It’s just after 7pm in the evening. A train has been cancelled which makes the one I am running for the first off peak train. I don’t notice this at first because I have a travel card. I realise this afterwards when I cannot get on two carriages as they are filled with visiting school children. I find ‘space’ on the first carriage.
There is a boy who is hyperventilating because it is too crowded. Arms are bent in strange angles trying to grip the pole. Everyone is ignoring the lady who ignorantly shouts for someone to move down. And I find a corner and stick to it hoping to get to my station soon.
Directly in front of me is a small compartment which has at least 10 empty seats. These seats look slightly more comfortable and there is room. It is attractive but I make no move towards it. I have been strongly discouraged by the announcement of a fine for not having the proper ticket. As a result slight envy flows through me and my fellow squashed commoners who don’t have the privilege of sitting in the probably air conditioned unit where people are not standing on people.
But there is nothing anyone can do. None of us are first class.
I’m not exaggerating
I have weaved all my experiences into a few paragraphs but I lie not. On one train which was as packed as Nelly’s trunk, the announcement came on that people should not even stand in first class. The reaction of all people was to laugh, but the ridiculous idea stayed with me.
On one Brighton train they had a whole carriage dedicated to first class. I got on by mistake (it looked the same as normal carriages) and only when I heard another passenger remark that they were in first class did I realise my error. Sticking to a principle of not getting up, I spent the whole journey with my nerves on tenterhooks, looking around for an inspector.
Why do they exist?
I’m not rich enough to know anyone who has a first class ticket. So I cannot ask anyone about the benefits of the small compartment vs the uplift in cost. But I am not so left wing that I cannot agree that if you pay more you should be able afford the privilege of a better seat if one is available.
But my argument is that surely the need of the many should sometimes trump the want of the few?
And all these other questions explode in my brain such as:
- Why have people suffer in claustrophobia when there is room for them to breathe.
- Is the very purpose of the seats not to be sat upon?
- How many people actually have first class tickets?
- Why is it not be possible to reduce it to a first class seat or two?
- Could there not be a first class priority ? Meaning that anyone can sit on the seat until a first class passenger comes onboard?
Let us remind ourselves that a train is not a plane. And on my normal commuter train I don’t see that they get extra leg room. The seats don’t roll back. And there is no extra storage. What the money for first class seems to go towards is the sliding door which separates us from them.
Also if these passengers need to go on follow on transport, there are no classes on tubes, trams or buses. So it is not beyond these ticket holders to mix with the rabble.
There are times when first class has been declassified. It always makes me smile as people make their way to the seats like the first sight of water in drought filled land. So I know that train companies are not completely unreasonable. But train companies need to employ this more often. Or they need to let the era of first class go. I know which one I would prefer…