Transported: To The Late Shift

Until last week, I have been generally pleased about my commute which is now just past its fourth year. The occasional mishap notwithstanding, the majority of the travel has been hassle free and on schedule. This last week however I discovered a whole new world of train travel which shocked me a little and made me miserable, a lot.

It was the later hours commuting. For various reasons I changed my working hours from 9 to 5 to 10 to 6 so my morning train was no longer the 0700, 0730 or 0800, but instead changed to the 0830 or 0900. My evening train was meant to be the 1825 or at the latest the 1852 which would get me back to Bristol by 1915 or perhaps 1940. All manageable I thought until I tried to follow this new timetable.

The first thing I discovered was that these hours between 8am and 9am are peak hours for most workers, let alone commuters. There was no hope of grabbing a quick coffee on the way to the station because the queue was out to the door. The wave of commuters I passed as I approached made my feel claustrophic as hundreds of them (as they seemed to me) headed to the city centre en masse. The trains had plenty of carriages but they were ridiculously full as the tickets had just hit their off-peak price which was sometimes as cheap as half the cost of the peak ones.

During the half-term I couldn’t even find a seat and perched in one of the bicycle little areas. So I gave up my coffee and the quiet and the silence. I became used to weaving in and out of crowds of people on the way to Temple Meads and avoiding bicycles through Queen Square. I thought it was probably not too bad.

The worst was yet to come. The evening trains from Cheltenham to Bristol became horrendous. I would arrive at the station at 1800 and the boards wouldn’t even bother with five or ten minute delays. On one day the 1825 was due at 1922 and on this last Monday it was due at 1855. It seemed that every time I showed up at the station I would have to wait nearly an hour and then inevitably the delay would increase as I sat in the waiting room. On Friday night I arrived home after nine o’clock and on the Monday that just passed I was back in time to wash the dishes for 2048.

I have now gone back to my normal hours and after the horror of 13 and 14 hour days I felt motivated enough to catch the 0627 and 0700 to work. The streets were empty, the lights were orange and the trains left on time, both in the morning and the evening.

Utter bliss.

bus stop at the station

Caffe Gusto vs Starbucks


The staff at Starbucks, Bristol Temple Meads, are the friendliest that I have encountered so I was a little surprised not to be greeted with a smile yesterday. Turns out that the soy milk delivery was late so they couldn’t serve me.

Instead, I found myself heading to Caffe Gusto to buy a coffee before the morning train. I had just missed mine by about a minute so I wasn’t in much of a rush. The Gusto branch, which is one of many that surround and inundate the city centre (four more outlets than Starbucks), is found at the very front of the road that leads to the train station. Next to it is the Passenger Shed and a nursery.

I walk in and there’s a soft orange light that fills the cavernous interior leading to the counter. To my right are the tables and chairs for the customers. The light is more natural and it’s very quiet with a couple of occupied tables. Free wi-fi is advertised by the door.

A latte costs £2.15 for a single shot and £2.45 for a double. Soy milk is available for an additional 30p as is flavoured syrup. My decaf, vanilla, double shot latte costs me £3.05. At Starbucks the extra shot, syrup and soy milk are free for Starbucks card holders and if I reuse a tray there is a discount of 25p. Gusto so far cost me £1.20 more. I also order a muffin and an apple as substitute for the porridge I would have had from the other coffee retailer.

The soy milk at Starbucks is Alpro which is the nicest I’ve tasted by far. Their vanilla flavoured one with cinnamon on top was my favourite drink at Dashi before they shut down in January. I don’t know what they use at Gusto but it tastes akin to what skim milk tastes to people who don’t drink it, shit, watery, unpleasant and much like dish water. When you’re drinking decaf, as I am, there isn’t even the compensation of the caffeine hit.

I am not saying that Starbucks has amazing coffee which I choose for its flavour. The soy latte is sweet, milky (to an extent), and comforting. The extras are all free and I can ask for it the way I want it, ‘extra wet’ which means no foam. It’s also cheaper.

The muffin was the best part of yesterday’s breakfast and I wonder if they make their own. The whole purchase cost £5.60 and I am not too keen on going back.

This morning I caught the 7am train and I went by Starbucks for porridge and coffee. They apologised for yesterday’s lack of ingredients and didn’t charge me. The latte is comforting and the porridge is served with dried fruit and tastes great.

For me, Starbucks wins hands down and the service at Bristol Temple Meads is exceptional.

Caffe Gusto, British Empire & Commonwealth Museum, Clock Tower Yard, Temple Meads, Bristol, BS1 6QH
Starbucks, Temple Quay, 1 Temple Square, Unit A, Restaurant/Bar Cafe 2, Bristol, Bristol, City of BS1 6EB

Transported: On Schedule

I step outside the Bristol Parkway station five years ago and notice nothing in particular. My then boyfriend and I are visiting for the weekend and hadn’t yet learnt which of the Bristol stations is actually near the city centre. Knowing what we know now, we would have got back on a train and been at Temple Meads in eight minutes. Instead we took a bus and spent over half an hour being driven back through Lockleaze and Fishponds.

These days I pass through Parkway almost daily and I know not to get out. It’s usually the people that get in who are the problem and I hope they don’t take this personally because I’m pretty sure they see us in a similar way. I have no idea where the train stops before it gets to Temple Meads so I can sympathise with those who look upon us as simply seat invaders.

Not all trains are the same of course and over the last four years I have travelled on a range of services between 0627 and 0900 to get to work. The 0627 gets me to my desk sometime between 0745 and 0800 and is the loveliest service. There are nine carriages and barely any passengers. The service goes to Edinburgh so I guess it gets a little busier but from Bristol Temple Meads I usually get a table seat and a carriage all to myself.

