diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 27, 2024

This post is about announcements I’ve heard on TfL services recently.

When I hear one that makes me think "hang on..." I jot it down.
All these are from the last three months.

The announcements split into two groups.
a) Why did they say that?
b) Why did they say that now?

Why did they say that?

Let's get this classic out of the way first.

"Customers using the escalators are advised to carry pets at all times"
[Whitechapel station, on the escalators]

They actually announced that! It's so obviously badly worded it's amazing it ever got approval. You can see there might be a genuine safety issue here - pets on escalators - but this is ridiculously phrased.

The problem is that the announcement addresses the wrong people, i.e. "customers using the escalators", whereas it should address "customers with pets". It would be better to say "Customers with pets are advised to carry them on the escalators." If you want to be really pedantic it should say "Customers travelling with pets are advised to carry them on the escalators", but sometimes being pedantic just makes the announcement longer.

Next, to two stops up the line.

"Please stand behind the yellow line at all times."
[Mile End, on the platforms]

This one's really commonplace, it's not just heard at Mile End, nor just on the tube. The issue here is the "at all times" bit, because if you stood behind the yellow line at all times you'd never be able to get on the train. I always thought that was obvious.

It would be much better, and indeed shorter, to just say "Please stand behind the yellow line". Indeed it's notable that when the member of staff on the platform addresses waiting passengers in the morning peak they do indeed say "Please stand behind the yellow line" and not the silly bit. It's not just being pedantic, it's common sense.

I didn't jot down the whole of the next announcement, just this snippet.

"...and use the handrail if needed."
[Bow Road, stationwide]

We're always being implored to use the handrail. Fair enough, some very nasty trips and falls occur on stairs and holding the handrail could help prevent them. But why add "if needed" on the end? Obviously you would use the handrail "if needed", it's entirely superfluous.

It can be hard to get the balance right between advice and lecturing. "Always use the handrail" is too strong. "We recommend you use the handrail" is too weak. "It might be a good idea to use the handrail" is too wordy. "Thankyou for using the handrail," sounds silly. "If you don't use the handrail don't blame us if you end up breaking something" is more to the point but plainly unacceptable. It's all very well disliking certain wording but you have to have something better to put in its place.

This one took me by surprise.

"Customers wearing hats and scarves are advised to remove them before going onto the platform. This is because train movements can cause them to blow onto the tracks. Please remove them, don't lose them."
[Embankment, on the platforms]

Hang on what?

It's winter, loads of people are wearing hats and scarfs. Are TfL really expecting everyone to take them all off, every last designer wrap and baseball cap, on the off chance they might blow away? I’ve never seen it happen so I guess the probability is very low, individually speaking, plus there's no certainty that a displaced item would end up on the tracks anyway.

And why here? What is it about Embankment that singles it out for flying garments? I’ve stood on escalators with far whooshier downdrafts than this. I'll tell you what this sounds like, it sounds like staff at Embankment are tired of passengers asking them to retrieve lost hats and scarves from the trackbed so have recorded this message to try to make it happen less often. But the end result is a lengthy nannying spiel, broadcast too late and too infrequently to be of any practical use, urging passengers to pointlessly undress.

This is also oddly specific.

"Please do not run or jump on the escalators."
[West Ham, central concourse]

Running on escalators is bad, sure, but is jumping on them really a thing? People don't jump up and down while riding on an escalator, even in a leap year.

I guess it's possible that feral youth passing through West Ham station treat the bank of escalators like a parkour obstacle, but if that's the case the last thing that's going to stop them is an occasional announcement.

Which brings us to...

Why did they say that now?

Sometimes it's right announcement, wrong time.

"Please give your seat to others who might need it more."
[District line train, off-peak, at every stop]

This one was introduced a few years ago as part of a Travel Kind campaign encouraging greater awareness of others. I much prefer this wording to the original "please look up to see if anyone needs your seat more than you do", because that seemed to be encouraging endless eye-raising vigilance.

What niggled this time was the timing, the message being repeatedly played on a quiet train with loads of empty seats. Nobody with special needs would have had any trouble sitting down so why lecture the rest of us, especially at every single stop? Some announcements are only appropriate at certain times, so please find a way of turning them off when they're not.

Here's another on-board announcement.

"Please be aware Oyster is not valid beyond West Drayton."
[Aboard a Crossrail train bound for Heathrow T4]

This is very useful advice to certain passengers heading west on Crossrail. Don't try tapping out using Oyster beyond West Drayton, it won't work and it could be an expensive mistake. But it's not useful if you're on a train heading for Heathrow because that won't be passing West Drayton later in its journey. Nobody on board needs to hear it so why play it?

It may be the case that the software doesn't know if it's a Reading train or a Heathrow train so plays the announcement anyway. It's just the sort of thing the programmers, who got so much else wrong, wouldn't have thought of in advance. But how annoying that the message chips in anyway, potentially worrying anyone using Oyster, even when the train isn't going anywhere near the problem.

Back to the dangers of escalators.

"Please look after your children on the escalators and keep their feet away from the edges."
[At Camden Town, on the spiral staircase]

Fair enough, not everyone realises that the edges of escalators can be dangerous, especially children. But on this occasion the announcement was being pumped into our ears as we headed miserably down a spiral staircase because the downward escalator was out of service. The last thing we need while plodding down 96 steps was advice on something we'd much rather be using but couldn’t.

Again I suspect it's not always possible to target station announcements to specific locations, hence the spiral staircase gets the same message as everywhere else. But if that's the case, rather than playing something which doesn't apply to incoming passengers, why not temporarily turn the safety advice off? Or perhaps it can’t be turned off, it's automated so beyond local control, I don't claim to be an expert.

But what I do know is that multiple badly-phrased and ill-chosen announcements are played every day across the TfL network, often in locations where they are entirely inappropriate. When there are important things to tell us, tell us properly or not at all.

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