The odds are pretty good that if you’re a regular user of Oxford Circus tube station during rush hour you are also a regular stander in the rain / cold / sun (delete according to season) as the station is temporarily closed due to over-crowding.
In the past I’ve tried checking Transport for London’s information whilst stood outside, not knowing how long the station would be closed. The picture is always the same. Call them up? You’re told there’s no problem at Oxford Circus. Check their website? You’re told the tube lines running through the station are all running normally. Check their Twitter feeds? There’s no mention of problems of Oxford Circus.
Which, if you’re standing in the cold, getting wet and without any information coming out from the station about how long you’ll have to wait, is pretty underwhelming.
So I got on to Caroline Pidgeon, one of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly members, and asked her to raise this with TfL. Their answer: tough, we don’t communicate temporary closures like this. On being pressed, their answer extended to: we wouldn’t want to tweet about such temporary closures because there would be too many of them and it would clutter up our Twitter feed.
In other words: when you’re stuck in the cold, getting wet and not knowing what’s happening – TfL’s considered view is that they don’t want to tell you what’s going on, they won’t tell you what’s going on and they’re happy for you not to know what’s going on.
Which got me thinking… if these occasions were a absolute rarity, and I’d just been really unlucky with my experiences, perhaps Transport for London’s position would be merely a little better than it’s apparent complete failure to understand the “public” and “service” bits of “public service”.
Back then to Caroline, to ask her if she could find out how many temporary closures took place. She could, and she did.
The answer? In the year 1 December 2011 – 30 November 2012, Oxford Circus station was temporarily closed due to over-crowding 163 times – just short of every other day on average.
You’d have thought that such a high frequency of temporary closures, especially at a station which has many other transport options near by, would make someone say, “You know what? Perhaps we should tell people when these happen. That way anyone leaving an office nearby could check first and then head to a different station or take the bus if we’ve got an overcrowding problem”. Or even, “You know what? It’s a bit embarrassing leaving people hanging round without information so often. Perhaps we could do something about that?”.
Come on then Transport for London, is refusing to tell anyone anything really the best you can do in those circumstances?