Londoners are very possessive about their drinking. They like to drink in pubs; they like to drink at home; and they like to drink on the Tubes on the way home from pubs. That is, they liked to drink on the Tubes until midnight on Saturday night/Sunday morning a new ban on alcohol on the Tubes took effect.
The ban is the product of new Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Johnson, the Conservative candidate, recently beat incumbent Ken Livingstone in what Calvin Trillin called an entertaining election in The New Yorker. Part of Johnson’s campaign was a drive to make London’s public transit system cleaner and safer for employees and non-drunk travelers.
As you could imagine, the general public was not too accepting of the ban when it went into effect late Saturday night. At a party called Last Round on the Underground to commemorate the last chance to drink on the Tubes, revelers went a bit overboard. The BBC reports:
Six London Underground stations were closed as trouble flared when thousands of people marked the banning of alcohol on London transport with a party.
Four tube drivers, three other staff members, and two police officers were assaulted, and there were 17 arrests. Several trains were damaged and withdrawn from service, which led to suspended services.
Drinkers gathered on Tube trains and station concourses for a last drink before the ban came in at midnight. Police said what should have been a fun event came to an “unfortunate” end.
The finger-pointing started pretty early on Sunday morning with union leaders blaming Mayor Johnson. They said the ban was hastily put into place and enforcement measures are not up to par.
In fact, London does not plan to increase patrols in the Tubes. Rather, they are relying on what the BBC has termed a “softly, softly” approach. Other riders and alert Transport for London staffers are supposed to police the ban as best they can. That sounds about as efficient as our beloved MTA.
Now, I’m fairly entertained by this story. During my first trip to London in the spring of 2001, I remember being struck by the prevalence of discarded alcohol containers. There were empty beer bottles all over the Tubes and I didn’t realize during that first trip that it was actually fine to drink on their subways. Here, in New York, people sneak drinks into brown bags and Nalgene bottles.
During a few of my subsequent trips to London, I was always entertained to see how the passengers were on the those final Tube trips as people rushed home from their nights out to catch the last trains back to wherever they’re heading — perhaps to some amusingly named suburbs. People just took the parties with them underground. Imagine that one in New York.