Archives for posts with tag: Travel

Business travel – in the sense of employed business travel – is fundamentally different to self-employed business travel. This is obvious in one way, since it’s the company’s money as opposed to your money, even if you have your own limited company.

In another way, though, in employed business travel you’re essentially getting reimbursed for everything you’re entitled to within the parameters of your employer’s expenses policy. You’re reimbursed for all expenses you reasonably incur.

When it’s your own money, and your own business, you’re more frugal, both with your customer’s budget and with your own budget, those expenditure items you don’t pass on to your customer.

As a self-employed worker you want to remain competitive, so charging significantly higher day rates to cover all your expenses is sometimes not a viable strategy. This manifests itself in the difference between, for example, charging an employer mileage for car use, as opposed to charging a customer the fuel and absorbing the quasi-hidden depreciation costs of putting miles on your own, self-employed car.

My self-employed business travel is not a life of taxis to the airport, airport executive lounges, ticket upgrades and so on. For me, a typical overseas journey can be a short walk to the train station, a train to the city, a short walk to the coach station, a coach to the airport, a flight with a budget airline, a lift to a cheaper – and therefore off-campus – car rental facility for getting to meetings, following by the reverse on the way home. Some of the expenses I absorb, some of them I pass on to my customers. This agreement keeps me competitive and more importantly fosters long-term relationships.

Everyone realises sooner or later that business travel is not the glamorous pastime we thought it was before we did it repeatedly. With self-employed business travel the sheen wears off even more quickly.

I was on the receiving end of a transport strike the other day. Or, industrial action, as it’s rather euphemistically called, as I attempted to get into the UK nation’s capital.

Industrial action. It should be called industrial inaction. It’s people who are providing a service – sometimes a single point of failure service – deciding not to provide that service, to do nothing.

Who suffers in this protracted battle of wills between the employer and the union? Other employees of supporting businesses who have to try and take the strain, but mainly the end customer, who funds – partly, I suppose – the service that’s supposed to be delivered but is being withheld.

A hundred thousand working people delayed, inconvenienced, frustrated and stressed. Wedged into late, irregular trains of a skeleton service like passengers on a Japanese commuter train, but with none of the punctuality. Hundreds of thousands of hours in lost productivity, lost contributions to national GDP, per day.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but it can’t lie in the antediluvian practices of outdated bodies, chaos, and meaningless apologies.

 

A recurrent theme in this blog is personal productivity. Sometimes it also takes in with it environmental productivity, by which I mean a judicious use of the finite resources at our disposal to get around our place in the world.

This is something we can all do pretty well in the city, where the infrastructure is there to help us. It’s much harder to pull it off in those more sparsely populated areas.

A friend of mine that I work with from time to time has what I would call a slender footprint – in the sense of his carbon footprint rather than the mark his shoe leaves.

He lives in a city, in the nicest part in his city. Most of what he needs on the weekends is within a few minutes’ walk. When he’s working in the office, he has a 5-minute walk to the bus, a 20-minute bus ride into the centre, and a 5-minute walk to the office. A door-to-door commute of 30 minutes, where he can work for 20 of them, is just about perfect.

When he has to travel internationally for work, he can take the train or else a very affordable taxi to the airport. He has a car, but reckons he does no more than 1,000 miles a year in it, taken up by the occasional trip to the golf course or a trip to see the folks.

That’s what I call a slender footprint. Personal and environmental productivity at its finest.

I wrote recently about how the most simple, innocuous, 2-letter words can cause palpitations in non-English native speakers.

I was reminded of this recently when I was complaining to my son – who is a fluent Irish speaker, schooled through the Gaelic tongue – about how hard it is to pronounce Irish words.

‘It’s much harder than English,’ I said.

To which my son replied, ‘Oh yeah, Dad, like Rough, Cough, Dough and Plough…’ He has a fair point; 4 words spelled with the same last 3 letters, all pronounced differently – uff, off, oh and ow.

Rough indeed. Regardless of our native language, we take its idiosyncracies and querks for granted.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that I’m all about productivity. Sometimes our productivity can be stretched over a long working day, and sometimes a shorter one.

If I’ve got a ton of work on or I have to travel a long distance to get to a meeting, I’m fine with getting up early, sometimes really early, and cranking out a very long day. I can’t do it every day, but I can when I need to.

Except when the time begins with a 4, as in 4-something am. 5am onwards is not a problem. There’s something barbaric about setting the alarm and having to get up when the time begins with a 4. It has a crushing effect on my productivity and staying power.

This doesn’t seem to apply when I’m heading off on holidays. Getting up at 2 or 3am for a a 6am flight to the sun, sea or slopes doesn’t seem so bad.

But when the getting up time begins wth a 4, and the effort is for work, then the mental tiredness and productivity plummet – rather than the physical tiredness necessarily – kicks in way earlier than leaving it until after 5.

I’ve spoken before about how the world’s airports have a lot to learn from Irish airports, in terms of their free wifi, free drinking water and general welcoming ambience.

Well, you can add to that the speed with which they expedite people.

Recently, I landed on an arriving flight at 8:59am. We taxied to the gate, got off and I walked swiftly down the travelators through to passport control. I then went to baggage claim, used the bathroom and picked up my checked-in bag. I walked out of the terminal to the coach to take me home.

Nothing unusual in that. Except that it was 9:17am. 18 minutes had passed from runway to coach. This was during rush hour in the country’s biggest airport. It means that my bags were unloaded and moved from the plane to the baggage conveyor in no more than 10 minutes, probably 7 or 8.

