Rory Sutherland

The Wiki Man: Double crossed

Text settings

There is no shortage of competitors for the strangest site on the internet. ‘The Britney Spears Guide to Semiconductor Physics’, for instance. Or — an essential website (essential, that is, if you have ornamental garden geese and feel the urge to dress them in seasonal clothes). Or, a website that shows exactly what its name suggests.

But, after 18 years of surfing the web, last week I stumbled on a page more ridiculous than any of these.

I live in Kent. Getting to Heathrow is a nuisance. The south-western stretch of the M25 is often congested, and the journey is made slower by Surrey’s habit of imposing random and gratuitous temporary speed limits on its section of the M25 to boost speed-camera revenues. Never mind, I thought. Crossrail will solve that problem one day.

Crossrail will connect Shenfield in Essex with Maidenhead in Berkshire via the centre of London. An additional western leg of Crossrail will end at Heathrow. Hostile as I am to grand projects, London does need a decent railway running east-west. And I naively assumed that since Crossrail twice crosses the M25, Europe’s busiest road, someone would have the wit to build a station near the M25 at each end. You know, with a car park, or something radical like that.

So I expectantly searched the Crossrail site to see where I could go to catch a train to Heathrow in 2018. I found this.

1.1 This Information Paper outlines the Promoter’s approach to passenger car parking at and around Crossrail stations [Good start. I don’t know who ‘The Promoter’ is — Frank Warren? Don King? — but hopes were rising at this point].  

1.2 Additional passengers arising from the introduction of Crossrail will affect the demand for modes used to access the stations. [People need to get to the station to catch a train.] When assessing the impact of this demand, the transport assessment for the project took account of the local transport issues, including those relating to car parking. [Heart sinks. ‘Took account of’ and ‘issues’ are bureaucratic codewords for ‘we’re not going to do a bloody thing’.]

2.1 Parking spaces are limited at most stations served by Crossrail, and significant increases in capacity are unlikely. [‘We’re not going to do a bloody thing.’]

2.2 It is anticipated that the level of passenger parking will therefore be regulated by supply which will remain at broadly current levels At most of those stations where parking supply currently exceeds demand, it is expected that spare capacity will be taken up before Crossrail is introduced [There’s nowhere to park as it is]. Net additional demand generated by Crossrail has therefore been assumed to travel to stations by modes of transport that do not rely on the availability of parking [buses, walking, cycling, telekinesis].

2.3 Creation of additional station parking, or replacement of parking spaces lost permanently due to the construction of Crossrail is not proposed, and the Crossrail Bill does not include powers for the acquisition of land for car parking. [£16 billion and 13 miles of tunnelling, fine — but building a car park is way beyond us, what with having to paint all those white lines and everything.]  

I can hardly cycle to Essex. As an ardent Thatcher worshipper (like many Spectator readers, I was disappointed by The Iron Lady chiefly on account of the lack of nudity) I can’t risk being seen on a bus past the age of 30. So I’m back where I started.

The problem with the railways is simple. At the point of the day when trains start running empty, station car parks are already full. If you really want us to ‘get out of our cars’, try giving us somewhere to leave them.

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.

Written byRory Sutherland

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK. He writes The Spectator's Wiki Man column.

Topics in this articleSociety