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    February 2009
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The Snow v The Servers v The Trains

Posted by guesto on February 3, 2009

I have to slightly disagree with Jemima Kiss’s opinion that Fortunately, the internet is entirely snow resistant, as she commented on how the internet allows us to work from home. That’s true, but the weather did lead to the crashing of the two sites I most wanted to read yesterday, namely TFL and NationalRail.

Yes, in an ironic show of solidarity with the transport systems they represent, both these sites completely shut down on Monday morning as commuters tried to find information about whether or not they could get to work. Perhaps this is understandable, as Hitwise reports that National Rail got 3 times it’s normal traffic, and TFL 5 times it’s normal.

Traffic to TFL and National Rail on snow day

I can imagine the conversation with the techies on this one – 5 times normal traffic is way beyond their burstable limits and it is unreasonable to expect the site should be able to cope with such a spurious event. There is probably a techy or account manager somewhere that suggested that the site should be equipped to cope with that much of a freak traffic day, but that suggestion would have become a cost estimate, which would have found it’s way to the budget holder’s desk, who would have said “no way”.

So perhaps it is reasonable to apply the same empathy to the transport systems themselves? After all, 5 inches of snow is 5 times the norm for London. And whatever the final recorded amount was, I heard it was the most for 18 years. So applying server logic to the actual transport system, would we want public money poured into providing “redundant capacity” in unused train tracks, snow ploughs and snow chains for buses? I very much doubt it. The press would have a field day with that too!

But don’t worry, I’m not completely excusing the transport authorities, who really should try harder. After all, as Haroon Siddique summarises, it’s not like nobody knew it was coming.

But instead I’ll refrain from ranting about what happens on one day out of 6,570 days, I’ll rant about what happens on way too many normal days of the week:

Dear First Capital Connect,

I understand why it can be an operational challenge to run more trains than you already do per hour through central London. But there is NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER for only running 4 carriage trains at peak times. Have you ever tried to get a northbound train from Farringdon during evening rush hour when only 4 cars turn up? I’m beyond worrying about getting a seat, I just worry about fitting on it at all! We commuters (that pay your wages with our fares) get squeezed on like cattle, tempers fray and you wonder why people see fit to take it out on you?

4 Carriages = 1 timetabled slot = 1 driver
8 Carriages = 1 timetabled slot = 1 driver

That’s like double the efficiency in terms of passengers per slot and better economy of scale. Is there something that stops it being that simple that I don’t know about? Please tell me.

Alternatively, could we have an option to only pay half our rail fare if you only provide half the passenger capacity?

And don’t even get me started on your plans to raise prices AGAIN despite the worst recession in a generation.

If First Capital Connect were my client…

…I would love to see how they like me servicing them the way they service me.

  • At their busiest hour I would switch off half their servers without reason or apology
  • I would wait until they had serious financial problems then raise my prices beyond double the rate of inflation
  • I would make redundant half my workforce that allow them to pay for my services, make them wait in long queues, then hit them with penalty fares for not paying
  • I would do all this, then put up posters around my office threatening them with legal action if they complain too aggressively.

Now, I would not exactly be the world’s most successful agency if I were to do that now would I? I imagine they and other clients would go and do business elsewhere.

UNLESS of course I were to somehow have a completely unchallenged monopoly over the entire sector in their area, then I COULD behave in exactly that way and they’d have to accept it!

Hmmm, I wonder if the government will grant ME a monopoly like they did the train companies. That sounds like great business!


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