Woman with long brown hair looking at phone screen while riding on the London underground.

Women on the pros and cons of being able to use the internet on the Tube

For many Londoners, a commute on the Tube is usually primetime to unplug from the internet and get lost in a book. According to an announcement by Sadiq Khan, all London Underground stations will have permanent 4G connectivity by 2024. Here’s what frequent commuters think about the upcoming changes.

One of Sadiq Khan’s re-election platforms was the promise that he “would deliver 4G throughout the Tube network.” Well, the London mayor who was re-elected last month is set to deliver on his promise with the announcement that London’s entire Tube network is scheduled to have mobile coverage by the end of 2024.

According to Transport for London (TfL) the work will be rolled out in stages. Priority stations including Bank, Oxford Circus, Euston and Tottenham Court Road will be first to receive full coverage by the end of 2022. The news comes after last year’s pilot of 4G coverage on the Jubilee line between Westminster and Canary Wharf proved successful.

While permanent internet connection underground does sound like a great upgrade for Londoners, for those who’ve enjoyed a reprieve from their daily commute, it sounds like a not so subtle inducement from the government to hurry back to the pre-pandemic way of life. So, we asked the women who frequently use the Tube what they really think about being unable to unplug from the internet while underground.

 “While working from home has meant I no longer commute to work for the time being, the idea that I’ll be able to get full signal on the Tube is filling me with a strange sort of existential dread. I know that I’ll get back to commuting at least part-time in the future, and knowing that I’ll be able to log in to my emails, scroll through social media and be contactable for those 15 minutes I’m underground is enough to make me feel tired. 

 You see, when I used to commute, those 15 minutes offered a much-needed break from ‘always on’ culture and the impulse to check my emails and reply to messages on my way to and from the office. As much as I talk about the value of switching off and taking time for yourself, it’s easier said than done, and when that connection is available, it’s all too easy to find yourself logging in to check ‘one more thing’ and slipping back into that work headspace. 

That’s why, for me, the news that the Tube will have full mobile connection by the end of 2024 is more than a little bittersweet. I understand why it’s happening, and I’m sure there will be plenty of times when I’m grateful for its existence, but I can’t help but feel that I’ll be losing that brief period of enforced respite from everything going on above ground.”

Lauren Geall, 24

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“I didn’t think I’d have strong feelings about something like this, but I do. I really liked the downtime I had on the Tube when I had a daily commute. It felt like the only time I wouldn’t be on my phone – having no connection gave me a reason to put my phone down. 

“It does sound like it’ll be more useful than the current mobile connection though. When you’re meeting someone, you can easily let them know where you are or if you’re running late, rather than rushing to connect to WiFi in-between stations as we do now.”

Faran Dhaliwal, 25  

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“Although I do enjoy some screen-free time on the Tube to catch up on reading, this experience is often interrupted by the fear of male harassment and violence. This kind of interruption is not unique to the London underground, but not being able to share my location with my friends and let them know what’s happening is. Research from Visible found that almost two-thirds of young women surveyed had suffered harassment on the Tube network, with 32% of these women having also experienced racism on the London Underground too.

There has been more than one occasion where I’ve found myself alone on an empty Tube carriage with a creepy man trying to talk to me and this experience feels particularly isolating without the ability to contact people digitally and, personally, this has definitely been a deterrent for taking the Tube especially late at night. Because of this, the introduction of 4G on the Tube is only a positive thing for me.

However, I do wish that TfL would also acknowledge how important this could be for women’s safety – particularly Sadiq Khan who promised to prioritise this – instead of focussing on productivity and ‘staying connected’. Practical solutions to end male violence against women, like 4G on the Tube, are great but, as Stylist’s Fearless Future campaign explores, for real change to happen, we need the people in power to start having these conversations publicly.”

Alice Porter, 22

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Here’s what women on Twitter had to say…

Images: Getty / Westend61

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