THE BLOG
27/06/2018 10:51 BST | Updated 28/06/2018 16:35 BST

Fix My Commute, Don't Train Staff To Give ‘Sympathetic Facial Expressions’

Thameslink has reportedly trained staff to display “positive body language” when dealing with disgruntled passengers

Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

I’m standing on a sweltering, packed train platform waiting for a delayed train to arrive that I know is going to be equally sweltering and packed thanks to earlier cancellations. You know what’s not going to make me feel any better? A member of station staff giving me a sympathetic head tilt.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has encouraged its staff to display “positive body language” when dealing with disgruntled passengers, according to The Times. In an employee briefing, staff were reportedly told to display open palms and sympathetic facial expressions to pacify frustrated commuters, like me, who can feel their blood pressure rising by the minute.

Like many commuters who venture into city jobs from suburbs, I am at my wit’s end with “the new timetable”, which was introduced in May with the lofty promise of a better service [and] better connected communities”, but has so far only delivered headaches.

The temporary timetable, created to clean up the original mess, isn’t much better. My own commute from Hertfordshire to King’s Cross - part of the GTR network - has been saddled with delays and cancellations, meaning I’m paying almost £5,000 per year to stand wedged against someone’s smelly armpit and arrive home late each evening. To add insult to injury, the heatwave has caused signalling failures and buckled tracks, meaning services run at a slower speed (if at all).

Things are just as bad, if not worse, for passengers travelling with other rail networks. Earlier this month,execs at Northern Rail announced they would be removing 165 trains per day from schedules until the end of July. What will they be requiring their staff to do, give passengers conciliatory high fives?

I truly feel sympathy for frontline staff experiencing the daily wrath of the commuting community. But encouraging them to dish out disingenuous sympathy isn’t going to help anyone

Of course, the abominable disruptions are not the fault of the public-facing station staff and I truly feel sympathy for frontline staff experiencing the daily wrath of the commuting community. But encouraging them to dish out disingenuous sympathy isn’t going to help anyone. Instead of pretending everything’s hunky-dory, an honest “I’m really sorry you have to deal with this shit” would be much easier to stomach.

It’s no exaggeration to say the train changes have had a negative impact on my mental health. I’m tired because I am leaving for work earlier and getting back later than ever before, my stress levels are through the roof and there have been days where I’ve struggled to hold back tears of frustration. Yet I know things are far worse for others, such as wheelchair users - who struggle to access public transport at the best of time - or workers who fear losing their jobs or have lost pay because of persistent lateness that is out of their control. The pitiful compensation available via Delay Repay doesn’t really make a difference, and who really wants to spend the precious free time they have filling out an arduous form?

When I contacted GTR about their reported new training policy, I was told they will not be providing any comment, which is part of the problem in itself. In this whole mess, commuters have had very little information, from late-notice cancellations to a lack of solid commitment about when this chaos will end. An overly jolly staff member won’t make me feel any better, but some honesty (and some trains!) might.