An open letter about the Central Line

I write at the end of another appalling week on the Central Line during which there have been daily issues resulting in minor and severe delays as well as suspension of service. It has been an utter misery for commuters.

The level of service has been steadily deteriorating for months with many truly terrible weeks. Anyone using the line does so with constant anxiety and stress not to mention exposure to the dirt and filthy pollution. For commuters it is a daily hell which can result in the loss of work as well as income.

This dire situation cannot continue. I have long campaigned for all parties to come together to work to improve the situation. My experience is that many wish to work collaboratively and do their best while others are negative, rude, lack a customer service ethic and wish to blame everyone else. Meanwhile, the customer suffers.

Everyone involved – Central Line staff, TfL and the Mayor of London – need to stop squabbling and work together to tackle this deteriorating situation. At the very least emergency measures need to be put in place to provide a basic level of service for those who use the line to get to work, earn a living or get to school. If this failure continues those responsible must be held to account.

#improvethecentralline

In 2018 The Wanstead Post spearheaded a campaign to #improvethecentralline. The intention was to encourage interested parties – such as Transport for London, the Mayor of London, Central Line management and staff as well as passengers – to come together to address problems and find innovative solutions. The campaign culminated in a meeting with Caroline Pidgeon, Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee and Chris Taggart, Head of Line Operations, to discuss the most pressing issues.

Since then the Central Line has had good and bad days. When the service runs it can be excellent but when things go wrong it can be truly appalling. After speaking with staff, you are often left with the impression that a sense of complacency permeates the running of the line and there is a general feeling that the situation will never improve.

According to the Socialist Worker website, members of the RMT Union who work on the Central Line are “fighting against chronic understaffing, imposed rosters, management bullying, inadequate welfare facilities and local agreement breaches” and have planned a 24-hour strike due to start on Tuesday 3 September 2019. There is no doubt that if the strike goes ahead utter misery will be caused.

This is an undesirable turn of events for management, staff and passengers because any strike will cause nothing but suffering. Harsh management or unrealistic aggressive demands by unions achieve little and negatively impact hard-working commuters. There needs to be a new collaboration between all involved, a renewed desire to work together and get things done, a refreshed positive energy to make a difference and move on to a better future for all those who work on or use the main arterial route through the greatest capital city in the world.

Are we drifting into having Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London again?

sadiq_khan

On Saturday 1 September 2018 a blimp of a semi-naked Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, will be flown above Parliament Square.

The event has been organised by a man called Yanny Bruere who describes himself as “pro free speech” and “anti political correctness”.  It has been paid for by a crowdfunding campaign which has raised more than £58,000.  The stunt is part of a wider campaign to stop Mr Khan from being re-elected as London Mayor and is a response to the decision to allow a blimp of Donald Trump during his presidential visit in July.

Showing his witty sense of humour, Mr Khan has said: “If people want to spend their Saturday looking at me in a yellow bikini they’re welcome to do so.  I don’t really think yellow’s my colour though”.

I think the stunt is rude and a huge waste of money.  Surely, in these austere times, £58,000 could be better spent?  It is also a win for Mr Khan as it has received publicity and allows him to show he is not above having the rise taken out of him.

But let’s use this as an opportunity to stimulate intelligent debate.  The Mayor’s responsibility is to make London a better place for everyone who visits, lives or works in the city.  His influence ranges across transport, the police and fire service, housing, business and the economy, regeneration and young people.  Are these areas genuinely better than when Mr Khan took office in 2016?  Has he made a real difference since coming to power?  Has he improved the daily lives of Londoners or has the situation got worse?  These are the areas on which Mr Khan must be judged and serious questions asked.

I notice the media are already identifying Mr Khan as the “front runner” for re-election as Mayor of London in 2020.  The key question, which requires an honest answer, is why?

TfL: management structure and salaries

tfl_organisation_chart

As I was researching the Central Line on the internet I came across this document.  According to the URL it can be found somewhere on the Transport for London (TfL) website.

The chart appears to show the organisational structure of TfL in 2016/2017 and includes information about salaries.

There are a number of common sense questions which might be asked about this management structure:

  • What do the Head of Transformation and Business Transformation Director actually do?
  • Why are there two Senior Principals of Commercial Finance?
  • Why are there three Heads of HR plus a Head of HR Services?
  • What does the Senior Executive Advisor do?
  • Is it really necessary to employ so many people on salaries in excess of £100,000 when the majority of TfL’s budget comes from fares and grants from central and local government?
  • Are these salaries in any way performance related?
  • In what way are these people accountable to passengers?

