First world prices, third world conditions?

A typical day on the London Underground

A typical day on the London Underground

This is the second piece by our emerging markets specialist, a management consultant with deep-rooted experience of on-the-ground life in some of the world’s ’emerging nations’. Now back in London, he explores the daily commute, which I am sure will be familiar to all of you.

A few years ago, when at business school, I did a project on the Delhi Metro, considered as a leading example of mass commuter transit in a country better known for chaos and helter skelter modes of getting around. I thought about it again when commuting on the London Underground recently. Picture it: the height of August and sweltering heat, rush hour crowds and the seemingly endless delays and signal failures. I started to think: what could London Underground learn from Delhi?

I have travelled extensively and I have yet to find many similarly-sized cities with a reputation for such expensive public transport. In recent years, even normally passive Londoners have taken to the internet to protest about above inflation-busting increases in annual season tickets, not to mention the sometimes eye-watering prices for less than savvy tourists (who opt to buy paper-based tickets, rather than the relatively cheaper ‘Oyster card‘).

In addition to price increases to boost revenue, London Underground has quietly, but not unnoticeably, started to install more and more screens in underground stations, on platforms and beside escalators to capture the attention of what is by all intents and purposes a captive audience. However, whilst this has no doubt boosted London Underground’s revenue from advertisers, it has had a knock-on effect: creating an already stuffy and poorly-ventilated environment, transforming life sometimes 105ft below earth in to a situation that is often unbearable on even an average summer’s day. That Londoners like to joke it is illegal for animals to be transported in such conditions, underscores local attitudes to this issue.

There are many things London Underground can learn from other metro systems around the world – and not just Delhi. The Paris Metro is cheaper, the Moscow Metro has more frequent trains and the Tokyo Metro is much more reliable. I could go on.

London’s infamous underground conditions can be an angst-inducing journey for some, less the relaxing journey to work you’re after and more a stressful, push-and-shove meander to your destination. The over-stressed City banker sprinting Usain Bolt-like for a train, when the next one is a mere 2 minutes away, is one of the more puzzling experiences you’ll encounter.

However, whilst trains and capacity should increase (and overcrowding decrease) temperatures will no doubt remain warm at platform level. Transport for London’s own recent release on its webpage stated that “the big challenge remains to cool the deep level parts of the Tube, which are unique to London’s Tube network and not replicated on any other metro system in the world. The tunnels only allow enough room for trains and, as a consequence, there is no space for air conditioning.”

Let’s hope for the sake of weary Londoners that temperatures remain mild in to September when the masses will no doubt return from their summer vacations. As for me, I’m taking the bike and I’ll continue to monitor the situation in London in to 2014.

Enjoy the weekend.

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About emerge28

I travel the world, promoting foreign direct investment (FDI) into emerging nations via country branding reports within international media. The aim of my blog is to document some of the amazing places I travel to, the inspiring people I meet and chart how the world is changing, with power and growth moving east and south.
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