Showing posts with label London Transport. Show all posts
Showing posts with label London Transport. Show all posts

14 Sep 2012

Brent CCTV Car Illegally Parked on Mortimer Road

Brent CCTV car illegally parked on Mortimer Road, 13 Sept 2012.
Brent Parking enforcement was captured illegally parked on 13 September, on double yellow lines, at the junction of Mortimer Road and Chamberlayne Road. The end does not justify the means. This sets completely the wrong standard for trying to trap the infractions or road violations of other motorists.

22 May 2012

Guest Post: Car Diet - Life After the Car by Molly Fletcher

Molly Fletcher
We gave up the family car two years ago, or rather, our car gave us up. It blew up in Chiswick, West London shortly after we’d set off to go camping. The cost of repairing it was more than the car was worth, so for the first time in thirty five years, we became car less. Surprisingly, it has not been a nightmare, and looking back over the last year, being car free has brought numerous benefits. I can trace a definite improvement in our lives that started on that day.

This is an astounding statement. All my adult life I had owned a car. In the beginning it represented independence from my parents, then later it was for carrying my own children around. Having a car gave me choices, rather than relying on lifts or public transport, which was slow, expensive and unreliable. Our culture is now totally geared to car ownership, it is what we aspire to. The car we own shows our status and marks our position in the hierarchy. But something has flipped in the equation. In the real world, cars are now the slow, expensive, stressful ones. They no longer mean freedom, in many ways they imprison us.

Cars have hijacked the idea of ‘the journey’ as a pleasant experience. We sit in endless traffic jams, crammed in our disconnected worlds, pumping out a carbon cocktail. In three minutes, a car burns as much oxygen as a human being uses in a whole day. We are pushed to our limits by the rudeness of other drivers. We are left abandoned at road works, screaming and cursing at the invisible workers on the signs. If we dare to stop and catch our breath, packs of hungry traffic wardens appear from nowhere. And all is overseen by those sinister invisible cameras, watching our every move in case we step out of line.

I thought going on a car diet would be hell, but car cold turkey wasn’t that bad. We are a family of five, with three grown up sons and, living in the middle of a city we are lucky to have plenty of other transport options. We realised that actually we were hardly using the car before it died. It used to sit outside in the street and without moving, silently drain away money in tax, insurance, parking permits and rust. When we did use the car, that little voice was always at the back of our minds, coming up with vital reasons why we just had to drive: it’s raining, I haven’t got time to walk, it’s dangerous not to, I have to carry a feather round the corner, the Big Shop, I’m paying for it anyway, so why not? Our excuses were infinite. Having a car to hop into was the dietary equivalent of having a fresh doughnut stall outside our front door.

After giving up the car, we travelled much more. We started to cycle and walk, we took trains, Tubes, buses and car-shared. Occasionally we used Streetcar when we needed to carry heavy or bulky loads or we had them delivered. Of course there are people who really do need to have a car: old and disabled people, babies, or if it’s late at night or in rural areas where there are no alternatives, the car is king. But we are able-bodied, fully-grown and most of our original car journeys were under two miles, so without a car option, we had to find alternatives.

With all the extra cycling and walking, we became fitter. At first, I thought of two miles as a long cycle but over the year, my fitness and horizons have stretched. Now I think nothing of cycling ten miles – five miles there and five miles back and I really enjoy the cycle. And bikes are fantastically fast. I once cycled 3 miles from our home in NW London to teach in a school behind Buckingham Palace in 22 minutes, yet it took me 50 minutes and £5 on public transport. We also find that Tubes and buses aren’t that reliable, but when we set off on a bike, we know we’re going to get there – punctures are rare, if you’re careful. I reckon making yourself highly visible on a bike means car drivers see you and it considerably reduces the risks. Looking up your route beforehand, you can plan a way that’s back street and cycle-lane rich with light traffic.

