Discover more from London in Bits
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
Is it an air-conditioned train?
Welcome to your free Monday edition of LiB. Today we try and work out why you’re more likely to see flying cars in the skies of London before you experience the joys of a nicely chilled Tube carriage (plus there’s a bit of a surprise update in the TfL funding saga).
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Prepare for lift off
In our first issue of 2022 we asked the question “Will London have flying taxis by 2024?”.
Specifically, we were looking at the spurious claims of British startup Autonomous Flight and their founder, Martin Warner. As far as AF is concerned, their website is still a mishmash of computer-generated images and one video of a decidedly non-airborne ‘prototype’. The company’s Twitter account hasn’t been updated since January.
Elsewhere though the race to turn London into a Jetsons-style wonderland is definitely heating up.
Specifically, the airline will operate flights of VA’s VX4 ‘four-passenger flying taxi’ from Bristol airport to a ‘vertiport’ at Heathrow (a second route will go from Bristol to “an airfield elsewhere in the southwest,”).
Yes, that’s the same Heathrow airport that recently had to beg airlines to stop selling tickets so they could try and deal with the “chaos” engulfing the airport (huge queues, lost luggage, delays, cancellations etc). Although, the project has been awarded £9.5 million from the government’s Future Flight Challenge, so that should go some way to making sure things run smoothly.
In terms of timings, the Future Flight Challenge has a plan that “sets out how air taxis could be in use in the UK by 2030,” but even they admit that “a lot needs to occur for that to happen”.
Coming up on Wednesday… ☕️
We take a trip to the Partisan Coffee House, the cafe that put Soho at the centre of radical politics and where intellectual debate came with a side order of Whitechapel Cheesecake.
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It seems only right that, before London gets flying cars, it should work out how to cool the Tube down to an acceptable temperature.
Last week commuters on the Underground “had to endure temperatures deemed too hot to safely transport cattle,” as the mercury on the Central and Northern lines hit the 30 degrees mark.
There is a reason that most of the Tube lines don’t have any air conditioning, and it’s pretty much the same reason that driverless trains will never happen: There’s no room for any of the gear.
As Engineering & Technology explained back in summer of last year, “The oldest tunnels were constructed in the Victorian era and were built just 3.6m wide. This leaves little space for the train carriages themselves, never mind additional equipment like air conditioning systems.”
At the end of last week though, TfL announced they had begun testing a whole new method of cooling the Underground.
On a disused platform at Holborn there is now “a state-of-the-art cooling panel” that circulates cold water around pipework to chill it and then an industrial-sized fan blows through some gaps in the panel. It’s essentially a bigger, more expensive version of putting a bowl of ice in front of that crappy desk fan you bought off Amazon in readiness for last week’s heatwave.
If the trials at Holborn are successful then the plan is to try it on a working platform at Knightsbridge and then get the system installed at four stations on the Piccadilly line (Green Park, Holborn, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus).
But, as with everything that involves TfL right now, a rollout of the technology to other lines would be reliant on some kind of long-term funding deal from the government… Which is why there’s a very good chance London will get flying cars before it gets a Tube fit for transporting cattle.
UPDATE: Grant Shapps tweeted this at the end of the week, so maybe we’ll get a nippy Piccadilly line sooner than we think:
5 little bits
One other bit of Transport upgrade news: Victoria station is going to get a £30m refurb in a bid to “reduce congestion” on the platforms and ticket gates. In what will come as a huge blow to mid-range baguette fans, Upper Crust will disappear along with some other retail units in order to “create more space on the concourse and increase the number of ticket gates from 86 to 111.” Work is due to start in September and is due to finish at the end of 2023.
Mashable has a video showing how half of the seven million tonnes of soil that was dug up to make way for Crossrail, was shipped over to the Essex coast to build sea defences, and restore lagoons and mudflats so a new bird sanctuary could be created.
According to Reuters London is not as attractive to “corrupt Russian elites” as it once was. That’s thanks mainly to the National Crime Agency and their ‘Combatting Kleptocracy Cell’, which now has the power to crack down on ‘enablers’ “who help hide and move illicit money, from estate agents and lawyers to auction houses and security companies”.
One thing we forgot to mention in our Weekend Roundup on Saturday: A fundraiser has been organised for the Brixton Market traders affected by the huge fire that broke out there a couple of weeks ago. As we write this they’ve raised over £22,000. The money will go to the Brixton Market Traders’ Federation to help traders with their rent, bills and living costs and to replace their stock.
At the beginning of the year Shannon Tebay, the first female Head Bartender at the Savoy’s American Bar in nearly a century, left the position after just a few months, saying she had been unable to align her “vision and goals” with those of the establishment. A few weeks ago The American Bar got a new (female) Head Bartender in Chelsie Bailey, but there’s still a lot of work to do at the hotel according to this Guardian article, which claims “a mass exodus of staff” (they made hundreds redundant during lockdown) has left the hotel “shaken and stirred”.