At work I was, until fairly recently, known for complaining about my commute. Pretty much every day I'd have a story of woe about how my 7 mile commute from suburban Birmingham to the City Centre would often taken me well over an hour and a half door-to-door. Smelly, cramped trains which got more and more expensive every year with no corresponding increase in quality or timeliness.
My story was very similar to pretty much everybody else in my local area. Underinvestment in public transport in Birmingham is a chronic issue with no solution in sight.
I'm bored of it now.
I'm bored of my commute being soul-crushing.
I'm bored of being ripped off by my local train company.
I'm bored of nothing being done about it.
and most of all...
I'm bored of moaning about it.
I've decided to pour the energy in to something more constructive that manages to extract as much good from this broken system as I possibly can.
What are you talking about?!
UK train operating companies (ToCs) work on a franchise system. Every 5-10 years public railways, stations, ticket offices etc. are open to tender to be run by private companies. The vast majority of them, as part of their franchise agreements with Her Majesty's Government have to compensate passengers if trains arrive at their destination late by more than 30 minutes (sometimes less).
The compensation is usually a percentage of the purchase price, or a fraction of it in the case of season tickets. For example, if my train to work is more than 15 minutes late, I receive £1 in compensation from the train company.
It's not much, but it's some sort of recompense for being stuck on a cold platform for longer than I'd like.
Have another example. An anytime single to London Euston from Birmingham New Street costs £88. The company that operates this route, Virgin Trains, will compensate anybody delayed more than 30 minutes 50% of the ticket cost. That's £44.
A very unscientific poll of people I could find to ask suggest that the vast majority of this money goes uncollected. The train companies get to keep it if it's not claimed.
What's the plan?
We've begun work on a system that we're provisionally calling DelayDonate. A small application that allows commuters to register with their email and input information about their daily commute.
The application then runs every night, to check the status of everybody's commute. If it's delayed by more than the DelayRepay threshold for that particular route, then it sends an email to the commuter asking them to confirm they were on that particular train, and checks if we can claim the money on their behalf, which we would then donate in its entirety to charity. (Probably minus nominal running costs.)
The pitch to commuters
- Are you constantly delayed to or from work?
- Do you want to donate to charity by doing nothing other than clicking a link in an email?
- Do you want to change your poor commuting fortune in to someone else's happiness.
Would it be legal?
The legality of such a scheme is fairly simple. We would act as a middle-man in the DelayRepay system. Passengers would instruct us to claim on their behalf, and we would donate the money to charity as a non-profit. Other for-profit businesses already exist to do this.
The request would be on behalf of the passenger and we would request that the money is sent by BACS to our nominated bank ringfenced by us. Every month, we'd send the money to a nominated charity (or several charities if there was enough cash.)
UK rail commuters have now resigned themselves to the fact that commuting on UK trains will always be an unpleasant experience. I'm hoping this scheme, once set up, could extract as much social and financial good from a system that otherwise makes so many miserable.
Interested in helping? If you've got views on this, I'd love to hear. Designer? Marketer? Illustrator? Programmer? Drop me an email and let's talk.