November 6, 2018

Mind the Commuters

Commuter waiting for underground train

If you work in London, you likely commute. Whether you are an investment banker, a baker, or a busker, we all step into the same 11 feet 8 inches of tube. We are all commuters.

It is easy to take our transportation system for granted, but the London Underground is the world's first underground metro and a testament to human innovation, ingenuity, and great foresight. We have, after all, been using it for 155 years. It is the veins and beating heart of the United Kingdom's political and financial centre.

The daily challenge of our commute transcends class, culture, race, religion and any of the other things that so often divide us. On the tube, we are just commuters. If you are the investment banker, the price may not be the issue, but the heat is under your fitted suit would be. No one enjoys being a part of the human crush, baker or busker, this, of course, assuming you are fortunate enough to be a non-disabled person. For them, it is much worse. The lack of accessibility for people living with a disability or parents with prams is a further barrier to those already most challenged.

Conditions need to change, and they will. These frustrations raised are not a criticism of the transportation authorities. Budgets are shrinking, and the population is ballooning as transportation authorities try to manage arguably the world's most complex metro system after New York, Paris, and Tokyo.

Changes are taking place, but slowly. The notoriously torrid Central Line will have to air-condition by 2030. I'll use the Northern Line next 12 summers. The HS2 high-speed rail-link is coming along, but with significant delays. Mired in politics and labour disputes these projects cost billions of pounds and take years, decades.

However, there are actions that we can take today, to make our journeys more affordable, more comfortable, and maybe even a little enjoyable.

It starts by recognising we are all in this together. We are a community, and members of a community look out for each other. That means standing aside and letting commuters alight before you rush to get a seat. Taking your bag off and putting it at your feet so as to not unintentionally knock others. It means giving up your seat. Not just to the disabled, elderly, or pregnant person but to that person who looks like they had a rough day. Help parents with their prams. Wave at babies. Help people with their luggage up the stairs. Take a stand against abusive and antisocial behaviour. Smile at the gate inspector and say "thank you". Maybe even smile at each other sometimes.

These are all things we can start doing today. But there is more. Products and services exist, and more should be entering the market, that can improve our commute. Products such as those offered by award-winning fin-tech startup CommuterClub. With CommuterClub, commuters can get an Annual ticket, paid for monthly, providing an equitable alternative that allows regular commuters to take advantage of the benefits and savings of an Annual Ticket while still having the flexibility of a monthly. Members can save hundreds of pounds a year.

We could have real-time temperature readings across the network that would ensure you do not show up to that interview drenched in sweat. Or we could have an app that could use crowd-sourcing to warn commuters of full lines in real-time so that commuters could take alternative routes. If these apps already exist, let's get them integrated. Our imaginations and sources of funding only limit us.

These may be small products, services, and initiatives, but in their totality, they can make a more affordable and pleasant journey for all of us commuters not in 2030 but now. But it has to start right now with the way we see ourselves and our fellow commuters, as a community. A community of commuters, taking part in a rich and long tradition of the daily London commute.

However, as an extraordinary achievement as the London Underground is, there is no denying that services are getting worse, delays more frequent, trains fuller, and the prices keep rising. They rose 3.6% in 2018. Prices will rise again, 3.2% in 2019. For a parent commuting from their family home in Reading to London, that is more than an extra £16 a month. If they had the means to buy the Reading to London Annual Ticket outright in 2019, it would cost them £5,470.

This article was originally published here on Julian Coleman's LinkedIn page. Julian Coleman is a Sales Associate at CommuterClub, an award-winning fin-tech startup based in Shoreditch that finances commuter's season tickets. He is a commuter and satisfied CommuterClub member.