Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Late Trains, Behavioural Economics and Laurie Anderson

Here’s an unlikely phrase: “Laure Anderson is currently touring, and played her only UK set last Saturday night - in Bexhill.” Yes, the New York performance artiste chose to gig (if that’s the right word) in Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion. But then this is a bit of a shrine for architectural tourists worshipping at the altar of Modernism. Contrary to expectations, the gig was less a multimedia extravaganza and more a slow burn: Laurie told a bunch of stories, and accompanied them with moody electronic atmospherics and her trademark modified violin and vocoder. But Laurie is the excuse for this post – not the reason. Because this post is about journeys. We went by train – one convenient hour from Hove to Bexhill, changing trains in Brighton. But the train from Hove to Brighton was just late enough to force an anxiety-inducing run across the platforms to make the connection - an hourly service. We made it.

Then, coming home, the train to Brighton arrived late at Bexhill, got later as the journey continued, and got to Lewes in time to miss the Brighton connection. At Lewes, confusion reigned. One display claimed the next Brighton train would be at 23.07. Another claimed 23.36. The truth turned out to be somewhere in between.images train  Reflecting on such journeys, we tend to say things like “Public transport. No wonder people don’t use it. It’s so unreliable. You never know how long a journey will take.” It feeds into our stock of stories about public transport being unreliable and frustrating and annoying. And then I picked up the local paper on Monday morning and spotted a one paragraph news item, which read. “Three lanes of the M23 were closed yesterday after a car overturned…..The partial closure of the motorway caused long tailbacks.” In fact, this kind of thing happens all the time to drivers. But it doesn’t make us think “Driving. No wonder people don’t do it. It’s so unreliable. You never know how long a journey will take.” How come? Can behavioural economics provide any insights? To be continued….


  1. Hi Stephen.

    Thanks for this - the missed connections issue is a result of the dysfunctional delay attribution regime on the railways. This will continue to occur as long as the metric is % of trains on time at their destination (well, within 5 or 10 mins!), with fines for whoever caused the delay, rather than % of passengers reaching their destination on time. I have suggested use of the latter to the UIC.

    On perceptions of journey time reliability, see:
    Many other fascinating statistics on perceptions vs reality in that doc...


  2. Thanks for this Simon. I will read it with interest. PS what is UIC?