A number of folks have e-mailed me regarding my comments on WordCampUK in Portsmouth, and I wanted to clear a few things up. Specifically, many people in England are confused (still) by the travel issues people not in England had with Portsmouth. I’ll try and go through them simply; with 2 caveats:
- I’ll only go through the journey to Portsmouth not coming back. It’s the same issues but with Sunday Service.
- The constraints on many were to not take a full day off work (or 2 half days). Obviously if one was willing to take 2 days off work to travel on Friday and Monday as well as pay for 3 days accommodation, then most of these issues go (other than the organisers never confirmed Sunday rates with the University, because no-one in England needed that info).
Why not take time off work…
This is a really interesting point that I’ve debated with some intelligent folks over e-mail.
My stance is this:
The cost of travel + accommodation + tickets should be the only mandatory costs incurred for a conference of this nature. If you want to blow a load of cash on entertainment, well that’s your own call, what I’m talking about is costs that you can’t avoid.
If the travel requirements ensure that you have no option but to take time off work, that’s an additional cost.
I took a straw poll, and most people agreed that you could leave work at around 4.30 with no real hassle (and some warning) while leaving before 4.30 might cause some issues. Leaving prior to 3.30-4pm, 60% of those polled suggested would have their employer suggesting they take a half day. The same is true for arriving into work after 10am on Monday morning.
Just Edinburgh and Glasgow…
I want to hold my hands up and say that for the most part I’m just referencing Edinburgh and Glasgow.
No doubt there are many people using WordPress further north (I know Dundee has thriving WP community), but with no direct rail links south and no airports. In essence the good folks of Dundee would have to go through Edinburgh or Glasgow anyway, so the constraints still apply.
I’m sorry to not include the 4.5 million people in Scotland that don’t live in Edinburgh or Glasgow.
Anyway, to the issues at hand, lets start with an easy one shall we…
Portsmouth has no airport.
A simple one this, but the nearest airport is over an hour by train.
To those of us far away, it severely limits our travel options.
Portsmouth is on the south coast of England
That is a simply monumental drive from Scotland.
It’s a 9 hour drive from Glasgow, and 9.5 hour drive from Edinburgh.
That’s simply unrealistic to expect people to undertake.
Which leaves trains…
- There is no direct train from any city in Scotland to Portsmouth.
- Every train from Scotland to Portsmouth has to go to London first. Specifically North London (Euston or Kings Cross).
- The train from London to Portsmouth is in South London (Waterloo).
- There is no direct transport link between Kings Cross and Waterloo. It’s the small details like these that get missed out.
- The train from Glasgow and Edinburgh to London is 4 hours 30 minutes.
- The last train departs at 6pm.
Now, before all hell breaks loose, there are permutations that allow you to leave at 6.30 if you’re happy to make multiple changes; with each change giving you 2-5 minutes to change train. Having been making this journey twice a month for the best part of a decade, I can assure you that trains are often “5 minutes late”. The reality is, the 6.30 train is not viable. (plus it takes 7.5 hours and misses the last train from London to Portsmouth by 3 hours)
This is the fundamental issue that the good folks in England and Wales don’t realise, because they never have to deal with this issue. Trains crossing the “imaginary” England/Scotland border stop running a minimum of 4 hours before their “internal” counterparts. So it’s not the length of the journey, it’s the length of journey PLUS what time the trains stop running.
In terms of Portsmouth lets do some math. (sorry for those who hate maths).
- The last train to Portsmouth leaves Waterloo at 11.34pm.
- The last train from Scotland arrive into Kings Cross at 10.45pm.
In order to make the last train to Portsmouth, someone from Scotland has to go from Kings Cross to Waterloo in 44 minutes.
- 10 minutes from Train arrival to platform via ticketing system.
- 10 minutes from Kings Cross to Green Park.
- 5 minutes from Green Park Victoria line to Green Park Bakerloo line.
- 5 minute wait for Bakerloo line.
- 10 minutes from Green Park to Waterloo on Bakerloo line
- 5 minutes from Bakerloo line to Waterloo over-ground station.
So that’s 35 minutes from train to train IF you know the way. It’s also Friday night in London. That gives you VERY little leeway.
Or the way I describe it, from 6pm to 11.34pm you have a maximum of 9 minutes of delays on the entire journey. Have you been on British Rail???
But just go in the morning…
Same thing. First train is at 6am, arrives into London at 10.30am. Portsmouth by 12.30pm.
So why not fly again…
It’s a good question, but there’s something we need to discuss first…
When tickets go on Sale…
The other elephant in the room (it’s a big room).
