I would normally not take the time to write this entry… I genuinely can’t afford to take the time – which means that the entry is going to be quick and unpolished. I guess I will just have to apologise here in advance as I have to give this a go…. the recent discussion on twitter between @artistsmakers and @southernrailuk with regards to the very good results of “being 90% on time today despite the difficult day” did not find a sympathetic ear over here…
It all started with this:
Which CLEARLY means that 90% on time HAS to be a good thing – right?
Well, I know a few things about the narrative fallacy and the ability of made-up stats to make the public think in a certain way. And – in line with my mission to not let these people get away with it – I wanted to ask you to remember that 90% may be OK for some things but it is not OK for others.
Would your boss be happy with you if you turned up at work on time only 90% of the time? Whichever way you look at the working year, 10% late would mean that for more than a month you aren’t turning up on time!
The next crucial question is: how late is “not on time” exactly?.
In the job example, if you were 5 minutes late every day for a month, and I was your boss, and you didn’t smell of poo (like Southern trains do), and you weren’t rude (like many of Southern’s staff are), and you were informative and communicative (unlike Southern), and you showed signs that you cared a little (unlike Southern), and you weren’t much more expensive than other options I had (unlike the non existent options we have when it comes to train travel), I know I would look the other way.
But if you were – say – one hour late – or even didn’t turn up at all for work for a month… that would be a different story.
However, 90% still, simply sounds like a big number… doesn’t it?
Let’s forget our conditioning from Southern (who actively train their staff to create low expectations – I shit you not) and look at industries with competition…
Would you be happy with your internet provider if they only offered you 90% up time? In a 365 day year, that is 36 and a half days and nights of no internet!
The more easy-going of you could then say, “well, again, it depends! If my internet was down between 2am and 6am every day for the best part of a year, I wouldn’t really mind”.
But what if the 36 and a half days downtime was in your office, and for exactly 8 hours from 9am to 5pm – when you needed it the most – for over 100 of the working days of the year? The point here is that timing – not just time – is of the essence.
If Southern transports 430K people in an average day (which means many, many more on a work day) and on a day like yesterday they run at 90% on time, by how much would you say are those “not on time” trains running late? 5 mins? 10? 20? Do they not turn up at all?
Also, 10% of “not on time” doesn’t say half the story for some of us…
Say you have a person travelling from station A to station C and they have to go via station B where they change trains. A 5 minutes delayed train from A to B, may easily cause that person to completely miss their once-an-hour train to Station C. I know, because it happens to me ALL THE TIME at Brighton.
However, not all is lost! That person could then spend that one hour of delay on their phone, finding out that according to Southern’s terms of transport, they aren’t entitled to a refund. They will also probably have plenty of time to read how the service that they missed was completely on time, and the previous service was only 5 minutes delayed! Not bad for the old stats huh?
And what about the size of the trains? Size, no matter what you ‘ve been told, does matter. Running 4 carriages instead of 8 or 12 is Southern’s signature “up close and personal” choice of generating “efficiencies”. The train was on time… you couldn’t get on it, but if you could, you would be happy in the arm(pit)s of your fellow travellers. Oh, we are SO on time – but only the fit can come on board. Survival of the fittest, baby!
Furthermore, I KNOW Southern fiddle the numbers to make them look good AND they “work the stats”.
Think of a train that is supposed to leave Victoria at 18:06 for Brighton. The train driver gets misplaced, or attached by Loco in one of his humping sprees and the train gets delayed by half an hour.
In our example – and just like in real life – the 18:36 is the next train and it has a problem with the Windows Me that it runs (anybody old enough to remember those?), and is completely cancelled. Southern, will not report one train (the 18:06) as delayed by half an hour and another (the 18:36) as cancelled…. Of course not.
They will declare the 18:06 as cancelled, and the 18:36 as being on time.
Now, people will tell you that that is OK, because as a consumer, you wouldn’t know the difference. What they DON’T tell you is that even if Southern could, they would NOT run the 18:06 at 18:26 – 20 minutes late. Because they don’t want to have one train 20 mins late and another cancelled. No. They will make that train wait. By making it half an hour late (ten minutes more than they have to in this example) they look better on paper than they would otherwise!
Good point, but I actually think it is much worse than that.
First, 430K is an average. On weekdays, we can easily assume that this number shoots up by 100K (there is only so many people you an ram in a weekend replacement bus service). In fact maybe one of you should ask @SouthernRailUk what the weekday number is (they have blocked me, and it is such a pain in the back-side to get an answer from them and then post it form the @Southern_Trains account).
As we all know from bitter, bitter experience, Southern runs their signature up-close-and-personal service exactly when you go to work.
A 12 carriage train that is packed to the brim with commuters forced to feel each other up before they even had a chance to have breakfast, is probably carrying on average at least five times more people than a four carriage train running during an early afternoon, and scary amounts more than a Saturday bus.
Guess when the problems, and most of the 10% “not on time” trains, tend to happen then..
No – really…
Just take a wild swing in the dark here!
When is it do you think that the network is under pressure from the volume of trains on the move, staff that has overslept, or the volume of leafs that have fallen the previous night? Or maybe the volume of cows that wondered through to the poorly fenced rails in the wee hours of the morning to eat some of the foliage and then have a snooze? When do you think the sleepy car drivers swerve to avoid whatever they find in their way and catch the edge of a tunnel that supports a decrepit train bridge – invariably when there is only one structural engineer that is sober from the previous night in the entire South of England, and he is only getting his expenses paid if he turns up to the bridge by train?
You have guessed it right. It is when most of us find ourselves in a carriage, sweating to the point of making the morning shower completely pointless. Either to, or from work when the trains are full. And a late train with 1000 people in it should not represent just one train. The real question is “how many people do Southern ACTUALLY make late”. Not trains.. people!
Taking all this into consideration I would say that “90% on time” most likely and in real terms, corresponds to six figures of people suffering. And that is on a “good” day!
So here it is. 90% on time, announced, sealed, delivered, and smoke comprehensively blown up our back sides…
With apologies for the unrefined entry,