The 0700 is busier during summer but quiet later on so a seat is always guaranteed. The 0730 is a nightmare with only four coaches including first class. The Parkway people are sometimes left with the corridors and aisle as their only choice for travel and I undoubtedly have to share with someone else. The eight o’clock is not so bad and then we get to off-peak tickets so the trains get busier on their way to Manchester or Edinburgh.

I don’t seem to notice the Parkway people so much on the way home. They drift out with barely a glance back. There are fellow commuters who I chat to and it’s not until they stare blankly as I mention the 0730 delay or the 0800 being packed that I realise who they are. “The 0740” they correct me with barely a flicker or “the 0810”. One has been commuting for 19 years and is the veteran among us. My four years seem a little mediocre compared to K’s seven but then I am far more seasoned than barely eight month traveller who may be getting a job in the Bristol City Centre. I don’t blame her. I enjoy my commute but some days having three hours less travel would be bliss.

All this occurs during normal service, and while I am always surprised to say this, normal service seems to happen a lot. On the infrequent occasion when things don’t go to plan the delays seem to drag. After a recent night out in Cheltenham the driver announced quite enthusiastically that we would be arriving 20 minutes early but to Parkway and not to Temple Meads.

The Engineering works  scheduled for that evening had been cancelled and the train would wait at an empty station and then arrive at Temple Meads half an hour later. From 42 minutes, the journey lasted over an hour and it’s probably the only time in my commuting history that it felt like Parkway got the better deal.

bristol train station

Transported: to the end of the line

The Monday that just passed, brought back memories of previous long queues, and the usual feeling of relief, as I tended to pass by with my monthly ticket. This time there was less satisfaction as I had to wait along with more than 80 other people, some outside the side door of the station. With 10 minutes before my train left, I knew I’d missed it but I did gain some time to think about why the queues were so long and clustered around certain days.

While there need not be a significant relationship between the clusters of people and the time or day, randomness does love clusters after all, there appeared to be an association, so what to make of it? If data were available on ticket purchases by date and time I could analyse it in a way that identifies significant relationships. I could then survey passengers and with a sample  large, and random, enough I could infer the results onto the general population of train travellers. This would be the way I would plan it if I was looking for a definitive answer but I was pondering more than seeking certainty.

There were four windows open with cashiers ready to serve, and four automatic machines but they don’t provide all of the services you get at the windows. The staff are usually good, so any potential slowness is not the problem. The reason that had me personally queuing was the inability to purchase advance season tickets. There are various times when I have wanted to be organised and tried to buy my monthly or weekly ticket in advance but was told I could not do so.

When contacted, the Stage Coach Group said that the rules governing the advance issue of season tickets are common to National Rail and are as follows:

New Tickets

  • Starting on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday (or Tuesdays following a Bank Holiday Monday): Tickets may be purchased from 12 noon on the Friday before.
  • Starting any other day: Tickets may be purchased from 12 noon on the day before.


  • Starting any day: Tickets may be purchased up to 7 days in advance.

* You are required to surrender the expiring ticket at the time of purchase and there must be no break in validity.

The rules in place are designed to strike a balance between the requirements of season ticket customers to renew tickets at less busy times and also to minimise the potential for misuse of season tickets in advance of the validity start date. All existing ticket issuing systems throughout the National Rail network work to the same specification, in that they encode only the expiry date of the ticket – this is primarily a limitation imposed by magnetic ticketing design.

These rules and limitations are in place to prevent me buying a monthly ticket for the end of the year and being able to use it at any point until it expires and before it is valid. I can see the reasoning behind this and while it doesn’t solve the problem it does suggest an area to look for a solution. Is it a problem limited by technology because there are no better ticketing systems available?

The South Coach Group said they are trialling a Smartcard ticketing scheme for South West Trains. Initially, this is only going to be available for a limited range of but within a couple of years, they are hopeful that this could be extended and make ticket renewals more flexible.

Bristol transport are getting a ‘smart card’ system soon and this could be the same thing. Jon Rogers, Bristol’s councillor in charge of transport told the Bristol Evening Post in May 2010, that the card will initially work on buses but will also be extended to be used on trains, ferries and the proposed bus rapid transit network. If it has the same functionality as the London Oyster card then it may save some time but we will have to see.

Bristol Temple Meads, the site of the Affordable Art Fair

Bristol Temple Meads, originally uploaded by still awake.

Leaflets for the Affordable Art Fair are distributed at the front of Bristol Temple Meads in the days leading up to the new exhibition at the Passenger Shed. There are also some on display at the Starbucks on Temple Quay and there is much promotion in the local newspaper and around Bristol.

The thought of art being put on display and promoted is a positive one, the idea that a ticket needs to be bought means I won’t be going. There are over 20 art galleries in Bristol and they don’t charge for entrance. The most thought-provoking displays I’ve come across have been at the Arnolfini which also charges no fee for the opportunity to marvel at other people’s creations.

The Affordable Art Fair is at the Passenger Shed, right next to the station this weekend from the 14th – 16th May. 55 galleries will take part in the exhibition of contemporary paintings, sculpture, photography and original prints – and the items are priced between £50 and £3,000.

I remember being hugely offended when someone gently mocked a tour of the Arnolfini as a middle class endeavour. Art is not middle class, I protested, and it’s free to all. There is no privilege being purchased here.

The Affordable Art Fair is not free, although it is half price with a train ticket, and is limited to those who would pay. I would just question, affordable for whom?

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