Where am I typing this article? From home. Why? Because I can’t get in to university today, I did try, but 35 minutes of waiting and a platform more packed than Metric on a Saturday meant that I had to retire home at a meagre 09:30 in the morning. That was only to travel two stops, by the time I got in the lecture would have probably been over. It was the same case on Thursday and next week it looks like the circumstances will be the same. So what’s causing all this disruption? Strikes, more specifically tube strikes. Why is this a hot topic Peter? I hear you ask, well it may not be specifically engineering related but it does relate to management and how the failed privatisation of a single company can quite literally hold a city at ransom.
So where does this story start? In 2010 at Boris Johnson’s election speech where he promises to not close any ticket offices while he is Mayor, fast forward to the present day and there are talks of closing down tickets offices. There is some sense to it though, Boris doesn’t just want to annoy the unions, only 3% of transactions go through ticket offices so it makes sense that plans to close the vast majority of ticket offices and place more staff on platforms where they are needed. It would save London Underground £50m a year, from a business point of view that makes a lot of sense. The ticket office in my local station is useless; out of four people not one of them knew how to link an Oyster to a Railcard. It would result in 960 job losses but if it’s going to modernise the system and save the company money then surely that’s the correct action to take?
At the present both parties are just throwing out comments in the media to each other, Boris Johnson claiming the users have only reduced by 10%, whereas the unions claim it’s 30%. Boris claims they’re waiting for talks, and has urged every other politician to condemn the strikes. It’s all a bit political and not really my cup of tea, neither is a cup of tea but that’s beside the point.
The bigger picture is the one that shows London Underground as the worst example of the privatisation of a company; when companies are privatised the idea is to create competition between businesses and to drive the prices of goods down to the benefit of the consumer. Let me ask you this, how many alternative tubes were you able to take when the strikes were in place? None, that’s how many. There’s is exactly zero competition for London Underground and TfL, why do you think prices increase every single January? Because no one is going to offer a cheaper price because there is no alternative, how else are you going to travel in to the city? Helicopter? Jetpack? For some people cycling is a completely viable option and that’s fair enough, but for the vast majority the tube is the only option, especially for those that are coming from commuter zones outside of London.
Currently the government are trying to pass a bill that means that unions have to get over 50% of the vote in their union to go on strike, this will help to reduce the problem but it’s not going to solve it. Already it’s clear that London can be brought to a stand-still because of strikes, and it’s only going to continue next week. So what’s the answer Peter? Unfortunately there’s not one solution that solves the problem, obviously there are a few ideas. I think one of the key ideas is to encourage more cycling, London hasn’t done too badly so far, but it still has quite far to go when compared with European countries such as the Netherlands. A lot of the roads in London aren’t made for cyclists, Boris has done well introducing Boris Bikes but they can’t stop the momentum now. The more we encourage alternatives to travel the less disruptive tube strikes are going to be.