Wednesday 7 May 2008

Prohbition on public transport

The big news across town today was the announcement by Mayor Boris that alcohol is to be banned across the public transport network in London. This was met with a mixture of delight and derision depending on the commentator.

The stated idea is to make the network a 'safer place'. Granted it could do with some of that. I do not see the need for guzzling drink on the tube (for example); the smell from an open beer can is quite revolting (although no worse than the people who insist on consuming their burger and chips or whatever). I also do not see how banning alcohol is making the public transport network a safer place. The 'aggressive drunks' to which Boris refers are mostly drunk BEFORE they get onto public transport. Denying them one more drink is hardly going to make much difference.

Who is going to enforce these rules? British Transport police? The underground staff? The thing is, most transport no longer has any guard or conductor. There are no staff on tubes or buses apart from the driver. There is sometimes a guard on overground trains (depending on the company running the train and line) - oh, but wait a minute. Those fall outside the Mayor's direct jurisdiction anyway.

I can picture the scene now. A rowdy bunch of football fans on the way home from a match, maybe they are crossing London on the tube to get to a mainline station and they aren't from London and so not really aware of the ban. They've been drinking for hours and hours, they've all got a can of beer. They are asked to dispose of the beer (how? where?) and do not take kindly to this request. Violence ensues. Making the network safer?

Don't get me wrong. I'm for the idea in principle. It comes down to manners really. Why should people need to drink in public except in an appropriate venue (if it comes to that, why should they need to eat smelly food, chew gum, listen to loud music or any of the other irritating things commuters get up to). Obviously the previous incumbents campaign of little posters with 'wee-me' characters hasn't worked, so it must be time for tougher measures.

This reminds me of something I saw the other morning. Part and parcel of respect for one's fellow commuter. A lady got onto my bus wearing a pin-badge on her jacket. It showed the London Transport roundel and had underneath the phrase 'baby on board'. Is this the only way a pregnant woman can get people to give her a seat? Sadly yes. Despite signs against the most accessible seats on buses (although not on tubes) and the general fact that most of us are brought up to give up our seat to someone who needs it more (aren't we still? I was) this is a piece of public transport etiquette that usually goes unobserved. The Stick and I are probably offered a seat about fifty percent of the time (and more usually on buses than on the tube), and this is not just because I'm younger; I have observed similar patterns of behaviour towards older people and mums-to-be.

Banning alcohol on public transport is an attention grabbing 'quick-fix' type policy. The greater malaise isn't just a problem for Mayor Boris but for the whole country. It is a problem of manners and of lack of respect. Given that this has been a growing trend for decades now, I think maybe it is too late for change now.