When you’re on a car diet, you have to get your act together with different clothing and equipment for different weather. Weather - you remember that stuff? It used to be there when we were children, weather and the Great Outdoors. Do you remember how exiting it was to step outside your front door and feel the wind blowing, the sun shining, the frost in the air? Well, it’s still all out there. The saying ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’ is true. With bikes, you have to get your gear ready to grab and go by the front door. The list is quite extensive: hi viz, wind/rain proof clothing, bike helmet, lock, lights, and keys. Another plus for bikes, is they are like sturdy little pit ponies that can carry huge loads. I regularly carry a £100 pounds worth of shopping on my bike with the help of panniers, a back pack and basket it’s no problem.

Sometimes, there is no way round it and we need a car for work or to transport elderly relatives. This is where sharing a car with a friend comes in. We live close to each other and she still needs a car for her work and taxiing children around. So paying part of her annual insurance and having us use the car sometimes, helps her to not use it so often. It’s encouraged her back into cycling, something she was very nervous about initially, but she has really taken to it now. Sharing a car with her has also strengthened our friendship, in the same way sharing child care does with other parents from the same school. Car sharing means you have to be on your best behaviour. You can’t slob out and leave your apple cores and old sweet wrappers on the floor, as you would in your own car. You must leave the same amount of fuel in the tank as when you picked it up. It seems a small price to pay for what seems to us now, the luxurious privilege of driving a car.

Walking is also fast, it’s easy to walk 3 or 4 miles an hour which is the average speed of a car in London, so you might as well be walking and getting free exercise at the same time. You also see more, you start to notice the seasons changing, the buds exploding, the leaves turning and the birds singing. Walking rather than driving, has made us connect more with our local area. We have joined our residents association and our Transition Town group (transition from high carbon to low carbon). Our residents association have achieved a lot. We have got rubbish cleared, more police on the beat so the crime rate has dropped, graffiti cleaned up and trees planted, and we had a very jolly street party.

We have become born again train lovers. It feels so relaxing to be driven safely, in comfort by someone else with total responsibility. People say trains are too expensive and slow compared to the car but we have found it to be the opposite. We booked ahead last year for a friend’s New Years Eve party and got to Cumbria by train in 3 1/2 hours, half the time our car would’ve taken and for a fraction of the petrol costs. We went to Berlin by train, leaving our house at 7am and arrived in the centre of Berlin by 7pm. If you take into account travel time out to and from the airport, check in time, security checks and waiting for baggage the other end, there’s not a lot in it. Speeding smoothly along, you can see wonderful scenery out of picture windows, rather than the dreary motorway hard shoulders in a car or tiny cramped aircraft windows. We have also been to Spain, Switzerland and France by train, none of which we would have attempted by car. On a train, you can read, walk about, stretch your legs, go to the loo when you want, or go get a cup of tea. Instead of dreading long journeys as an ordeal, now I really look forward to blissful hours of reading.

Train travel means having to get much more disciplined about time keeping. Cars appear to give you more choice, but not having to decide where you’re going until the last minute, is actually more stressful. It’s false choice in the same way supermarkets appear to give you a huge range of fruit and veg from all over the planet, but they’re often unripe, tasteless and disappointing. The way cars allow you to plan multi stop offs in a day, is also an illusion of freedom. What it actually means, is that you only dip in to each, keeping an eye on the clock, rather than fully experiencing just one. Before giving up the car, we found it difficult to leave the house and so were frequently late. Now we have to decide, book the tickets and commit to an arrangement in advance. Coming by train we are able to let people know when we will be arriving and when we will be leaving. Then we don’t have to think about it again until the moment we grab a few things and leave the house to go to the station.

Luggage is much simpler without a car. When you have to carry what you take, you soon learn to whittle it down to a few bare essentials. These only take a few minutes to pack/unpack into a small bag that fits easily onto the rack above in the carriage. Trains are supposed to be unreliable but over one year, we’ve only had one journey where the train was delayed for an hour because a suicide on the tracks in a far off part of the system, ground the whole of the West country to a halt. Otherwise the trains have been on time to the minute and connections, seamless.

