by the Royal British Legion Marching Band – let those that were before you get on first. You should know who these people are if you’ve taken note of point one of the code. You do this because it’s common, human decency. Do not goose-step past these people in order to get on the train/bus/tube before them. This is neither decent nor humane; it only tells all of the passengers entering the vehicle that you are, in fact, a wanker.

Three: you are on board your chosen mode of public transport. If you are using a mode of transport which allows you to see the human who is paid to be there (the driver of the bus for example), say “thank you” as you get on. Why? Because it is called showing some fucking manners you rude, ignorant pile of goat dung. The driver doesn’t want to be there; no-one grows up wanting to be a bus driver. They probably had dreams of being a sailor or a landscape gardener and here they are, carting about the feral, ignorant and mentally retarded. The least you can do, as a relatively sane member of the public, if you are one, is to say thanks.

Four: find a seat. What this doesn’t entail is walking up and down, stopping by every spare seat, before continuing your hunt for what I can only assume is some of automated masturbating chair.  All seats are created equal, unless you’re on Ryanair, so just pick one.

Five: if you find yourself in an aisle seat and the person on the inside of you needs to leave before you reach your destination, stand up. Don’t just swing your legs out into the aisle and expect them to squeeze past, even if it’s fucking Twiggy next to you ,and frankly you’ve more chance of sitting next to Shergar than her on public transport.

Six: you reach your destination. Let’s be honest, you know when it is. It’s announced before you reach it, you see others get off before you so you know roughly whereabouts you are on your journey and you may well even recognise the surrounding area. What does all this mean? It means get ready to leave before you reach your destination. Don’t get to your stop and then suddenly have a book, headphones, hand cream, makeup or anything else to pack away – it holds everyone up and is fucking infuriating.

These rules aren’t overly hard to follow. If someone who hasn’t been on public transport in a decade knows them, then you should too.  Read it, learn it and practice it so we don’t end up throwing ourselves and each other in front of the poor bastards ferrying us about the country.