lies, damn lies, and the London Underground

This morning I, with many thousands of other commuters, were subjected to the complete and utter ball-ache that is a central line delay. Yes, I know it is caused by the antiquated signaling system falling over for one reason or another, and I accept that there’s no cheap, quick, or easy solution to the problem and that it will happen from time to time. What really bothered me about the situation this morning was the lack of useful information and the outright bullshit being shoveled out of the underground staff. The PA announcements say one thing and the driver says another, frequently at the same time.

station PA: “there are severe delays on the Central Line due to an ongoing signal failure at Bank, please use other alternatives to complete your journey.”

Are you kidding me?! If there WERE other alternatives do you think I’d be taking the frigging underground in the first place? Or do you think I’d be standing here if I knew a bus that would get me there faster in the circumstances? There ARE no alternatives and they know it, but saying to take one makes them feel they’ve absolved themselves of the responsibility of transporting you to work.

30 seconds later – Driver: “for those of you who have just joined us there are severe delays on the central line this morning due to a signal failure at Bank, we will be held in this platform until cleared to proceed”

Yes, for those of you hard-of-hearing who couldn’t hear the PA blaring as you walked into the station and who didn’t notice the massive crowd of people standing forlornly outside a train overflowing with extremely grouchy looking commoners, there is in fact a delay.

30 seconds later – Station PA: “there are severe delays on the Central Line due to an ongoing signal failure at Bank, please use other options to complete your journey.”

Gee, thanks.

30 seconds later – Driver: “blah blah blah”.

You don’t get a moments peace and you aren’t told anything new, which is doubly frustrating. One of the survival techniques underground commuters develop is the ability to zone out, to go into your own little world and almost forget the smelly dickhead who isn’t paying attention to the placement of his elbow, or the fact that there’s a fat ugly woman grinding her tits into your back. All these constant announcements do is snap you out of your blissful trance and drag you back into the horrible reality of it all. Let me be in my alternative universe for a little while, please! Maybe every 5 minutes make an announcement or when there’s new information by all means do tell, but otherwise give it a rest! We know there’s a delay, and we haven’t forgotten why.

It wasn’t always like this, they used to never tell you anything and it wasn’t good. I think the underground was getting criticized for it, and rightly so, however as a way of “taking the public’s comments on board” they decided to engage in the audio equivalent of spam, only with spam I can hit a delete button but I can’t touch a switch and make myself deaf. They’re now flooding the stations with useless information letting you know that for once all London underground lines are running a good service (although they do stretch the definition of good pretty often), that a train will be arriving in 2 minutes when the platform screen that can be read by anyone says 2 minutes, or they remind you to take your bags with you when you leave the train as if I would forget otherwise. Do they really think that because they make an announcement at Wanstead to remind me to remember my belongings that when I get to Holborn I’m going to think “hey wait, the nice lady on the PA system said to remember my stuff, do I have everything?”

Eventually we moved one stop to Leytsonstone, and things got interesting because Leytonstone is where 2 branches come together and there are actual buses that stop next to the station, and now London Underground’s job is to try and con you to take one of them. According to their announcements there is a plethora, a veritable surfeit of brand new, shiny, double-deckered alternatives to the obviously old and busted underground you normally take. Only a fool, only a moron would stay when you can simply walk outside straight into a glorious carriage that will whisk you speedily away to Stratford in comfort and dare they say it, joy. To their surprise few take them up on their offer so a few minutes later they announce that the central line is suspended and no trains will be moving into central London – ever! Now you have to take the bus – HAH!

Now the exodus begins as the be-knighted commuters, weary before their day has even really begun, trudge out the exit to find that the promised bumper crop of buses that are lined up outside are actually one, and it comes 3 times an hour. And there’s one there already that is packed full. And it takes 50 people maximum. And there’s already 500 people waiting for it in front of you. No doubt many of them tried to re-enter the station to try their luck with the beleaguered tube only to find that the station staff weren’t letting anyone back in.

I wasn’t one of these poor souls because I’ve swallowed their story before and paid the price. Once I was quick enough to have gotten close to the front of the bus line before the thundering herd and only waited 40 minutes for one only to find that the quick trip to Stratford takes about 25 minutes at best. The other times I have walked to Stratford only to find that the central line has been running again.

After those fun examples I decided that they’d have to physically remove me if the want me to leave the train and I resolved to wait and see. Sure enough, 10 minutes later the train shut its doors and left – during an announcement that the central line was still suspended. I eventually got to work an hour later than I should have.

So they lie to the people they are supposed to be serving, they don’t care if you have to trudge to Stratford in the rain or wait an hour for the bus, you’re out of their hair.

Another typical London Underground lie is to use “health and safety” to justify laziness. For example, they routinely block people from entering Holborn station because there’s one escalator that’s out of commission. When you ask why it’s “health and safety”, ie a catch-all for something they wanted to do but couldn’t justify any other way. When you ask how having hundreds of people spilling out onto the busy street outside the station nearly getting run over by taxis is safer than some people walking down instead of riding an escalator you get an intentionally blank look. It’s more trouble for them, so it’s “health and safety” bullshit on the spade this time.

Of course, the biggest lie in the London Underground system is that it’s good value for money. It isn’t. It’s expensive, noisy, slow, unreliable, cramped, and it closes way too early. It’s the most costly system in the world because it’s old, they pay the staff too much for what they do, and the privatized companies that run and maintain it are given a guaranteed profit. The privatization contracts are for maintenance of the system only, not for improvements of any kind whatsoever, so the painful fact is that until Transport for London gets their collective thumb out of their ass and spends some money replacing the Victorian-era pile of shit that they call a signaling system we will continue to suffer horrific and painful experiences that are completely avoidable.

Too often we’re lied to not to protect us, but to make life easier for those running the system. When the system breaks we’re lied to in an effort to herd us to non-existent transportation alternatives because it’s the easiest way to reduce the load on the system. Health and safety is too often used as a trump card to justify expediency. We’re lied to about the state of the system we pay so much for and told we’re getting our money’s worth, which we are most definitely not.

All the lying is creating a climate of mistrust and undermines any credibility that the underground staff have. Don’t tell me there’s alternatives when I know there aren’t because it guarantees everyone will ignore you. Health and safety’s wearing thin too.

And for the love of heaven please tell the people on the PA to stick a cork in it for 5 minutes, they’re driving me nuts!

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