Thursday, November 22, 2012

A conflict of information

Farringdon station was pretty crowded Tuesday night. There had been points problems at Aldgate earlier and gaps had appeared in the service. The westbound platform indicators, however,showed a Hammersmith train due shortly, with a couple of trains behind, one of which was to Uxbridge (terminus on the route to beautiful Ruislip). Gladdened at heart, I joined the throng only to have my hopes dashed by the platform assistant who announced, a number of times, that the indicators were wrong and that we should all take the first train and change at Baker Street for points north because there were no following trains.

Now what to do? Useless to check the internet because it would show the same information as the indicators. Which to believe? The Hammersmith was due in 1 minute and the Uxbridge in 2. The announcer continued to tell us that the system "was not in real time". I followed the crowd who packed out the Hammersmith and loads of us emerged at Baker and surged up the steps toward the Metropolitan platforms. Where, not really to my surprise, the Uxbridge that had been behind us all the time came in less than a minute later and half-empty.

I don't suppose the announcer was deliberately lying. I guess they wanted to shift as many people as possible onto the first train. But had I known the truth I would have waited for the Uxbridge, had a seat all the way and not had to make the mad scramble at Baker.

It's these little dilemmas of strategic choice that make travelling on the Underground such a stimulating experience. The weighing up of the alternatives - the likelihood of a seat, the best place to change trains, the best place to be to get the train one wants, the degree of belief one puts in official sources of information be they human or electronic - is this not a mirror for the great choices we must all make in life with the concomitant stresses of decision making and cost-benefit analysis? [Funny, never thought of that before: Ed]

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