Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Long reads
10 February 2003updated 24 Sep 2015 12:16pm

The unbearable weakness of commuting

By Richard Allan

I meet Mr Pinstripe Suit Large Briefcase (lawyer?) giggling in the queue of the buffet at Derby Station with just a note of hysteria in his voice. “No, you go first, it doesn’t make any difference to me. The train may come, it may not – it’s all the same to me.”

We had both arrived from London in search of sandwiches in a train that got slower and slower until the operators finally put it, and us, out of our collective misery by “de-training” us on to the platform at Derby to wait for the next (also late) Sheffield service.

I guess that by this time he was so late it no longer mattered much when he arrived. I wondered what court case was being adjourned at that moment because the brief was still being expected “any minute”.

Mr Open Shirt Laptop and Mobile (new media?), on the other hand, had a problem with the wrong kind of ticket. He was having extorted from him the princely sum of £102 for the right kind of ticket – an open standard (yes, that’s standard, not first class, even at more than a hundred quid) return – the only kind he was allowed to buy on the train.

He had bought a ticket before boarding his first train in Hampshire that morning. Being a cost-conscious type trying to keep his business profitable, he had asked for the most reasonable fare to get to Sheffield and back. He had been sold some sort of saver ticket but it turned out that this was valid only on GNER services and not Midland Mainline.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

The silly man had not mugged up on the 57 varieties of ticket that can now take you from A to B across a dizzying array of lines with a heady mix of time and route restrictions. I hear him on the mobile back to his office: “You know, it’s just not worth me going to Sheffield, with the time and expense of it all.”

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up

I am left wondering if we are now at a point where my home city will suffer real disadvantage if its transport links do not rapidly improve. I find myself dreading the journeys to and from London. Even when the rail link itself is running fine I can expect some local chaos to have developed in the capital, which I must cross to get to anywhere else. And road is no alternative, as the M1 can be driven at a clutch-foot-numbing crawl only, at most of the times when I might want to use it.

Both road and rail links have changed noticeably over the past five years – for the worse. I used to be a weekly commuter, but now I commute weakly, and wonder how many others will just decide not to make the journey at all.

Richard Allan is Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam