Down the Tube? Up the social ladder

Public transport by name is increasingly exclusive by nature.

Next time you're on the Tube take a look around you. If you think that it's increasingly full of white, business class professionals, it's because it is. According to newly-analysed data from Transport for London, slipping down the underground escalator means taking a step up the social ladder.

The data paints a stark picture of a growing social divide in our city. While richer groups speed to work underground, poorer and more diverse ethnic groups are forced to take the bus. Public transport by name is increasingly exclusive by nature.

The latest figures show that almost four in five of London's Tube users are now managerial and professional workers, and the situation is getting worse.

In 2003, Londoners in the bottom half of the income spectrum made up 28 per cent of Tube users, but in the latest data from 2009, this dropped to 22 per cent.

It is hard not to link these divides to a difference in fares (the cash price for a Zone 1 single fare is now £4). This week I've been talking to cleaners and caterers who cannot afford to use the Tube in the city they call home. Instead they flock to the bus, which remains expensive and problematic.

Take Elena, a cleaner from Columbia who works for £6.08 an hour. She holds down two part time jobs. Without access to the Tube or train, she has to leave her North London home at 5am. Together with hoards of other workers on the minimum wage, she gets a chain of buses before dawn breaks. Her need to travel between jobs means that she spends almost five hours a day travelling for six hours work.

At present Elena pays £68.40 for her monthly bus pass. If she were to buy a full travelcard with Tube access, it would cost £106, approximately one fifth of her monthly wage after tax.

The mayor doesn't seem to get the problem. Since Boris Johnson was elected, the cost of a weekly zone 1-4 travelcard has increased by 23 per cent, and he remains committed to 20 years of above inflation fare increases.

Migrant workers like Elena are particularly likely to be affected. According to TfL's figures, some 39 per cent of bus users are from black and ethnic minority communities compared to 29 percent of Tube users.

Bus dependency also continues to cause massive problems for families. Alberto, another cleaner, says his daughter has to leave the house at 5am with his wife. She waits at her mum's work reading until school opens, and she always arrives tired. Meanwhile Alberto makes his anxious journey across London. If he misses one of his busses or falls asleep, he risks being fired.

"I've seen the transport prices rise like crazy but the salary never increases," he says, "For a salary increase you have to fight. Throughout the years my money buys less and less so I'm encouraging the workers to get organised ... The problem is getting worse."

There are economic consequences too. Transport is the circulatory system of our economy, but workers like Elena have been known to turn down jobs because they are too expensive to get to. It also makes it difficult to make English classes, and it hits women hardest.

London Transport figures

According to the figures -- unavailable online but released by TfL to the New Statesman -- some 78 per cent of Tube users are now from managerial and professional groups, defined as ABC1s.

In contrast, just 22 per cent of Tube users come from C2DE groups associated with the bottom half of the income spectrum. This compares to 37 per cent of bus users who are from this category.

When the Greater London Assembly estimates that roughly half of London's population is in each group, something is clearly out of synch.

Although this decline in diversity was visible when Ken Livingstone was mayor, he's developing policies to buck the trend. If he is elected next year, he says he'd cut fares by 5 per cent in 2012 and freeze them until 2013.

As for Boris Johnson, we don't know what the consequences would be if he won another term in office. Under his watch, TfL have suspended the Underground Users Survey until further notice.

If such a move saves costs, it also buries bad news.

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham

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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage