Boris Johnson last night threatened to get rid of Tube drivers and automate the system in the face of waves of “pointless” strikes by London’s greediest unions.
At his speech to the annual London Government Dinner, Boris said:
“When the Jubilee works are complete there will be three lines in London – the Jubilee, Victoria and Central – which will operate on an automated system.
“It is a fact – though not a widely known fact – that as we speak most of the Jubilee Line currently operates under automatic train operation, from Stratford to Neasden. In other words, the driving of the train is done by computer rather than manually.
“Of course there will still need to be someone aboard the train, but thanks to the advanced signalling being installed it is also a fact that anyone in this room could in a matter of a few weeks acquire the qualifications necessary to supervise an underground train.
“The huge potential implications of that change will be obvious to everyone, and so I say to our colleagues in the trades union leadership that I respect and understand the vital role of unions in a free society to secure the best terms and conditions for their members, but I hope they will recognise that the patience of Londoners is not endless.
“They should abandon the recent pattern of pointless strikes.”
A driverless Tube is an idea I’ve been pushing for a while now. In 2009, for the Standard, I went to Paris to see how their Metro, even more strike-plagued than ours, is automating its oldest line, Line 1, roughly equivalent to our Central line. Last year, the Tory group on the London Assembly also took up the idea.
Boris’s plan is less ambitious – the Paris trains, which run almost entirely underground, will not have any staff on them at all – but it makes perfect sense in transport terms, and even better sense politically.
Boris rightly sees the dismal behaviour of Aslef, the RMT and the TSSA – who since the autumn have held a series of strikes over total non-issues – as a political opportunity for him.
Londoners simply cannot understand the behaviour of these people, who are well paid, for easy work, with total job security and absolutely no grounds for complaint – but still push for yet more, even as everyone else has to tighten their belts.
There are a lot of votes to be won in standing up to them – especially since Ken Livingstone, with his usual political brilliance, has locked himself in to a position as the Tube unions’ advocate and beneficiary.