Magazine article Management Today

Ideas Well below Their Station: The Difference between UK Transport Planners' Perception of Travel and That of Transport Users Is Strikingly Apparent in the Souless Design of Passenger Terminals

Magazine article Management Today

Ideas Well below Their Station: The Difference between UK Transport Planners' Perception of Travel and That of Transport Users Is Strikingly Apparent in the Souless Design of Passenger Terminals

Article excerpt

The difference between UK transport planners' perception of travel and that of transport users is strikingly apparent in the soulless design of passenger terminals.

Last Christmas, I made a journey by coach, the first for many years. It was not by choice; British Rail was unable to guarantee a seat reservation in either standard or first class in the week before the holiday, and, not wishing to stand for two-and-a-half hours, I had no alternative but to travel by coach. Yet, despite apprehension fuelled by previous experiences, I was impressed. Although the journey took the best part of six hours (not surprisingly, given the time of year), it was perfectly acceptable. Some segregation of smokers would have been nice, but the old bane of inadequate legroom, for even an ordinary six-footer, had finally been banished with a more realistic seat pitch.

For most people, coaches have become the poor man's inter-city transport: few executives would dream of using this method of travel on business. Instead, coach travel seems to have taken its place at the bottom of the hierarchy of modes of long-distance public transport (well - nearly the bottom; hitchhiking, if it can be counted as public transport, enjoys this position). The advertising says it all: BR tempts passengers from the airlines with promises of more comfort; National Express in turn tempts passengers from the railways with lower prices.

So why the downbeat image of coach services? The single biggest reason has to be the design of coach terminals. The coach station, where I waited for 20 minutes to pick up a pre-booked ticket, was an excellent example. It was poorly lit, noisy and overcrowded. The walkways were far too narrow and had nothing to separate them from the coaches except a kerb - and so, entirely predictably, waiting passengers spilled out on to the roadway in front of reversing coaches, slowing up the whole process of setting down and picking up travellers, and risking lives.

Facilities such as waiting rooms, cafes and left-luggage provision were minimal. Signs were poor and misleading; there seemed to be no clear instruction to |wait here for the Manchester bus', which was all that I wanted - worse still, none of the staff seemed to know either. The atmosphere was charged with a peculiar mixture of diesel fumes and mild panic. It put me in mind of scenes in the big European train stations at the end of the last war: throngs of confused and weary refugees, worldly goods and tearful children at their feet.

There are rail stations which are as bad as coach points. BR, in spite of the pioneering corporate identity and signs developed for it by the Design Research Unit in the 1960s, has its own betes noires. Euston, for instance, in common with many other mainline London stations, keeps delayed travellers waiting on the concourse, gazing up at the departures board for news of the platform number and departure time of their train. This system keeps the hapless passengers under control - they dare not wander off to the waiting-room or the buffet, for fear of being last in the unseemly scramble for the platform gate.

Even the motorway network, for so long the jewel in the crown of government transport policy in Britain, is associated with poor architecture and services. Multi-storey and underground car parks must rank among the most inhospitable environments created by the car culture. Motorway service stations serve reheated food in concrete shells. …

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