Thanks a lot, London Underground

20 September 2010

It’s my favourite conversation topic, and we all love to hate it. The Tube inspires a range of opinions – and most of them are bad. Next week, the rage at the London Underground network is set to escalate with a series of strikes.

The main strike will take place on Monday night, where over 10,000 London Underground workers will walk out in a row over job cuts for 24 hours.

Starting at 5pm, the strike will hit the network at the worst possible time – rush hour - throwing the network into total chaos. 

And if that wasn’t enough, services on the Jubilee and Northern lines will be disrupted on Sunday night when maintenance workers will walk out.

It’s all in a row over job cuts. It’s a familiar story – company gets machines to do people’s work, people are no longer as necessary as they once were.

With London Underground’s new automated ticket machines and Oyster top-up points, which allow you to travel more cheaply, queuing up to get a paper ticket seems pointless and more expensive.

It’s no wonder that some manned ticket offices are selling fewer than 10 tickets an hour, according to Transport for London (TfL).

And so London Underground workers are unhappy. Who wouldn’t be, when 800 jobs are in jeopardy? But does this really justify a 24-hour strike that will ruin eight million Londoner’s Monday and Tuesday commute?

I remember the last strikes last summer. A few Tube services (mercifully) were running, but the stations were so packed it was impossible to even get in. The bus network was massively overstretched and I had to wait for four buses to go past until I could even squeeze onto one.

It was, in short, a complete nightmare to get anywhere. To put it in context – the Northern Line, TfL’s busiest line, but only one of many – carries 850,000 people each day. Take that away and you’ve got almost a million people without a way to get to work.

Workers should have the right to complain about their working conditions, but it’s not fair to implicate the rest of London in some petty argument about jobs. To put it frankly, it’s not really our problem; we just want to get to work on time and with relative ease.

For the amount we pay to London Underground to travel on busy, cramped and dirty tubes, getting to work on time is often the only silver lining.

I suppose we should be thankful that extra contingency measures will be laid on over the strikes - extra buses, riverboat services and ‘escorted’ bike rides – but how much difference will this make to the millions of commuters? It’s a bit like trying to shove a football pitch down a rabbit hole.

Thankfully, I live close enough to work that I can cycle or even walk in 45 minutes. And, that, TfL, is really the best contingency plan of all – maybe we don’t need your expensive, slow and cramped Tube services after all.