The End of the Line

We’re famous for queuing in this country. We as a nation have stood proudly in queues for centuries. Our grandparents queued for rations during the Blitz, our fathers queued noisily outside football stadiums, and our mothers queued patiently to go to the toilet in Marks & Spencer. I, myself, am descended from a long line of queuers. However, this great British tradition is now on its last legs.

I often arrive at Finsbury Park Bus Station at the busiest time of day, usually to discover a long line of commuters waiting for the W3 bus. It’s not unusual for there to be 100 people or more politely waiting in line. And every night, when the bus arrives and opens its doors, at least six people walk up to the bus from the opposite direction to the queue, and calmly step onto the bus ahead of everyone else. Indeed, many passengers actually step out of the way in order to make room for them.

No-one says anything. No-one bats an eyelid. There is never a hint of confrontation. And this, of course, is because there is now such a sinister, underlying atmosphere of intimidation and violence on the streets of the capital, that normal law-abiding passengers would now consider it to be a dangerous, even life-threatening act, to stand in the way of a queue jumper. In London it’s safest to assume that most people are carrying knives, and the rest are packing unlicensed handguns. Tell someone to get to the back of the queue in Finsbury Park and you could quite literally end up dead.

Many queue jumpers are what you might expect: Young, arrogant, quietly insolent and wearing a hoodie pulled up over their heads. But there is now a new breed of queue jumper. Respectable, middle-aged, sometimes even elderly. An insidious new underclass of weather-beaten, bitter Londoners who have suddenly realised that they can cynically take advantage of the lack of confrontation at the head of queues, and effortlessly save themselves the trouble of going to the back of the line. These wrinkly renegades seem to have adopted the good old-fashioned attitude of “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

So, why don’t Transport for London do something about this? Signs at bus stops? Posters on the tube? Official sounding Tannoy announcements?

“Queue jumping can lead to confrontation! Please respect your fellow passengers!”

Even better, why don’t bus drivers simply switch off their engines until queue jumpers get off the bus? Like they do if someone tries to get on without paying. The reason is simple. It’s because Transport for London staff don’t respect their passengers either. If they did, they wouldn’t have gone on strike on Boxing Day.

The words “respect” and “disrespect” are frequently banded about nowadays. The problem is that many people no longer have any idea what these words mean. The utter contempt shown to fellow travelers by serial queue jumpers on London Transport is proof of this.

Whether you call it butting, barging, skipping, ditching, or pushing in, like throwing litter, or allowing your dog to foul the pavement, queue jumping should be made a criminal offence in the United Kingdom – punishable by a fine of at least £1000. Because queue jumping is as ugly a form of personal intimidation as threatening behavior or abusive language.

And London Mayor Boris Johnson’s contribution to this problem? He has re-introduced a bus with an open platform on the back, which will make it even easier to jump the queue ahead of your fellow passengers. Nice one Boris. Perhaps he’s contemplating turning queue jumping into an Olympic sport?