Hi, Mr Moaner. Yes, you, in the Hugo Boss suit with a copy of the FT under your arm. Yes! Oh, I’m sorry? What is your name? Mr Amersham Gold Card? Ok, sir, you wanted to know what we do all day, so that you can complain about the industrial action. Let me begin.
I will describe a typical “dead early” shift at my station Green Park. Mr Amersham Gold Card, maybe in your younger days you would go on a bender and get home ready for bed at 3am on a Sunday morning. Well sir, I have to get up at 3am to put on my polyester uniform and catch the first of two buses. I get a bus to Trafalgar Square, then wait ten minutes and get a second bus to Green Park. The journey takes about an hour. This happens for six mornings, and on Sundays I get up at 4 am. We typically work seven days in a row on stations. I get to Green Park around 4.45 am.
After signing for keys and radio, and ensuring the radio works, I let myself into the “Pom Room” (passenger operated machine) which used to be a ticket office. I put the kettle on to make a cup of tea (the first of several to keep me awake) then proceed to empty all the ticket machines. I have a coin counter but the notes are counted by hand. This takes around two hours, including consolidating the money for despatch for the bank, leaving the spare money in the bank and floating the machines with enough change for the day. I also leave out some £5 notes in case customers buy a Day Bus & Team pass instead of a day travel card, which is common. We have a terminal to issue refunds, but not do sales.
As you are leaving for the station, Mr Amersham Gold Card, I am then told to go outside and help customers use the machines. The cuts have caused many very experienced, mature, valuable staff to take redundancy and in their place are customer service assistants on 12 month contracts with worse prospects. The new staff are lovely, no doubt, but by the time they are confident in rescuing an injured customer from an escalator, or taking a train out of service, or informing someone confidently where the Royal Society is, their contract has expired and they must reapply for their jobs. Have you had to do the same, sir?
My break time is at 10 o’clock, so I rush to the messroom and eat a prepared sandwich, fruit and another cup of tea. We have 30 minutes break, and I personally can’t afford to buy sandwiches every day. After that I return to helping customers use the machines.
The machines do not suit everyone. You can’t order an annual ticket, a Gold Card, on the machine. You can’t replace lost or stolen cards. Some customers, especially the elderly and the more disabled customers, don’t like using them. They find the writing small, the processes complicated, and some of the best value tickets are quite hidden. I have been on the receiving end of some very explosive complaints because they feel their independence is at stake if they can’t buy a ticket without my assistance. I feel for them.
Mr Amersham Gold Card, I am sure you don’t like to be overcharged. If you are, you are told by me, a mere low grade CSA, to call an 0845 number to get your cash back. The call centre is understaffed, so by the time you get through, whatever refund you were expecting will have been charged to your phone bill. Many customers do not bother.
But you can get a refund online! I am sure you have Internet access Mr Amersham Gold Card, in your capacity as hedge fund manager at a top bank. But I know from parents of children in my child’s circle this sun’s the case with some Londoners, who rely on libraries for all their online requirements. Not ideal. This is the basis of many complaints, and it can be wearing on the spirit.
At 1.30 PM, I can go home. I manage an hour of sleep before my child gets home from school, and then I am expected to be SUPER MUM for the rest of the day.
I understand Mr Amersham Gold Card, that you have stress, all be it in a different setting. You work long hours and are expected to bring home the bacon to your four bed home with room for a pony. In a much smaller way, so do I. I maintain a small flat, all its bills, and my dependents. My husband has an ordinary job, average working wage and he supports us with the shopping bill, insurance, and puts money aside to maintain the shoebox. All other money he puts aside for a week’s holiday in Europe somewhere. We love living in London, but we must pay for it. Despite the perk of free buses and Tubes through my work, we still cannot afford to learn to drive and run a car. It’s a silly notion to say, “if you don’t like it, find something else that suits you better”. Have you seen the state of the labour market right now? It’s hopeless.
So there you have it, my day. Sometimes it starts at 4.45am. Sometimes it starts at 4.30 PM, and anywhere in between, seven days a week.
Enjoy your weekend, and your sleep, Mr Amersham Gold Card.