The London Underground: Its shortcomings

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Introduction

This report aims to discuss some of the major talking points regarding the London Underground: its shortcomings. It would be ludicrous to think that all London Underground is known for is its problems, instead it's just that the modern Londoner's needs and demands are increasing as time passes and the London Underground despite developing, is most of the time some way short of the modern Londoner's changing needs.

Quality Problems

Before I start talking about where the service disappoints Londoners, it is important to take remember a significant detail. The London Underground, when it was made, its target audience base was nowhere as high as the modern day to day commuters who use the London Underground. The London Underground has always been developed around the structure built in its birth, rather than building it from scratch. This is arguably the cause of the major quality problems, such as overcrowding in the platforms and trains.

Overcrowding at platforms

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The first quality problem that will be discussed will be the overcrowded platforms. This issue has already been addressed by the House of Commons, transport committee, in the seventh report of session 2002-03, titled "Overcrowding on public transport. At page 23, the issue of overcrowding at platforms is discussed. The importance of safety when considering platform design has been recognized, and an example has even been presented as a possible benchmark, notably the Jubilee Line at Westminster Station. This goes on to describe how the design of the platform of Westminster Station was hugely affected by the boarding and departing the train. Despite the fact that it is admitted that for many underground stations, this would be infeasible, the transport committee urges that zone 1, in particular may need to review their safety options and policies. The fact that this quality problem has been recognised is encouraging, however, even the transport committee has conceded that the cost will be enormous, for this reason, some may say that this quality problem will be difficult to resolve or to control, this will be discussed in more detail later on. In a way, one can argue, this is one of the causes of the overcrowding in trains and carriages, this may occur when an already overcrowded platform leads to a huge influx to an already near full or full train.

Overcrowding at trains and carriages

This is one of the most well known quality problems for London Underground. It is quite common for small delays, but it is more serious when the delays are for a whole line or multiple trains. This issue can be related to many other quality issues, either as a cause or consequence. According to the LU Investment programme, there are actually quite a lot of investments made for many lines, which aims to increase capacity. The issue remains though, as the overcrowding will always be caused by other factors, such as engineering works or false security alarms caused by abandoned bags.

Climate control and Ventilation

It is imperative for the passenger to feel safe, be safe and kept safe whenever they are using the London Underground, especially when senior passengers or those with severe illnesses are concerned. This can be dangerous in both cold weather or hot weather, or sometimes it's not even linked to the temperature, rather it's about the fact that overcrowding may make it difficult to breathe. It is imperative for the passenger to feel safe, be safe and kept safe whenever they are using the London Underground. There have already been a few incidents where my friends told me about an overheated train at the northern line. Also, I have personally felt it hard to breathe when I got in the Victoria line last summer, which was actually caused by the overcrowding in the carriage.

Late train arrivals

London Underground is to this day, generally reliable. However, that is not to say that late trains are a thing of the past, in fact they still regularly appear and leave disgruntled passengers. There are few links we can make to other quality problems with the late trains problem, most importantly, there is the link with overcrowding at the trains and carriages, whenever, a overcrowded train stops, the new intake of passengers try their best to barge in, which takes time, thus contributing to the late arrival, and this increases the chance of the same happening at the next train.

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The fact that disabled people are rather important passengers has encouraged in some advances to make the tube more accessible to this market. Nevertheless, it would be vain to say that the London Underground is now perfectly accessible to disabled people; there are still quality problems in this area. The first problem is to ask ourselves: "how easy is it for disabled people to navigate around the train station?" The fact is that a lot can be improved, decisions concerning number of elevators and enquiries offices are crucial. The next part of the service we have to think about is waiting in the platform: "Is it easy for disabled people to wait for a train?" Maybe, the answer is yes, maybe it's no, sometimes we have designated areas for such a situation, but then we also have to think whether this makes the next step easy - getting on the train. Once the passengers have got on the train, we have to ask ourselves: "Are there enough places for disabled people and the wheelchair users?" There are many things to consider, and it is not enough that disabled people don't use the tube because of this quality problem and use the dial a ride service instead, this is a major part of the potential customer base.

Quality of information

This quality problem arises whenever theline get closed early or trains get delayed, the electronic schedule in place only indicates that passengers should try to find other means of transport, by another line or other transport. This is a major deterrent for passengers and may even cause troublefor passengers who are not familliar with the line or/and other lines, this problem is worsened if such a scenario arises at evenings or nights, when the enquiries office close.

Solutions

Overcrowding at platforms

The solutions to the quality problems posed in the London Underground are judged by its effectiveness as perceived by customers. The first solutions we will analyse are those of the overcrowding at the platforms. The most obvious solution would be to change the dimensions of the platforms by enlarging them. This solution can only go so far, as this may be effective if there is a dramatic increase in size, which would be quite expensive, around tens of millions of pounds. The other solutions we can look at include trying to control the flow of the passengers, this may require additional lines or additional trains, again this would be expensive, and also utilising more trains would be difficult especially as a result of an already busy London Underground. What might be realistic would be to redesign some of the zone 1 platforms according to the ease of departing and getting on a train, similar to how the Westminster station platform was redesigned.

Overcrowding at trains and carriages

The main solution, in all honesty is to continue the investment in increasing capacity in the busy lines, this is the main solution, as it directly deals with the overcrowding issue as it increases capacity. This would, at most provide seating for most passengers, or at least would decrease the sitting to standing passengers ratio.

