Having come to Glasgow from the transport nightmare that is Belfast Northern Ireland, a Subway was something of a breath-takingly sophisticated novelty to me at first. While natives and Londoners joked about it’s circular nature I thought the subway system was something really rather impressive.
Such thoughts seemed a lifetime away when I stood, staring at a dishevelled man sprawled across a number of spaces the Subway car bench, shoving wotsits in his face the other morning. I realised that for this 7 minute standing ride, I was paying £1.60, a rise of 33% on the same journey in my first year. Things only got worse when I realised that I did not know where my ticket was.
Previously this hadn’t been a problem, but now, as part of the ongoing redevelopment of our subway, changes to the ticket system mean you cannot exit the subway without swiping your card. A change which is baffling to me as your journey is not limited by the number of stops and therefore where you get off doesn’t really matter.
This unnecessary change cost me precious minutes as I fumbled like a madman to find my ticket, which you may say this is my own fault for not placing it somewhere handy, but I’ve been so used to being able to discard a single for so long and work so early in the morning that this is almost inevitable. When I did eventually find it I was late for work, reminding me of another thing.
I usually work four or five days a week, which used to mean the 10 and 20 journey tickets were right up my alley, saving me between about £3 every five workdays on a 10 trip pass and £5 every 10 workdays on a 22 trip pass.
Although admittedly I couldn’t use them on a Sunday due to the subway’s limited hours on that day, I could simply save the journeys for the next day and still be saving money. However the new Bramble ‘Smart Cards’ don’t support this previous option and instead have the option of allowing for unlimited travel over a number of days.
While this might be good for those who are nipping in and out of University whilst living near a different station, tickets with an equivalent function existed before and were cheaper, they are not so much a replacement as a half-hearted explanation of a clear inadequacy in the cards with respect to those of us who would normally buy less than 5 returns a week. It seems strange or at least not very ‘smart’ that when I take a minimum of 8 subway journeys a week, there is no saving available to me at all.
In the same week I meet a friend on the subway who is looking really rather flushed. When I ask her how her days going, she takes me through a nightmarish story of her battles with the ticket machines at Buchanan Street station. Having placed money on her card at one of the stations automated machines, she proceeded to try to use it. Only, the barriers to accepted her payment, but didn’t open. Frustrated, she then went to the teller to explain the situation, when the teller eventually grasped what she was saying they responded “Don’t bother with the machines love, just come put money on with us”. Then she went back to the barriers, which told her she had used her card too recently to come through (a member of staff would eventually let her through before she burst into tears).
“Don’t bother with the machines”, wonderful! All this money on a subway redevelopment and the staff don’t even have faith in the machines, so now the promise of a ‘super-fast’ journey turns out to be pixie dust and we’re left standing in a line every time we want to top-up at the station, that we would be in anyway if there weren’t machines! The staff may well be right to be mistrustful of machinery, since 2012 staff have been cut from 319 members to just 254. So, to be clear, the staff that actually can put money on your new card are being made redundant by machines which can’t.
Let’s hope that when they swap out the drivers with machines (as is the plan, down the line) we don’t have similar concerns over their trustworthiness.
There is of course another side to this. The subway looks prettier, of this you can have no doubt and the addition of the Glasgow mural by Alasdair Gray at Hillhead really gives the subway something which no comparison with other subways around the world can detract from.
But aesthetics, although a strong passion of mine, is not everything in life. The most important thing for a public service is that it performs its function first before you start on making it look shiny and I suspect this was done first to give us outward signs of improvements as the costs rose, a bauble, to distract.
I also have these things though called legs and I could use them to save money, it just seems so ludicrous to live behind one subway station and work at the exit of another and not use the thing. So many people are desperate to have stations near them in the east, who of course were promised stations for the Commonwealth Games and never got, and here I am with so many in my life complaining about them.
But perhaps that’s it, I miss the good times because I had them. Like when popping into town on £1.20 just in time to go out was definitively cheaper than a split taxi or when my ridiculous (former) morning commute to Castlemilk was sped up by the accusation of a twenty journey ticket which also saved me enough for a pint at week’s end.
I’ll get a smartcard, I’ll ride the subway, but it’s not the same because every step of the process from buying the ticket to getting out the barriers at the end has been made worse and I’m being asked to pay more for the privilege.