Monday, 14 March 2011

What Message Are you Sending?

Have a look at the pictures attached to this article. They are the first things that passengers see at one of the South West Trains (SWT) stations that I use. What message do they give you?

There is no doubt a reason for these posters appearing, which is that in the past (and indeed perhaps still in the present) passengers have travelled without purchasing tickets, or have abused staff in the past, or act in a disorderly manner. What happened to them?

These acts aren’t solely committed on the premises of SWT. They can happen on your local high street, at a pub, a theatre or any public place. However, I’m only aware of seeing these posters at train stations and at some shops warning that shoplifters will be prosecuted (and even then, these are less “obvious”). Why are train passengers or shoppers worse than anyone else?

Why does at least one train company, in a more affluent area of the UK, feel that it has to provide warnings that no other private or public body has to provide?

For many, they may indicate defensiveness, aggression and a view that those who pay to travel on SWT are dishonest, abusive and disorderly. They may provoke feelings of hostility and defensiveness amongst “ordinary decent passengers” (who, for them most part, probably ignore them) and will certainly not stop real criminals or hooligans from behaving in an unacceptable manner.

The SWT staff that I have encountered are pleasant, friendly people with a sense of humour all trying to do a job which, at times, must be hard. No doubt they will encounter abuse, or anti-social behaviour. For SWT management to try to infer that somehow paying passengers may not vent their feelings over poor or sloppy service seems a chronic lapse in service and tantamount to institutional bullying.

Assuming that SWT can prosecute customers for being “rude” (disorderly and destructive are another issue), then this must apply to any other institution and therefore they as well as SWT are entitled to display similar signage. Only thing is, they don’t.

If SWT have the right to prosecute (or indeed threaten) passengers, do passengers have a similar right if they encounter rude/abusive or disorderly conduct from SWT employees?

The message seems to be that, like children, passengers need to be warned beforehand and cannot be treated as responsible adults. Rather sad, really.

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