It happened. It finally happened. I'm finally going to be able to ride the London Underground at 4:00 a.m.
London mayor Boris Johnson and Transport for London revealed a plan yesterday to upgrade the Underground into a "21st century service." This includes operating a 24-hour service on parts of the network on weekends; and using technology to make trips easier. But it will also involve closing all of the network's ticket offices, resulting in a net loss of 750 jobs.
(Source: André Zehetbauer via Flickr)
This is intended to help the Tube cope with London's growing population, which is set to rise from 8.4 million people to 10 million by 2030. Here are the key policies:
24-Hour Weekend Service: The Tube currently closes at 1:00 a.m. but, from 2015, people will be able to use parts of the network on Friday and Saturday nights. It will initially cover the Piccadilly, Victoria, Central, and Jubilee lines; and parts of the Northern line. It could be extended to other lines in future years.
I have been skeptical before about a 24/7 Tube service because of a potential conflict with maintenance schedules, but, if that isn’t a problem, I'm all for it. This is great news for London's night-time businesses and travelers; and will help bring the Tube closer to the 24/7 subway service enjoyed in New York.
Five London Underground lines -- or parts of them -- will open 24 hours at weekends from 2015
(Source: Transport for London)
Closing All Ticket Offices: The most controversial policy is the plan to close all 268 ticket offices by the end of 2015, with the loss of 950 jobs. This is a net loss of 750 jobs because 200 jobs will be created to help run the "night Tube." Transport unions have criticized Johnson for breaking a promise to the Greater London Assembly in 2010 that none would be closed, and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) is now promising "industrial action across the entire network."
Under this plan, more staff would be deployed in ticket halls and on gate lines to help passengers; and staff would get technology including tablet computers to help them to effectively monitor and manage stations. The stations that are most popular with tourists will also get visitor information centres.
The justification for getting rid of ticket offices is that Oyster cards have made them irrelevant. After all, people visit a ticket office for less than 3% of Tube trips.
However, that still amounts to 105,000 visits to ticket offices each day; and I don't think having people surrounding a guy with an iPad is better than an orderly queue to talk to someone at a window.
WiFi in All Below-Ground Stations: Virgin Media is set to roll out WiFi to most other below-ground Tube stations by the end of 2014, so people can access web and digital content across the whole Tube network. This sounds exciting for Virgin Media mobile customers, who will get to surf for free -- but not so exciting for the rest of us.
Using Bank Cards as Oyster Cards: Next year, customers will be able to use a contactless credit or debit card to pay for their Tube journeys, instead of an Oyster card. It sounds convenient, but you won't catch me waving my debit card around at 2:00 a.m. after a night out.
Improved Disabled Access: Transport for London plans to introduce more raised platform sections and train boarding ramps; improve information and signage; and make 27 more stations step-free over the next eight years (on top of the existing 66 step-free stations).
Better Ticket Machines: Ticket machines will be improved so it is quicker and easier for passengers to gain refunds when they fail to touch out. People will also get personalized customer accounts on the Transport for London website so they can get tailored information and services. This sounds like it could be useful, but I expect it to raise privacy concerns.
All in all, these are exciting plans. But achieving all of these goals won't come easy, and the fight for a "21st century" Tube service is only just beginning.
Re: It's about time. Hooray Nicole for asserting the need for all concerned to learn how to play better together. Among many of the IT crowd I've come in contact with there is a distrust / suspicion of government. And on the government side, while there are elected officials who make a point of keeping up with technology, sometimes there are substantial gaps in understanding.
Re: It's about time. No problem, piratejulie, and yes I couldn't agree with you more. Something like Click and Collect would be amazing. We need our city retailers to get together with our city governments and IT leaders and figure out how to play better together.
Re: Training @CitySolver: You're right that we want to try to stop crime from happening, not just make sure we get the right person after it does happen. It's all very well to use CCTV to catch a thug after they've pushed someone in front of a Tube train, but that's nowhere near as good as stopping it from happening in the first place.
I'm not saying that I expect this to be a regular occurence, by the way. Just demonstrating the principle.
Training I agree Rich, if there are going to be less staff then the staff that remain need to be trained to deal with criminals and drunk and disorderly travellers. I think the reduction in staff is a short sighted move. Sure we may have CCTV to capture criminals after the event but surely we want to prevent crime and to do this we need eyes on the scene to deter and to protect the public. More pressure on the polices strained resources is not the answer.
Re: Ticket offices and disabled access @CitySolver: The other point I didn't mention is the argument from people like the RMT that having fewer people working in Tube stations could either increase crime in the stations, or people's anxiety about crime happening.
I'm also nervous about sending more drunk people into close proximity with fast-moving vehicles, and I wonder what extra training will be needed by station staff who may be comfortably dealing with people who have been drinking for five hours but not those drinking for nine or ten hours. Will ticket staff refuse entry to people they consider are too drunk to use the Tube safely? Will we end up with extra police working in these stations? Will there have to be more paramedics trained to respond to below-ground emergencies?
Re: 24 hr tube will increase jobs? Interesting point, kq4ym. This may create more jobs in the economy as a whole, although we also don't know what would be the impact on people driving night buses or taxis. I will keep an eye out for economic forecasts that take all these factors into account.
Also, just because the plan creates more jobs, it doesn't mean that it'll create jobs for the same people who will lose theirs in this plan. I don't envisage London Underground ticket hall staff going to work behind the bar in trendy nightclubs or late-night restaurants.
Re: It's about time @Susan: Ticket offices are mainly used by people who don't understand the system and others who need help. I hope that putting more of this responsibility on tablet-wielding staff by the ticket barriers doesn't affect the quality of service they provide.
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