1. It’s all kicking off in Haringey

    Posted December 28, 2017 in London, transport  |  No Comments so far

    In Haringey, the council is changing the way it charges for car parking. Dialogue between the council and the scheme’s opponents is progressing via a medium that is unconventional but actually rather apt: the parking meters themselves.

    Is this all the work of one person? It looks like the same sort of pen, and the handwriting is similar. The wording in that second matches that of the original yellow stickers. Perhaps this is just a one-man crusade. A lone wolf. Or perhaps these interventions are radicalising a whole new generation of militants. Only time will tell.

    See full post on James Ward’s blog.


  2. Even in war, there are rules: the Geneva Convention of public transport

    Posted October 10, 2011 in transport  |  13 Comments so far

    Most commenters on last week’s Overground seat-acquisition strategy post shared nefarious techniques of their own – many of which made me feel like a bit of a novice.

    But some questioned whether it was right to engage in this conflict at all when there are elderly people, pregnant women, and other travellers less able to cope with the stresses of modern commuting. Mat of Kilburnia went as far as suggesting the unthinkable:

    Please tell me you’re not one of these awful creatures who get on trains whilst people are still getting off.

    As if! Everyone who knows their way around an Overground or Tube carriage understands that this is a cardinal rule, fundamental to the code of conduct. It’s shocking that anyone would even consider that.

    You see, even in war there are rules and ethics – and in this respect the strategic space of the train carriage is no different from any other modern theatre of conflict. And although there’s no International Criminal Court of public transport, there’s certainly a Geneva Convention. Here are three of its basic rules.

    1. Let people get off the train first

    It’s a beautiful thing when a load of commuters get off a train. No, seriously. Like herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the Serengeti or flocks of starlings rippling across the sky (this is a murmuration, fact fans), a crowd of Tube travellers surging on to the platform is a magical moment, particularly for those of us left behind who can finally breathe. So why try to stop it?

    Getting off the tube at St Johns Mackerel

    Anything goes with these people, as long as you don't aim to kill

    It’s amazing that people still do this. You’d have thought that by now it’d be a forgotten social aberration, like bear-baiting or smoking in kindergarten. Maybe it’s tourists who do it? Or people on a combination of PCP and Special Brew? You’d have to be on something not to see that this causes problems for everyone, yourself included.

    The punishment: Transgressors can expect to be shoulder-barged or roughly pushed aside.

    2. Don’t send conflicting signals about leaving

    This is a bit more obscure but I think it’s ingrained in the subconscious of most commuters. I’ll let a picture do the talking:

    off-the-pot-1

    You're getting near your stop so think about getting off. Will you make it through the crowd?

    off-the-pot-2

    OK, that person between you and the door seems interested in the exit. You'll just be able to coast in his wake.

    off-the-pot-3

    The train stops, the doors open, and people stream out. But this person doesn't move! You've been deceived and must now resort to violence (or maybe loud tutting)

    People who do this can spark off weird, instinctive responses in others. When we think we’re trapped, we’re like caged animals who stop at nothing to fight our way out, as if the next stop was Reading West rather than the tube station a bit further up the road.

    Still, it’s best to avoid triggering this primal rage, so don’t make people think you’re getting off when you’re not.

    The punishment: I’ve seen grown men scream swearwords at one another in situations like this.

    3. Protect those less able to cope

    The Paris Metro has a surprisingly detailed set of rules that govern who should get a seat. Wounded soldiers are top of the list, and I’m not sure who sits at the bottom but it’s probably people who are pretty steady on their feet like gymnasts, ninjas or Shaolin monks. Everyone knows their place in the pecking order.

    But in London the rules aren’t as clear. The vague guidance is “people less able to stand”, which leaves plenty of room for interpretation and can cause problems. Some spritely senior citizens don’t take well to being treated like invalids by well-meaning youngsters, for example, and let’s not even get into the consequences of mistaking obesity for pregnancy. You need to strike the right balance between helpfulness and condescension.

    This particular rule has implications for the seat-fancier: securing the seat nearest the door can be a pyrrhic victory, because you might need to give it up again at the next stop. You need to go deeper.

    Safe, but for how long?

    Go deeper - the better seats are further down the carriage

    The punishment: Severe passive-aggressive disapproval from other travellers, loss of soul.

    Conclusion

    The melee of the daily commute can seem like a lawless ungoverned space, but in reality all strategic machinations are underpinned by laws like the ones described here. And while there’s no International Criminal Court – no formal way to capture or charge transgressors, no lengthy trials in The Hague – one thing acts as a barrier between controlled warfare and outright savagery, a thin line between dignity and chaos.

    That thing, that barrier, is our intense fear of public embarrassment. Let’s cling on to it, because if we don’t, all is lost.


  3. Do you want to sit down on the Overground during rush hour? Then prepare for war

    Posted October 4, 2011 in transport  |  97 Comments so far

    A few days ago, on an Overground train from Highbury to Kensington, I had a shocking experience – I failed to get a seat.

    If you know how crowded the Overground can get at rush hour, this might not sound all that surprising. Believe me, though, I was good at getting seats. I’d learnt the ropes and tend to overanalyse behaviour on public transport, so it had never been a problem. But I’d been away for a few weeks and my seat-acquisition skills had gone beyond rusty – they were useless.

    Empty Overground train

    Overground trains never look like this during rush hour

    So, as a form of therapy, I decided to try to work out the “rules” of the seat-acquisition game on the Overground. Here they are, in illustrated form.

    The theatre of conflict

    The Overground train arrives and dazed commuters spill on to the platform. Everyone stands aside to let them pass. But this act of kindness is the exception, not the rule. Once you all step into the carriage the competition for seats begins. You are now in a theatre of war.

