Archive for International Subways

Londoners, coping with a transit worker strike, walk home from work on Tuesday. (Photo by flickr user Orhan*)

As New York sits on the brink of a taxi strike that, as SUBWAYblogger accurately notes, won’t be noticeable in the morning, our London brethren across the Atlantic spent Tuesday coping with day one of a potential three-day transit strike. Well, much like the over-hyped taxi strike, the London transit strike won’t turn out to be as bad as expected.

While Wednesday’s rush-hour commute for Londoners will still be rife with problems, the strike — or at least this week’s strike — has been halted after productive talks between the two sides. The workers still have the option to walk out of the job next Monday as originally planned, but by Wednesday afternoon, things should be back to normal in London.

Lucky them. Our transit strike lasted a legitimate three days. The Guardian has more:

Millions of London commuters are facing further travel misery this morning, even though the RMT union last night suspended its strike which brought the bulk of London’s tube network to a halt …

Sources said the breakthrough in the negotiations had come too late to prevent further disruption during today’s morning rush hour, though a deal could see services improve later in the day. The latest development came as the RMT was under increasing political pressure to halt a dispute which had led to the suspension of nine of the 12 tube lines.

As I noted yesterday, the maintenance workers are concerned about securing guaranteed pensions after Metronet, one of the public-private partnerships tasked with running nine of the 12 tube lines, entered bankruptcy. While Transport for London, the other PPP, is trying to assume control of those nine lines, for now, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union workers want Metronet to secure their futures.

London, a more frequent victim of transit strikes and 24-hour worker industrial actions, will be relieved to see things return to some semblance of normalcy this week. And I’ll return to the MTA and New York (and mislabeled subway stations) now that the fun in London appears to be over.

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londonstrike.jpg Remember back in the dark ages of December 2005 when TWU workers struck for three days? Remember when New Yorkers had to walk for miles and miles to get to work and many of them simply telecommuted for a few days? Remember how the middle of winter sure seemed like a terrible time for a transit strike?

Well, think back fondly on those three days and be thankful you’re not in London. At 6 p.m. British Standard Time this evening, 2300 maintenance workers employed by Metronet, the bankrupt public-private partnership tasked with running nine of the 12 London Underground lines, went on strike. With no workers around to maintain the system, Transport for London shut down those nine lines, and they will remain inactive until Friday morning. The New York Times has more:

London’s subway network virtually shut down at the height of the rush hour on Monday evening when 2,300 maintenance workers walked off the job in what they said would be a three-day strike over pensions and security.

Transportation officials then closed nine subway lines, the bulk of the system. They said it was too dangerous to keep the network going without the workers, who are responsible for maintaining and repairing tracks, signals, trains and the like. Just three lines — the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines, which are maintained by workers who belong to another union — were operating Monday night.

While New Yorkers may simply say that Londoners are going through what we went through two years ago, matters are first worse in London. First, these transit workers are threatening to strike for another 72 hours starting next Monday if their demands are not met and fears are not assuaged by Friday morning. Additionally, in a move sure to embolden the anti-congestion fee lobby in New York, London mayor Ken Livingston has rankled many would-be drivers when he announced that London’s eight-pound congestion charge would stand during the strike.

The problems in London, as The New York Times explains and The Times of London outlines in this article, stems from problems surrounding Metronet. When the Tubes fell under the auspices of this public-private partnership, Livingston foresaw financial problems such as this one.

In July, Metronet entered administration, the British equivalent of the American concept of receivership. The workers are worried that pensions and job security will not be guaranteed if and when Transport for London completes its bid to take over the Tube lines currently run by Metronet.

Meanwhile, London economists are predicting losses of up to £50 million, and 3.2 million potential London straphangers are left struggling to find alternate routes home. Plus, they could get to do it all over again next week.

Sounds like a blast, no?

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That Guy, right, just doesn’t need that much space to air out his crotch. (Photo by flickr user strohchop)

Everyone can tell a story about the time that guy on the subway had his legs spread. You know that guy. He’s the one taking up space for three people because he either can’t close his legs or feels a special compulsion to share his crotch with a trainload of commuters.

No one elicits more groans than that guy. Boarding a train during rush hour in search of a seat, you run into that guy, and your commute home is ruined. You glare at him without making eye contract. You try to nudge your way into a seat with no success. It’s happened to us all.

Well, one more in Melbourne, Australia, is sick of this rude behavior and won’t stand for it anymore. Martin Merton, an American expert on subway etiquette, will soon be publishing a book in Australia called There’s No I in Carriage. The book, according to Dr. Merton’s Website, covers topics ranging from the obnoxiously loud cell phone user or iPod-headphones wearer, the rider unable to hold in a fart for the duration of the trip and of course the perennial favorite, the seat hog.

