At the London Government Dinner last week Boris caused a bit of a stir by saying that he would look at introducing driverless tube trains as one of the possible responses to the string strikes and strike threats on the London Underground. I’m glad that he has put this idea into the public domain, it has been something which the Conservatives on the London Assembly have pushed for him to consider for some time.
The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) has been driverless since it came into service in 1987, being driverless didn’t mean that there was no human interaction but rather the DLR staff were able to move about the carriages and assist passengers rather than being isolated in a cab at the front. The new signaling technology enables the same to be true for many line on the underground.
There is union unwillingness to change practices even though technology has made many of the old ways obsolete, just like the arguments over ticket office staff being in the ticket booths rather than out on the concourse or platforms. Oystercards have overtaken the use of paper tickets and there is no logic in having a member of London Underground and a ticket machine behind a glass screen when they could both be out in the station where the passengers are.
We used to have lift attendants pushing the buttons for us, people who stood at the bottom of escalators in case of breakdowns and men who walked ahead of cars with red flags, all of these posts have become things of the past.
At some point in the fairly near future, perhaps by the time my two boys use the underground, the idea of having someone sat at the front of the tube train rather than interacting with the passengers will appear just as comic as an old man in a lift pushing the button that you could quite easily push yourself.