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NATS for the Tube (and CBRE researchers?)

by | Oct 27, 2016

Three connected things happened to me this week. Firstly, the Government opted for the expansion of Heathrow Airport. Secondly, the fine men and women of CBRE’s research team moved from one floor of our office to another. And thirdly, I apologised to a man on the tube.

Yes, let’s start with the man on the tube. Like many other considerate London commuters on packed tube trains, he happened to be standing by the door. If you are standing by the door, sensible people know that the fastest way to let people off the train is to get off yourself, let other people off and then get back on. Unfortunately, on this occasion those getting off the train (including me) were so chaotic in exiting the train, and took so long over it, that the doors closed with our unfortunate Good Samaritan still on the platform, and the train left without him. I felt compelled to apologise.

Transport for London, which deals (daily) with over a million people exhibiting this sort of mule-like stupidity, does try and tackle the inefficiency it creates. Cute posters exhorting people to “let people off the train first” and “move along inside” are evidence that real capacity gains can be achieved by changing the way people are drilled to behave in crowded situations. Sometimes it’s tough to change these behaviours, as an ill-fated attempt to stop people walking up escalators showed. But when it works, big increases infrastructure capacity can be achieved.

Thus, to Heathrow (about which my colleague Andrew Marston writes here). Heathrow is one of the world’s most operationally complex airports. Runway time is in huge demand. Every second counts. The capacity constraints it faces inspire all sorts of ingenious solutions to maximise the number of people who can fly in and out. The same is true of Gatwick, the busiest single-runway airport in the world, and that’s without adding Luton, City, Northholt and Stansted into the mix. But obviously it’s risky for London’s skies to be a tube-style scrum, hence the need for our National Air Traffic Service(NATS).

Finally, to our office restack. We have 1.2 people in our team for every desk, which means that we rely on some shuffling and coordination in order to ensure that everyone can get a desk every day. Employers increasingly want to minimise their real estate footprint while maximising their employee wellbeing. So like NATS and TfL, we have to develop a set of protocols and customs (let’s not call them rules) to achieve this, and we’re having an active debate in our office about what those should be.

All three events show that when you are capacity constrained, you need to work harder at maximising capacity utilisation. From simple politeness to complex navigational procedures, a whole range of tools can be deployed. We often find the real estate industry calling for ‘more infrastructure’. But maybe it should call for ‘more infrastructure management’ as well?

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