I was in the United Kingdom this month, and the trip coincided with Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee celebrations (I had no clue of the celebrations before I landed in London). I extensively used the brilliant public transport of taxis, Uber boats, double-decker buses, subway, cycles, and flights to navigate across the UK seamlessly. I also got an opportunity to travel the brand new Elizabeth line, the brouhaha about which I had been hearing for a month. Only when I travelled the route did I understand its significance for Londoners, who were saved from having to change a couple of trains to reach their intended destination across London. Elizabeth line is a crossline service connecting London west to east. It was approved in 2007 and has taken 13 years in the making.
The Elizabeth line joins the London Underground system that was founded on 10 January 1863, covering a distance of 402 km with 11 operating lines accounting for 5 million passengers a day. The lifeline of the city, its citizens, and multinational tourists lie within the beating heart of the underground network, which reaches the farthest points of London in 90 minutes approximately. The underground network serves the cosmopolitan city of London with cross networks and overlapping lines, which makes the network such a pleasure to travel.
However, a strike called by the employee’s unions on the future of their jobs forced the entire south and central London underground stations to shut down on 7 June. Office-goer Richard Lawson is getting late for work, but he is forced to stand in a queue for a bus that plies at slow frequencies since the faster subway service is shut.
A strike called by the employee’s unions on the future of their jobs forced the entire south and central London underground stations to shut down on 7 June.
Air travel is in a bigger mess. Unable to bear the flood of summer travellers, airlines have started to cancel hundreds of flights.
In Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, citizens are stressed about the significant changes to the tram services, which have disrupted road networks and bus routes.
A Busy Monday Morning Comes Apart
The iron doors of the metro stations were locked as over 4,000 staff refused to operate the train services as a protest against the policies of the government. I walked to the Clapham South underground to find it shut with, locks drawn at the peak hour, 9 am, in one of the biggest cities in the world. Such a shutdown of service is unimaginable in India despite its 75 years of independence as an emerging economy.
The shiny red buses were the only hope for the Londoners returning to the office on a Monday morning, after a long weekend of the platinum jubilee celebrations of the Queen.
Air Travel Is a Mess, Too
If the subway was in a mess, air travel was in a bigger mess. UK-based carriers had fired their resources at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as global travel came to a standstill. But now that global travel has opened up again due to the lifting of restrictions, there is a flood of globetrotters embarking on holidays at the onset of the UK summer season. Unable to bear the pressure of summer travellers, airlines have started to cancel hundreds of flights, impacting the neatly carved plans of tourists. The United Kingdom government has denied hiring foreigners to beat manpower shortage.
At the London Luton airport, I saw Claudia Thomson, a distressed mother of toddler twins, whose flight was cancelled for the second time in a week. She was in tears watching the flight charts as she furiously asked for help from her airline to help her return to her country. There may be more bad news ahead as staff shortages threaten to derail plans for the entire summer season until September 2022.
The situation in other airports in Manchester and Edinburgh was no different, with students from India and many other countries stuck at airports, unable to move within or outside the UK. Being the hub of international travel, all the airports in London, namely the London City Airport, Gatwick Airport, Heathrow Airport, London Luton Airport, London Stansted Airport, and London Southend Airport need to urgently step up and prepare for travel of the volume of pre-pandemic levels.
Edinburgh's Hell on Wheels
In faraway Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, citizens were stressed about the significant changes to the tram services, which have disrupted road networks and bus routes. A chance discussion with an elderly couple, the Johnsons, who had been living in the city for the last 40 years, showed that the extension of the tram network had destroyed the character of the city. The Edinburgh Council had approved the extension of the existing line from York Place to Newhaven, which has led to a road closure in busy streets.
Dubbed as a “Hell on wheels”, the Edinburgh tram services have had a chequered history for the last 20 years. Miscalculated costs, political clashes, and endless construction activities have impacted the positive sentiment around the tram network.
While incumbent Prime Minister Boris Johnson has just survived a vote of no-confidence, it’s the people of the United Kingdom who have lost confidence in its public transport owing to its frequent disruptions. While on the one hand, this extensive network of public transport serves as an example to the world, the inconsistency shakes the confidence of the public.
(Dhiraj Kumar is an author, writer and columnist. He writes on business, economy, governance, entertainment, current affairs, politics, sustainability, and climate change. He can be reached @authordhiraj and the repository of his articles can be found on his website www.thedhirajkumar.com. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)