Climate control and Ventilation

The solutions here are quite straightforward, and may even already be in place. The solution for the climate control would be to make sure that there is a climate control system in place, which is already common in most trains, but the challenge is the maintenance of these, as these have broke down a few times. The ventilation can be helped in numerous ways, first of these is to make sure that there is an air purifier in place in the trains, which is already standard practice, yet again the challenge is to make sure that these are working in it's optimum performance.

Late train arrivals

This has already been solved in part, as show in the LU investment programme which entails how the journey times are planned on being reduced on many lines. The other paths London Underground can take in handling this quality problem is to ensure total control of engineering works and try to shift them to non peak hours and weekends. This quality problem can also be lessened if there was more control of overcrowding at platforms as well as controlling the flow of passengers.

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The solution for this quality problem is to really improve the train in terms of convinience for disabled passengers. This would be quite expensive and may also be time consuming. This may include increasing the average seating per train, as well as trying to make more wheelchair spaces. Another solution would be to try to make a carriage dedicated to disabled passengers, this solution is particularly appealing, as it will make personalization easier, and may not be as expensive as the first option.

Quality of information

This problem can be improved by simply improving the quality of information, this can be done in many ways. One solution would be to keep the enquiries office open for longer or maybe even keep it open 24 hours. Another solution would be to increase the number of electronic route planners situated at the train stations and platforms. There is also the possibility of increasing the presence of posters of the London Underground map.

Implementation

It is all very well talking about the solutions, but the one thing that judges solution is the implementation, where we have to look at the very implications of these solutions.

Firstly, we will consider how the solutions provided for overcrowding on the platform may be implemented. The first solution we discussed was to enhance the platform according to ease of departing and getting on a train. This solution will be quite expensive as made explicit before as well as being time consuming. Another factor we have to look at is that this may divert crowds to other train stations which may result in overcrowded platforms. The only way London Underground can make this work, is if they redesigned the platforms entirely accordingly to the ease of departing and getting on the trains. The second solution that was posed was that of attempting to control the flow of the passengers, this would be done through either attempting to increase the price, but this is a risky strategy as it may result in a decrease in the customer base, another way of controlling the flow would be to decrease the number of available entry gates in service when going through peak times, however this is also risky as it may result in only a delay in making the platform overcrowded. The most effective solution would be to benchmark the Westminster station's platform, it is admittedly expensive, but it does not cause directly or indirectly other quality problems.

Now, we will consider how the solutions provided for overcrowded trains/carriages may be carried out. As mentioned before, the only solution that I have identified is simply continuing the investment for this quality problem. However, it can be argued that despite the lack of solutions, it is important to know exactly what is being invested for. Investment should be made for increasing the capacity by increasing seating and standing space. Another type of investment that could be made would be for the width of the trains, which may provide some additional space, but this is quite limited and not as effective as directly increasing the seating space and standing space. It is important to make sure the funding is constant and is a long term investment, as this may ensure that the project will be more effective, as the costs would be covered when they need to, rather than suffering lack of funds due to a large short term cash injection which may diminish quickly when handled by poor financial management.

The solution for the climate control and ventilation is rather obvious. The solutions that I suggested were to make sure that the maintenance for both are kept in control. A maintenance schedule could be made to make sure that all trains are scheduled to go through checks and maintenance twice a week or so. It would also make sense to try to invest in new and better systems, as this may result in a more efficient system, which may reduce costs in the long term.

The solutions that were suggested was to continue the funding already ongoing in reducing journey times, basically , to make sure that the funding continues for the long term, thus ensuring these projects are sustained properly. The other solution that was reccomended was to ensure that possible causes of delays are pushed out completely, or at least to off peak hours. London Underground can also attempt to control the flow of passengers and try to resolve the problem of overcrowded platforms which may indirectly cause delays.

The problem of accessibility is not entirely visible as the segment concerned has mostly given up with the tube due to the lack of orientation towards disabled passengers in the tube. It is important to make sure that if this quality problem is to be solved, it is solved properly as the very success of such investment would determine the attitudes of this customer segment has towards the tube. The first solution that was put up concerned increasing the wheelchair space and the average train seats per train. This may be expensive and time consuming as it may mean that some trains may have to be taken off duty. The other solution that was raised was to provide a carriage exclusive only to disabled passengers, this may be expensive, depending on how many of these are provided, but it will need to be fully equipped to cater to the needs of these passengers.

The last quality problem concerns the quality of information . The solutions which were identified included having enquiries offices that are open 24 hours, increasing the number of electronic route planners and increasing the presence of the London Underground map poster. The first solution will be put in place by employing more part time staff for night shifts, this will be efficient, but these employees may need some training and supervision. The second solution would be put in place by simply investing in more of these machines, this may be expensive depending on the level of machines needed and some maintenance costs may also have to be incurred in the long term. The last solution that was suggested was that of simply increasing the presence of the London Underground map poster, this may result in costs related to publishing and printing, but it is quite an effective method of improving the quality of information. All the solutions for this quality problem can prove sufficient, though, I feel that maybe all three strategies should be taken as this will at the least, reduce the quality problem and at most eradicate it completely.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are lots of quality problems that London Underground suffers from in the modern day, the good news is that the same can be said for solutions. It is important for London Underground to make sure their quality improvement strategies are not only reactive but proactive, for tommorow brings new challenges.