- Train fares double (to full price) 8 weeks before the date of travel.
- Bus fares double 7 weeks before date of travel.
- Plane fares double 8 weeks before date of travel.
- Additionally Plane fares increase based upon passenger uptake.
All very obvious I know, but here’s the issue. Despite “banging on about this” (as one organiser called it) this year’s WordCampUK failed to get Early Bird tickets on sale with 8 weeks to go, AGAIN! Don’t get me wrong it’s an improvement than the shocking 4 weeks we had in 2010, but it still cause a huge amount of hassle and cost.
The cost increase being a percentage, hits those who pay more originally the hardest (read: Scotland).
For example: A standard train ticket from Edinburgh to London is £218, while one hour south Newcastle to London is £141. While people from Newcastle partake in 79% of the journey they only pay 63% of the fare. When you’re already paying a sizeable percentage more for the same journey, having it doubled hits you even harder than those on the cheaper fare.
But we were talking about flights weren’t we…
There are 2 flights from Edinburgh and 2 from Glasgow to Southampton on a Friday night, and 1 flight back on a Sunday.
All of these are booked 3 months in advance.
When I wrote “WordCamp UK 2011 – wait, it’s where?” on 17th January 2011, some 181 days prior to the event and (& 122 days prior to Early Bird tickets going on sale) there were a TOTAL across all flights to Scotland of 5 seats left. That was in January, and tickets didn’t go on sale until mid-May!
You see, the flights to Southampton airport service the entire South to South West of England. They are not a viable route flying from Scotland to Portsmouth at 7 weeks notice. Same for going back.
Can’t you fly to London…
Much like the train issue (arrive in North, leave in South), flying into 4 of London’s 5 airports is useless. Heathrow, Stanstead, Luton, and City all cause huge issues in making the last train from Waterloo. That leaves Gatwick…
- EasyJet and British Airways both fly from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Gatwick.
- There are 3 flights from each airport on a Friday and Sunday evening.
Much like the Southampton flights, these get booked up insanely early. On Feb 4th, when I added a section to 2 of the 4 flights from Edinburgh were full, and 3 of the 4 flights from Glasgow were full. The cheapest cost of seats on the plane were £119 (that’s one way of course).
But for the sake of argument, lets say that flights were cheap and seats were plenty.
- Other than a 6pm flight (5.50 from Glasgow and 6.05 from Edinburgh) that you might not make depending on the work constraints; the rest of the flights depart Scotland between 8pm and 9.30pm.
- Your arrival time at Gatwick is 1 hour 25 minutes later (between 9.25pm and 10.55pm).
- But trains from Gatwick hit reduced service after 8pm.
- All trains from Gatwick to Portsmouth require at least 1 change, and after 9pm at night, the journey takes between 2 hours and 2 hours 20 minutes.
- The last train from Gatwick to Portsmouth leaves at 11.18 just 23 minutes after the last plane from Scotland is meant to arrive.
- The last plane is an EasyJet flight, and carries with the accumulated delays of the days planes.
- Given that an attendee has to make it from the airport gate to the rail platform (including getting a train from the North to the South terminal) this 23 minute window is very very tight.
Personally, I wouldn’t do it. And I say this as someone who has been doing the Scotland to London travel weekly for over 10 years. those last flights simply don’t work.
In terms of planning, this leaves 2 flights (one EasyJet and 1 BA) from Glasgow and Edinburgh in which everyone heading to South London from Scotland attempts to book on.
In reality, even if a ticket were availbile at the short notice WordCampUK gives, the cost would be exorbitant.
It’s a combination
So this has been a long post. I’ve tried to go into just the right level of detail because I’ve had this conversation so many times, but I’m sorry if it’s a bit boring.
What I’m trying to get across is that it’s not just one issue, it’s a combination of multiple issues:
Travel Time + Travel Availibility + Late ticket sales.
And that’s not even getting into the cost! That’s just the feasability.
The sad reality is, or was, that for some many of us WordPress fans it simply wasn’t feasible to attend WordCampUK because we didn’t’ live in England. Frankly, I’m not sure how very “UK” that is.
I know I said this after WordCampUK 2009 and again after WordCampUK2010, and now again after WordCamp2011… But if you want to run an event for the whole of the UK, then you need to put it in an accessible place to all, with multiple transport links and put the tickets on sale at least 3 months in advance.
DrupalConLondon2011 tickets cost £250 in comparison to WordCampUK2011 tickets costing £40, but going to DrupalCon was cheaper, quicker and easier. I don’t know how that doesn’t set alarm bells ringing.