Monday, September 13, 2010

The Tube Strike

When Americans think of some of the European things we would love to bring home, fresh bread, delectable dairy, better chocolate, and good public transportation top the list.  When we visit Europe, we are duly impressed by the likes of the Metro and Tube, the bicycles and buses.  Good public transport is a wonder, after all.  More American cities should aspire to it, right?

Well, it is a wonder.  But it won't work in every city.  Aside from the issue of comparing apples and oranges--American cities, especially in the West, are far more sprawling than comparable European cities making public transport more challenging--and aside from other considerations like climate (more on that in a later post), one can't fully understand public transport until one lives in a city dependent upon it, until one's livelihood, as opposed to one's vacation plans, is dependent upon it.

London is a city dependent upon the Tube.  Yes, there are buses and bikes and pedestrian friendly streets, but the Tube moves the bulk of commuters and tourists.  When the Tube is down, buses are full.  When the Tube is down, most everyone with cars drives.  When the Tube is down, taxis are hard to hail.  When the Tube is down, London streets are so full of cars that traffic locks up and bike navigation, a risky venture to start, becomes more risky.  Even in a city this dense, walking can be a haul.  When the Tube shuts down, everything suffers.  Even for those people, like me, who don't use the Tube often.

Last Tuesday the Tube workers' union went on strike.  Since I don't usually think about the Tube, I foolishly allowed Cupcake and Christopher Robin to go on a playdate in Fulham after school on Tuesday.  At 7 o'clock at night, well after traditional rush hour, it took us an hour and a half to get home, due to no show taxis, delayed buses, and tight traffic.  Walking wasn't an option with 5 year old Cupcake; I might have tried it with Christopher Robin, though we would have made it home in about the same time.  Yasha almost had to walk home from the City (downtown) and didn't arrive home until 9.

In case anyone wonders why I don't use the Tube much--strollers and stairs.  I'm just now getting out of the stroller phase of motherhood.  I can take the older children on the Tube, but still wouldn't venture on the platform with both Things.  In the 4 years we have been in London I've not had much occasion for solo ventures either.  I've set up our life within walking distance.  I don't really need the Tube for my day to day.  Not so for others.


Kacie said...

I used public transportation as my only way to get around Chicago for six years, and I loved it. I tried to rely on public transport in Dallas after moving here, and it just didn't work. I was so limited in where I could go that I ended up feeling very isolated and lonely.

AHLondon said...

Yeah, the DART is great if you live on that side of Central and are going to Deep Ellum or downtown but not so much anywhere else. And the bus system is similar to Houston's. When I was living with my parents for a few months when I was working in downtown Houston, I used the Park n' Ride, but time wise it was actually longer and I still had to drive 20+minutes to the parking lot. My car was vandalized once. If you missed your bus the next was at least 20 minutes behind, meaning I would be late to work. That commute was half the reason I moved to neartown.

'Cross the Pond said...

I never take the tube when I'm along with my giant stroller. It's impossible. The bus takes forever but at least I can get around!

I've passed along the Cherry On top Award to you. Come and collect it here:

AHLondon said...

I've found the bus is about the same time wise as walking if you are within about a mile. Same for taxis and cars if a little closer. Rain is always a bummer because you really want to take the bus, but it is fuller and you have a greater chance of the driver denying your stroller.
Thanks. What's the Cherry? I'll go see.