Is it just Londonist, or does the proposal to extend mobile phone coverage into Tube stations have some of the makings of a disappointing development?
It would obviously be useful to be able to inform colleagues and loved ones of delays, previously the Underground has been a haven of disconnectedness, a reminder that there was, in the dim and distant past, a time when we weren’t permanently in touch with everyone all the time. The way that mobile phones have utterly revolutionised society can be seen in our popular culture (and I’m not talking about that bloody frog).
For instance, Londonist has recently been enjoying some of the early seasons of Seinfeld on DVD, and it’s extraordinary how many of the plotlines, misunderstandings and situations of that mighty sit-com are now near-impossible to conceive thanks to mobile phones. How on Earth anyone actually successfully gathered a group of people in a pub or restaurant before mobiles is difficult to imagine.
But other people’s phone calls are extremely irksome to overhear, for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious. Perhaps it’s because you only get one side of it. Perhaps it’s because they tend to be quite loud to make themselves heard over the bus or train engine. Perhaps it’s because, for some reason, the people making the calls so often reveal themselves to be repellent animals.
And of course we must not forget that more than half of the Underground is in fact above ground, so on great stretches of the outer network it’s been possible to make and receive calls without any special technology. And civilization does not seem to have collapsed as a result of this. (But it’s touch and go.)
Londonist’s experience of commuting to Epping, on the wildest edges of the Central Line, is that despite being above ground after Stratford, the trains are so clanky and noisy that making phone calls is rendered fairly difficult.
Anyway, there will be “Silent Carriages” as a sop to the quiet brigade, but there practicality is frankly unconvincing. For a start, will they always be placed conistently, such as at the back of the train, so people can plan to get into them? Or will the placement be random, leaving it to chance? And they’re no help at all to us exit freaks, who like to know just the right place to stand when boarding a train, so that you debark opposite the way out.
Also, the scheme will cost £1bn. In Londonist’s day, that was a lot of money. And there are security concerns. The train bombs in Madrid last year were triggered by mobile phone. Mobiles make such useful remote-detonation devices, and the tunnels must be tempting to al-Qaeda. This fear alone should be enough to kill the idea.
But no. Progress must march on, it seems.