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Moresby Meanders Observations From an Ongoing Journey

Antisocial Interactions - Using Public Transport in Merry Old London Town

UNITED KINGDOM | Saturday, 11 January 2014 | Views [681]

Coming from Sydney I am thankful if my bus or train turns up at all. Years living in one of the most poorly serviced parts of the world for public transport has made me a little more forgiving than the average Londoner. While London's public transport system is on a world scale a commuter’s wet dream, there are a few things to gripe about. The majority of the service is carried on the back of the Tube, National Rail, Overground, DLR (Docklands Light Railway), bus and taxi services. Tube and train services cost a lot in comparison to the average income. Seven-day travel passes for the tube start at a cost of £30.40 to travel within zone 1 and range up to £79.20 for travel between zones 1-9 with the National Rail services costing a touch more. Sure there are more expensive systems in the world but if you are to consider that the minimum wage in the UK currently is £6.31 per hour for people over the age of 21, to buy a tube ticket for zones 1-9 each week could eat up as much as a third of the income for a full time worker on minimum wage per week. Perhaps this is why tube users are as a general rule of thumb either aloof, irritable, or just plain antisocial. Conversation between passengers is rare and when it does occur it is usually either to warn other commuters to stay out of their personal space or to complain about delays, track works, or yet another “trespass on the tracks”. I know I shouldn’t joke about it but with the cost of travel so high I am surprised that more people don’t end up on the tracks. The average trip is spent avoiding eye contact staring quietly up at the advertisements conveniently placed just above head height or gazing silently downward at a particularly interesting scuff mark on the carriage floor in mute recognition that we are all in the same boat (or train) but we most certainly don’t want to talk about it.


My best anecdote to date on the fiercely antisocial nature of tube patrons takes me back to when I started using the tube on a regular basis between the city centre and my home in East London. This night, tired and hungering for home the train pulled in to Liverpool St Station. As we sat motionless an alarm rang out. A pre-recorded message began to cycle; “This is an emergency. Please make your way to the nearest exit. This station is being evacuated”. The words sent a pang of terror, my heart began to race, my body charged with adrenalin. The people who had exited the train doors on to the platform scurried in a panic towards the exits. The train sat painfully motionless. “Are we just going to sit here?” I thought to myself as images of the London terror attacks I had seen on TV some years previously played over in my minds eye, looping over again and again with the rhythm of the message still piping through the now empty platform. I cast my eyes about the carriage. I noted a couple of other uneasy faces but could not make any eye contact. The other passengers as usual sat stone faced. There seemed to be some kind of, “if we just ignore it, it will go away” mentality that my fellow passengers were clinging to. Maybe if we collectively pretend that this is not happening, it will just turn out to be a figment of our imaginations and we can return to the monotonous trundling of the train and screeching of the of the tracks as we each make our way home. The tension for me was becoming too great. My Australian sensibilities screaming to come forth, I looked around the carriage one more time, just to catch an eye, just for the chance of contact with another fellow human being, the chance to let one wry comment out, to get a little laugh, to take the edge off, to know I wasn’t alone. A woman across the way glanced up momentarily and I began to open my mouth, but at that very second the doors closed, the brakes of the train released and we moved off from the station. The recorded message, continued to loop as it faded quickly in to the distance. A sense of relief came over the carriage, we were going to live and more over we had gotten through the whole harrowing experience without acknowledging our collective terror or even each other’s existence. Phew, that was close!


One thing I can say for the busses in London is that they attract a different brand of commuter, that is they are a lot more vocal. The system is slow, and many routes impractical, but they do service those otherwise unreachable spots in London that the train lines forgot. The service is cheap and it costs only £19.60 for a weekly pass that can be used all over the network but this does not stop the all too frequent muttering, shouting and tantrum throwing aimed at the drivers who in my opinion all should be nominated for sainthood but others believe should be burned at the stake because they are “too f***ing slow”.


Honestly I cannot say whether I prefer the train or bus services, the major cost of the tube network is a big downer but the efficiency is unrivalled. It is rare to have delays and most of these occur over the weekends during planned track work. One sticking point though is the fact that tube services stop around 1am most days which seems a little early for one of the great metropolises of the world. I have been employing the bus services for the past six months in order to travel to work and have found it to be in general a much more relaxing experience, fettered only by a couple of pet hates; the amount of rubbish that people leave on the bus, the occasional and inexplicable diversion of the bus during a planned service and the fact that people insist on clogging up the lower level by piling in on top of each other instead of taking the vacant seats on the upper deck, though at the end of the day this usually means I can take my whole journey kicking back with two seats, reading my book, without some smelly maniac breathing down my neck the whole journey.


Taxis are without a doubt the final resort for transport one should consider when planning journey in London. There are two forms of taxi available for the everyday traveller; the famous London Black Cabs and the Minicab services, both as repugnant as each other in their own way. Black Cabs are clean, comfortable and available to hail on the street or book over the phone. The drivers are as a general rule amiable folk, polite and helpful, it is the cost of the journey that is for most either repellent or prohibitive. Rates are based on a combination of factors including the day of the week, time of day, distance covered and time taken to complete the journey with for example a trip between London Heathrow and the city centre cost between £45-85, a convenience afforded only by the wealthy and/or carefree. Minicabs on the other hand offer a much more affordable service. Fares are based on simple flat rates to cover a certain distance as agreed when booking the cab at the office or over the phone. These flat rates are usually then upped or argued by the driver throughout the journey as they feign being lost, the failure of their GPS or simply demand more cash due to the unjust low pricing or miscalculation of the fare by head office. On the plus side, each time you walk away from a ride in a Minicab apparently having just avoided being beaten or knifed by someone who could very well have doubled for Deniro in Taxi Driver, you do appreciate being alive a little more.




Tags: bus, dlr, london, minicab, national rail, overground, public transport, taxi, tube

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