Running for a train is good, actually: In defence of the frantic platform dash

Run! RUN! Euston station. Image: Getty.

There are few more dramatic everyday sights in this country than the crowd fighting to board an overcrowded train, waiting in hushed silence then igniting as the platform is announced. 

Normally reserved travellers narrow their eyes and sprint determinedly towards the train, wheelie bags flying in all directions. To find yourself involved feels like a Pamplona bull run, with smartly dressed office workers in place of flamboyant Spaniards.  

It’s most apparent on the first cheap off-peak train out of London in the evening and many passengers are fed up. The Guardian’s north of England editor Helen Pidd recently tweeted, “Is there anything more undignified than the platform dash for the 1900 from Euston to Manchester?” eliciting responses agreeing that it was the “worst thing in the world” and a “mad undignified sweaty dash”.

Train operators are keen for a change too, with proposals recently announced to reform fares so the divide between peak and off-peak is smoothed, meaning no more bunching on that first vastly cheaper train of the evening.

However, while it’s easy to see the downsides of the dash, I worry that we won’t appreciate what we’ve got until it’s gone.

In a world in which most train travel is reliably crap no matter what steps you take, the train dash can offer unexpected excitement and a rare chance to take control of your travelling fate.

While a Northern Rail journey will be late and uncomfortable no matter what, if you make the right choices at the concourse in London you can win yourself a prized seat on that cheap train. 

Imagine, for example, you’re arriving at a crowded Euston station at 1845, waiting for the always overcrowded 1900 train. As you enter the station you’re immediately faced with a number of choices. 

Do you head to the middle of the concourse to even out your chances of being close to the right platform? Do you go all out on one prediction and head way up to platform 5 or 13 (the high risk/ high reward approach)?

Or do you scour arrivals on the National Rail app to see which platform the last Manchester train pulled in at, staking your chances on this nugget of potentially game changing information? 

Getting this right and boarding the train seconds before the masses descend behind you is potentially the most rewarding moment you’ll experience on a rail journey (it’s a low bar, admittedly). Get it wrong however and you’ll be doing a Corbyn, stuck by the doors all the way to Stockport. 

I accept that all this is all probably less fun if you have kids in tow, health problems, or generally have just had enough of the drama. Which is why it’s worth mentioning the more serious reason for defending the dash.

Under the current system, while it’s certainly not cheap to get from Euston to Manchester off-peak (at £58.50 return with a railcard), it’s not dreadful. That’s always the price you pay on the day after 7pm; you get back to Manchester around 9; and the ticket lets you return on any off-peak train in the next month. In part this explains why those trains are so popular.

When train companies talk of “updating regulations around peak and off-peak travel” so demand is “spread more evenly across the day” they mean removing this guarantee of consistently priced off-peak travel.

Are we really to believe that a profit-making operator will choose to offer cheaper fares to the current crop of dashers? It seems entirely possible that a reformed system could instead see cheap fares beginning even later in the day, forcing those unable to pay a premium onto ever more inconvenient trains.

So, stressed passengers should be careful what we wish for. We may not only be about to lose one of the great spectacles of travel – we might also end up paying more in the process.

The author tweets as @matthew__dawson.


Segregated playgrounds are just the start: inequality is built into the fabric of our cities

Yet more luxury flats. Image: Getty.

Developers in London have come under scrutiny for segregating people who live in social or affordable housing from residents who pay market rates. Prominent cases have included children from social housing being blocked from using a playground in a new development, and “poor doors” providing separate entrances for social housing residents.

Of course, segregation has long been a reality in cities around the world. For example, gated communities have been documented in the US cities since the 1970s, while racially segregated urban areas existed in South Africa under apartheid. Research by myself and other academics has shown that urban spaces which divide and exclude society’s poorer or more vulnerable citizens are still expanding rapidly, even replacing public provision of facilities and services – such as parks and playgrounds – in cities around the world.

Gated developments in Gurgaon, India, have created a patchwork of privatised services; elite developments in Hanoi, Vietnam, offer rich residents cleaner air; and luxury condos in Toronto, Canada, displace local residents in favour of foreign investors. An extreme example is the Eko Atlantic project in Nigeria – a private city being built in Lagos, where the majority of other residents face extreme levels of deprivation and poverty.

A commodity, or a right?

Although these developments come with their own unique context and characteristics, they all have one thing in common: they effectively segregate city dwellers. By providing the sorts of facilities and services which would normally be run by public authorities, but reserving them exclusively for certain residents, such developments threaten the wider public’s access to green spaces, decent housing, playgrounds and even safe sewage systems.

Access to basic services, which was once considered to be the right of all citizens, is at risk of becoming a commodity. Privatisation may start with minor services such as the landscaping or upkeep of neighbourhoods: for example, the maintenance of some new-build estates in the UK are being left to developers in return for a service charge. This might seem insignificant, but it introduces an unregulated cost for the residents.

Privatising the provision of municipal services may be seen by some as a way for wealthier residents to enjoy a better standard of living – as in Hanoi. But in the worst cases, it puts in a paywall in front of fundamental services such as sewage disposal – as happened in Gurgaon. In other words, privatisation may start with insignificant services and expand to more fundamental ones, creating greater segregation and inequality in cities.

A divided city

My own research on branded housing projects in Turkey has highlighted the drastic consequences of the gradual expansion of exclusive services and facilities through segregated developments. These private housing developments – known for their extensive use of branding – have sprung up in Istanbul and other Turkish cities over the past two decades, since the government began to favour a more neoliberal approach.

By 2014, there were more than 800 branded housing projects in Istanbul alone. They vary in scale from a single high-rise building to developments aiming to accommodate more than 20,000 residents. Today, this development type can be seen in every city in Turkey, from small towns to the largest metropolitan areas.

The branded housing projects are segregated by design, often featuring a single tower or an enclosing cluster of buildings, as well as walls and fences. They provide an extensive array of services and facilities exclusively for their residents, including parks, playgrounds, sports pitches, health clinics and landscaping.

Making the same services and facilities available within each project effectively prevents interaction between residents and people living outside of their development. What’s more, these projects often exist in neighbourhoods which lack publicly accessible open spaces such as parks and playgrounds.

This is a city-wide problem in Istanbul since the amount of publicly accessible green spaces in Istanbul is as low as 2.2 per cent of the total urban area. In London, 33 per cent of the city’s area is made up of parks and gardens open to the public – which shows the severity of the problem in Istanbul.

These branded housing projects do not feature any affordable units or social housing, so there are no opportunities for less privileged city-dwellers to enjoy vital facilities such as green spaces. This has knock-on effects on excluded residents’ mental and physical health, contributing to greater inequality in these respects, too.

Emerging alternatives

To prevent increasing inequality, exclusion and segregation in cities, fundamental urban services must be maintained or improved and kept in public ownership and made accessible for every city-dweller. There are emerging alternatives that show ways to do this and challenge privatisation policies.

For example, in some cities, local governments have “remunicipalised” key services, bringing them back into public ownership. A report by Dutch think-tank the Transnational Institute identified 235 cases where water supplies were remunicipalised across 37 countries between 2000 and 2015. The water remunicipalisation tracker keeps track of successful examples of remunicipalisation cases around the world, as well as ongoing campaigns.

It is vitally important to keep urban services public and reverse subtle forms or privatisation by focusing on delivering a decent standard of living for all residents. Local authorities need to be committed to this goal – but they must also receive adequate funds from local taxes and central governments. Only then, will quality services be available to all people living in cities.

The Conversation

Bilge Serin, Research Associate, University of Glasgow.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.