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August 21, 2017updated 28 Jul 2021 3:43pm

Six thoughts on YouGov’s polling about London’s tube network

By Jonn Elledge

In the 1998 movie The Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a man who doesn’t realise his whole life is a reality TV show. Seahaven, the town where he lives, is a giant TV set. All the people around him – his parents, his friends, his wife – are merely actors playing parts. As the show enters its fourth decade, the point where the movie begins, Truman is beginning to get the first, tiny inklings that the world around him has been designed for his convenience.

The reason I mention all this is that pollster YouGov has just tweeted out a whole bunch of data showing what Londoners think about the tube.

Here’s what I learned.

1. People don’t want to talk on the tube

Well, I say “learned”. I sort of feel like this wasn’t something I really needed to learn, any more than I need to learn whether smacking myself around the head with a spanner is a good idea or not: it just seems blindingly obvious to me.

Another revelation from the people who brought us confirmation of the religious identity of the Pope: women are even less likely to want random people to chat to them public transport than men. Well I never. The things you learn.

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(Honestly, what is the point of this research? It’s not that I’m complaining, and it’s always nice to have data on these things I guess, but what is the benefit to YouGov, exactly?)

2. A lot of Londoners are lazy

Two in five Londoners prefer to stand on the escalators, against only a third who prefer to walk down.

Shockingly, old people are particularly likely to be lazy, while young ones are more likely to bound around the place like Tigger:

Escalator etiquette shows a clear generational divide. Approaching two thirds (64 per cent) of 65+ year olds generally stand on escalators, compared to just 27% of 18-24 year olds.

This, apparently, explains why old people are less likely to name “standing on the left on escalators” as something that should be a capital crime than their younger neighbours.

(I mean, I suppose they did it for the same reason that we bang on about the tube map here at CityMetric – to whit, it’s basically a form of clickbait. The reason YouGov researched all this is because they knew people would read the bloody thing. Free publicity, innit.)

3. Londoners are also impatient

Although perhaps not as impatient as one might think. Only third of Londoners say that the words “Epping 4 mins” and not want to kick something? Really?

At any rate, apparently two-thirds of Tube users (66 per cent) think five minutes is a long time to be hanging about on the platform.


(Nonetheless: at risk of being like one of those people who hang out on our Facebook page for the express purpose of complaining every time we write about anything trivial, don’t they have anything better to research? What about the welfare crisis? Or Brexit? What about Syria?)

4. Londoners would rather pack themselves like sardines into the same square foot of platform space as 18 other people than take the risk of having to walk along a platform for 30 seconds at the other end

Look at that 53 per cent:

Not sure about this one, if I’m honest, though. Surely the second option (“I deliberately move to one end of the platform or the other”)  overlaps with the first (moving towards where you’ll want to get off the train), which makes me wonder how scientific these numbers actually are.

Also, I’m sorry, but I don’t believe for a second that only 6% of Londoners “tend to stand near the point I entered the platform” because I use the tube and lol, no.

(Mind you, the point of stuff like this is to generate media coverage, right? And here I am, a representative of the media, covering it. So who’s the real villain, I guess.)

5. Londoners like trains best when they’re a bit futuristic

Check out this graph on users’ attitudes to the various different lines.


Those which rate best tend to be those that are all new and shiny. The Jubilee, much of which dates from 1999, with its monumental stations and its platform doors; the computer-controlled DLR; the Overground, a network still less than a decade old.

The Victoria, the second most highly-rated tube line proper, is also the fastest on the network, so without knowing more details, my guess is that its popularity owed much to its speed.

At the bottom of the league table you’ve got the Bakerloo (old and smelly), Central (rammed) and Northern (confusing AND rammed). I’m surprised the slow and rambling sub-surface lines (District, Metropolitan, Circle, H&C) don’t rate worse, but that’s just me. Perhaps impressively, though, every line on the network rates as net positive, with significantly more people liking than disliking it.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, a significant chunk of Londoners – at least 44 per cent of those questioned about each and every line – either have no fixed opinion on a line or, perhaps, think this is a bloody stupid thing to ask questions about. The line generating the least reaction of all is the tiny Waterloo & City, of which under a third of Londoners (29 percent) could be bothered to have any feeling at all.

But my dominant thought on this research is – the reason I brought up Jim bloody Carrey at the start of this thing, is:

6. Was this aimed at me personally?

Look, I don’t want to sound like some kind of egomaniac conspiracy theorist here – I’m actually only one of those things – but I genuinely think it might be.

After all, YouGov has of late been producing a lot of slightly spurious research which is clearly aimed at generating press coverage and social media attention. And Stephen and I have an ongoing public feud about whether the DLR and Overground count as tube lines, which they definitely don’t. (In fact, so inspired was he by YouGov’s latest that he’s sent me 1,000 words on the Piccadilly line – no, really – which you can read tomorrow.)

Not only does the author of this research, Matthew Smith, follow the two of us on Twitter, meaning he plausibly knows about said feud; he even, in another life, produced a graphic for CityMetric.

Which leads me to conclude that Smith:

  1. knew that if he researched this, one tube-obsessed website, at least, would write it up; and

  2. Knew that by including the DLR and Overground in the polling as if they are tube lines (which they definitely aren’t), he was taking Stephen’s side.


Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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