A man followed me home from the tube last Wednesday night. It was about 11.30pm. He had been in my carriage from Warren Street, got off at Highgate, was behind me on the first escalator, behind me on the second escalator up to Archway Road – and as I headed up the hill, I was conscious that so did he.
The few people who had started in the same direction, faded away within the first 100 metres – so it was just he and I. I crossed the road – at a point where the pavement narrowed so it would look like the natural thing to do. So did he. When I came to the turn I needed to take – so did he – albeit once again on the opposite side. I was ready for flight – was looking for which houses had lights on, which doors were near. Suddenly he ran across the road towards me and then, with a spurt of speed, arrived on the pavement ahead of me and accelerated away.
Once he was ahead of me and I had him properly in my sights, I felt OK. And then, of course, he crossed the road and went up a drive, got his keys out of his pocket, opened his front door and went home to hearth and family. He had obviously run to get ahead of me to stop me thinking he was following me. Men and women reading this will probably recognise this situation – a woman thinking she’s being followed and a man knowing that she’s thinking he is following her. That’s the situation we have arrived at because we feel unsafe, going home late at night – whether we are or not.
But while this sort of episode is a regular part of life, it is far too rare to see politicians taking a real interest. It is easy to talk about wanting better public transport – but this means little if it isn’t also backed up with real measures to not just improve buses, tubes and trains, but also to improve safety.
This is just one of the policy areas which the Mayor and London Assembly need to tackle. And public transport isn’t just about the mundane details of life like getting to and from work or food shopping. It is also about giving everyone the chance to enjoy London’s fantastic social, cultural and entertainment opportunities – eating out, cinema, theatre, pub or whatever.
We need to make journeys to and from public transport safer and we need to feel safe when we are on public transport. The safer it becomes the more people will use it – and the more people that use it late at night the safer it becomes. That is to do with attracting more people onto public transport, improving lighting, ensuring our safety whilst on our journey whether through human or technological presences and looking at ways people get home from public transport. It’s not just ‘safe routes to school’ that are needed.
There is a wealth of different policies which need to be brought together, ranging from changing the fares structure for Black Cabs so that there are more cabs available late at night to increasing the resources available to British Transport Police. And how about offering free tube or bus tickets with cinema tickets?
At the moment the Government is spending money hand over fist on expensive private consultants to try and make their plans to privatise the tube add up. That money would be far better spent on improving our tube and making it safer, rather than trying to privatise something not even Mrs. Thatcher wanted to sell off.