Another benefit of leaving car world, is we have rejoined the human race. We used to go from our house box, to our car box without a nod to the neighbours but sharing transport with strangers has made us less anti-social. People are so diverse, they have different faces and hairstyles, they dress differently, they’re all ages, shapes and sizes and different cultures. Other people are not as scary as they appear when looking out from inside a small metal box. They are often surprisingly kind and polite. When occasionally they’re not, I carry earplugs with me at all times. We always used to argue in the car, it seemed to be a flash point. We’d argue about whose route would have been better and whose music at what volume to have, we’d argue about arguing. In public, you can’t argue, so we have learnt to behave.

So being car free has made us fitter, more sociable, better behaved, less stressed and we enjoy travelling now. Our present culture revolves around the car and the burden of its escalating demands on our space, air and fuel. It’s time we shook ourselves free and taking Basil Faulty’s lead, we need to show the car who’s boss. Step away from your car, there’s an all singing, all dancing Technicolor show going on out here and it’s really very lovely.

This article was written by Molly Fletcher in 2011, a resident of Kensal Green whom I met during the recent elections. I offered to post it here and she happily agreed.

8 Jan 2012

Continuing Opposition to HS2 High Speed Rail: Brent, Chilterns and Beyond

I recently visited a part of the Chiltern Hills (tree pictured), threatened with development if the HS2 high speed rail proposal went ahead. What price the despoilation of our beautiful countryside? The Green Party has been taking a lead, amongst all the political parties, in opposing this ill-conceived plan. (See STOP HS2 campaign site here and here, my report on recent public meeting in Brent, and a letter in Brent Times). The campaign against HS2 was also highly visible in the village of Great Missenden (on the approach to the Chilterns, google map below), from where these posters present the case against succinctly.
Great Missenden says Stop HS2. Why? "No business case. No environmental case. No money to pay for it."
Gt. Missenden: "The country's broke. Axe HS2"

View Larger Map

National press and media reports yesterday of Network Rail endorsement of the HS2 plan paving the way for a Government approval is cause for alarm (e.g. Channel 4), if only for fear that the government has already made up its mind and is trying to soften the blow by media management. NR were already firmly in the yes camp before the consultation concluded.

Local press reports this week, 'Brent light railway campaigners to 'step up' fight if HS2 goes ahead' (Brent Times, 8 Jan 2012) surely risk distracting attention away from the campaign to Stop HS2 proper. The planning approvals, even if an all-clear is given by the government, have a long way to run. I think it would be good for proponents of light rail not to risk having their campaign recruited by proponents of an ill-conceived HS2 plan. Any hint that there may be a silver lining on the cloud hanging over the residents of Camden, Kilburn and Kensal Green (and that's just our locality, see proposed route) because of an additional station that could be used by both schemes, is hardly going to compensate for the negative impact of having a tunnel built under them!

John Whitelegg, Green Party spokesperson on sustainable development, and an expert in the transport industry has said: "The reasons for opposing the current set of proposals revolve round the flawed business case (e.g. assuming that people do not work whilst on a train journey), the damage to environmentally sensitive areas, the forecast increases in car and air transport that are associated with high speed rail demand forecasts and the very poor performance of high speed rail in reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Brent Green Party will continue to monitor developments in the HS2 proposal and to argue the case against.

3 Dec 2011

Kensal Triangle Residents Association Against HS2

On Tuesday 29 November 2011, I attended a public meeting (pictured) in Kensal Rise about HS2 (high speed rail network project No. 2) organised by the Kensal Triangle Residents Assocation. Nobody had a good word to say about the project.

Joe Rukin of the Stop HS2 national campaign told us first about the history of the proposal - the brainchild of Lord Adonis, appointee of the previous new Labour administration - then the likely impact on residents of Kensal Rise if the proposed route went ahead. On one scenario, from Euston to just north of Sheffield by way of Old Oak Common, construction would last from 2017 to 2026, with a track tunnel normally at 50m below ground rising to as little as 15m below housing in Kensal Rise (only 10-12m if tunnel height is taken into account). This would likely cause significant vibration disturbance and noise to residents when in use (18 trains per hour each way). Moreover, we were told about the massive expense at a time of putative austerity - £32bn on 2009 figures, which did not include interest on the loans nor inflation nor train carriages themselves.

