Mobile Connectivity on the Tube

MQT on 2014-09-17
Session date: 
September 17, 2014
Question By: 
Gareth Bacon
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


It has been confirmed that TfL is planning to allow mobile phone use whilst in tunnels on Crossrail trains. Tfl also suggests that they will evaluate the success of the Crossrail initiative before rolling out across the tube network. This means the technology will not even be considered until well after 2018. Bearing in mind that my report 'Calling All Stations' found that TfL is already well behind other major systems in terms of connectivity, does the Mayor believe that waiting almost a decade for such a system is an unnecessary delay?


Answer for Mobile Connectivity on the Tube

Answer for Mobile Connectivity on the Tube

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Gareth, thank you very much.  Thanks for your report, Calling All Stations, about trying to improve mobile connectivity.  All I would say is ‘yes’. 

This is, by the way, not popular with everybody.  Not everybody wants people talking on the Tube on their mobiles.  Actually, I wonder whether all Assembly Members want people to be able to talk on the Tube with their mobiles.  Does everybody want people to talk on the Tube? 

Kit Malthouse AM:  No, but I would like to be able to talk on the Tube. 

[Overspeaking from Assembly Members.] 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Wait.  Actually, this is very important.  Sorry, hang on --  

Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  Order. Exciting and interesting though this is, we ask you the questions on this occasion. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes, I know, but to some extent I have to do your will.  I have to listen to what you have to say.  I want to know.  You are the tribunes of the people of London.  Do you want people talking on the Tube or not?  Come on.  You are the elected representatives. 

Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  We have stopped the clock. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  All those in favour of people being able to talk on the Tube the full time, show, please. 

Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  We have stopped the clock. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  All those against? 

Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  We have stopped the clock. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Who is against it? 

Tom Copley AM:  You are not on a game show now.

Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  Can you have a shot at answering the question? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  They do not even have the courage to give their opinions!  They are spineless!  What is the point of it?  People will ask them.  There they are.  People will ask what the point of this regional Assembly is if they cannot even bother to show the people of London what they think.  Anyway, never mind. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  We are going to go ahead with a programme of rolling out Wi-Fi on the tube.  We have already done 144 stations and 99% of the deep stations, the Underground stations, have been done.  A further 27 aboveground stations have been done.  We are looking at a way of putting voice telephony on the whole network, although I have no idea of what the Labour Members of the London Assembly think because they are too wet to say; totally wet.  We will nonetheless go ahead in spite of this democratic deficit at the heart of the Labour Assembly Members.  We will go ahead and try to extend it.  It will cost hundreds of millions, Gareth, to put voice telephony on the Tube and we need to find a way of doing that in co-operation with some commercial concern.  

Gareth Bacon AM:  Thank you, Mr Mayor.  A number of points there; firstly, talking is one form of communication.  Text, email and the internet are others.  The lack of mobile connectivity on the Tube discounts all of those things.  

On the point you just made about hundreds of millions, it is costing New York £127 million and they are in partnership with a commercial supplier to do that, and that is to outfit the entire network.  London is considerably behind that.  TfL, when Calling All Stations was issued last year, welcomed the report and made pleasant-ish sounding noises about it but they, as usual in many instances, are really dragging their heels over this.  What they have actually said, which is in the question, is that they will not consider doing it until after Crossrail is introduced in 2018, because they want to see how the infrastructure works there.  Bearing in mind that cities like New York are considerably ahead of us now, why should London have to wait such a long time before they – 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  As I say, from a standing start in 2010, we have done huge numbers of stations.  We are trying to install Wi-Fi throughout the network.  

The difference between London and New York is very simple, which is that we did it first.  We built the first Tube network in the world.  We have huge numbers of tunnels that are frankly very very constricted, where putting in things like Wi-Fi and air conditioning is technically tricky and expensive.  That is the problem that we face but we are making vast progress in overcoming it. 

Gareth Bacon AM:  They have actually taken steps to put Wi-Fi into 92 of the 260 Tube stations.  Wi-Fi is a static technology. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Where?  In London? 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Yes, in London, in the Tube. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  In London it is 144. 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Wi-Fi is a static technology, Mr Mayor.  It is not mobile communication.  It is good if you are in a station that happens to have Wi-Fi and you can receive a signal, but it is no good on the trains.  What we are talking about doing is being able to bounce a signal along so that people sitting in trains can communicate.  The technology does exist and it is not anywhere near as expensive as TfL is indicating.  Will you agree to ask them to have another look at this and speed up their implementation schedule? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I think they have gone very fast.  The number of stations, as far as I can see, is the 144 that we have done already.  That is quite considerable.  We need obviously to get on with it.  When you are talking about a programme that is going to cost hundreds of millions of pounds, I need to think about bearing down on fares and I need to think about the need to get in a private sector contractor that will see a business case for doing it. 

Gareth Bacon AM:  You have a point, Mr Mayor, which I do agree with, but the hundreds of millions of pounds estimate I do not agree with.  I think that perhaps we could take this up offline -- 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Gareth, if you are in with Huawei or some big telecoms company that can do this for a fraction of that amount, then be my guest.  Show us the way.  Let us have a conversation. 

Gareth Bacon AM:  The way is in New York, Mr Mayor.  TfL could pick the phone up and speak to counterparts in New York City and ask them how they did it. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I have made the point about New York.  New York has a very different underground system.  They do not have the technical problems; they do not have the narrowness of the tunnels; they do not have many of the issues which we face.  There is no very clear lesson from New York. 

Gareth Bacon AM:  When we met with TfL when the report was issued, Mr Mayor, the technology was available then.  They acknowledged that they had not really covered it in their response.  The technology is still available now and it is being adapted.  The technology is there, Mr Mayor, and it does not cost hundreds of millions of pounds. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I have said what I have said.  It is extremely expensive to do it.  Huge parts of the Underground network are over-ground in any event.  You can use texting or voice telephony even on those stretches of the Tube, as you know.  I cannot remember what proportion of the Tube is over-ground.  I think it is about 75% or something like that.  Most of the Underground is over-ground already.  

To get voice telephony on the Underground is highly expensive.  I want to do it.  We wanted to do it before the Olympics.  It turned out that the bill was colossal and that no mobile company, no provider, was willing to foot it.  We have to work out whether we can do it ourselves and whether it is actually that imperative to do it.  It is not clear from the answers I am getting today that actually there is the level of political support for putting voice telephony on the Underground, and whether people actually want to be sitting next to somebody who is yacking away.  I do not know.  As I say, the oracle is dumb!  Here I am sitting, waiting for the tribunes of the people to speak and they offer no guidance.  

Gareth Bacon AM:  OK, this tribune of the people is offering guidance. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  You are in favour.  I admire and respect you, Gareth, because you are willing to nail your colours to the mast.  Where are the rest of them?