Wifi could hold clue to easing Tube anger

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The roll-out of wifi at Tube stations could help ease the sort of congestion, meltdown and passenger fury that has dogged the Jubilee line recently.

Criticism has been heaped on Transport for London for a week of disruption that saw passengers led out through darkened tunnels - an image that was zapped around the world ahead of the Olympic Games.

TfL confirmed that wifi would be available in below-ground stations in July allowing passengers - as well as station staff - to tap into a community of real-time tweets, emails and messaging to avoid trouble spots and re-plan journeys.

Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy said: "Good information within the stations during disruption is really important and we're looking forward to the imminent introduction of wifi.

"Not only because our customers can get good information but our staff can get good information as well.

"Our evidence is that once people get this information most customers are plenty bright enough to know what to do.

"My predecessors coined the phrase 'rush hour' but of course it isn't a rush hour now - it's at least three or four hours in the morning and evening. The off-peak service is at the level where 35 years ago it was the peak. The consequence is that when you get an incident the system is instantly full of people who are inconvenienced."

When Mayor of London Boris Johnson unveiled the wifi proposal earlier this year, he said: "Millions of passengers will be able to connect to their work, friends or access the latest news and travel information whilst on the move."

He has demanded a report on the incident which saw 770 people led through tunnels from the stifling heat of two stuck trains. Some remained underground for hours after an attempt to hook up a working train to a defective one failed.

Chairwoman of the London Assembly transport committee Caroline Pidgeon decried the "very serious issues" surrounding Jubilee line reliability.

She said: "I am sure that TfL will be working 24/7 on their preparations but Peter Hendy said there would be failures and the key will be how the system recovers. We do not want to be leading our Olympic visitors through tunnels."

Ms Pidgeon saw wifi as one measure to give passengers the power to shape their own responses to difficulties.

She told The Wharf: "I think the idea has potential. It may help reduce some of the anger. For example, people could email ahead to say they might be late for a meeting. Anything that helps people make the right journey decisions has to be welcome."

The new wifi service will launch as a free, unlimited service for all Tube passengers at 120 stations from July for the duration of the Games. Free travel information will continue after the Games but only Virgin customers will keep free unrestricted access to the web.

Ms Pidgeon said: "It worries me that it will not be free for everyone after the Games. I have contacted Virgin Media and they are investigating whether other providers can get involved."

Mr Hendy said that none of the key Olympic stations - Canary Wharf, North Greenwich, Stratford, Canning Town - was cut off during last week's incident.

"The reason why we will successfully get through the Olympics is not because there will be no failures at all, I am sure there will be, the reason is there is a great deal of redundancy.

"The east end of the Jubilee line is more vulnerable but we can reverse trains at Canary Wharf and North Greenwich. If you can't serve them from both directions you can at least serve them from one direction."

A spokesman for Canary Wharf Group said: "We have been constantly communicating with TfL and our tenants to try and identify in advance and plan around any issues.

"Tube delays are obviously concerning, but they are outside our control. Notwithstanding this, we think that, with all the measures in place, we can keep Canary Wharf open for business during the Games."

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