Drinking bans, football and headlines

The new Mayor’s first move in office was to ban the drinking of alcohol on board London’s tube trains. At first this would seem an attractive move in a culture where binge drinking is viewed as a social menace by the populace. However, serious questions need to be asked about where the policy is focussed and crucially, how this is going to be enforced.

There is no doubt that there is a link between alcohol and antisocial behaviour. As a football supporter, I am unfortunately only too well aware of the disturbance and problems that can arise when disappointed and celebrating fans, inhibitions dulled by cans of lager consumed on the train on the way to a match, clash. However, such issues were minimal at the recent Champions League match in Moscow – where the availability of alcohol was restricted and the match passed relatively quietly. Compare and contrast that with the scenes in Fulham Broadway after the same match, where no doubt alcohol had played a part.

So would the booze ban on the tube have prevented this scene? I’d say probably not. And pity the underground staff confronted by large groups of angry football fans arriving on the network already having consumed a skinful. Would you like to be the one to approach them to remove their cans of Stella? Me neither. The Mayor says that underground staff will be supported by the British Transport Police and the Met, but ultimately the burden will fall on train and platform staff which I believe is unfair.

If the ban reduces levels of drunken behaviour in our city then it is to be welcomed, but the practicalities cannot be overlooked. You can try and stop people drinking on the tube, but what about the overground trains, buses, trams, off-licences and pubs? I believe the problem is not actually all about the consumption of alcohol on the tube, but before and after people get on it.

Still, moves to tackle binge drinking are to be welcomed and this is one move the travelling public will appreciate. But will it be backed up with real evidence that the policy is making a difference? I’m not sure it will. Headlines are one thing but substance is another. I believe to make a real difference to the problem of binge drinking and the resulting anti-social behaviour, you’d probably need to ban drinking across the whole of the public transport network. Even then, a more significant problem is drunks getting onto buses and train carriages after a night-out and already inebriated – not passengers opening a drink while getting from A to B. Perhaps an all-out ban will be the Mayor’s next move? Or, given its potential unpopularity and the near-impossibility of policing it without huge investment, perhaps not. Time will tell. Londoners want to be safer. And they want more than just a good headline.