Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting the Transport for London nerve centre in south London. It was exciting enough for me, an editor on a fact-finding mission, but imagine being a transport or computer geek.
Earnest, focused staff with more computer terminals on their desks than a City trader, sit facing a wall of digital screens to rival a Bond villain’s lair. In one place you can see most of the capital’s major arteries, and then go hyper-local as little red blobs nudge around a digitised A to Z of its veins. These are not Monopoly icons, but every one of London’s red buses. Most major cities contain a secret room like this – one where you have to go through a security pod to gain access.
We gazed at the empty desks and blank screens where the London 2012 staff had been, and soon the Thatcher funeral and London Marathon teams will sit. We listened to operators trying to redirect bus drivers around traffic incidents. And, we heard tales of deaths under Tube trains and violent assaults on staff.
What awesome responsibilities some people carry every day at work. Imagine the stress of sitting in any traffic control centre – air traffic being the worst. Never mind the conflicting interests of pedestrian, driver and cyclist, add in the complexities of police, business and politicians’ needs.
I thought of Angela, my tiny battleship of a cousin who, aged 50-ish, took the onerous course and became a bus driver. What tales she has: yes, of scary abuse, but also of small, daily kindnesses that many perform un-noticed.
So, as you travel to work or the shops tomorrow, be nice to your driver or ticket office worker. Be kind to the guy who is trying to sort out your replacement bus service even. Based on the complexity of what I saw yesterday it’s extraordinary that any of us gets anywhere on time; it is a miracle of logistics and dedicated hard work that most of us do.