As London Underground unions and managers swap claim and counter-claim in their latest dispute we might all be forgiven for wondering what happened to Boris’s much promised no-strike deal with the unions.
During the election those of us who questioned the feasibility of his promise were condemned by his campaign team for a lack of vision and faith, yet a year on from his victory there’s no sign of an end to the confrontation between both sides.
Tube workers I know tell me whenever there’s a prospect of strike action the attitude of some passengers becomes quite hostile, presumably at the thought of the resulting delays and inconveniences. One friend says most passengers seem hardly to notice Tube staff unless they want directions which tend to be asked for in the most abrupt manner possible.
Apparently listening to the news from anywhere else in the UK creates an impression of a city in almost open warfare and where acts of kindness are unheard of. Friends who visit London often can’t wait to tell me, with great surprise, how at the Underground station they used, someone was kind enough to help with heavy luggage, or give directions, or explain which ticket offered best value.
In my experience, not only is the service on the Tube of a high standard but it shames that offered by the national railways. Traveling back from a weekend out of London recently, I had the misfortune to arrive at my departure station just as the screens updated to show all trains were cancelled. The entire station staff vanished in seconds, leaving passengers to fend for themselves. By contrast, whenever my Tube journeys have coincided with any delay or disruption the platform and station staff have been visible, helpful and knowledgeable.
Maybe we’re all too used to a system which (mostly) just works whenever we want it to properly appreciate the Tube’s success story.
Last week I was lucky enough to see a different view of the network after maintenance firm Tubelines invited me to observe some work on the tracks at Euston (if you squint hard enough at the video below you’ll just make out some people working very hard to replace a timber under the tracks).
Because the Tube runs from early morning to whisk us to work and is there to bring us home after our post-work activities there’s not many hours available for maintenance and upgrade work. So, while most of us are sleeping, maintenance teams work through the early hours to complete heavy, complex work.
Working unsociable hours in a dark, hot and sometimes cramped environment isn’t what most us would want to do but thankfully enough people step forward to ensure the network’s there for the rest of us next morning.
I don’t know what the rights and wrongs of the latest dispute are, but I do know when people talk about unions and maintenance contractors what they’re really referring to is an army of hard working men and women, dedicated to delivering a world class transport system.