Strikes. Queues. Cancellations. Delays. People's armpits in your face. Commuting in London can be a miserable experience, especially if you've not even got room to check this website or open your copy of ShortList.
But where does your own commute rank among London's worst? Are you the smug guy at the front of the DLR or the poor sod on a broken down suburban train?
Although we’ll acknowledge sitting at the front does hold some appeal, it’s more like pretending to be the driver of the world’s slowest online train simulator. Being above ground, and frequently high up, means you occasionally get views of skyscrapers but 95 per cent of the time you’re staring at the sort of council blocks commonly seen on party political broadcasts to illustrate ‘Broken Britain’. Dismal Loathsome Railway more like.
This groundbreaking mass transit system has been around since January 1863, which presumably is also the last time the seats were clean. The service carries 1.3 billion passengers a year, almost all of them on whatever Tube you tried to get on this morning in rush hour. You haven’t lived until you’ve teetered on the edge of an overcrowded, tiny Zone 1 platform only to be faced with a mass of sweating people who have no intention of letting you on. And if you do get on? Good luck avoiding the carriage that doesn’t have a holidaying family of eight with all their luggage or some mug moving house with all his worldly possessions. Considering we’ve seen someone doing heroin on the District Line at 10pm we’re not sure the ‘Night Tube’ – if it ever happens – will be worth the risk.
If you commute on a bike you probably fit into one of two camps. First are the Lycra lunatics who become sexually aroused watching the Tour de France. For them the entire journey is about getting an edge and asserting their role in the food chain: they may feel threatened by motorists but they’ll do their level best to ensure pedestrians feel the same about cyclists. Red light? “Optional, mate.” Pavements? “Fair game.” Zebra crossing? “You must be joking.” Secondly is the Boris bike brigade, struggling to control something that weighs as much as a Hummer while they forgo wearing a helmet. For them, cycling isn’t a way of life, just a way of obliviously riding into things and blaming everyone else.
Less a public transport system and more a mobile epicenter for stabbings, racist rants, music played from iPhones and top-deck hand jobs. Someone decided having screens at bus stops to tell you when the next buses would arrive was a good idea but it’s more aspirational than informative. “Oh it says my bus is due.” Then 10 mins later: “Oh it says my bus is still due.” Thrill-seekers loved being on the bendy buses – will they catch fire or just be hit by a lorry in a box junction? – but don’t overlook the masochistic thrill of walking down slippery stairs while the despotic driver takes out his frustrations on the accelerator and brake.
Or in other words, the suburban rail line that desperately wants to be the Tube. When TfL took over the franchise for these lines it invested a lot of money revamping station entrances and installing state-of-the-art ticket machines. The 30-year-old trains? TfL must’ve run out of cash because although a few were replaced, the rest just had some new stickers put on them – the transport equivalent of papering over the cracks. So let’s say you’ve got on to one of the tiny trains, and it’s even on time, where exactly are you going? The only large central interchange it uses is Euston. So much like Frosties can be ‘part of a complete breakfast’, the Overground can only ever be part of a commute for the vast majority.
The service is run by National Express, best known for only being the UK's second most depressing coach company so expectations are low before you even step on board. But you probably won’t get the opportunity. The company recently decided to revamp (read: ruin) its rush hour timetables. If its goal was to ensure everyone’s journey from Essex into central London was ruined then mission accomplished. From day one the changes meant people were left stranded on freezing platforms due to the trains being too full. Like us, you’re probably wondering what the name c2c even means. Turns out it means nothing. Presumably the more honest bad2worse tested poorly among focus groups.
South West Trains
If you’re a regular commuter with this company there’s something you’ll know: and that’s that you know nothing. Your train hasn’t moved for 10 minutes outside Waterloo? No explanation. Screen says train is on time but it’s already 15 minutes late? No explanation. South West Trains clearly listened to its mother when told “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Yet who can forget the rare times they have made their voice heard? It once cancelled trains because of snow – only it was done in advance and the snow never came. It’s like celebrating three goals just before kick-off. South West Trains is so tone-deaf it’s one of the few rail companies that somehow believes it’s beloved by commuters but were overwhelmed by the negativity when it asked for the public’s memories of the past 20 years. The managers clearly live in a bubble but the passengers are stuck in hell. And we don’t just mean Clapham Junction station.
It used to have a reputation for being bad. Now it’s got a reputation for not having enough drivers, causing it to regularly cancel services because there’s simply a shortage of staff. Considering it takes a year to train a driver (or so Thameslink says) surely they should be able to give a bit more notice rather than cancelling minutes before departure? (“Oh sorry, the driver we had scheduled for this train still has seven months of training left – try again in the summer.”) The firm said the problems last month were down to staff holidays and that they usually rely on drivers working on their days off to cover this shortfall. Brilliant business plan, guys!
A time warp. Just looking at their faux old-timey logo makes us sick. It tries to hark back to the golden age of rail travel but the closest it gets is everyone wanting to reenact Murder On The Orient Express and that fact that more than half the men in each carriage are trying to read their giant copies of the Telegraph in people’s faces (because: Surrey). But this pretend bastion of English heritage has a dirty little secret. Not only is it half owned by a French company, the majority shareholder of that half is basically the French government. So we get the bad bits of England with none of the good bits of France (classy food, cheap rail travel etc). Every day on Southern is a pile of merde.
Run by the same French public body as Southern, the undisputed champion of bad commutes has to be Southeastern. The evil geniuses at the top have managed to double profits in the past 12 months, despite astonishingly low levels of customer satisfaction and punctuality. Even City Hall says the service is so bad it should be run by TfL. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being on one of its ancient carriages you’ll know the pain of being on a train so slow it is overtaken by elderly foxes strolling along next to the tracks, before the train terminates early leaving you stuck at a bus stop in the middle of Lewisham. There’s a poor guy working at Cannon Street station who has said “Southeastern apologises…” so many times it’s given him Tourette’s. The company once took umbrage when we said Isis could run a better train service but now we think about it, although they both love a scapegoat (either the US or Network Rail) and are run remotely, the terrorists do seem better organised and more social media savvy.