Penguins on the Tube

03/11/2014 By Thomas Folqué

Honestly, some days, the Tube (the London Underground) is not my friend. I hate the crowds during rush hour and walking like huddled penguins trying to get to the escalators. I hate how hot it gets even in the middle of winter when you’re already wearing all your warmest clothes. I hate the inevitable associations I get to cattle when we’re all herded into the lifts at Covent Garden station.

Rant over. Because, like most Londoners I know, I actually can’t imagine living here without the Tube. Its accessibility and constant service has probably spoiled me for life. Wherever I go, I get horrified if I have to wait more than two minutes for any kind of public transportation. I’ve lost the ability to plan ahead (to the extent I ever had it) because I never have to factor in how long I have to wait because there’s always a train.

In the 151 years of its existence, the London Underground has become an integral part of the city. It has gone from serving 40,000 people on its very first day of operation in 1863, to up to 4 million passengers a day in 2014.

However, the Tube does not just play an important role in keeping Londoners moving, it also affects other areas of people’s lives. During the Tube strikes in April 2014, BVA BDRC conducted a very informal quick poll* where we asked Londoners how the strike had affected their travel interactions that day. According to our poll, 12% of those we asked made a new friend that day, and there’s the possibility of some blossoming romances as well, with 9% of respondents saying they got a date. (However for the sake of balance, it should be mentioned that people reported more than a couple of fights as well).

Londoners: how has the tube strike affected your travel interactions today?
Asked on 1-2 Apr, 2014.
Answered by 445 people.
The strikes in April showed us how important the Tube is in keeping London moving. They caused massive disruption to travellers across the city, who packed themselves onto crowded Tubes and buses, or used alternative methods of transport.
In October, BVA BDRC conducted another informal poll among Londoners to see what alternative modes of transport they planned to use in case another potential strike were to happen (thankfully it never did!).

Londoners: another 48 hour strike on the London Underground might go ahead from the 14th to 16th October. What alternative methods of transport are you considering to use next week?
Asked on 13-19 Oct, 2014.
Answered by 1782 people.
Whilst walking, cycling or getting the bus were all popular alternatives, we applaud those who would rather use their penny-farthing or roller skates to get to work, not to mention those brave souls who will risk London traffic on their Segway.

Perhaps the most interesting point to come out of this research (in addition to the debate about where you’d store your canoe if you paddled to work) was the fact that many would still travel on the Tube even during a strike. It is possible that many simply have no other workable alternative, but I wonder how much can be put down to the incredibly professional and friendly London Underground staff during the last strike. In my personal experience, even though the strike caused significant hassle, the staff who were there to keep skeleton services going did their best to get people to their destinations as quickly and hassle free as possible, despite the adverse conditions. They were calm, informative, and often injected some much-needed humour into the situation via loudspeaker announcements. I think we need to be grateful for this.

There’s more excitement in store for the London Underground than just dating and fights. With the announcement of the 24 hour service and new, driverless trains (with air conditioning!), I think the expectations of Londoners are only going to be raised even higher in the future – and I’m looking forward to it.

Although – on second thoughts – I’m wondering if the introduction of driverless trains means we’re no longer going to experience any of those personalised announcements over the speakers that we love? Perhaps we’ll get more celebrity guest stars, as in the great idea last week as part of London Poppy Day.

If you have any memorable announcements you’ve heard on a Tube, train or bus journey, we’d love to hear them – please email us at

*We pride ourselves on the rigour and depth of our market research – MRS Code of Conduct, ISO 20252, IQCS and more. Very occasionally we run quick polls for fun. Like this one. We absolutely guarantee that this is not to the same high standards of statistical significance and strategic insight of our normal projects!