“LET’S get people off the roads and onto public transport” – that was the message over the last decade.
So what is it like travelling on public transport, especially trains?
I suffer from epilepsy and have no choice but to use public transport.
Unlike other business leaders, I know what it’s like to travel on public transport.
Many business leaders who talk about public transport arrive at work in a fancy car – the only time they get on a train is when they go to London.
The journey starts before you get on a train, it starts at the station. The electronic ticket machines are complicated to use with poor navigation.
It’s as if they hired someone and gave them a brief to make it as difficult as possible to buy a ticket.
If you resort to going to the ticket counter, you are often met by a long queue.
As you stand there watching the line slowly going down, people look at the screens to see the minutes count down before their train is due to leave.
You can see people’s frustrations as sometimes there’s no chance of getting to the counter before their train leaves.
It should be like a supermarket where if a queue builds up, they quickly open up another till. At a train station, there is no urgency. No one pays attention to the frustration of the people waiting to buy a ticket.
There’s a notice at my station: “Please don’t shout at the staff.” I’ve never seen anything like that in a supermarket, have you?
When you finally get to your platform, you’re often met with a message that says ‘delayed’ or ‘cancelled’.
As you stand there, listening to the automated messages, the most popular words are “I am sorry”.
Looking at your fellow passengers, you can see a sense of despair, people who regularly travel on trains seem to be resigned to the fact that the quality of service is poor, but they have no other option.
If you use the train to do things like get to work, attend a meeting or to go shopping, you have no choice but to travel by train; it’s a monopoly.
As I stand there on a cold and windy platform waiting for my delayed train, I don’t want to see posters with pictures of new trains because the next train is going to be an overcrowded old train.
When the train arrives, which in my case is typically three carriages (TransPennine Express), people scramble to get onto the train to find a seat. People who usually are kind and courteous change. As the old expression says: “It’s everyone for their themselves.”
I rush on and to try and find a seat, and I don’t care about anyone else.
I’ve had a few seizures on a train, I don’t want to be standing when that happens, it’s not a pleasant experience travelling by train.
On some routes, the trains are ancient and move at a slow pace.
I sometimes have to travel to Sheffield from Huddersfield, and the trains are the old Pacer trains that, in some cases, are over 40 years old.
It’s not very comfortable on this slow, long journey.
The Penistone line is mostly one track and one route, Huddersfield to Sheffield, but still, these trains are sometimes delayed or cancelled. Why?
I think the message that passengers would want to send to the managing directors of the train operators and Network Rail is a simple one: “I don’t care, I don’t want your apologies or your excuses, I just want my train to run on time.”
If I go to the supermarket and they don’t have any milk or bread, I don’t care why. I’ll go somewhere else, but I can’t do that with a train.
What’s the problem?
I think it’s poorly run train companies, it’s as simple as that.
The new Conservative Government asked for “wild cards” and “weirdos” to shake up the Civil Service.
A lot of people laughed at them, but that’s what rail companies need – people from outside the industry, people who come up with new ideas and who will challenge the status quo, people not scared to ask “why”.
I’m one of those “wild cards” and “weirdos”, I’m not scared to challenge people. The job title on my business card is “Chief Provocateur”. People assume I’m a techie. I’m not, I’m a retailer and retail is all about people.
I’m not willing to put up with it anymore, follow my campaign on Twitter @cutthecrap and use #trainsontime to share your experiences.
Finally, I want to challenge Leo Goodwin, managing director of TPE.
Let me interview you on platform 16A, Leeds City Station, during the evening rush-hour and accompany me on my journey so you can endure it from the perspective of one of your passengers.
Come on Leo, why wouldn’t you want to talk to me in front of your fare-paying customers?
Ajaz Ahmed BEM is a Yorkshire entrepreneur, founder of Freeserve and chairman of digital agency Quba.