Tube strike is a lesson in transport economics

The chaos on the roads in London was worse than I have seen in many years. The hold-ups were much longer than anything I had seen in previous Tube strikes and there was pretty much gridlock not only in central London but even in outer areas such as Finsbury Park.

TfL said that over a third (37-8 per cent) of the normal total of Tube journeys took place, rather surprisingly high and which suggests most people still tried to get to work which may explain the level of chaos. It is surprising that more companies did not say – work at home today from your computer. The level of traffic suggests that people are still reluctant to do that even when clearly their journey will be disrupted.

I think, too, that people have forgotten the difficulties caused by even a partial Tube shutdown. There were more strikes in the  80s and 90s than there are now, and people got used to them, changing their plans or simply not turning up.Today’s culture of presenteeism means that this is no longer possible. The power of employers now is such that they are able to say that even a Tube strike is not considered to be a reasonable excuse for not turning up. It was quite noticeable how many of the cars that were blocking the streets had one occupant who was adding to the chaos.

The key lesson from the strike, though, is to emphasise the importance of public transport. At times the more boneheaded right wing commentators question the value of the Tube or the railways. Yesterday’s gridlock provides the answer and is a compelling case for more investment in public transport which is the lifeblood of the capital.

And it demonstrated the importance of creating an infrastructure for cycling. It was not easy to travel on my bike – except going north where, with a following wind, even with the traffic I managed to get round at my normal average of around 12 mph. Going north it was about half that speed, given the wind and the traffic ! But gosh, even with the lunchtime storm, it was still a far more pleasant experience than trying to crowd onto the buses and limited Tubes. Let’s hope lots of people tried out their bikes and decided to give cycling a go.

  • oriordan

    Cycling was certainly possible but certainly not pleasant with stretches of cycling slowly or walking my bike through lanes of stationary cars, looking for the best route through. Health and safety zealots would have had kittens about the maneuvering going on but I suppose danger was reduced because the traffic generally wasn’t going anywhere. To me, it showed up how unfit for purpose some existing routes are when you triple or quadruple the number of bikes, such as crossing at Hyde Park Corner.

    Increase motor traffic in London, everything grinds to a halt and there is nothing you can do about it. I suppose it is too much to hope that the penny will drop with TfL about
    provision of separate cycling routes that minimise interactions with
    motor vehicle traffic so even if the cars aren’t moving, people on bikes can get through.

  • Paul Holt

    CW has missed the target. The observed gridlock was a consequence of the ancient principle that people will drive when their alternative is taken away, whether by Beeching or by strike action. There is a metropolitan fallacy that people drive around each morning just to be annoying. In reality, they are simply going to work and living their lives as best they can. But when Beeching takes away their rail line or strike action takes away their tube, people cannot then be blamed for getting behind the wheel; no matter the amount of metropolitan sneering.

  • RapidAssistant

    There also needs to be a step change in employer attitudes that employees be allowed to hot desk and work away from home. That requires professionalism, trust and understanding on both sides. Not just in times of tube strikes, but also in severe weather events. We all know of bosses that fight their way through to work whatever the conditions and therefore obligate their staff to do so as well, despite the warnings from various authorities not to take risks.

    As for those of us who can’t do that – you are right Paul – the car is sadly the only option for many of us, and no amount of preaching the moral high ground about public transport is going to change our minds.

  • anoopshah

    Cycling needs to be considered as an essential mode of transport in London and designed for properly, so that routes are convenient, direct, pleasant and safe. Then people will have a viable alternative to driving or public transport.

  • Paul Holt

    Penultimate paragraph: “…more investment…”. Would that be in driverless tube trains?

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