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The Bottom Inspectors

The Bottom Inspectors are a rather gloriously puerile (yes, even by the standards of Viz) form of secret polic that check if you’ve wiped your bum. They are quite well known because for quite some time Chris Donald refused to say what he’d based them on. The smart money was they were a parody of the Stasi. The smart money was wrong. They were based on the Tyneside Metro Ticket Inspectors. Now I wouldn’t exactly say they are that bad but they appear to be. This is because the Metro has a serious fare-dodging problem. Or more specifically it is a difficult system to prevent fare dodging on so the tactics the Ticket Inspectors use naturally appear quite draconian.

And why is this the case? The first line of defence against fare dodging is working turnstiles at stations. You know like most major London Underground stations have that won’t let you through unless you feed a ticket in or flash an Oyster card. The Tyneside turnstiles don’t do anything. They were supposed to but they never worked and haven’t for the several decades the system has been there. So the Metro management has no alternative but to employ The Bottom Inspectors. Now this is very silly. It is very silly for a very simple reason. Running a railway costs money and as with almost any enterprise the major cost is wages. The Bottom Inspectors don’t work for the lark of it despite anything Chris Donald might suspect. This cock-up with the turnstiles and the failure to rectify it over thirty years means the Metro is nowhere near as efficient as it ought to be. It is over-staffed. Now you might speculate as to why that is but I couldn’t comment.

Oh, it’s make work for Geordies who forty years ago would have been making things (possibly turnstiles) out of metal.

I recalled this because arguably the commuter lines around Manchester have the opposite problem. I fare-dodged yesterday. I did this without agency or design. My local station is unmanned and doesn’t even have a ticket machine so short of making a votive offering to George Stephenson I couldn’t buy a ticket for a short return journey. It’s almost as if TESCO ran it’s affairs by saying we have a lot of sirloin steaks, just stick one down your trousers and you won’t have to pay! Northern who run trains round here just don’t seem arsed to collect fares. I live in an affluent commuter belt area and not only to they not have some biddy in a little office selling tickets but they haven’t invested in a ticket machine. Most of the trains are guardless (or seem so – perhaps he’s having a wank in the bog – God knows!) so I would say half the journeys I have made on the trains round here over several years that not only did I not pay for but couldn’t pay for.

Except for this one I did, eventually. My return had a guard who sold me a ticket just as I was about to get off. Indeed the transaction nearly made me miss my stop. I paid for a single. I actually wasn’t prepared to be honest enough to pay for a return because I am sick to the back-teeth of the “business” model of the railways which almost regards fares as fines if they catch you. And that is a big “if”. If a business can’t be arsed to go to the bother of even trying to collect payment for it’s services then frankly fuck ‘em. I was also rather annoyed at the possibility of missing my stop by this 11:59 attempt at securing payment. If I’d been able to pay up-front for the actual return I would have been much more gruntled. Do the railway folks not appreciate this simple fact? Of course not! They operate on subsidies.

So you got the make-work Tyneside Metro and the can’t be bothered railways of Manchester and both operate like they couldn’t give a fuck in different ways. It reminds me of just post-communist Eastern Europe. A small caff would provide excellent service. The great heffalumping post-communist still state owned businesses regarded customer service as an optional extra like metallic paint or a sat-nav. They had a mentality which is the opposite of a business. All businesses are different but all provide (or ought to) a service to their customers. Good ones ought to not out of the kindness of their hearts but because the alternative involves being up queer street. Or should. But state-run monopolies can get away with any old shit. They feel they are doing you a service. That’s the wrong way round. It ought to be that you are doing them a service by giving them your poke. Some outfits understand that and some go broke and some in whatever sense part of the state so are you know like whatever.

Which reminds me. You want good customer service then never, ever try to get anywhere on Polish (state-owned) railways. I have never in my entire puff since such disinterested customer service as from them. I arrive in Krakow and ask where the taxi rank is. Some wizened old bint who probably last had an orgasm when Joe Stalin was liquidating the kulaks says “outside” and drops her blind and goes back to her magazine. Krakow is quite a large station so my further attempts to ascertain where outside where met with a granite-like resistance. This despite my wife (a Russian graduate and translator) asking in her bestest Polish.

