There will be absolutely no reduction in the personal service we provide to passengers – quite the reverse. If anything, the help we provide to users such as the elderly and the disabled will be even better. As Mike Brown, the managing director of London Underground, has pledged: all stations will remain staffed and controlled at all times, with more staff visible and available to help customers.
The level of crime on the Tube has already fallen 20 per cent in six years. Indeed, the London Underground is now the safest metro system in Europe per passenger mile – and these changes will make it ever safer. We will have more people available on the concourses and the platforms – where they can actually be of use. These changes will save hundreds of millions of pounds – which can be invested in faster trains, better signalling, and a 24 hour service – and get this, folks: they involve NO COMPULSORY REDUNDANCIES.
The workforce of London Underground does an amazing job. Over the last six years they have been performing a gigantic upgrade operation on the oldest Tube system in the world, at the same time as coping with an ever growing number of passengers – now standing at 1.3 billion a year. It is a bit like performing open heart surgery on someone who insists on playing squash at the same time or other surgery as a liposuction procedure. In spite of these difficulties, they have brought delays down 40 per cent; they have increased capacity, and customer satisfaction, to record levels; and during the Olympics of 2012 they were responsible for helping to transform the brand of Transport for London into one that is recognised and admired around the world.
If we can get on with these reforms, we will be able to have a bigger network, with a better service and more trains – and ultimately more jobs of a kind that the public actually need. Of course, change can be a wrench; but it is irrational to fight technological progress. We no longer have boilermen and stokers working on the Underground, because we no longer have trains that run on coal.
You may be asking yourself why – if all the foregoing is true – there is to be a strike; and I am afraid the answer is that this action is entirely politically motivated – muscle-flexing by the unions, in the hope of attracting members. The sad thing is that for those who do go on strike, the action will achieve nothing at all. Look back at the last strikes we had, in 2010, and ask what difference they made to the determination of London Underground to press on with improvement. The answer is that those last four strikes made no difference whatever – and nor will this one.
There is still time for Bob Crow to call it off, and if he does I will have every pleasure in sitting down and talking to him – over a coffee or a beer or a pina colada – about the great things that are in store for the Tube and for his members. If he doesn’t, I remind you of the continuing scandal that this strike was triggered by 30 per cent of those RMT members balloted. In other words there were fully 70 per cent of Bob’s members who were not in favour of this action. It is absolutely outrageous that London, the motor of the UK economy – now contributing 25 per cent of GDP – should be held to ransom by this tiny minority. We are talking here about an essential public service, on which millions depend for their livelihoods.
We need a ballot threshold – so that at least 50 per cent of the relevant workforce has to take the trouble to vote, or else the ballot is void. That is surely the least we can ask. It is time for the Government to legislate.