Sunday, September 27, 2009

I Am Not A User (Official)

One of the results of going back to university is that I'll be spending an awful lot more time on trains. While I am, as you'll have anticipated, not entirely unhappy with that, I am a bit miffed that officially, none of it will happen at all.

The recent proliferation of automatic ticket barriers notwithstanding, the railway industry actually has very little data on exactly what journeys are made on the network. While there's a wealth of ticket purchase data available, that isn't as reliable as you might think. Simple tickets from station A to station B are easy enough, but there's a whole range of tickets (rovers, London travelcards, metropolitan zonal tickets) that don't identify specific destinations or that can be used on trains but bought elsewhere.

Then there's the vexed question of station groups. In most places with multiple stations you can buy a ticket to each station individually or to the group destination, so a ticket to "Warrington" is valid at both Central and Bank Quay. For many years, all such tickets were attributed to an identified main station in the group, thus often penalising smaller stations in a group, particularly those without ticket offices where the guard was more likely to sell a group ticket rather than a named one.

Recently the modelling used to allow for all these effects has become much better (leading to some very odd effects like the apparent 127,000% increase in passengers at Thorne South in 2007/08) but it remains a model; the methodology alone runs to 22 pages. And there are still plenty of tickets that can't be attributed and which are thus not counted.

How does this affect me? Well I'll have to make two journeys regularly by train; Danescourt-Treforest and Treforest-Cardiff Central. Now I can make both those journeys with one season ticket, but season tickets are counted as an estimated number of journeys between only the two named stations. My purchase of a season ticket will therefore only benefit the numbers of the stations at either end and not those of Danescourt in the middle. As the councillor for Danescourt and for two other stations on the same line, I'd really prefer it if both the station and the line were credited with my custom; after all, the more passengers they have, the more important they will be to the train company.

And as an added bonus, because fares on the Valley Lines are zonal, my season ticket isn't to Treforest but to Abercynon; it costs the same and I'm sure I'll have cause to pop up to help Mike Powell become the next MP for Pontypridd. But it does mean that even Treforest station won't see any benefit from my becoming a student.

Of course, if we ever manage to stop seeing Oyster as something nice for Londoners but not especially necessary for everyone else, we could have real data for every station. Ieuan Wyn Jones has already announced something similar for Wales, but I'd be more convinced if the Assembly Government hadn't spent so long pfaffing about smartcard standards that Cardiff Bus has had to go it alone and launch its own system. Time will tell, but there's not a lot of breath holding going on around here...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Blog's Birthday And Other Animals

Wow, so much has changed in the three years since I started not really blogging properly. We've got a tired, fiercely unpopular Labour Prime Minister and a Conservative Leader of the Opposition of whose policies we know nought (and it's unclear which is more tragic, that the former describes a different person or that the latter describes the same one...)

What's more, I'm not at Conference because I'm a fresher. Then it was my Masters in Manchester, now I'm at the University of Glamorgan doing a law conversion course and, of course, manning a Freshers Fayre stall (though thankfully not running it, my dues to society having been well and truly paid on that front!)

Oh, and while we're on the subjects of songs remaining the same, we have a leader who's spending his conference picking fights with the party. It's a strategy that's never demonstrated leadership at the best of times, but picking a fight over the process and doing so when you've already lost to the FPC on the issue is just barmy. Even if the FPC weren't unanimous on the issue, you can bet your ass they'll be unanimous on the process and so it has proved.

James Graham's analysis of that is spot on, as is his questioning of the role of the Chief Officers Group. Indeed, the question I've been asking myself from my armchair all week is, "How on Earth did no-one see this coming?" This whole saga would make some sense if there was a clearly defined purpose to it. However, not only is it unclear as to what advantage was being sought, I'm bound to ask how it is possible that no-one in the upper echelons anticipated that the coverage of what was being done would be exactly as it has been. That much, at least, should have been entirely predictable.

I mean, okay, if you've identified "honesty over the state of the public finances" as a good issue that builds on Vince's reputation, fair enough. If you've decided to combine that with trying to tackle "unrealistic wish lists of policies" as a reason for people not voting for us, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt (though I'll point out that there are probably some issues you should be dealing with before that one.) But it should be patently obvious that if you do that by taking "distinctive policies that show we're different to the other parties" and bringing them into question in a way that raises the spectre of "party split with leadership", those will be the issues that dominate and any coverage of the things you're trying to pursue is going to be pushed back into the arts and leisure section.

And yes, of course any leader would like to have a Clause Four moment, but you have to remember that the Clause Four moment itself worked for Blair because the policy Clause Four represented was massively unpopular and the people in his party were ready to acknowledge that. Cameron, on the other hand, can't have a Clause Four moment (because the people in his party aren't ready to acknowledge the unpopular bits and actually still believe that those bits are popular) so he just doesn't talk about those bits and hopes no-one else does; so far, so good.

I suppose the problem with criticising what's gone on is that I don't know what the answer is; I don't know how you get the sort of narrative-changing impact being sought on the issues being used without opening yourself up to the alternative formulation we've seen in the press all week (it's at times like these that I need Neil Stockley!) But either way, what has happened should have been anticipated and avoided and if that meant making less of an impact, so be it.

Evan Harris' point about good leaders and great leaders missed one crucial factor; Lib Dem leaders can't be great until they get the coverage of an election campaign. What's happened is fixable, and I say that as someone who'll be getting questioned about it all through tomorrow at a Freshers stall (I know what my answer to the questions will be and I'm confident in it). In the meantime, we should have faith that the run up and the campaign itself will vindicate both the party and its leader.