That’s the mentality. I honestly believe the railways of Britain could be run as profit-making enterprises if anyone could be arsed. There is a sort of coda to the Krakow story. From Krakow our next stop was quite a way away in a small Silesian town where my wife’s sister lives with her boyfriend. Before this trip happened he’d insisted that he wouldn’t have been a proper host if he didn’t drive us from Krakow. I’d assumed we could have got the train. I realised he wasn’t just being hospitable that very morning when I met the face of the Polish railroad. Marian of course had experience of Polish railways being, well, Polish. And that says it all. It was nice of him to pick us up but it was also necessary. Poles don’t believe they can navigate their railways so what chance the likes of me? Or to put it another way. Why are most journeys of any distance – long or short – made in a private car these days?


  1. Andy says:

    Interesting comments but re Polish Railways I suggest that using a Russian speaker to ask directions in Poland is asking for problems.

    The Soviets / Russians invaded Poland in 1939 and finally left in 1989 recent history, try English next time it’ll get you further!

  2. NickM says:

    I tried English and my wife spoke in Polish.

  3. mongoose says:

    And why is not all public transport just free? No tickets, no inspectors, no turnstiles, no flummery of anykind, car-use plummets… The cost-benefit analysis would be interesting.

  4. berenike says:

    Heheh. The authentic experience. Them wifies are a dying breed, you should be glad you got to meet one before they are quite extinct. A few years ago I had to go to the National Insurance office with the forms of a foreigner my mother employs – the woman sat and showed me how to fill in each box on all five or six sides. I thought I was dreaming. But this sort of thing keeps happening now!

  5. Tim Newman says:

    Interesting comments but re Polish Railways I suggest that using a Russian speaker to ask directions in Poland is asking for problems.

    I bought a ticket in Warsaw railway station using Russian when the old biddy behind the counter didn’t understand my English. If they’re old enough they’ll know Russian, and if you are a foreigner who quite obviously cannot speak Polish, they’ll not mind using it.

  6. Sam Duncan says:

    “They operate on subsidies.”

    Hah! I was waiting for that (or I’d have said it myself). That’s the trouble. Who needs fares when you can soak the taxpayer?

    Railway privatization? They should try that someday.

    Similar thing happened with Eck Salmond’s saltire-emblazoned* bus passes for old Jocks. The agency responsible for reimbursing the bus firms – which already existed, of course, for subsidized routes – suddenly saw a suspiciously large number of claims for journeys from Glasgow to Aberdeen and suchlike. Nobody could have seen that coming a mile off.

    And I still can’t fathom why the Glasgow Subway, which goes round in circles, needs drivers when the DLR, which has points, doesn’t. It’s more like a sort of horizontal lift than a railway. They’d rather contemplate closing the least-used station to save money than sack a few pointless staff and retrofit the trains. I wonder how it feels to know that your job could be done by a well-coded smartphone app hooked up to parking radar.

    *Seriously, you should see them. A flag in every old bugger’s pocket. They couldn’t look more patronizingly “You live in Scotland and its ‘Government’ has generously given you this magic ticket to ‘free’ bus travel” if they had Bawheid’s grinning mug itself plastered on them. And that’s saying something.

  7. Peter Crawford says:

    Don’t speak Russian to Poles. They don’t like it much. I was once on a train at Inowroclaw and the polish police caught a couple of russian fare dodgers. The results were not pretty although it kept the rest of the train entertained for five minutes.

  8. Andrew Duffin says:

    Even the Glasgow subway (aka the Clockwork Orange) has working ticket turnstiles.

    How hard can it be?

  9. Roue le Jour says:

    Standard Soviet practice. When I was in Russia before the fall they had an old biddy sitting at the bottom of the escalator in front of the emergency stop button. How else are you going to get full employment?

  10. Tim Newman says:

    When I was in Russia before the fall they had an old biddy sitting at the bottom of the escalator in front of the emergency stop button.

    They still do.

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