    The theatre of war

    The strategic theatre where war is waged

    Know your enemies

    You share the strategic space of the carriage with many other players. Here’s a brief rundown of who they are:

    • Aspirants – People standing who want to sit down. This includes you.
    • Civilians – People standing who don’t want to sit down, maybe because they’re not going far.
    • Occupants – People currently sitting down. Don’t be fooled though: they’re still in the game.

    In a typical combat situation (or “rush hour”) here’s how the players might be distributed across the theatre of conflict.

    Populated Overground carriage

    Stepping into the arena

    Civilians linger near the doors while Aspirants occupy strategic positions nearer the seats. I’ll come to these later. First, here’s an ill-advised opening move that could undermine your whole campaign.

    Don’t take the wrong turn

    When you first get on the train you might turn towards the divide in between two carriages. Don’t! This is an unforgiving quagmire. Much like Napoleon in Russia, your campaign will come to a crushing, drawn-out end if you venture here.

    Here be dragons

    There are few seats here so chances of victory are slim. On one side you’re bordered by the crowded doorway, on the other you’re hemmed in by the barren, seatless inter-carriage zone, so withdrawing to another region could prove impossible. Stay well away.

    Get into position – but act casual

    Get yourself into the long aisle, where the seats are most abundant. This is the fertile valley of the Overground carriage.

    But don’t push past people to get here. Try to act casual, like you don’t really want to sit down anyway. As Sun Tzu said, “All warfare is based on deception“. Seem too predatory and you’ll raise the suspicions of other Aspirants, losing the element of surprise. Let them think you’re a disinterested Civilian.

    Finding your spot

    Find a good place to lurk, but don't appear too keen

    A well-chosen spot gives you a tactical advantage over three, maybe four, seats. Take care when picking your spot, and check for things like:

    • Have the seat occupants only just sat down? If so it might be a while before they get off.
    • Can you guess where their occupants might be heading to? For example you can spot BBC people easily (branded building passes, reading Ariel, cooking up ways to irritate the Daily Mail). They’re going all the way to Shepherd’s Bush, so find a new spot.
    • Who else lurks in the same area? If there are pregnant or infirm Aspirants you should move elsewhere – unless, of course, the Overground has completely erased your sense of ethics.
    • Are the Occupants checking the station name or folding up their newspaper? If so then they may be close to departure.

    Having found your spot you’re now engaged in a tactical skirmish with other nearby Aspirants. This will play out in a smaller and more manageable space.

    Tactical scenario

    What it all comes down to - hold your position to capture the flag

    Things might seem straightforward from now on – someone will get up, you’ll sit down, mission accomplished. But it’s still too soon for complacency.

    Entering end game

    This might be the end of your campaign if earlier strategic decisions were sound and luck’s on your side. Other passengers, however, play by their own rules, so there could be some surprises ahead. Here are some end-game scenarios and how to handle them.

    1. The Occupant’s Deceit

    The Occupant of a contested seat puts their book away. Suddenly you’re interested in nothing else, watching them like a hawk to be sure you’ll bag their seat.

    Occupant's deceit

    Don't be misled by someone putting their book in their bag. They're not leaving the train - they're just messing with your mind

    Distracted, you fail to notice a seat that is legitimately yours becoming empty. An opportunistic Aspirant sneaks in to grab it. Then, to compound your error, the Occupant you’re eyeballing just sits there looking like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth and you’re stuck on your feet. You lose this round.

    Don’t let any single Occupant claim your undivided attention – sometimes people put their books away because they’re bored of reading, they want to sleep, or they simply enjoy messing with your mind.

    2. 360-degree Combat

    It’s easy to get a kind of tunnel vision when staring at the same three or four people for so long. You can easily forget that there’s a whole other row of seats immediately behind you.

    360 degrees

    Overground veterans develop 360-degree perception of their surroundings, much like chameleons

    So when a seat behind you becomes vacant, will you be quick to notice? If not then it’s a lost opportunity. The trick here is to somehow know what’s going on behind you without overtly gawping – remember your Sun Tzu. As always on the Overground, subtlety is essential.

    Edit: A few people commenting after this was posted mentioned that they look in the window to see the reflections of people behind them. I didn’t know this trick. No wonder I’ve been spending so much time standing

    3. The Art of Misdirection

    Imagine two Aspirants have equal claim to a seat and the Occupant gets up. Who wins? Sometimes it’s about who acts smartest, not who acts first.

    Misdirection

    The Occupant's direction of departure can be influenced to your advantage

    The departing Occupant decides which door to head towards. Sometimes it’s the nearest door, but on a crowded Overground carriage they’ll usually choose the path of least resistance.

    Exploit this to your advantage by shifting your position to create an easy route for them. As they move past, do that “orbiting” kind of motion that people do in busy spaces, spinning around them so you switch places while gracefully intruding between the seat and your thwarted enemy.

    Get it right and you’ll effortlessly drop into their seat while looking like a helpful and polite person, and not the scheming and conniving seat-fancier you are.

    A final note – and a confession

    This guide should help you achieve comfort on the Overground, but I must confess that my last few journeys have been spent standing up, so maybe I’m not the best teacher. Maybe I’ve lost the hunger, the brutality, the sharpness of wit that’s needed to compete on these trains. The truth is that I don’t need that hunger any more – my company is moving next weekend, to an office 20 minutes’ walk from my house. I’m pretty happy about this.

    So while my days as an Overground commuter are over, yours may be only just beginning. If so, be careful out there – and don’t let the war for seats escalate any more than it has to. Enough blood has been shed.

    Edit: There’s now a follow-up to this post, about the Geneva Convention of public transport – the sacrosanct, unspoken rules that we all must obey