Thursday, 11 June 2009

Commuter Hell

Despite the title, this new post is not a direct follow-on from my previous post but in response to what is going on in London at the moment.

In case you've been in a cave for the last week, you would have heard that London Underground staff are on strike at the moment. And while I haven't been affected by it on my journey in to work, I can sympathise with the general mood at the moment. Amongst various other things, they cite the suspension of a member of staff who opened the doors on the wrong side of the train as one of the reasons why they are striking. Now, surely this is a disciplinary issue as there were major safety concerns here and any union involvement should surely be focused as support to the member of staff concerned in any future hearings and not with any wider problems they think they have. With employment being the way it is at the moment, if everyone offered this kind of support to a fellow colleague there would be no-one at work!

And here's another thing, their demands are totally unrealistic as they want pay rises above inflation. Do they live in those tunnels? Can they not see there is a recession on and nobody is getting paid more? In fact, most companies are having to reduce their wages to keep staff in jobs. Also, did they not realise the nature of the job when applying for it? Yes, there could be early mornings and late nights and dark crappy conditions, but you are being paid more than adequately and if you don't like it you can apply for an office job. Then, you might realise what a pain in the arse it is to get to work when there's a strike on. The buses in London run practically 24/7 and you don't see their staff going on strike at the drop of a hat (although they are quite surly, but that's another post entirely).

I could go on, but believe it or not, this post wasn't inspired by the tube strike but by London's reaction to it. Specifically, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Now, I know he's a bumbling idiot (or he's an evil genius with a great cover), but he has absolutely the right attitude. He, for one, is being honest about the effect this is having on normal people in their everyday lives and is not pandering to the unions like the last mayor did. The fact that the other rail union is not supporting this strike and some services are in fact running (sporadically, but still) is proof of the sheer bloody-mindedness of the RMT. Also, BoJo has in fact tried to aleviate the problem by providing more bus services and boat services which Ken Livingstone didn't seem to do. However, one brilliant idea that I think should be rolled out across London permanently is a shared taxi service. There is an article about it here: but in short, people have a coloured ticket that corresponds to a part of London and they then share a cab with 4 other people with the same coloured ticket. This means there will be 5 people in a cab, instead of the 1.5 average. There is a set fare for each person depending on the area you wish to travel to, which means your fare is cheaper yet the cab driver receives more because of the increased number of people.

I for one can't see anything more positive to come out of this strike - everyone's a winner. You pay less, the cabbie gets more, there are less waiting times in queues and the environment probably likes it too. However, the one major problem with this is that we are British. If there are no marshals in queues to see the system works, no-one would dare take the initiative to go up to someone and simply ask where they're heading and if it would be possible to share a cab. And for those who would do it (I am one of them), there is no guarantee that the other person would agree because some people are miserable bastards. When I lived in York and my fiancé was living in London, I used to get the late train home after visiting him at the weekend. This would get me in for about midnight and the queue for taxis was always quite big because the buses would have stopped running by then. It always struck me as odd that no-one would suggest sharing a cab when you would see one person get into a huge people carrier. I did say something on a few occasions, but my new friends were never going in the same direction.

I think if this was to work, the taxi drivers themselves must encourage cab sharing - maybe not move until a couple of other people get in or something. There are some interesting things in the article that cab drivers in other countries do, so I suggest you read it.

I might get a boat home tonight...