Tag Archives: TfL

OPINION: Life in the Bus Lane

Life-long Brixtonite, Esther Webber, is a bus obsessive. Here, she talks about the joys of South London buses

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love buses. I ride them every day to work, and every other opportunity I get. There is something about buses quite unlike any other form of public transport. I think if I had to define it in a word, it would be intimacy.

On the train or the Tube, passengers try to isolate themselves. Even when they are jammed, faces in each other’s armpits, on the 08.55 from East Croydon, they are all desperately trying to distance themselves from one another. Plugged into iPods or reading The Metro, the aim is to disengage as fully as possible from the rest of the carriage.

On the bus, it doesn’t work like that. You can try to seal yourself off, but you will not be successful. For one thing, the cosy nature of the seating, where you are coupled side by side with a merry-go-round of strangers, makes for a certain unavoidable closeness. Your neighbour’s elbow is in your ribcage and his conversation is in your ear. He is close enough to read your book (or look down your top, if you are particularly unlucky).

On the bus, as nowhere else, people believe in sharing. The rudeboys on the back seats practise a modern kind of evangelism: they are convinced their music is so good that they have to share it with the rest of the bus, blasting it from mobile phones and singing along. The rudegirls need you to know about who they slept with last night and why they will not be sleeping with them again.

One morning recently, on the number 3 from Brixton to Westminster, the bus was nearly empty. This has its own pleasures. The journey is faster and you can spread out across the seat. I entertained myself by trying to work out what language the man behind me was chattering into his phone. He, in turn, entertained himself by scuffing his trainers against the back of my seat periodically.

Several people have told me this is precisely why they hate buses. If hell is other people, then the number 29 in rush hour must be one of its outer circles. If, on the other hand, you happen to quite like other people, then buses are a good place to get to know them.

The bus, after all, is not as much of an anarchic place as it might seem at first. It has its own set of unspoken rules, a peculiar etiquette, which help keep the whole thing in motion.

So when I finally ran out of patience with the seat-kicker, I turned round and glared. The other language he’d been speaking gave way to a perfectly contrite “Sorry, hadn’t realised I was doing that.” On the bus, it’s easy to get carried away.

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Point of view: “Today I went on strike for the first time”

A London Underground Customer Services Assistant tells us why he’s striking today

Photo by tompagenet

Today I went on strike for the first time. This is something that a few years ago I would have found a ludicrous idea. To me, striking has always conjured up images of miners fighting with the police, French farmers burning sheep, and ‘Bloody Arthur Scargill’ as my Dad used to affectionately call him. Like most children, for many years my opinions of the world mirrored those of my parents. Strikers are troublemakers. If they don’t like their jobs, tough, who does? Either put up with it or leave.

My attitude towards the unions began to change last year when I joined London Underground as a Customer Service Assistant (CSA). During training, my class and I were approached by reps from the TSSA and RMT who explained their role and how they could be of use to us. The benefits offered seemed useful: free legal advice, accident benefits, and more. I opted to join the RMT simply because it was the larger of the two and the rep hung around afterwards to chat to us about the jobs we were about to start. Despite my obvious reservations I knew I could always cancel my membership if I wasn’t happy with their actions.

This nearly happened a few months later when an ongoing pay dispute threatened to boil over into a strike. London Underground Limited (LUL) had offered an increase which the unions had rejected and strike action seemed imminent. I totally disagreed with the TSSA/RMT stance, feeling that asking for more in the current financial climate was unreasonable especially as I felt we already got a good wage for our job. I worked much harder for a lot less money in my previous job as a warehouse manager. But as well as the issue of whether I felt a strike was financially justified there was another question to deal with. In this case, could I justify inconveniencing the very people I’m paid to help? The answer was a very definite no. If we had gone on strike I would have been too ashamed to look at our customers in the face the next day.

This brings me to today’s topic. It may seem hypocritical but I feel the current strike actions (and the ones which may follow) are the only way we have left to ensure our customers continue to get the service they pay for. LUL are intent on cutting nearly 2000 jobs. A large chunk of these are front line staff who customers have the most interaction with. They are the people who sell you tickets, help you when those tickets don’t work at the gate, top up your Oyster cards and all the other things passengers take for granted. London Underground is quite unique in how many front line staff it has, as anyone who has travelled on the Paris Metro or New York Subway will testify. This is something which LUL were proud to tell me when I joined the company and which Boris Johnson said he would ensure remained the case when he ran for Mayor.

If these cuts go ahead, travelling on the Tube will not only be less convenient but less safe. LUL claim this won’t be the case but that makes no sense. There will be fewer staff on duty which means fewer people to deal with situations such as unattended packages, fire alerts and customer accidents. Part of the cutback plan is to shut some of the quieter ticket offices on the network because they aren’t financially viable. I believe the extra security and peace of mind customers are given when passing through a staffed ticket hall late at night compared to an empty one is worth any loss the office may be making.

I feel I will be letting London Underground customers down if I don’t try to stop that from happening. Obviously I also don’t wish to see any of my colleagues made redundant (thankfully my job is currently safe) but my biggest motivation for giving up a day’s pay today was to try to ensure London Underground is able to continue providing the service customers expect from ‘A world class tube for a world class city’.


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Not so frothy coffee – Starbucks-style

This is a step too far for me. It looks like Brixton Rd is going to get that dreaded death knell for any high street – a Starbucks… The  website Building.co.uk reported in February that Starbucks have signed a lease for 439 Brixton Rd, one of the units by the underground station. According to Building.co.uk, the company “is thought to be paying around £110,000 a year for the store which has a 1,300 sq ft ground floor”. On May 16, ‘Caroline 27’ posted on the Urban 75 forum that the lease had been confirmed by @Starbucks. Here is the recent debate on Urban 75

And in the spirit of supporting independent businesses, see below for a mini interview with Lorient Gashi and go here to find out about the new Federation Coffee in the Granville Arcade.


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Triumph for Coldharbour Lane protestors

A new bus trundled down Brixton Hill yesterday – the white single-deck 545, running from Brixton to Camberwell.

Gas works on Coldharbour Lane have meant that the 45, 35 and 345 buses have been diverted through Herne Hill, leaving residents in the Coldharbour Lane area – especially older people – unable to access services or shops in either Brixton or Camberwell. The double-decker buses could not use a diversion route in Loughborough Junction itself because of low bridges.  In the past week, 700 people have signed a petition calling for restored bus services to the Coldharbour Lane area.

It’s great to see community action having such a direct and immediate impact. Val Shawcross, London Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark, presented the petition to the London Assembly this morning, but in fact she had already been in talks with TfL as a result of the complaints and they implemented the new shuttle service yesterday.

The bus is free of charge and will run five times an hour until the gas works are completed, provisionally in early March.

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