As someone who has always lived and worked in and around London, I love our Underground system and couldn’t imagine London without it. As my children frequently remind me though, you can love something but not always like it, and the tube is sometimes very difficult to like with its strikes and signal failures. Today is one of those days! I’ve just spent the last couple of hours fighting my way across London to attend the Amazon UK Summit in docklands (more on that in another blog post) and I’m not exactly feeling fresh and ready to network and absorb information.
I won’t comment on whether the RMT were right or not to call the strike, the media are doing a very good job of that already. My interest here is what part technology is playing in this situation, both how it’s causing it, and how it’s helping.
It’s not news that London Underground has been spending huge sums of money modernising the tube. The introduction of Oyster cards was a very visible example of this which has ultimately resulted in less need for ticket offices, but there has also been a huge amount of investment in train infrastructure and signalling as well. What I believe is less well known is how far this investment has pushed forwards the way the Tube functions, to the point now where signalling on a number of lines can now support driverless trains. Earlier this year, Boris Johnson (London Mayor) approved plans to order driverless trains with the unions promising “all-out war” over the plans. I expect LU’s march forwards with technology to be meet with stiff opposition from the unions, with the frequency and length of strikes increasing.