In view of the deteriorating standard of service delivered across the TfL network, isn’t it time passengers were given the opportunity to ask these questions and time we were given some answers?

 

How to improve the Central Line

central_line_9_august_2018

I write this after another disastrous morning on the Central Line.

I arrived at Wanstead Station at approximately 06.00 earlier today to be told simply “there are no trains”.  When asked how I was expected to travel to work in Central London the sole member of staff told me to “get the bus to Stratford”.

This cessation of service – which became severe delays later in the morning – must have caused misery for thousands of commuters.  As I left the station I saw many people running for buses desperately telephoning their workplaces to patiently explain that, yet again, they would be late, if they could make it at all.

My concern is the toll this situation is taking on the mental health of commuters who have no other choice but to use this line of doom.  The delays and regular cessation of service create a daily nagging concern for anyone who uses the line: “what chaos is going to ensue today”?  The situation leads to stress, anxiety, increased workloads, loss of time with loved ones and lack of leisure time.  This is not to mention the loss of pay for freelancers and the deduction of salary for people, such as those who work in the construction industry, for those who arrive at work late.  And this goes on day after day after day.

The reason given for the delay this morning was “late finish of engineering work”.  Surely with better planning and management this could have been avoided?  I think it is time for financial penalties for those responsible for the management and operation of the line.  I don’t mean the hard working operations people who do the real work.  I mean the Managing Director of London Underground, who according to a Transport for London document earned between £275,000 and £279,999 in 2017, and the Head of Network Operations and Resilience, who earned between £120,000 and £124,000.  Perhaps if the continuing appalling service directly impacted them the situation might improve?

In the meantime, please become part of the campaign to #improvethecentralline.

An open letter to the Central Line

As a daily commuter on the Central Line this is addressed to all those responsible for the management and running of the line.

The Central Line is one of the most important on the tube network.  On a daily basis it carries hundreds of thousands of passengers who complete a total of approximately 260.9m journeys a year.  It is the main arterial route through Central London linking Epping in the East to Ruislip in the West and delivers passengers to important areas such as the City of London and the West End.  For many people it is their only way of travelling into Central London.

A key question then is why is the service on the line so bad.  The current situation is that there are daily delays ranging from minor hold-ups to complete cessation of service.  The trains are dirty, unbearably hot and frequently so overcrowded it is difficult and sometimes impossible to board.  Every time you use the service there is this constant nagging anxiety about what dramatic incident is going to occur.  This dire situation has been going on for day after day after day.

I know that people across the capital and around the country face a difficult daily commute but surely travelling on the Central Line has to be one of the worst?  This awful situation leads to considerable stress, anxiety, lateness, increased workloads, loss of pay for freelancers, lack of time with children and loved ones, reduced leisure time and many other negative effects on those who have no other choice but to use the line of doom.  And this goes on day after day after day.

As well as affecting individuals this situation affects businesses.  There are huge Westfield shopping centres at each end of the line, not to mention Oxford Street and the West End in the middle.  People can’t spend money in shops they can’t reach.  Audiences can’t attend theatres they can’t get to and won’t eat in restaurants or drink in bars if it is a nightmare to get home.  Spectators won’t attend events in a world-class venue such as the London Stadium if they feel they can’t get there safely.

This state of affairs cannot continue.  Something must be done.  Transport for London, the Mayor of London, Central Line management and staff as well as passengers must all come together to address the problems and find innovative solutions.  This needs to start now, today, for the sake of everyone who works on and uses the Central Line.  To allow the current dreadful situation to carry on is a huge national embarrassment for the greatest capital city in the world.

Might TfL be liable?

wanstead_underground_station

I read with interest the recent High Court judgement which found the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden liable for failing to protect the hearing of its musicians and for causing acoustic shock to former viola player Chris Goldscheider.  Whilst the claim for damages was made for personal injury, loss and damage sustained during employment it got me thinking.

Over the weekend I made several trips on the Central Line.  Like many other people in the carriage I was forced to put my fingers in my ears to protect my hearing from the loud screaming sound created by the train when travelling between Wanstead and Leytonstone.  This has been a problem for several years, as reported by the Ilford Recorder in 2017, and Transport for London have made attempts to deal with the problem.

The situation prompts me to pose two questions.  Is the noise so loud that passengers who travel on that stretch of the Central Line regularly and are exposed to the noise might damage their hearing?  Secondly, if it was discovered that the hearing of passengers was being damaged, might Transport for London be liable under some kind of health and safety legislation?