Ellee Seymour’s post about her train journey from London to Cambridge earlier this week really struck a chord with me.
I used to commute from Whitstable up into London every day when I worked at Open…, Egg and Enterprise IG. The two and a quarter hour door to door trip was often extended by up to two hours by train cancellations, delays and general transport chaos.
Ellee’s experience is a familiar one. All too often I would arrive at London Cannon Street to find it overflowing with frustrated commuters, thanks to delayed or cancelled trains. For commuters on the Kent Coast Line the only alternative was to hotfoot it on the tube over to London Victoria to see if trains were running from there.
Sometimes staff at Cannon Street told you trains were running from Victoria, and when you got there they weren’t. And sometimes staff said they weren’t running, but when you got there they were.
If you decided to stay where you were and wait, information was patchy and inconsistent. The whole experience seemed to comprise a lot of standing around on cold platforms, a lot of people all shouting down their phones about the delay and its causes (triggering off even more people to phone home to relay the version of the story that they’ve just heard from the person next to them), and the odd cattle stampede to a platform where a train, any train, was arriving, just in case it was actually going where you were headed.
Just thinking about it makes me glad I made the decision to work outside London. I now work a thirty minute drive from home. The three and a half hours of every day that I’ve saved are spent doing much nicer things like being with the family and keeping fit.
Back to Ellee’s post, she’s absolutely right that what’s missing in those commuter nightmare situations is accurate and timely information. Travellers accept things go wrong and they accept that situations change. But accurate, consistent and reliable information would make the whole experience much more bearable, and would help public perception of the operator and travelling by train generally.
I wonder what role public relations can play in those kind of situations. I’d venture a guess that it’s mostly seen as an operational situation that needs dealing with, rather than a public relations challenge. Yet taking a PR-based approach would lead to more attention being paid to managing messaging in those situations and managing relationships between the train company and a significant public – its travelling passengers.