Now, I know what you must be thinking: Who in their right mind would write a book about subway etiquette? This can’t be real, right? O ye of little faith. Of course it’s real. Or at least that’s what Connex Melbourne, the company in charge of Melbourne’s subways, wants you to believe.

Connex is relying on viral videos produced with maximum kitsch featuring a fake psychology to drive home points relating to real-life subway etiquette. And they’re pretty funny. In the video relating to leg spreaders, embedded below, Dr. Murtin recommends releasing live chickens to attack the offending crotch.

I have to wonder if this could work in New York too. The subways could use a little more humility and etiquette and a little less pushiness. But considering that only 5.3 people a day see and say something, this viral campaign would probably just fall flat in New York. But the next time you see a crotch where three people should be sitting, just think chicken.

For more of Dr. Merton’s videos, check out the good doctor’s YouTube page.


At least we’re not in Montreal

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The McGill Metro stop in Montreal was literally falling down this weekend (Photo by flickr user blork)

Subways all over the globe had issues this weekend, and after yesterday’s post noting the problems in China and Washington, DC, my readers were more than happy to share their experiences in subway systems that just can’t measure up to New York’s.

The best tip came from Greg who e-mailed me about the problems in Montreal. On Friday, officials shut down the McGill Metro stop in Montreal when two large cracks were discovered in the tunnels linking the subway station to a nearby mall. That sounds like fun. CBC News had more:

Police emptied buildings and sealed off a large section of Montreal’s downtown core for the weekend, and service was cancelled on part of one subway line after two fissures in a tunnel linking the McGill station to malls were discovered Friday…

Fearing that roads could collapse, Montreal police cleared several city blocks of people in an area bordered by Sherbrooke, St. Catherine and Bleury streets and University Avenue, and shut the streets to traffic.

With a major university laying claim to this subway stop, New Yorkers can imagine this infrastructure issue happening right here in the playground that is the West Village. Imagine if deep fissures appeared in the ceiling at the West 4th St. stop (which is not hard to picture if you’ve looked closely at that station lately). Not only would the city be collectively flipping out, but service on up to 8 subway lines would be messed up.

So as the week rolls on and the State Comptroller tells us that the MTA doesn’t really need that fare hike, we can yet again be grateful that the tracks aren’t catching fire as they are in Washington, D.C., and that the sky — or ceiling — isn’t falling like it is in Montreal. Yet.

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On Sunday afternoon, I headed off from Brooklyn to the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Alphabet City’s Tompkins Square Park. Generally, the best way for to go is via the F train to 2nd Ave. It’s a short walk from 1st Ave. and Houston to Tompkins Square.

But it’s the weekend, and things never go as planned on the weekends. Manhattan-bound F trains were running along the A tracks from Jay St./Borough Hall to West 4th. So I had to take the F to West 4th and then switch to a Brooklyn-bound F train making the stops in Manhattan. That Brooklyn-bound train showed up right away, and this weekend service advisory cost me just a few minutes of extra travel.

In New York, we tend to grumble and groan about the myriad service changes. We never know which train is running when and where. But as I silently bemoaned the endless service changes, I realized things aren’t much better elsewhere.

Take China. As The Times pointed out on Sunday, it’s a different — and dirtier — world across the Pacific. With the Olympics headed their way in just under a year, China is panicking. For the largest nation in the world, the Olympics will serve as a coming out party. After years of following an isolationist foreign policy, China will welcome emissaries from all over the globe.

As part of the Olympics, the Chinese are constructing a new subway line at breakneck speed. But they’re also have problems with customer service on the current rail systems, Reuters reported last week:

China is trying to stamp out protests over rail delays ahead of the Beijing Olympics, threatening passengers with legal action if they stay aboard their train once it has reached its destination. “Refusing to leave the train will be regarded as an illegal act endangering train safety,” the China News said, citing a long list of unlawful measures proscribed by central authorities.

There have been several instances of Chinese passengers refusing to leave their trains after serious delays, demanding compensation and an apology from state-run railway operators…In the report, jointly released by the ministry and the Public Security Bureau, passengers must conform in order to ensure a safe and orderly environment before the Games taking place in the capital in August next year.

Yikes. I’d hate to end up in a Chinese prison over a train protest.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a city with just five subways lines, every single line had a problem on Sunday. According to the WMATA, five different incidents of smoke and fire on the tracks or in equipment rooms led to rampant delays all day. This is of course analogous to the subway floods from a few weeks ago that knocked out nearly all of the subway lines.

So as another week begins — the last one before the Labor Day holiday — we should take comfort in knowing that New York is not alone in dealing with subway problems. But more importantly, the MTA is listening to its riders and subway bloggers. They’re using report cards to grade lines, and they’re keeping their eyes and ears on the pulse of the riders. We have a great subway system with room for improvement and a whole bunch of leaders willing to take the steps to improve it. And that is always a good thing.

Photo: Firefighters in DC work to restore order to the Metro. (Courtesy of WUSA 9)

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