My first experience, for nearly two years, of rush hour commuting into London, co-incided with Sir Peter Hendy stating that "London Public Transport Will Cause Riots If It Doesn't Improve". (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/09/22/london-public-transport_n_5859770.html) So what had gone so wrong? Or had I just forgotten how bad it was getting? As you can imagine, I approached my early morning journey with some trepidation.
I decided to walk to the train station, rather than fight my way onto a bus already laden heavy with school children. Rioting with school children thus neatly avoided!
My time waiting for the train was spent wondering whether I would get a seat near the window, to provide some ventilation on a particularly muggy September morning. In the end I was already too late for a seat and had to stand for the entire journey. As we left each subsequent station, the train got fuller and fuller, and the temperature began to rise accordingly. I once read that each person emits the same heat as a light bulb while travelling on a train, but the man opposite me was certainly emitting more than this, after the girl in-between us accidentally spilt coffee all over his newspaper and grey trousers! This little incident didn't cause a riot either thankfully, but it did serve to remind me about the time I once sneezed a trail of snot onto the overcoat of a man sitting next to me - luckily he took it very well in the circumstances, although I had to get off at the next station to avoid further embarrassment, even though it wasn't my stop!
So, as the train steadily filled up, I tried to work out what was different and why a riot was being predicted. I noticed that there were more bearded men than before, that people still dressed in drab grey outfits, that nobody communicated other than to shout out things that station staff used to say, "can you all move down a bit please". And then it struck me! There was just more people per se! And these people were still all travelling en-masse at the same time of the day. So what about those "soft" demand management tools, such as encouraging businesses to stagger hours of working? What about the predicted rise of people working from home? After all, hadn't these measures worked so well for the 2012 Games?
I travelled home at 15:30, had a choice of seats, had room to balance my tablet, coffee and newspaper and as a result, had no stress, compared to my morning commute.
So my suggestion? Well it's radical, but still "soft" and involves the use of one of the founding members of the marketing mix 4 P's - price! Until fares are adjusted significantly to make the differential between peak and inter-peak travel a real option, I think people will continue to fight it out for a seat (or a standing space). You can increase capacity ("hard" measure) and that will make a difference in the short-term, but I firmly believe that a more radical approach is required, to get people to change their travel behaviour. People may then be rioting at their businesses, fighting to get them to change their working hours so they can change their travel times, rather than rioting on the transport system. So, I also predict a riot, but hopefully one that starts to solve the problem and change the way people behave!