Self-confessed tube geek Geoff Marshall faces his nightmares and imagines a London without the Underground.
It’s 2025 — five years since London had to do away with its Underground network, due to the discovery of a rare breed of rat living down there, which must not be disturbed by trains. So how has London changed and coped since the loss of its iconic subterranean transport system?
People are working from home...
The notion of telecommuting may have been around since the 1990s and the profligacy of the internet, yet it wasn't until recently — with fast fibre broadband now rolled out for over 90% of homes in London — that it has actually become practical as reliable speeds. Bosses who were reluctant to let employees work from home found that productivity in fact shot up, as people reported being less stressed, through not having to commute for a large chunk of their day. 75% of people now don't don trousers before lunch.
...but they're mildly less intelligent
Minor setback: because people don't read as much (there's no tube commute to read on), book and Kindle sales have plummeted, as has the intelligence of the average commuter, due to the fact they no longer have their nose stuck in the latest Iain Sinclair. Speaking of noses, because people are no longer thrust inside the oven that is the Northern line at rush hour, the sale of antiperspirant has sharply declined. It's caused what's known as the Lynx effect i.e. the companies behind these products have gone bankrupt.
There's more traffic on the roads...
It was going to happen wasn't it. Car ownership has soared, and although there are more eco-vehicles about in 2025, there are many others still belching out noxious fumes — meaning that once in a while, central London is plunged back into a 1950s-style smogscape. Mayor Arnold A Schwarzenegger has been forced to implement a controversial scheme in which you can only drive your car on certain days of the week. On the up side, there are more buses — loads more buses. In fact, there's a steady stream of them, so you never really have to wait for them. The phrase "you wait for a bus..." no longer exists, because you don't. London buses are eco-friendly, triple-decker, and they drive in what were London's cycle lanes. Where are the bikes you ask? Read on.
...but there are also underground cycle lanes
It took just three months after all the tube stations and tunnels were abandoned for work to start on turning them into cycle lanes (the precious rats are only affected by train fumes, OK?). All the sub-surface cut-and-cover sections (such as the Circle line) had their tracks removed and paved over, for cyclists to whizz along. Statistics from the NHS reported that within a year, people were 18% fitter and healthier than before, with a drop in obesity rates too. Cycle road accidents are pretty much a thing of the past as well.
We built more bloody houses (and gardens)...
Most of the old Underground station properties and spaces have been put to use: accommodation slap bang in the heart of London. In some cases, residents even live at the place that used to be the station they commuted to. Stations with larger spaces to convert — such as Baker Street, South Kensington and Earl’s Court — have been planted with new gardens, making London more green than ever before. Mushroom growing tunnels, wine cellars and subterranean theatres are booming too. Let's face it, you can never have enough fungus, Rioja and fringe comedy.
...but they're quite expensive
Of course, the majority of those owning one of these former station properties have a bit of money in the bank. Even a flat at the converted Harrow & Wealdstone station will set you back a quid or two. The housing crisis hasn't exactly been solved.
TfL is still in business...
Aside from its triple-decker buses, TfL has introduced the first 18-carriage train for overground use, and commandeered the canals, once more making use of the city's narrow waterways. There are brand new fleets of Thames Clippers skimming up and down the Thames, and TfL has installed a further three cross-river cable cars (a couple of them are even in logical locations). Where's all the extra money come from? Upkeep of the tube didn't come cheap, you know. In short, business is booming, thank you very much.
...but no one gets excited about TfL anymore
It's a rare thing for so many of thousands of people — from all over the world — to get excited about an underground transport network. There is no doubt about it; however much we may have hated the London Underground at times, it's sorely missed. More people visit London Transport Museum than ever before, and Bank has become an incredibly popular ghost station tour. Still, TfL's brand doesn't resonate as it once did, no one buys roundel mugs anymore, and Londonist hasn't published an alternative tube map in years — a very sad thing indeed.