Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Tube

For the past few weeks, Jon and I have spent our empty evenings - yes, we're homebodies - catching up on the new BBC documentary series The Tube.  The program is basically propaganda for TFL and the unions; its hook is "a look behind the scenes of the London underground a it undergoes the biggest overhaul in its history, focusing on key members of staff and some of the problems they face."  However, BBC bias aside, it's fascinating.

The show was broadcast in six parts and focused on weekend tourists, revenue and fare evaders, emergencies, upgrades and maintenance, rush hour, and the underground after hours.  It sounds boring in black and white, but it was so interesting!  When you take public transportation ever day you take it for granted, but there are so many moving parts that go into making the Tube function that ordinary commuters don't even consider.  It was incredible learning about the sorts of details that are vital to making the underground even vaguely successful.  I'd tell you to head to iPlayer so that you could see for yourself,  but the episodes have expired.  (However, you can find some clips on the BBC page and on YouTube.)

Here are some of the things I've learned from the program:

- 4 million people use the Tube daily, helped by 20,000 members of staff
- over 10,000 mobile phones have been lost or left on the Tube in the last year
- if you hear "code one" over the intercom, it means that a cleaner is being called to clean up blood; "code two" is for urine/faeces and "code three" is for vomit
- if you fall asleep on the Tube, you will inevitably be woken up at Morden, at the south end of the Northern line
- the men who clean the dust from the tunnels are called "fluffers"

Also, overwhelmingly, The Tube demonstrates that some people entirely lack common sense.  Yes, you need your brain to remember and to do some work in order to use the underground properly.  This isn't me or the show making fun of tourists because there are many more vignettes mocking the natives (especially the drunk ones), but I think that anyone who has ever visited London and "taken on the challenge" can understand this...

But, in addition, the show proves that some people are incredibly kind.  When you use the underground every day, you forget that the majority of the TFL staff work in customer support and truly do want to help you.  Since I starting watching, I've become much more patient and understanding when on the Tube - after all, they're just doing their jobs and getting through their days as best they can, same as I am!  I love what one of the station managers says:

We're just the underground part of the city.  London comes down here every single day.
It is part of their world.  It is part of everyone's world.


  1. I love the tube and spent most of my week in London on it ;) seeing that we tried to see as many things as possible. I found it extremely easy to navigate. Only 2 things bothered me...the price is nearly quadruple the price of the Paris metro and the overhead constantly saying "If you see any suspicious behavior, report it immediately" which made me think that they were expecting something to happen. Seeing that I will most likely be living in London temporarily once or twice in the next few years (for my bf's studies), I better get used to it!

  2. I am so sorry I missed it - could have been really interesting. I can say that after being away for two months I smiled when I was able to get myself around without having to rely on someone driving me. It is definitely expensive but I do love it.

  3. My dad was in London within the last week, and he did say that the underground was highly efficient. His only criticisms were the smell and people talking on their phones too much! :/


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