The Benefit of Tube Strikes

RauchtubeBrasenose College Economics tutor, Dr Ferdinand Rauch, has co-authored a paper which suggests that Tube strikes could actually have long-term benefits for some commuters. So, how is this surprising conclusion reached? The research looks at the commuting patterns of those who work in the capital, before and after a Tube strike occurs, and compares the behaviour of commuters scuppered by the strike and those that were not. They gathered four weeks of data from 18,000 commuters using information from anonymous Oyster Cards and other ticket and travel data sources, and employed econometrics to analysis the figures. Their analysis shows that on strike day 75% of commuters changed routes, either because stations were shut or congestion meant their normal travel lines were unattractive. But once the strike was over about 5% of the group stuck with the new route they adopted during the strike. Thus, they argue, many commuters took a sub-optimal route before a Tube strike helped them realize the error of their ways. Although switching routes often only made a difference of a few seconds, over a few years the time saved would build up to equate to more than the time lost due to the original Tube strike. Even more surprising is that, according to their analysis, the time saved for those that switched routes was enough to produce an overall net benefit for all commuters, mainly because the gains, although only directly affecting a few, were much longer-term than the short-term costs felt by many.

The research goes on to provide some theories to explain why commuters were often travelling on a sub-optimal route before a Tube strike forced them to experiment and discover better options. One theory is that the famous and acclaimed Tube map, designed by Harry Beck in 1933, includes misleading distortions that could lead to commuters making unwise travel choices. Another theory is that some commuters would unwittingly travel on slow lines, ignorant of this until an event such as a Tube strike forced them to experiment with alternative routes.

Read more about this research in an Economist article, with more detail here.

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