True Gripes: A trolley too far: The coin deposit system is inhuman

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The Independent Online
London's latest design disaster is the British Rail trolley. I am alighting from my train from Wakefield, amid hundreds of other weary travellers and frisky Leeds United fans, with one cat and basket, one green canvas bag containing three large files and a heavy book, one sausage bag with some clothes, a plastic bag with a half-eaten picnic and half-drunk bottle of wine, plus handbag.

Halfway down the platform I spy a cache of unused trolleys. Hurray] I think, and hobble towards them. As I get nearer, I notice that a person is struggling with the trolleys and has got a chain intertwined around the frame supporting them.

'Have you got a pound coin? my fellow traveller asks, hopefully. Apparently, to unlock a trolley, one has to deposit pounds 1. After wrestling with the unruly chain and the lock mechanism, I eventually release a trolley; what is particularly galling is that all the while, porters are hovering like vultures with their pounds 2 hire charge firmly advertised on the lapels of their absurd red uniforms and tailcoats. Having steered my trolley to the taxi rank, I realise that I will have to walk about 50 yards back to another trolley terminal to return it and reclaim my pounds 1 deposit, but I can't leave my cat and luggage in the middle of the pavement.

So the only solution is to wait for a taxi, load it up, and while the meter is ticking away, run to the trolley terminal where I find another hapless

traveller trying to deposit pounds 1, only all the locks are jammed because

London's homeless have pinched the coins. (Kings Cross is full of enterprising vagrants who have worked out a way to extract the pounds 1 coin deposits - perhaps the only positive side of this design disaster).

We make a swap. I give him my trolley in exchange for his coin. Well done British Rail. Frankly, I found Beijing Central station and three million Chinese commuters easier to tackle than this. So I rang a British Rail spokesman to ask why BR had to introduce a laborious new deposit system for trolleys.

'We just had to, customers kept wheeling them away, he explained. 'When I was at Victoria, more than 300 stray trolleys had to be brought back every night. We got a letter the other day to say that one had even turned up in Singapore.

The mind boggles. How could anyone become so enamoured of such a cumbersome tool of inconvenience as to take it so far afield?

Ettore Sottsas, mastermind of the famed Olivetti typewriter and 'wingy teapots, once said that tools are used as a means to curb loneliness and despair; well, these trolleys instil feelings of despair and would send Ettore running for the nearest oncoming train.

Perhaps BR should introduce an electronic tagging system, so that if a trolley wandered outside the station perimeter a piercing alarm would sound. After all, they cost pounds 400 each to manufacture - a sizeable sum. But then what would happen to the poor tramps who would no longer have something to wheel all their worldly possessions around in?

I don't want to sound like Paul Johnson, but why can't British Rail have a daily recruiting agency to enrol casual porters and do away with their ridiculous porters who never seem to be there when you want them and charge pounds 2?