When I read that Mayor of London Boris Johnson had raised the prospect of driverless Tube trains in a recent speech I couldn’t help but let out a little cheer. As much as I don’t like to see people potentially losing their jobs, it’s great to see that politicians are willing to stand up to the RMT and TSSA unions. Such a move would create a better service and would probably be cheaper in the long run than the current Tube system.
For far too long the Unions have shown complete disregard for their consumers’ needs and desires. They deliberately seek to create maximum disruption in order to push for outlandish pay and conditions at a time when public finances are tight. Apart from infuriating commuters, these strikes have a negative economic impact. 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. With such tempting savings the Tube drivers should be wary that their demands don’t one day do them out of their jobs.
As a result of the unions having entered into unreasonable wage negotiations, increased labour costs have led to Transport for London (TfL) increasingly using machines to top up Oyster cards instead of manned ticket booths. The more strike-prone the workforce becomes, the more TfL will be incentivised to look for alternative, less labour-reliant solutions like automated trains. Previous research into driverless systems found that automated metros allowed the operators to provide exceptional service quality whilst reducing operating costs. They also led to shorter waiting times, greater cleanliness and better information and safety. All of which we commuters would very much welcome.
Disappointingly, such improvements are not to be expected anytime soon. That being said, I do believe the time seems to be nearly up for the unions. With increasing technological advances, tube workers will no longer be able to hold the city to ransom. As a result we may one day have a truly reliable and pleasant Tube network, which will no longer inflict so many costs on individuals and businesses. So come on Boris - the sooner we embrace change on the Underground the better for London and its businesses.