Londoners don’t want a staffless, soulless Tube system

26th July, 2014 8:00 am

The London Underground is the single most important piece of public infrastructure in the capital. Over three million people use the Tube each day, to get to work, visit family or see friends. A healthy Underground network is at the heart of a healthy, vibrant London. It is a fantastic system that is the envy of the modern world, but we must ensure we do not neglect our crown jewel.

Later  today, I will be addressing a conference on the future of the Underground at Congress House and setting out my Mayoral vision for a people focused Underground built on sound investment and proper engagement with staff and customers.


Firstly, sound investment: This of course means investment in the network and new technologies, but also in the staff. The current Mayor’s vision for the Tube is built on doing away with ticket office staff and drivers. This is a mistake. Having spoken to people at my campaign meetings across the capital it is clear that Londoners don’t want a staffless, soulless Tube system. The millions of people who use it daily want the Tube system to remain safe and welcoming with staff on hand to deal with emergencies and provide information.

The current Mayor’s plans for cabless and driverless new trains are not about improving the system or encouraging people to use the Underground but are part of a campaign to destaff large swathes of the system which will deter many users. In fact, they are a smokescreen. The truth is that for safety reasons, London Tube trains will always need to be staffed because the tunnels are so small and stations so far apart. Moreover, the only convenient place for a staff member would be at the front, so the idea of ‘cabless’ trains are merely a way of suggesting that it is possible to run the service without people which in fact will never happen. It is dishonest anti-union propaganda that needs to be dispelled.

Stations, too, must remain staffed for the whole time they are open. People use the Tube because they know that they are safe and that help is at hand if there is trouble. The unstaffed stations of the National Rail network are often little used at night precisely because people fear for their safety. Even in ticket offices at the lesser used stations, there must always be a member of staff available to help people buy tickets and to provide information for people negotiating the system for the first time. I remember trying to use the metro system in Seoul last year at stations where there were no staff available and the system was difficult to understand. We must ensure the London Underground remains a welcoming place for people and easy to navigate.

Secondly, we must have a management model built on far proper engagement with staff and a Mayor that is willing to listen. The current Mayor has gone out of his way to antagonise workers and has refused to engage with the unions. Moreover, he has used the threat of removing staff from both ticket offices and trains as a way of causing confrontation. A much more co-operative approach with the staff would benefit both sides.

Maintaining the quality of the Underground system is vital. Through proper investment and better engagement between managers and staff, we can ensure that the Underground is able to power London for decades to come.

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  • MonkeyBot5000

    There are a lot of people who use the tube regularly that don’t live in London. Were you planning to ask any of us what we think?

    I don’t mind cabless/driverless trains. It’s the lack of air conditioning that bothers me.

  • treborc1

    You sadly cannot stop progress Computers can run trains and the underground and once it’s started then sadly the whole railways will become automated and may well become nationalized, or under one owner the government, with no staff and computers running it it may not be worth owning.
    Progress and computer has always be about having less cost and yet better service no strikes no wage demands and 24 hour running until one breaks down.

    I suspect in the next fifty years Robotics and computers will be more advanced and will take over a mass of the jobs we think only people can do.

    Of course it’s nice to think the public will always want to see people on the railways but only when it works for them decent wages are always nice cheaper tickets even better .

    I’m sure that Boris and the Tories and labour will be long gone before the local plumber or electrician will be a robot, but a train driver why not.

  • Jeremy Wright

    The fact Christian has gone through a huge spiel about the underground without mentioning the heinous ticket prices is astounding.

    Ticket offices closing is somewhat of an inevitability with automation, but

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    Based on what you’ve written, surely automation of the train driving must be a good thing?

    Rather than having a person stuck at the front of the train driving it and hence inaccessible to passengers, by automating the trains this person is now freed up and available to be walking up and down the train – assisting passengers, providing a watchful eye over public safety, keeping the train clean and tidy, things which genuinely assist passengers.

    Automating the trains frees up a person, it’s a management/political decision whether that person is then used to improve the service for passengers by doing other duties, or removed entirely to reduce the operating costs but automation itself isn’t a problem and doesn’t impact passengers.

    You could make similar arguments about examples of automation, are the railways worse for the automated ticket barrier which displaced the ticket inspector? Is the world worse for the automatic lift, which did away with all the lift attendants?

  • Grouchy Oldgit

    Driverless skytrain system in Vancouver works fine.

  • Steve Stubbs

    There is a considerable number of driverless systems around the world. they seem to work satisfactorily. Where I do take issue is with staffless major intersections. Watching arriving international visitors off the Heathrow Express trying to work the ticket system at Paddington recently was a revelation. We will still need a human interface at strategic points.

    • treborc1

      Lot in this country as well if I remember correctly.


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