Why Driverless Tubes Are a Bad Idea (Or the Best Idea We've Ever Heard)

By Kat Hannaford on at

Sam and I are in two minds about the driverless tubes which may well hit London in just 10 years' time. I think we can all agree it'll be a challenge to TFL (not to mention the daily commuters), but tell us who you think has the best argument below:


Kat: Driverless tubes would wreak havoc to an already-failing system

Commuting in London brings me no joy, and I'll fathom a guess that anyone reading this doesn't enjoy it either. On occasions where my family have visited, or friends from another country, I actually feel ashamed that I can't provide them with valid explanations as to why this tube line isn't running today, or why their PAYG Oyster card ripped them off mistakenly. Multiply that chaos and confusion by 100 times, and then I think we're getting close to the pain TFL's proposed plans would cause on the city.

Not to mention the cost -- we've already battled with steadfastly-increasing tube fares every January, which are over and above normal inflation. This is to pay for tube upgrades we're constantly being told, but many pockets won't be able to afford the seven per cent increase in 2012, let alone the millions upon millions it will cost TFL to upgrade the infrastructure.

True, the DLR line might be a success story when it comes to driverless trains, but we must remember that those lines were built just over 20 years ago, and are spring chickens in comparison to the rest of the tube network. When these unstaffed (bar one "attendant" who will likely have little-to-no experience other than in customer service) trains crash, stall or seize in the tunnel, it will be a long and lonely walk back to the similarly-understaffed stations.

Normally I'd be quick to take up the exact opposite viewpoint of the snivelling RMT union leader Bob Crow, but in this case I do think he's hit the nail on the head when suggesting safety would be compromised, and that the 1,500 job losses would be a blow to the city. Even if they are hugely-overpaid and too quick to strike. I'm all for bringing London in line with the rest of the world's mostly-fantastic metro systems, but driverless tubes is not the answer.


Sam: A driverless, strikeless, automated tube is the way to regenerate London's Victorian-era underground

Having been commuting in London for over eight years now, I can safely say that I'm whole-heartedly behind this. Don't get me wrong -- I don't like the thought of anyone losing their jobs. But I have to say, all sympathy I had for the RMT was lost when they decided to up-and-screw London over and over again.

Their strikes are not only an inconvenience, they also put businesses, lives and other essential public services in London under jeopardy. When doctors, nurses and other medical staff simply can't get to work, what happens when you have a medical emergency? When lost revenue means the difference between survival and bankruptcy, a Tube strike could be the last straw to send the business under and the staff packing. Replacement of drivers with automated systems should remove that kind of issue.

If you replace the drivers in the tube network, you in theory reduce costs too. It's not like the system is likely to be totally automated, you'll likely still have controllers, possibly attendants -- the DLR shows what's possible. Simply removing the human element should also make tube journeys more consistent, smoother and safer. No more Signals Passed At Danger and other human errors. You also save the drivers from the emotional distress that jumpers cause -- an often over-looked strain on train operators.

Yes, replacing the drivers will be a costly and long-term project. Will it make our commutes worse in the short-term? Almost definitely. What with strikes, works and teething troubles, it'll likely get worse before it gets better. But is it worth it? In my opinion, yes.

...But over to you. What are your views on the "secret documents" obtained by the Evening Standard, that propose these driverless tubes?

Image Credit: SENSE media