Travelling on MerseyRail doesn’t just piss me off, I confirmed today. From the grunts and rolling eyes across the carriage at Birkenhead North during peak hour this afternoon, I expertly deduced that it got under the skin of quite a few people.
“Bibibibibi-PSHEWWW,” the doors closed. “Ting ting.” Then the doors opened again. Quizzical looks. The doors closed. Then opened. Then closed. “Fuuuuuck sake,” growled the builder next to me (I assume he was a builder cause he was wearing a high-vis jacket, either that or he was a lollypop lady).
It went on for about three minutes and was likely forgotten about by everyone else as we approached Leasowe. Not me, though.
Sadly, I’m a slave to MerseyRail. I’m sans car at the moment, live by West Kirby station, and need to get to Liverpool every day. Then, at the weekends, I travel to Preston. I use the service seven days a week, and haven’t been off the Wirral line for nearly three bloody months now.
And when you use something so consistently, you pick up on the slightest things. It’s not a one-way street. I pay an awful lot of money to use MerseyRail, and lately I’ve been cataloguing things inherently wrong with the network like an incredibly sad bastard; possibly one rung lower on the ladder than your actual train spotter.
Take this example, for instance. Last month I got on at James Street, only to find a woman blocking off an entire third of the carriage so she could have it all to herself and her two McDonald’s munching kids (pic above).
She blocked the path with her pram and refused to let anyone past. We all stood squashed until she stomped off at Bidston with her tiny troupe waddling behind – the carriage laden with chips squashed into the floor, soggy lettuce on the seats and stinky Maccies strewn everywhere.
The other morning, my fellow passengers and I got booted off at Hoylake in the pouring rain with no explanation. The other evening the (heaving) train stopped in the tunnel between Hamilton Square and James Street for fifteen minutes.
All those irritations have built up in a bubbling, seething cauldron of mediocrity over the months. But I would have stomached more because, frankly, I’m currently stuck with MerseyRail as much as Flo is stuck with Andy Capp.
Then I came across MerseyRail’s Twitter account and really lost it.
I work in online media, unfortunately, and over the past fortnight or so, have noticed a lot more activity from MerseyRail’s Twitter. I can tell from my experience in ‘online marketing’ that MerseyRail is derailed when it comes to cross-platform communication.
“Morning, we’re here to help you until 16:00 today.” is posted in one form or other by MerseyRail every morning.
4pm rolls around (because train behaviour is only worth tweeting about ‘til mid-afternoon apparently. There are zero problems in the evenings).
“Signing off now. We’ll be back at 0900 tomorrow to answer your tweets.”
Aha! I thought the other day. Finally, an outlet!
I tweeted them and was ignored, though admittedly it wasn’t the best introduction as I asked “why is your service so bad?” I was told to email details of the journey in question that upset me so to the customer relations department.
I grew up the next day, and sent them a proper tweet when I saw MerseyRail was open for business. Luckily (or unluckily) the usual six-carriage rush hour service from James Street was reduced to three cramped carriages with no warning at all the day before:
@merseyrail: Morning, we are here to answer your tweets until 4pm
Didn’t get back to me yesterday – 3 carriages instead of 6 at JS, 5:12 yesterday RT @merseyrail: We are here to answer your tweets until 4pm
@JohnMeddy Thanks for your further tweet. However, we have asked you to contact our Customer Relations Team via email firstname.lastname@example.org
@merseyrail What’s the point of saying you’ll answer questions via Twitter then if you’re only going to point people to an email address?
@JohnMeddy Our Control Centre advise that this train was formed of 3 coaches only yesterday so that additional units could be provided contd
@JohnMeddy on the Southport line to cope with the large number of people travelling for the Orange Lodge event. Apologies for any discomfort
Oh. So no contingency plan was put in place for a dubious event MerseyRail knew they had to provide carriages for in advance? What? How does an event in Southport affect the James Street to West Kirby service?
Another opportunity presented itself Wednesday night after another nightmarish trip home. Thursday morning I tweeted:
Hi @merseyrail, signal fault at Hamilton Square yesterday delaying peak hour, after-work service (again). Response?
No public spat this time. Instead a direct message:
Sorry for yesterday. Please check live updates on our website http://www.merseyrail.org Thanks
My equally twattish reply:
Got a DM from @merseyrail saying to check the website for things like signal failures. My responsibility to check instead of fixing cause.
I admit my tweets to MerseyRail were grumpy at best. Plus I’m a cock. But I’m not an isolated incident. A quick glance at MerseyRail’s Twitter feed unveils useless response after useless response:
@BBAILEY26 Best to email the details to our Customer Relations Team email@example.com thanks
@ianwalker1991 Please call our Customer Relations Team on 0151 702 2071 and they’ll direct you to the right office. Thanks
@InsaneForLouis Please email our Customer Relations Team firstname.lastname@example.org with the details so they can notify our Trains Mgr thanks
And perhaps most incredibly of all:
@1984Saint Best to send everything in to our Customer Relations Department for them to have a look at. Comment forms are available cont/d..
@1984Saint from any staffed Station. Alternatively, write to Customer Relations, 9th Floor, Rail House, Lord Nelson St, Liverpool, L1 1JF
MerseyRail is using Twitter to tell a customer to write a letter to their offices in Lord Nelson Street.
What on earth is the point of having a Twitter account representing one of the northwest’s largest rail operators saying it’s there specifically to answer questions, only to tell them to email customer services or write a letter that’ll get lost in the system for weeks on end?
Surely MerseyRail hasn’t invested in social media (like nearly every other company on the planet) in an effort to look hip, cool and accessible? Because if they have then it isn’t working – mostly on a practical level, as you can see above, which is the whole point having a corporate Twitter account.
It’s not the person in charge of the account’s fault if MerseyRail has just turned to them and said “Morning, yeah, here’s the password for our Twitter, manage it and keep your cool till four.” How can that poor sod answer questions from wankers like me if MerseyRail’s suits don’t provide them with the necessary answers to respond with?
To me, it’s a very public example of the half-arsed way some companies do things on Twitter. Blame government cuts and whatever else, but social media’s free. Transparency is free. Answers are free, MerseyRail.
But, sadly, a monthly train ticket isn’t free, and until I win the lottery then I’m destined to aggravate some poor sod in the MerseyRail office for the foreseeable future as we square off, keyboard to keyboard…
P.S. Here’s a man on the way to Preston that looks a bit like Sean Connery in The Last Crusade.