As proud as I am of London and Londoners in general. I don’t like the underground. That’s hardly a unique statement. Me and a few million people in London probably. It’s an incredible feat of engineering stretching over 240 miles and I know millions of pounds has been spent on it and continues to be spent on improving the ‘experience’, however I just thought i’d offer a few ideas up for consideration that might improve things a bit further…
Luckily, because of my current work situation (or rather lack of it) I hardly have any need to use the ‘oxo’ at the moment. Every cloud and all that. This makes my life infinitely more pleasant as you can imagine, however when I do have reason to descend into the underworld sorry underground I feel like I’m playing Russian Roulette with my immune system. Either I’m just unlucky or the environment of our subterranean transport system incubates complex strains of germs and flu and cold viruses that you can only build up a resistance to if your travelling on it everyday. If you work from home and suddenly need to get across town; you’re dancing with death. Well not death literally (unless you’re actually dancing in front of the yellow line) but anyway, it’s like some kind of primordial ooze down there, millions of virae (is that the plural of virus?) swilling around in the damp warmth feasting on millions of infected or soon to be infected hosts. Think about it, if you were a virus or a germ where would you rather be? As London is for the human virus so the London Underground is for viruses, only it’s much much cheaper.
I’m a Londoner born and bred. That may make me a lot of things but it does not, I repeat, it does not make me a dawdler. If I’m on the tube it’s because I need to get somewhere. Simple. I’d like to do that as efficiently as possible please. Thanks. I think I’m a man who understands that my life is nothing if I can’t stop to smell the roses frequently but people; there are NO sweetly smelling roses on the underground*. It’s a proven fact that Londoners walk faster than any other people on the planet and you can probably add a few mph if they, like me, happen to be of the cockney variety which I am (sort of). So the only thing a tube ride is good for is getting to B from A as speedily as possible giving you maybe 10 or 20 minutes for a few pelvic floor exercises, a spot of Tai Chi (not recommended on the Charing Cross branch of the Northern line between Kennington and Waterloo) or a solo game of Mornington Cresent. If any of you are familiar with the game from the Radio 4 program ‘I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue’ you’ll understand how potentially dangerous that is to play alone.
Apart from these tremendous challenges there’s just a general feeling of anxiety about the whole journey for me nowadays. In fact I can’t actually sit down anymore because of the processing my brain will do when I see a woman who has grey hair but who doesn’t look that old…actually she looks in good health…she can’t be older than 55 surely….is that old nowadays…people live much longer after all? You get the picture. Do I offer her my seat? I might just completely ruin her day. My experience is women can be quite sensitive about such things, if I do get up and she doesn’t accept – the whole carriage might look at me in a certain way and…oh she’s just got off at Moorgate anyway. I used to pretend I was meditating, as if somehow that would grant me some kind of spiritual immunity, however my general rule of thumb now is to give up the seat and try not to think about it, so if I’m not sitting down in the first place…job done and no mental torture. Well apart from that moment when there’s a seat and you refuse to use it much to the (my imagined) displeasure of the rest of the carriage. Who would do that sort of thing anyway, in London?
So here’s what I’m suggesting. Could we instigate a Tube Charter? Something that would create some kind of speed limit? Perhaps there’s a whole new vocation for people who could stand with placards with arrows and instructions to ‘speed up’ on them. Given the desire for TFL to computerise everything, (did you know many of the trains currently in service are already automated) maybe dot matrix traffic signs with the required speed displayed or flashing at us would help? We could have filters and congestions signs as well to really keep things moving.
In addition to some new rules and ideas to keep everyone moving, i’d also like to see an elementary test. This could be taught as part of the national curriculum (and extended to the UK citizenship test of course). About 1,107 million people use the tube every year, that’s about 3.1 million per day. We have cycling tests and driving tests, it might not be such a crazy idea after all?
It could test a person’s ability to get their travel card out of their bag/rucksack/pocket/arse in time and put it in the machine in one graceful flowing movement. It might test other basics like the ambulatory speeds required on the platforms and in the tunnels and of course the obligatory standing on the right hand side of an escalator. For the advanced passenger there could be modules on different speeds allowed for ascent and descent on almost empty escalators (should a three lane system be introduced perhaps)? Given that the world is being ‘gamified’ all over, a points system which gives a reduction in the fare might be useful and could incorporate penalties for those who stop to look at tube maps/unbutton cardigans/generally look around aimlessly in front of barriers or who walk along a platform looking at their mobile phone.
Lastly and this is key, I suggest some kind of viral test before embarkation? This could be something simple like that x-ray screen in Total Recoil (the Arnie one not the new one). It might look like some kind of breathalyser – one quick blow and off, a quick wipe with an antiseptic sponge from a friendly robot arm and on with the journey if you aren’t carrying the Norovirus or any other kind of Tube friendly ’24 hour’ virus. Would that be too much to ask? It may sound daft but the good folk in Nippon have the sense to wear masks. How effective they are I have no idea but the principle is clear, I don’t want to catch your germs and I’m also going to try to make sure whatever contagious germs and viruses I might have I don’t pass on to you.
How civilised a journey would that be?
*I don’t know this to be fact. There may well be some well-kempt and godforsaken station out in zone 10, however there are definitely none in Zone 1.