The speaker was continually interrupted by residents from the floor, concerned about the impact it would have on their lives, wanting to find out what they could do to stop it, or simply trying to clarify what was being said, because incredulous that any of this could be true. For example, why would it be proposed not to connect HS2 with HS1 (the channel tunnel rail link)? But true.

The most memorable line, I think, was Mr Rukin's assertion that neither this nor the previous govenment had worked out the question to which this proposal was the answer. That's why it made such little sense, on grounds of feasibility, presumed economic impact, or environmental impact (next to none of which had been assessed).

Residents were left in no doubt about the need to remain vigilant about developments and to step up their campaigning and lobbying of politicians at all levels, with a decision on the public consultation expected from Transport Minister Justine Greening shortly.

The Green Party voted at its conference in Sepember 2011 against the HS2 proposal because, amongst other things, we say that long-distance service provision should not concentrate on high speeds where this will affect local service provision or take up and excessive amount of limited resources.

Recent statement from Green Party of England and Wales. My colleague, Martin Francis, was also at the meeting and has posted here.

Update: on 3 December, the government announced a postponement of their decision to January 2012, pending a review of the Chiltern hills leg of the route, but this contains no review of the London tunnel section.

16 Sep 2011

Wembley Park Station: We rely on you to tell us what's going on

A scene from the late morning rush-hour at Wembley Park station. Large queues for the ticket office, which seem to have been getting worse all week. Why?

The causal reasons - as opposed to the unintelligible ones - are that over 50% of the ticket machines were out of service or closed. In particular, machines that ordinarily accepted notes were closed or only accepting coins. Moreover, only one cashier was serving and another half a dozen or so service points were closed. I guess the only fault of the passenger, sorry customer, is that they either had complicated journeys, or did not have coins to the value of their ticket (who carries correct change for a £7.30 travelcard, for example?) or wanted to avoid spending on their credit cards.

The less intelligible reasons are that when I finally got to speak to the station manager - after first being offered a telephone number for a centralised customer service - he was apparently ignorant of what was going on in his own station. I pointed at the queue, asked him whether this was really acceptable, and reported back to him the advice of another of his staff earlier in the week, that some of the machines were malfunctioning. How about getting them fixed? Moreover, the manager was adamant that cash was being accepted at the machines but then qualified this to say only coins were.

I do think that commuters deserve better station management than this. Many locals already have to contend with being redirected the long way round the ticket barriers on their return journeys, when it should be obvious that at least 50% of people might wish to use the Kingsbury or Neasden-bound pavements and buses.

How about a transport system run for the benefit of passengers? Locals, and local businesses, will also face the impact of Jubilee and Metropolitain line closures this weekend.

12 Jul 2011

Threat Level from Incapacitated Met Train: Severe

One day after the government lowered the threat level from a terrorist incident by a notch and just shy of a year before the Olympics, the risk of being held indefinitely on a standing train is still severe.

This is the sight of late morning commuters stuck between stations, after being evacuated from one Metropolitan line train to another because of a “signal failure” up ahead. The indefinite wait lasted one hour and we were instructed first to evacuate, then to hold fast, then to evacuate again, because of a Jubilee train being in the wrong place at the wrong time up ahead, blocking southbound trains on two lines.

The most worrying thing is not just the ridiculosity of the original excuse, but the complete absence of a contingency plan, delivered unambiguously and with confidence by either train driver or management. At one point we had two drivers onboard and one manager. Whilst all were apologetic, I would not have been surprised to find both drivers pulling the train in opposite directions, such was the appalling lack of a clear account about what was happening and what should be the response.

Had this incident happened underground, the wait would have been all the more intolerable. At least one passenger had a hospital appointment for her child to attend.

Had there been a genuine emergency, I can’t with any confidence say that we were in safe or competent hands. What on earth must have been going on behind the scenes? Managers being paid 100k+ a year to debate health and safety perhaps? But maybe that is assuming too much proactivity even.

