Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Tube Chat?

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CityLab recently posted an article “Why Londoners Bristled at the Invitation to Chat on the Tube

I know that I have written about this idea on here somewhere before, but it really seemed to me that Tanvi Misra missed a few very significant issues.

For a start the idea was dreamed up by an American “originally from a small town in Colorado”. If he had tried this idea in New York he would have got an even more irritated response. Life in big cities anywhere is going to be different from small towns.

When I commuted in Toronto, both on the TTC and GO, it really wasn’t that much different to commuting in London. Possibly slightly more polite, but no-one expected to chat. Victoria was quite different. The people on the bus I used – same bus, same times every day – soon regarded me as a “bus buddy” (I term I had never heard before). But then Victoria has one very big employer – the BC government – and most of these people were using the then new innovation of the annual government employee bus pass (paid for by payroll deductions). So right off the bat there was something in common. We were by no means as anonymous as most London commuters are.

That is not to say that there are not little social groups of regular commuters in big cities. I knew of several card “schools” on the Southern Region (as it was then known), for instance.

But the biggest mistake I think Jonathan Dunne made was using London Transport’s typography and house style in his badges and literature – including the famous roundel symbol.


Intentional or not, this made it look like something promoted by Transport for London.

Actually kudos to the kvetchers who made their ripostes look equally official.

I think a lot of people would resent this intrusion much more if they believed it was something to do with officialdom.  The clanger – “Keep Calm and Carry On” – has been equally widely misunderstood.

When I was a London commuter, I actually looked forward to the trip every day. It was a very useful interlude, back in the days before cell phones. You were literally out of reach. I used to read the Guardian every morning on the way to work – and a library book every evening on the way home. I chose routes and modes that were reasonably likely to provide me with a seat most days, or at least adequate space when standing.

I know that I wasn’t wearing a button that said “please respect my right to privacy” because that was widely understood, and didn’t need to be explained. Except to American tourists. We lived on one of the lines that terminated near Windsor Castle.

Subsequently I have discovered that I quite like talking to strangers. Though I really cannot bring myself to emulate Brandon Stanton.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 6, 2016 at 4:59 pm

Posted in transit

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