I was a commuter for a day.
I travelled on five trains, one bus and walked through a busy city centre at rush hour. I squeezed onto my first packed train at 8am, my face wedged between a stranger’s armpit and a student’s Batman rucksack. Then I arrived at the change station, ran along the bridge to another platform, jumping in between fellow passengers and leaping over wheeled executive cases like a job-seeking superhero. The second train was quiet, with passengers sleeping amid discarded copies of Metro. I watched these people still in work going about their daily routine in silence. The return journey simply saw the reverse and a lack of superhero speed.
I remember more exciting commutes: such as the little ferry I used to get across Sydney Harbour having walked through the Botanic Gardens to get to work. Or the walk across the Harbour Bridge, watching tourists climb so high they looked like ants on Lego.
Nevertheless, it was genuinely fun to be part of the daily grind again.
The train fare (paid for by Jobcentre Plus) was £14.50. My two taxis cost £10 in total (£4 less than I had expected): that extra cash won’t clear the national debt but will by me and Chaplin essentials like a loaf and kibble.
Back in September Philip Hammond, Transport Secretary, said trains are a “rich man’s toy”. I saw no evidence of anyone rich or playing but did meet two passengers who had been travelling for eight hours and not yet been able to find a seat.
His remark came after it was revealed that rail fares are due to rise by eight per cent next year and I wondered how much they, and the others sharing my journey, had paid to get to where they were going.
I checked current season ticket costs for my journey out of curiosity:
7 Days £37.70
1 Month £144.80
3 Months £434.40
6 Months £868.70
12 Months £1,508.00
The cars alongside the train didn’t fare any better (please accept the pun). It was reported in March that soaring petrol prices pushed commuting costs higher than mortgages.
George Osborne is now in my living room telling me about the economic boost to the infrastructure in the Autumn Statement. He identifies 500 new projects including 35 new roads and rail schemes.
He also announced that rail fare increases will be capped at RPI plus one per cent – the current RPI in the UK is 5.7%.
It is no wonder the engines in Thomas the Tank Engine grew fed up with Sir Topham Hatt (aka The Fat Controller) and decided to go on strike.