Memorandum by the London Borough of Wandsworth
OVERCROWDING ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT
The Council has for a number of years been promoting
a sustainable transport strategy. A key element of this has been
the promotion of public transport services as a viable alternative
to the private car. The success of this strategy depends on there
being adequate capacity available on public transport and services
that are attractive to use. Overcrowding is a major deterrent
to achieving this shift.
It is well known that commuter trains into London
are overcrowded. However, perhaps less well known is that local
train services appear to be more crowded than longer distance
services, and therefore the misery and discomfort for passengers
is greater on these services. This is partly due to the fact that
local trains are designed for higher densities of occupancy, and
also due to guidelines in the railway industry which regard it
as acceptable for passengers to stand for up to about 20 minutes
on a journey. Such practices tend to favour the longer distance
commuter, contrary to the generally accepted wisdom of the need
to encourage sustainable travel by reducing the length of journeys.
Wandsworth is crossed by three mainline railways:
(1) Waterloo to Wimbledon/Surbiton/WokingSouth
Coast & West Country.
(2) Waterloo to Richmond/Twickenham/HounslowReading.
(3) Victoria to East Croydon/Gatwick AirportSouth
All these routes carry both mainline and local
services, and are apparently running to capacity in the peak hours.
Consequently morning peak travellers into London joining trains
in this Borough have complained of extreme difficulty boarding,
and have on occasions been unsuccessful. There have been reports
of having to travel out from London to a station where there is
more opportunity to board a train back into London. This has occurred,
for example, at Wandsworth Town Station, where commuters have
had to travel out to Putney to board trains back into Waterloo.
Such detours increase travel times and merely shift the overcrowding
problem around between stations.
Particular difficulties are experienced at interchanges
such as Clapham Junction and Balham, where a large number of passengers
need to alight, but are hindered in doing so by large numbers
trying to board. This results in pushing, shouting and frayed
tempers. At Clapham Junction it can only be a matter of time before
there is a serious incident, which could be fatal if someone was
to fall into the gap between the train and the platform.
Inside the trains it is often difficult, or
even impossible, for passengers to reach the doors to leave the
train at intermediate stations, due to the number of standing
passengers crowding gang-ways and doorways. The difficulties are
particularly intense when some services are operated unexpectedly
with four coaches instead of the usual eight, usually with no
explanation, or when there have been delays and/or cancellations.
Overcrowding is particularly frustrating for
local travellers as they see long distance trains speeding past
with spare capacity. Requests to operators to introduce extra
stops on these services seldom meet with success, partly it is
argued because this might reduce the capacity of the overall network.
Similarly requests for additional services normally meet with
the same response. It is understood that proposals by South West
Trains (SWT) to increase the number of trains on the Windsor Lines
through Putney and Wandsworth Town have been put back by at least
another year due to the difficulties with renewing their franchise.
Again, proposals by SWT to lengthen local trains and station platforms
appear to be in doubt for the same reason and due to shortage
of SRA funds.
The depressing conclusion is that there appears
to be no immediate prospect of relief from overcrowding, particularly
in view of the SRA's recent exhortations to operators to cut costs.
As the existing network is seemingly unable
to expand to cater for existing demand, the only prospect to relieve
overcrowding would appear to be the construction of new infrastructure.
Three proposals in particular are eagerly awaited: South London
Metro, the extension of the East London Line to Clapham Junction
and Crossrail 2.
South London lacks the high capacity Tube network
found in North London, and South London Metro was proposed to
address this problem by the relatively inexpensive option (compared
to the cost of new Underground Lines) of increasing the frequencies
of local train services on existing routes. However, unless funds
are committed to improve track and station capacity, it is feared
that the project is going to degenerate into just a re-branding
exercise for existing train services.
The East London Line Extensions would increase
orbital capacity around South London and take the pressure off
radial routes through existing London termini. The route to Clapham
Junction would contribute towards an "Orbirail" service
around London via the West London Line. However, whilst it is
understood that the project is poised to start, it has been delayed
by objectors in the Bishopsgate area.
Crossrail 2 used to be known as the Chelsea-Hackney
Line. Whilst it is the most ambitious of the proposals to relieve
overcrowding, it has the potential to have the greatest impact
on doing so, by providing a completely new route through Central
London. It is very frustrating that the project is developing
so slowly, with no agreement yet on routes or even a firm timetable
for developing the project.
The lack of urgency in developing these projects
merely confirms the impression that there is no immediate prospect
of relieving overcrowding on train services.
Overcrowding at stations is particularly serious
at Clapham Junction where large numbers of interchanging passengers
mix with substantial flows entering and leaving the station. These
difficulties are exacarbated by the narrow main entrance through
a shopping mall off St John's Hill, and narrow subways and staircases
to platforms. The presence of automatic ticket barriers at the
"throat" of the subway creates additional congestion
inside the subways, particularly when the barriers malfunction.
There are no convenient facilities for passengers with disabilities
or heavy luggage. It can only be a matter of time before there
is a serious accident in these crowded conditions.
It is very frustrating that various schemes
for station enhancements and improvements have largely come to
nothing. The latest proposals from SWT are no exception. The Council
has therefore embarked on an "Exemplar" Study"
of Clapham Junction to look at ways of improving interchange and
relieving overcrowding. As part of this it is proposing to promote
with SWT, SRA, and Transport for London (TfL) the re-opening of
another entrance onto St John's Hill via Brighton Yard, providing
access onto the wide footbridge rather than the congested subways.
This access route would cater for those with disabilities, and
should be combined with the provision of lifts onto platforms.
These works should also be linked to improvements on the northern
side of the station, particularly those likely to be required
from extending the East London Line. It is currently proposed
that funding for the Council and SWT's improvements will be secured
via a Rail Passenger Partnership,and discussions are progressing
on this basis.
Overcrowding problems on the Underground are
similar to those on the National Rail network, particularly on
the District Line to/from Wimbledon. On this route morning peak
trains into London are often full before they reach Putney, only
half way through their journey into town. In the evening peak
it is difficult to board District Line or Northern Line trains
back to the Borough from Central London.
Overcrowding on buses occurs on a smaller scale
to that on the railways, despite the fact that London Buses have
introduced several new or enhanced routes recently. This is partly
due to the rate of passenger growth of approximately 7.5% per
annum. London Buses expect patronage to continue to grow, reinforced
by the introduction of congestion charging next year, which TfL
estimate will result in an increase of 7,000 people travelling
by bus into the congestion charging zone in the busiest hour.
There is great concern that there will be insufficient capacity
in the peak hours to deal with this increase, even allowing for
further planned enhancements to services.
Overcrowding is particularly intense on journeys
used by school children. This form of overcrowding can be very
unpleasant if the children misbehave, and there are occassions
when bus drivers refuse to stop at points where groups of children
are waiting. This problem with school children not only makes
bus services unreliable, but can be very intimidating to other
users. It can only really be resolved by the provision of additional
buses for boisterous children and/or supervision of children using
As suggested above, overcrowding can be very
stressful and intimidating for nervous or disabled travellers.
It also causes delays, wasted time and frustration, which leads
in turn to friction and anger between passengers. No doubt this
affects travellers' health and well-being, and certainly reduces
the quality of urban life.
The Government's objectives of encouraging people
out of their cars and concentrating new residential development
into existing urban and "brownfield sites" can only
intensify these problems of overcrowding. If their objectives
are to be realised, some serious investment in public transport
in London is required.