Saturday 27 November 2010

Airport and Arsenal Anguish ...

Or how to waste £17.50

Transport for London [tfl] is very proud of its website and journey planner.   "The most used journey planner for London" - actually it's the ONLY one freely available.   But it is often misleading and nearly always suffers from the "too much information" syndrome.

Consider a simple enquiry - a journey from Heathrow Airport to Arsenal.  Perhaps fbb has just flown in from a holiday in Dubai and is anxious to get to the Gunner's home game on time.  [If you knew fbb personally, you would know how likely this scenario might be!!]

So, first we are told to catch the Heathrow Express [HEx] to Paddington. Hmmm. Sort of OK, so far - maybe!     But note the irrelevant information (in green) about a line that does not serve Heathrow OR Paddington; and a huge paragraph (in blue) about departing flights which means little if you have just arrived!

The site then tells you to catch a circle or metropolitan line train from Paddington to Kings Cross St Pancras. This involves a walk back along the station (against the main flow of alighting passengers) up onto a footbridge at the front of the train and to the remote "suburban" platforms to your right.   It is not obvious and it is quite a long trudge.

And if, as is likely, you did follow the crowd the wrong way, you might find the OTHER circle line platforms at the barrier end of the platforms ...

... and then you will either have an extra change at Edgware Road or, even worse, go the "wrong way" round the circle to Kings Cross St Pancras.   Changing at Paddington is not for the unwary, and certainly to be avoided if at all possible.  [Mysterious fact No 34b : this part of Paddington Station is called "The Lawn" - and not a blade of grass in sight!]

And so on to Kings Cross St Pancras.

Here there are three Underground booking halls, five National Rail booking offices and the Eurostar terminal.   The tube interchange is simple for those who are used to it but daunting for the newcomer.   Recently unwary passengers (including fbb), having walked wearily the full length of the splendid St Pancras station were then greeted by a notice sending them back through long echoing tunnels to the new northern ticket hall - back to where they started.   Again, best avoided!

And the last bit by comparison, is a short run on the Piccadilly line.   But, yet again, tfl goes for unnecessary information overkill!   Why doesn't it say, simply, "take ANY Piccadilly Line northbound train"?

But Transport for London's scheme has a snag.  HEx is the most expensive train ride in London at £18 single; to which is added the £4 tube fare from Paddington to Arsenal - total £22.

Of course there is an easier way.

Join the Piccadilly line at Heathrow and get off at Arsenal- NO changes at all.   Price £4.50, saving of £17.50!   It takes about 10 mins longer (but using the tfl route you might easily mess up at either of the two hairy interchanges, in which case it will be shorter.) but it is delightfully SIMPLE.   And if you have an Oyster Card, the Underground (but NOT Heathrow Express) is even cheaper.

Before Mr Clever complains.  You can "switch off"  HEx on the tfl website and search for Underground only: BUT where are you told that HEx counts as a bit of the big National Rail Network?   NOWHERE!  Neither are you warned about the so-called "premium" (i.e. rip-off) price of HEx. And if you are unwise enough to try to buy your Heathrow to Paddington ticket ON the train, you will get stung for an extra £5!

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