Driver at one point described our delay as "hopefully enjoyable". Philosophical stoicsm on the underground no doubt - though I know he was trying his best and seemed to know no more than us.

Commuters being asked to evacuate to train behind, then change of plan then U-turn.

Previous woes reported by me: July 2010; Jun 2010.

22 Jul 2010

Next stop: No Trains. Therefore No Cattle Truck syndrome

Commuters on the Metropolitan line have been suffering more than their fair share of signal failures and industrial action of late. This is the scene in the early evening rush hour on 21st July, far worse than even a badly-timed Wembley Stadium event could precipitate.

The "good" news is that none of this will be possible at the weekend – for the simple reason that Brentonians will have to endure yet another weekend of no Met or Jube line trains at all, in either direction.

Repeat after me: Planned Engineering works.

27 Jun 2010

Brent Transport off the Rails - Planet Earth calling Chiltern Railways and TfL

No, not a scene from an early-morning weekday rush-hour, but the sight of commuters trying to get back to Brent and beyond by catching the last two trains from Marylebone on a Saturday night - the 2357 and 0010, to be precise. Both trains were destined for Aylesbury and were scheduled to make initial stops at Harrow-on-the-Hill and Wembley Stadium, respectively.

In the event, both trains were delayed for a good half hour with next to no information about where to board or when, just to add to the woes of the travelling public seeking an alternative route back home. This weekend, yet again, Brent residents had to endure no Metropolitan or Jubilee line trains in and out of the borough.

I shall spare you pictures of Brent in the region of the North Circular, daytime - think aerterial logjams galore. Nobody was going anywhere on the hottest weekend of the year. Throughout the general election campaign, I grew fond of quoting a friend on the hustings trail, "How dare we think of using public transport at the weekend!"

We need solutions, and not just in time for the unsustainable proposition which is the Olympic games in London. Greens campaign hard for a transport system that favours walking, cycling and integrated, accountable public transport. Why should not buses be able to carry notices of exactly which tube lines are down, and when, to enable passengers to plan their response to the disruptions? We don't all carry i-phones. Why should not passengers, sorry customers, be entitled to real-time display of bus schedules at Wembley Park station itself, following the multi-million pound revamp?

Shouldn't we be entitled to know exactly what work is going on for every single day a track is taken out of service? Without transparency we lack confidence in the justification for the closures, on a case-by-case basis. "Essential Engineering Works", doesn't quite cut it. An additional stop at Willesden Green when the Jubilee is down is no consolation when the Met is down, too! A letter-writer recently quipped that not even Germany in WWII could bring London to its knees quite so easily!

The scale and frequency of these line closures is affecting local businesses, too. Contrariwise, I do wonder what savings are being made by tube line contractors running buses instead of trains, surely a cheaper proposition? Why is it automatically assumed that weekends are fare-game for closure but not weekdays? Don't people also work at the weekend? Or doesn't non-working life matter? How dare we think of using public transport at the weekend?

Would you believe, on my way back from Wembley Stadium, whilst passing over Bridge Road at Wembley Park, I saw a Jubilee line train going southbound on what would have been Met line track. "Oh dear, TfL, Just when you thought it was safe to start running the trains without telling us? .... You get spotted ... at 0045hrs."

The impact of these continual travel disruptions is making a material and negative difference to the quality of life of Brent residents and their visitors. Politicians at every level, and of all political persuasion, must take an active interest in trying to reduce the misery which results. JS Mill once spoke about the greatest good for the greatest number, but this can't be it ... even taking future people into account.

The current disruptions are about as sensible as the real world response from the automated TfL service today - advising me to take the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus and change to the Victoria Line for Warren Street in order to get from Queens Park to Euston, when the overground was running direct! I had to wait for an operator to get the confirmation I needed. I explained I'd been given duff information, and he replied, somewhat defensively, that the system wasn't yet perfect.

Nobody is asking for perfection. But this is beyond a joke.