I use First Capital Connect (FCC) to go to work every morning and have started to notice a sickening trend. The trend is: in order to meet their performance targets passengers are being left on the platform. This trend did no start with First Capital Connect but with Thameslink who were the previous operators of the Bedford to Brighton line. The problem I am noticing though is worse now that FCC are running the line.
First Capital Connect measure their overall performance on the following:
% of planned train service that was less than 5 minutes late at final destination
This sounds like a great way to measure performance but for anyone who has read The Fifth Discipline they will immediately see the problem.
The immediate problem with the above performance measurement is that there is no mention of the customer. Taken to the extreme there is no requirements for passengers to be on the train at all for them to meet their performance targets. I know this sounds daft but think about the people under pressure to meet those targets. When a train pulls into a station 30 seconds late with a normal allocated 60 seconds allowed to get the passengers on the train then cutting the time the train actually stays at the platform by 10 seconds means the passengers have 20 seconds to get on the train. This is not too bad but during rush hour it can be a problem, especially at the likes of St. Albans where the train is particularly full.
The problem I have in Luton is that the problem becomes extreme because the train I catch can come in on any of two platforms. The platform is indicated on the board but if any of the trains are falling behind at all the platform might change.This would be no problem but to get to the other platform you need to go up a flight of stairs and across a walkway and down another set of stairs. I have had to do this three times in the past because the platform number has change three times before the train comes in. Originally I thought it might be the controllers working on the nations obesity problem but since some of them were in as bad a shape as me I decided that could not be it.
I then witnessed, one November morning, over sixty passengers changing platform due to a board change. Off they went leaving the platform to get to the other side. I waited on the original platform. I watched as the people got to the other side only to see the board change again. I felt glad I hadn’t changed. They all came back to my platform. I could see the train and I noticed that it did not look like it was coming into my platform but I decided not to go to the other side. Anyway, there was an announcement and the sixty potential passengers trudged off with a lot of swearing about how crap First Capital Connect are. I watched the train pull into the opposite platform and open its doors. I have never seen doors on any train in my four years using Luton station open and close so fast. I would not be surprised if people actually got stuck on the train. Anyway the people who had moved to the platform the train was leaving from arrived to the tune of the beeps indicating the doors were about to close. A couple of people (ie the young and fit) got on the train but the vast majority where left standing like lemons on the platform. Having been in the Navy I was convinced no civilian would ever teach me a new swear word, I was wrong.
This was when I realised just what was going on. In pursuit of the set performance targets First Capital Connect had not thought through the impact on their customers. Or if they had they had decided that performance targets are more important than customer service.
I have no idea what would be worse, late trains or being unable to catch the train you want and I imagine Luton is a particularly bad case because of the way the platforms have been laid out. All I can suggest to people in Luton is don’t trust the board and wait at the top of th stairs until just before the train arrives. This introduces its own problems but I have found it works reasonable well for me.