London commuters on the Underground are a particular breed of traveller: hardened, and fearless. They are an elite force of commuting specialists, who can detect an empty seat within a three second window, whilst standing on a packed carriage and completing an intermediate level Sudoku.
This particular type of commuter can read a newspaper and simultaneously execute a display of perfect balance on a moving train. They have the uncanny ability to ignore fellow passengers, bad smells and the protests of tourists, as they barge them out of the way during rush hour.
The Art of Commuting (aka War) and Operation: Journey Planner
The London commute can only be described as a military operation which much must be rigorously checked and adjusted.
Firstly, one must prepare for battle. Sun Tzu said “know your enemy” and for the commuter the biggest enemy is Transport for London (TfL). Between the delays, overcrowding, planned engineering works and malfunctioning barriers, the morning rush hour requires meticulous planning and reconnaissance.
Any well travelled commuter will check the TfL website the night before, as well as sign up for email and SMS alerts. There’s a rapid scan of all service status updates at station changes between lines. As we have all encountered, an unexpected minor delay can utterly destroy all travel plans and could mean being late for work by up to 30 minutes. The veteran commuter knows this lesson well and is prepared for any eventuality.
In the case of delays: one will also have some form of entertainment at hand. Books, magazines, newspapers, phones, handheld games, iPods, knitting, Sudoku and crossword puzzles are ‘weapons’ of mass distraction. Any veteran would rather be late for work, than enter a tube station empty handed!
Oysters at the ready!
Commuters are disguised tacticians: the moment they walk through the turnstiles, Oyster cards are strategically placed on one’s person to allow faster access at interchanges. The weary and seasoned veteran knows where to stand on the platform and the train depending on their destination, exit route or how late they are that day.
They have speed and skills, unnecessary on other modes of transportation. The longest escalator on the tube is at Angel (60m/197ft, with a vertical rise of 27.5m/90ft) and I have seen veteran commuters get up and down those stairs in record time. They know how to weave in and out of crowds and can access platforms and exits faster than anyone else.
The morning commute can be depressing. People don’t smile at other passengers, (unless you are in a group). Anyone who does smile must be crazy or tries to start a conversation (gasp!) is met with stony glares and increasing volumes on mp3 players.
The evening journey is a little less frantic. People are either more anti-social because they are tired, or have transformed into friendly, outgoing citizens thanks to an after work drink and the promise of a takeaway and an evening of soaps.
PS. Do you ever wonder what kind of commuter you are?
PPS: The Tube really isn’t a good example of London’s humanity is it?!