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 theĀ  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.

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