The London Tube strike is about Digital Disruption

 In digital disruption

Today’s 48 hour London Tube Strike is about digital disruption.

Take the politics out of the argument (London’s Mayor Boris Johnson wants to close a number of ticket offices and redeploy London Underground staff elsewhere), and the reason the RMT union has called a strike today is because technology is changing how Londoners buy train tickets.

oyster-cardLondon’s Oyster Card was introduced nearly 11 years ago in July 2003, well before the iPhone and many other devices and services we take for granted.  The card uses RFID technology to allow you to enter and exit tube (subway) stations in London by simply tapping the card on a reader – much like when many of us enter a building with our ID cards.

The Oyster system allows you to buy tickets in advance and removes the need for paper tickets completely. Some bank cards also have Oyster technology embedded into them so you can use your card as an Oyster card.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Oyster system has revolutionised London travel and is the envy of many transport systems around the world.

The main thrust of the argument that promoted the 48 hour strike (and you can see a full on argument between the Mayor Boris Johnson and RMT leader Bob Crow below) is that technology has overtaken the need to have ticket offices open all the time, and London needs to move with the times.

Like millions of Londoners this morning, my journey to work was disrupted (many lines were still working as they have been staffed by non-union members), but as Londoners are used to these mindless strikes, the “blitz spirit” seems to prevail and we get to work and on with our business.


Every industry is being disrupted by digital and social.  My view is you either adapt to the change and embrace it, or go out of business as has happened to companies like HMV and Jessops.

I don’t think Londoners will tolerate many more of these strikes by the RMT, especially when they are being prompted by advances in technology that make our lives easier – as the Oyster card does.

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Based in London, Practical Futurist and former Global Managing Partner at IBM, Andrew Grill is a popular and sought-after presenter and commentator on issues around digital disruption, workplace of the future and new technologies such as blockchain. Andrew is a multiple TEDx and International Keynote Speaker.