Aliens Eat London Commuters

It stunned me that I could walk onto a platform on the Northern Line at Charing Cross station and find it deserted.

rush hour
rush hour

I posted this picture over a Flickr tonight as it stunned me that I could walk onto a platform on the Northern Line at Charing Cross station and find it deserted. All the best movies had alien invaders clearing the streets while our lonesome hero wandered the empty streets and echoing buildings. It was very strange indeed and a great relief when somebody else made it to the platform and stood waiting the few minutes for the next train. I’ve spent the day in central London training some customers on our software products and so have been on my feet all day, talking. I find it quite hard to be engaging for six hours of so and do find it very disconcerting when I can see the participants interest wane. I imagine it’s a great relief for all that we make it to the end of the day. I was glad to head of for a meal with friends – which is why I was taking the train!

Please Don’t Shout On Late Trains

Jakob Nielsen reports that researchers from the University of York have performed a study to assess why it’s so annoying when other people have cellphone conversations in public.

Earlier in the week, my fifteen-minute train journey was delayed due to over-running engineering works. Any regular traveller on the South West Trains suburban lines into London Waterloo station will be used to these delays after weekends or bank holidays. I know it to be so likely that I even plan for it and force myself out of bed and to the station a little earlier if I know there have been engineering works nearby.

As always some people are caught off guard by this or, perhaps, they use it as a cover for the fact they are running late. It’s amazing how many mobile ‘phone conversations announce that the caller will be late for the office/appointment/meeting due to how late the trains are when, in fact, there is no more than a ten minute delay (which when using London’s transport infrastructure you should be accounting for anyway).

Earlier this week, however, there was a well-spoken gentleman in my carriage who insisted in calling – what appeared to be – most of his mobile ‘phone contact book to let them know just how late he was. He also said that Justin would have to take the meeting (if Justin ever reads this, the gentleman in question claimed to have confidence that you wouldn’t screw it up which I thought sounded good for you). All very well but I didn’t want to know it.

The conversation was irritaing and irritation is always enhanced when a train is later (even if you have planned for it because other’s have planned for it and civilised behaviour goes out the window). The conversation, however, was loud but each one was brief and to the point and without any pointless small-talk. The gentleman was efficient in his conversations and factual. He was, however, still irritaing.

So I started looking for items on irritation factors caused by mobile telephony only to find that Jakob Nielsen has a some research on ‘Why Mobile Phones are Annoying‘ which implies that, upon testing, conversations face-to-face at the same volume are less irritaing that the equivalent mobile conversation. The research suggests,

Designing phones that encourage users to speak softly will reduce their impact on other people. For example, more sensitive microphones and improved quality on incoming audio will make most users less inclined to shout. [source]

Let’s hope Nokia et al. are listening.

Britain’s Railways

The whole saga of the upgrading of the west coast main line is outlined in today’s Guardian.

A very interesting item it today’s G2 about the on-going saga of the upgrading of the West Coast Main Line, one of the key railway routes in Britain:

One of the most disturbing facets of the west coast saga is the failure of democratic government that it represents. Not just of a particular party, but the whole system of government.

and later

And yet we cannot accuse our elected representatives of looking the other way. In mid-February and early March of 1995, after the consultants had delivered their report but while Railtrack and the government were still mulling over it, members of the House of Commons transport committee questioned Edmonds, Horton and the heads of some of the big signalling firms about the WCML project … Members of parliament had done what they were elected to do, conscientiously and thoroughly scrutinising a big plan by an unelected organisation with power over the lives and purses of the public. It had pointed out its weaknesses. And nobody paid any attention.

What the article does highlight is that, today, projects of national importance and public good like this one come second to short-term profit, power and – to some extent – ego. I wonder if we will ever see a situation where transport planning is for all our good rather than the few?

A Non-Existent Dream

If we’re not careful, the UK will topple over as the South East of Britain sinks into The Channel under the weight of all the people migrating from other parts of the country.

After last night’s little rant on the state of the London Underground system, I heard about this morning’s nonsense from the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to start charging commuters more to sit on over-crowded, dirty, late-running trains. I guess the plan reasons that charging higher fares means fewer people will travel by train. Surely, this proves that an integrated transport policy for London’s workers remains a non-existent dream. Ken Livingston wants to charge people for driving into central London. The SRA wants to charge more for travelling on trains. How are people expected to get into work? The answer is they will still drive and take the train and it will cost them more – status quo remains. It seems to me that nobody is prepared to do what it takes to sort transport in the South East out. And that still stinks.

So then, I got to thinking about John Prescott’s [John Prescott as Boss of Bosses?] little plan to build more affordable housing in the South East of England (to ease the cronic housing shortage, apparently). Affordable housing implies that this is aimed at people on a lower wage (am I taking a big leap here?). How, exactly, are these people going to get to work in London if train prices rise and roads get tolls? Again, it appears inconsitnet and badly thought out. Why not take some of these £4 billion and encourage businesses to move out of the South East to areas where there are too many houses or where there is less congestion. If we’re not careful, the UK will topple over as the South East of Britain sinks into The Channel under the weight of all the people migrating from other parts of the country.

London Life Underground

It’s a rant about the tube. Summer brings its own special brand of problems for London’s sub-terrain commuters: hot, sweaty and stuck in tunnels on the way to the office does not make for a contented work force.

The great struggle to and from work in London is over as another strike by London Underground staff finishes and the tube returns to its normal, over-crowded, hot, sticky self. I don’t think there can be a person in this City who does not believe that the Underground is under funded and appears, at times, not too far from breaking point. Summer brings its own special brand of problems for London’s sub-terrain commuters: hot, sweaty and stuck in tunnels on the way to the office does not make for a contented work force. When will Tony Blair, Ken Livingston and Bob Crow stop using the Underground as a great big political football and start doing something to ease the plight of those who try and use London’s public transport on a regular basis? I, along with most people who have chosen to live, work or visit London, am fed up with the self-serving posturing of the politicians and union leaders. I can’t say if I think the strike was wrong or not but I do know that the very fact that none of the parties involved are currently at a negotiating table resolving all issues and developing long-term strategies for coping with increasing commuter volumes stinks worse than the armpits of that harassed member of the public I will be squashed against tomorrow morning. Please somebody, for the sake of those of us who voted for you and pay for you, sort out the mess. [current tube status]