I'm not much of a fan of the commute and whilst it's an unavoidable reality for many across the UK, those of us that live and work in London seem to get a uniquely rough deal. Whether it's the boiling Monday in June or a freezing and wet Thursday in January we persevere. I, like almost all the Londoners that I know am quite proud of the spirit with which we undertake the cattle shuffle across the capital. It is one of the things that binds us together. Londoners are fantastically unstoppable.
For the time poor amongst readers, I'm going to cut to the chase - today's blog is about transport strikes in London and an idea to create a reserve of willing Londoners ready to step in and keep the capillaries of our capital flowing. It's an idea that I'd love to personally take part in.
On Tuesday there was a bus strike across London. Before I continue, I want to make it clear that the bus drivers of London don't subscribe to the RMT fickle militancy (the Union with more strikes to its name than the All Star Lanes in Holborn). They ship us across the city night and day, and to put on extra services when the tube shuts for yet another dispute over pay and conditions, is greatly appreciated. Despite this, London's bus drivers walked out on just 16% of a vote, causing misery once again. More importantly it impacts far more than just commuters - it affects London as whole.
Could it not be possible to harness some of that public spiritedness that shines so brightly during strikes to make mitigate the problem? How many people would undertake training to drive a tube train? How many people with HGV licences would drive the buses for us if we could cover the cost of their training and test?
A Mayor's Transport Reserve.
Why Do We Need This?
You do not have to be a Londoner to know that there are quite a few strikes in London, and when there is they wreak total misery. Twitter explodes, we curse, lose sleep from getting up two hours earlier, miss meetings, get soaked in queues and generally have a terrible time. But amongst all this, bosses, clients and managers gain infinite capacity for understanding, we form orderly queues like we are waiting for a ride at a theme park, we share our umbrellas and, by hook or by crook, we get to work. At which point, we begin to plan the return journey back through the seven circles, and question whether it is acceptable to leave early, or if you will be working until eight to let the worst of it pass.
As I said, it's not just about the commute; strikes impact the lives of London's most vulnerable. As well as being the most used form of transport in the city, buses are the most accessible method of transport for those with disabilities, baby buggies, and young children. What's more - the biggest users are our young people, 16-25 year olds going to work or to continue their education, and almost 20% of the millions of journeys undertaken by individuals every day are taken by the elderly. This isn't about statistics and economics - it's about people not being able to get to school, to buy their food; it's about people missing a flight and having to pay huge sums for another ticket.
A Transport Reserve Is Easier Than You Think
TfL already does something similar to a reserve, staffing its tube stations using 'ambassadors' when strikes are on. But why not go one step further and use ordinary Londoners to help TFL run its services during disputes? Employers would have to consent, but could they not be reimbursed at a set rate? If the tubes are running, more staff can come to work and perhaps the city can't be held to ransom in quite the same way that it is now, meaning employers would be better off overall.
Don't forget the 70,000 Games Makers that with huge passion made one of the biggest events in history - the 2012 London Olympics - a massive success. Londoners and people across the UK love to help each other.
Would you volunteer?
This Is Not About Blame, It's About Keeping London Moving
To end, I would point out that I do support the principle of trade unions. The ability for workers to withdraw their labour if they are unhappy is an important one. But is there not a distinction to be made between challenging your employers and holding the capital city of the UK to ransom? London is the economic heart of our country, and the cost it incurs during strikes cannot be sustained for long, a situation which the RMT, and this week Unite, have used to their full advantage.
The mayoral office has no control over what London's 18 bus companies pay their staff. But for what it is worth, the same pay and conditions can not not work for London's bus companies, not just because the areas and routes differ hugely and thus need variation like in the rest of the country, but because such a power play would place the same power in the hands of Unite as currently exists in the RMT, which brings unhappiness regularly to our city. Until London has a solution in place to mitigate the impact of strikes, we can not allow unions to hold us all to ransom.