diamond geezer

 Friday, November 12, 2010

Tubewatch (35) Real-time information
There's a new phrase that tube travellers dread to hear. A message that London Underground want the public to hear more often. A meaningless collection of words that patronise rather than inform. "We are being held at a red signal, and we should be moving shortly." Don't you just hate that?

Your train draws to a halt in a tunnel, or sits in a station platform slightly longer than it should. Nothing happens for a bit. And then, when a brief regulation period has elapsed, the driver makes an announcement. Sometimes they say something themselves, directly related to the situation. But more often than not they just press a button in their cab and a disembodied voice echoes through the train. "We are being held at a red signal, and we should be moving shortly." I really hate that.

These reassuring messages are part of a special TfL drive to provide passengers with more real-time information. If we know more about the problems causing our delays, they reckon, then we're less likely to get annoyed. They're almost certainly right. When trains halt unexpectedly, we start wondering what's causing the delay, then fret, then worry. How much better to hear a friendly voice telling us everything's going to be OK. "We are being held at a red signal, and we should be moving shortly." Except, what is this telling us exactly?

"We are being held at a red signal." Yes, obviously. What else is it going to be? A blockade of riot police, or a herd of buffalo on the track? I think not. The train isn't moving, so it's almost certain there's a red signal somewhere barring the way. "We are being held at a red signal" is a generic excuse covering a multitude of potential situations. Could be a stalled train somewhere, could be a train crossing the tracks ahead, could even be (in that dreaded phrase) being held in the platform to "regulate the service". The red signal excuse tells passengers nothing of genuine use, it just sets their passive minds at rest.

"We should be moving shortly." Yes, probably. We're unlikely to be sitting here for ten minutes, because most tube delays are minor and temporary. Indeed, many's the time a driver chooses to play the automatic red signal announcement only for a green signal to appear seconds later and for the train to immediately move on. It seems that TfL insist on an announcement being made so soon into any unexpected stoppage that often it wasn't worth making that announcement in the first place. "Shortly" is a weasel word, used to cover an ill-defined multitude of timespans, and "should be" conveys mere aspiration rather than anything definitive.

Far from being helpful, "We are being held at a red signal, and we should be moving shortly" is condescending fluff. It's part of a top-down target-driven campaign from management which is losing its impact through over-use. Drivers are pressing the magic electronic button in the cab because they're told to, even when it's pointless because there are no relevant facts to impart. Surely it wouldn't hurt to wait until they have some genuine information, and then make a proper personal announcement instead? But no, we are being held up by red tape. It should be removed shortly.

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