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Cheers - AE

Friday, 21 January 2011

Thank you for using Johnnytube.

Over at the Adam Smith Institute blog there's news that Boris Johnson has again taken a brief break from quoting Homer in which he squeezed the idea that London's tube network might have driverless trains because, as the ASI note, the damn things don't keep going on strike. I have to admit that the idea of driverless trains didn't thrill me when it was suggested and then implemented on London's Docklands Light Railway more than 20 years ago, but having used it a few times since then as a passenger I'm completely comfortable with the idea of automation. Wikipedia mentions only two accidents since 1987, one of which was due to unauthorised testing (a human decision presumably) before the line opened, and there are similar systems in operation all over the world. I'm not sure how I'd feel about the Total Recall Johnnycab type taxi I referenced in the title, or even a Johnnytram since if I'm not driving that's my usual public transport choice - they have to share the roads with cars, trucks, cyclists, pedestrians and animals, and I feel the environment is just too random for automation. But lay out some track that the automated system has all to itself so that everything moving on it is under its control, and I think experience shows that it can work just fine. The Tube network seems ideally suited to it, and in fact is already largely automated on the Victoria, Central and Jubilee lines according to BoJo. It might have been more but he'd slipped into Latin again and nobody understood a word.

Needless to say this has not gone down well with the union bruvvers, as reported by the Socialist Worker.
London mayor Boris Johnson signalled his intent to keep up the attacks last week when he told a collection of bankers and City grandees about his plans for “driverless trains” on the tube network.

He said, “Anybody in this room could in a matter of a few weeks acquire the qualifications to supervise an underground train.”

Bob Crow responded by saying, “Boris Johnson’s comments show he has complete and utter contempt for the staff who ensure safe transport of Londoners every day.

“It is clear he is planning to sack thousands of tube drivers and that act of provocation will be met with fierce resistance.”
Okay, and of course I'm all for the right to strike, being at its most basic people being at liberty to withhold their labour. But it's all a bit one sided, isn't it? I'm also for employers being at liberty to keep their business functioning while a strike is on, which must mean that if some of the strikers find their jobs have been filled by other people while they were waving signs and standing round braziers, fucking tough. As things stand they can have their cake and eat it, knowing that striking doesn't put their jobs at risk. At least not directly.

And what of the commuters, because these strikes do keep buggering up everyone's commute, don't they? There may be a certain amount of sympathy from a handful but if the Tube staff were universally loved and thought of as heroes who keep the capital moving then it seems unlikely that this would ever have been made.

Instead the reality is that a couple of doctors sang a song in which they called Tube drivers lazy and greedy and fucking useless cunts, and as I recall far from being widely condemned (outside the unions obviously - I'm sure they spat a few dummies) it got emailed all over the place with subject lines like 'LOL, sooooo true' - I got it at least twice from separate sources. Harshly put maybe, but many people agreed.

And then the SW sticks its head in the sand.
Few believe that Johnson’s boast is anything more than rhetoric. It would cost millions to upgrade the tube network in the way the mayor is fantasising about.
And yes, the whole country is boracic at the moment, but that's kind of the point. Right at the time the UK needs to tighten its belt and make some serious economies Tube drivers and staff are taking industrial action. Again. And as the ASI note:
The London Chamber of Commerce calculated that each day that the Underground is closed costs the UK economy £48million. So the five strikes cost us £240million last year, whilst it has also been argued that once all the Tube trains are converted to automatic systems it would save a further £141million a year.
So yes, while it would undoubtably cost millions to upgrade the network it would also save millions, which is the object of the exercise.

Still, the SW have got Boris bang to rights on one point.
And, far from destoying the unions, workers still retain power on driverless systems—as a strike by RMT members on the DLR system this week will prove. [Since cancelled, I believe - AE]
And they say that like it's a good thing.


PS - this marks the second use of my Politicians Getting Things Right For A Change tag.
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