A new nadir was reached in October, when 33 separate serious incidents on the Underground in 5 days had the Evening Standard up in arms.
Val Shawcross, London Assembly Labour transport leader and Ken Livingstone’s mayoral running mate, who revealed the figures following detailed research, said: “I cannot remember a worse week of delays on the Tube. She added: ‘While Boris Johnson was boasting how great London’s Tube services were to the Conservative Party Conference…millions of Londoners were stuck on Tube trains.’
Some may say we have become too reliant on the Tube. But in a city where getting around by other means can simply take too long, the Underground offers a direct and accessible way of traveling around London. It is undeniably expensive, though, and so there are high expectations from the 1.1 billion passengers a year (that’s 3.4 million passengers per day), who traverse across the 270 stations that make up ‘the second largest metro system in the world in terms of route miles.’
Like a throbbing network of pulsing arteries, a ‘subterranean labyrinth that keeps the capital of England in motion,’ the Tube lines of today are responsible for pumping the lifeblood of the city to from A to B. But it is grossly struggling under the sheer volume of passengers, with out-of-date technology and weekly engineering works combining to make many people’s journeys hell.
The reality is, as Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy said, that the tube is ‘simultaneously carrying more passengers than ever. The Tube alone has seen a 16 per cent rise in passengers in seven years, and [is] on course to carry almost as many as the entire national rail network combined.’
The word ‘overcrowding’ seems a chronic understatement at times. ‘Bursting’ seems more appropriate and at the height of rush hour, squeezing yourself onto a train can be quite an experience. As one Londoner puts it:
“A good day in London starts with a seat and a seamless connection. A bad day involves the acquaintance of several moist armpits, noses, thighs and groins with one another in various permutations.”
Many Londoners feel the pangs of degradation at having to begin a day in such horrendous fashion.
The Service Design Blog exemplifies the unimpressed view of many a Londoner in advocating a change in terminology on Underground – from ‘good service’ to ‘regular service’. The reason? ‘It is dirty; stops in the tunnels regularly; is too hot’. Regular? Sometimes. Good? No.
And the overcrowded, stuffy conditions on the Tube impact on the people’s behaviour. In an Evening Standard article one (anonymous) passenger confessed to a personality change on the Underground, admitting ‘I’m a different animal on the Tube from normal life. I’m not me. I’m a bit less interested in others‘. This willingness to revert to a kind of primal state once we descend those steps into the dark caverns of the Underground is perhaps the most worrying aspect in all this. Many feel they become zombies, ignorant of those around them: ‘travellers ignore pregnant women or parents with babies in a “survival of the fittest” atmosphere on the underground train system, which is struggling to cope with never-ending tides of commuters and tourists.’
They’re even talking about how bad the Tube is on the other side of the world, with the Aussies getting amongst it in an article on ‘Tube behaviour’ observing the following phenomena: ‘suspension of the normal codes of behaviour – for example, going after a seat regardless of who else might want it, ignoring pregnant women and people carrying babies’, ‘adopting a Tube persona, more ruthless and selfish; ‘switching off/shutting down – going into an automatic pilot routine, listening to music, turning one’s back’ and ‘developing strategies to reduce the impact of overcrowding – for example, by going the opposite direction for one or two stops in order to get a seat’.
In 2009, a study showed ‘that overcrowding on the London Underground is at such levels that passengers are having to nerve themselves to use the service, even though traffic has fallen slightly as a result of the recession’. The same source also said that ‘more than 80 per cent of passengers complained of overcrowding, with more than half sometimes unable to board the first train’. If it was this bad two years ago (and it was), it has only got worse since.
Such is the vehemence of many a traveller fed up with the Underground service, one blogger went so far as to saying ‘London likes to think that it is the greatest city in the world, a business center, a tourist hotspot. Yet the powers to be think it is acceptable to have an almost third world tube system. London Underground is one of the most expensive, unreliable and out of date tube systems in the world’. He goes on to issue the following denouncement of the Tube: ‘expensive, crowded, constant delays, strikes and I could go on and on’. You get the picture.
Boris Johnson has unsurprisingly copped a fair bit of flack recently, with Londoners complaining at his lack of involvement with the city’s community; ‘completely out of touch with Londoners. It’s clear he hasn’t got a grip and just doesn’t get it’.
In the midst of all this negativity, we shouldn’t forget schemes like ‘Acts of Kindness‘, an online forum where people can share their stories involving an act of kindness they have seen or been involved in on the Underground. If you have a browse here, you’ll realise that the barrage of complaints does not tell the whole story.
Can Mr Johnson fix such a pressing problem effectively and in good time? What would you do if you were in his shoes and how do your experiences on the Tube compare to those mentioned above? Be sure to let us know what you think.