Flyers on the train

I’m sitting on the Eurostar; late at Waterloo. It’s a shame we’re late but that’s not what’s annoying me to the extent that I am prepared to whip out my laptop and write this entry.

On the floor next to me is a piece of paper, about a third of an A4 sheet, printed with glossy information about the snacks and drinks available from the buffet-car (or whatever the hell those places are called these days: concessions compartment, indulgence wagon or something). A member of the train crew brought them down the car earlier in the journey and “offered” them to each passenger.

“Would you like some information on the products available from our secondary revenue-stream franchise?”

Every journey they “offer” me this “information” and every journey I decline. Every journey people take them and drop them on the floor of the train. At the end of each and every journey, the cleaning staff come along and pick them up and put them in the big plastic bag full of the packaging of products purchased in the train’s Dining Area. What happens to that stuff? I can’t believe they are separating the dry waste and recycling it? Maybe they are. I hope so.

I understand why this happens. I have seen it work many times: just after they bring these handbills down — junk mail for rail customers — I hear children going:

“I’m going to have a muffin”.

I understand that having an on-board shop makes them extra profits and, at the same time, makes our journey more enjoyable if we fancy a bacon-butty or a tub of goop. I don’t want them to stop providing what is essentially a service, and neither do I want to prevent the opportunity of making money. And equally I don’t Want Eurostar to continue printing double-sided glossy brochures for us to throw into the trash on a mamoth scale. And neither do I Want to be a captive audience to on-train in-seat advertising.

So what’s the problem here? Should they just leave the train cafe in car number 6 for us to go find if we’re interested? Would that put the prices up because of reduced demand? I presume that printing the handbills pays for itself in terms of increased profits in the cafe, but does that artificially increased demand result in lower or higher prices for a paper cup of warm water and a tea-bag?

I think the solution must be that he cost of ripping up trees and processing them to make paper, destructive chemical processes to make ink and galzes to produce a ‘product’ whose cost is hidden in the price of the products it advertises, is not high enough. Would they give us those bloody things and invite us to throw them away again if they were paying the full cost — the cost to the environment — of their production and disposal?

OK were pulling into Waterloo now finally 72 minutes late. I wonder if our unscheduled stop between Ashford International and Waterloo was also a ploy to increase our appetites for products from the passenger exploitation unit?


  1. Mark Says:

    Putting a transparent wallet on the back of the seat in front with them in would be costly because the wallets would deteriorate and need renovation, thought it would mean the paper could be collected and recycled, at the moment the flyers are only given to those who say they want them, though the instinctive reaction is to accept one to be “polite” to the train worker giving them out, and so as not to miss out on any opportunities. Putting them in every seat — airline style — could be more wasteful.

    Seems to me the place to look is either:
    – at the need for them in the first place: how do they deliver value to the customers? By increasing our information and therefore our choice, or
    – at the collection and recycling process: maybe the rubbish collected from the train is already being sorted and recycled? If not then maybe waste disposal charges or taxes could make this cost effective.

    My personal preference would be to look at the whole food-on-the-train system and see if that can’t be improved. On some UK trains the trolley comes to your seat: you get to see everything available, but the choice is reduced because there is no room or power for a microwave.

    Last time I was on a Eurostar I heard someone asking which way the restaurant car[sic] was. Maybe it would be better value to print one nice big up-to-date poster for each car and place it on the glass at the vestibule with accurate information about which carriage you are in, which carriage the food is in, how far you have to go, what’s on sale for what prices and how welcome you will be when you get there. Then these posters can be collected and recycled when they either get shabby or are out-of-date. Since they already do “please come and visit us a the snack bar” over the loudspeaker anyway, they could say “take a look at the information in the vestibule …”

    Actually I wonder about that: I think people wouldn’t get up and wander to the end of the carriage to get better informed about the food options. In the UK there is safety information at the ends of the carriages and the voice on the loudspeaker says “see the safety information at the ends of the carriages”, but what if, at that point, everyone got up and wandered down the end going “let me see, I want to see the safety information”?

    Clearly the UK safety information is not about safety but about avoiding litigation from passengers:
    “Safety information was clearly displayed at the end of the carriage in a sign behind glass”… in the basement in a locked filing cabinet behind a door with a sign saying Beware of the Leopard.

  2. Raj Says:


    I take it you have not flown Ryanair recently. I have and ok it’s a good few years since the last time I flew with them, but it certainly is an exercise in cutting costs & rampant capitalism.

    The nearest analogy I have heard used is a “flying bus” – The seats are “easy wipe plastic” and the floors similar. The are NO seat back pockets. The emergency instructions are stuck to the back of the seat in front of you.

    The crew looked like they were using recycled supermarket carrier bags to take the rubbish away (not altogether a bad thing), and I guess if there was an incident on board, the cleaning crew could give a quick spray with a hose and everything would be clean again.

    The staff however were nice, and the pilot pointed out sights as we flew over London on the way back to East Midlands.

    I’ve “flown” eurostar as well generally it’s been a pleasant experience, however for me the connections have not been too good, and one of my colleagues DID beat me by flying.

    WRT recycling notices/leaflets what you’ll probably find is that there are different “departments” or more likely “budgets” for marketing & the cleaning groups, which are working together in a strange symbiotic manner. Somebody will probably appoint an “environmental czar” and something will happen or some announcement will be made and then it will all go back to it’s current state.

  3. Mark Says:

    Hey Raj,

    Long time! I didn’t know you were still reading this.

    I didn’t want to suggest that it was an unpleasant experience to “fly” Euro*; the seats are a bit close together for my leg-length and, despite being a frequent “flyer” I have never randomly landed on a table-seat. Their business with the handbills is an example of something we are surrounded by these days: junk-mail, free London newspapers, handbills on the street; all the more exasperating because I experienced it in a closed metal box in which I have fewer choices. This stuff is much more evil than e-mail spam: the latter is annoying but does not contribute to landfill (unless one is daft enough to print one’s email).

    I was reading Natural Capitalism at the time and it seemed a perfect example of where, as Hawken points out, we are getting it plain wrong!

  4. Mark Says:

    Actually, Flyers on the train are nothing compared with free newspapers on the Tube!

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