In a world where we often moan about the time it take us to get from outside the terminal to the runway, and vice versa, my 18 minutes stands in stark contrast.

Phenomenal stuff.

As I’m sure you’re aware, a single point of failure is a bad thing. If the single point fails, the whole system fails. That’s why we try to build in contingencies.

I was reminded of this – and if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that transportation and travel are recurrent themes – on a recent train journey into England’s capital. I was joining the train at Didcot, a 45-minute run into London and favoured as a daily commute by thousands of residents in the Didcot area.

The trains to London run every 15 minutes, and so they need to, to get the volume of people to London for work. A signal failure in the west of country cancelled one of these services and delayed another. This led to passengers being 5- and 6-deep on the platform edge. Because of the delay the train then had to drop anchor at another platform, which necessitated about a thousand people having to change platform.

Not for me. I stayed where I was, took a later train and was able to sit down and get some work done.

It seems amazing, though, that in 2016 a network and thousands of passengers can be compromised by a single point of failure, on this occasion a single point of signal failure.

Whenever I come back to the UK from Ireland for work I suffer a mild form of culture shock. Perhaps cultural adjustment is a more appropriate term.

I know you’ve read it before on this blog. The sheer volume of traffic is a problem.

This time I found myself on the M6. Not the Irish M6, that glorious, blissful, never-packed stretch of motorway that speeds folk between the midlands and Galway. No, the UK M6, the 50-year-old main artery from the middle organs to the upper left ventricle in England’s complex circulation system.

How do the Brits get anything done? The traffic was nose to tail, with warnings of 45 minute delays further up the track. I took a diversion, got back on the motorway and discovered the ball of congestion had simply moved further up the road, to where I was heading.

Add to that is the fact that you are in roadworks situations and lane closures for mile upon mile, and even after you turn off and thread your way into Manchester, jewel of the North, the roadworks keep coming.

Of course, the signs had not caught up to the fact that there was a broken down coach in one of the available lanes, which we spent time crawling past.

There are people that spend every day in this. What happens to the national productivity as a result of the cumulative loss of productivity of thousands of individuals? Nothing happens, because the rich and powerful have people come to them or they’re working from a yacht with an impossibly gorgeous view, or else, like the heads of government, they’re being driven around the place so they can get stuff done as they go.

The person that suffers is the rank and file, the regular Joe and Jo who form the labour backbone and who have their commute times lengthened and their free time with their families compressed, all in the name of progress.

Sometimes, I’m glad I can do some of my work at home and on the phone. It keeps the wheels of productivity greased, in case of the occasional roadblock.

I had the misfortune of flying to London Stansted a while ago. It’s not my normal choice of airport; in fact, I hadn’t flown to it in a long time.

It looks a little bit tired. I flew in on a spectacularly normal Saturday, and landed on time, in fact a little early. For some reason we landed about a county away from the terminal, so we got a bus into the complex, passed through non-existent passport control and into the baggage area.

Where we waited, along with hundreds of other passengers, for our flight to be shown. The baggage area is organised in a way that from some positions you can only see a small fraction of all the baggage belts. The signs for each belt are too small, and the belts themselves are configured in a way that makes it hard to find your belt. I know, 1 should be next to 2, and so on, but not here, at last as far as I could see.

There wasn’t a member of staff anywhere to be seen on the concourse, who we could ask to chase our bags. I went to the Ryanair service desk after 25 minutes, who peddled the line that they’d only just been told of the problem. Really? Do I look like I came in on the last flight?

All you could do was stand around, so stand we did. We finally got our bags after a 45 minute wait. Unacceptable.

Come on Ryanair, you can do better, you practically own Stansted.  It’s all very well claiming the most punctual, on-time service and ringing your precious trumpet when we land on time or early, but if your punters have to wait an hour landing to get their bags and exit the building, it’s not really on time, now is it?

I suppose I shouldn’t have decided to bring enough stuff for a checked-in bag…

As a frequent visitor to England’s capital city, I’m a regular user of public transport. Planes, trains, tubes, buses; I hardly ever take a cab. A 1-day ‘travelcard’ allows me to use public transport all over Greater London.

I generally stay in the south-west or south of the city centre, so when I’m heading into central London I’m on the train to the giant termini of Waterloo or London Bridge station respectively, before venturing into the heart of the beast.

This is fortunate for me, because there is a rather splendid bus service called the 521. The 521 goes from Waterloo to London Bridge in a kind of upturned ashtray shape, passing Waterloo Bridge, Holborn, Cannon Street and London Bridge. Then it loops around and goes back from London Bridge to Waterloo, before repeating the process, all day.

What I find about big cities is that generally the bus is the mode of transport you get to know the last, but it’s often the most rewarding.

At rush hour there can be hundreds of people politely queuing for the service from Waterloo, yet the buses come back to back and hoover up 500 or so people every 10 minutes. From London Bridge, the queues are not as deep, and you also have the majestic splendour of the Shard to distract you as you wait around 3 minutes maximum for a bus. The views from the bus, as you can imagine, are spectacular, and you also get the buzz from being right in the teeth of the city and amongst the people, which you never truly experience on the train or in the soulless bowels of the underground. It’s a truly great way to see the city while getting from A to B, or from B to C.

If I was a bus driver I think I would like delivering the 521 service.