London Underground Strike Proves The Benefits of Forced Experimentation

Most people would see a strike causing public transportation to partially close as an inconvenience. Well, Shaun Larcom, Ferdinand Rauch and Tim Willems aren’t most people. These three researchers saw it as an opportunity to study the effects, and the results they got show just how beneficial forced experimentation can be.

A considerable number of commuters permanently changed their old routes with the ones that they used during the strike. That’s because they were forced to try new routes until things went back to normal, and they realized that there were better ways of traveling than the ones they were previously using.

The context of the study

On the 5th and 6th of February 2015, the Rail Maritime Transport union had a strike that closed down 171 of the 270 tube stations of the London underground network. Several stations were only partially closed as they connected multiple lines, so only some were completely closed. The trio used these lines in their study.

This strike was the perfect environment for the researchers, as it was short in length, so there was no time for people to develop new habits. Also, there hadn’t been another one for a long time. Both of these facts helped in gathering accurate data on the behavior of the commuters when forced to try new routes to get to their destinations.

The basis of the study

The subjects of the study were commuters who used Oyster Cards and clearly took the same route every day up until the strike. Because of the cards they used, the researchers knew which stations they used and how long their commute was. The number of people that fit this description and used the network during the 7 A.M. to 10 A.M. interval were approximately 18.000.

The researchers studied the routes that these people took before, during and after the strike, and how much time they spent commuting.

What has the forced experimentation study revealed

The most glaring result was that after the strike ended, 5% of the subjects didn’t return to their usual route. Instead, they continued to use the route they experimented with during the strike.

You might say that 5% isn’t much, but remember the large number of people observed for the study and the fact that only certain stations were closed. If, for example, another strike took place and other stations would have been affected, we would have seen a different group of people permanently changing routes.

This forced experimentation phase has had a positive effect on those 5%, because they would never had experimented with the route they took on their own. That’s because looking for alternatives generally takes time and people usually compromise before trying out all their options.

The effects of imperfect information

Another problem that Londoners face is the fact that the metro map is inaccurate. What I mean is that the map doesn’t correctly represent the distance between stations. The further away the stations were from central London, the worse the accuracy was, and because of this misinformation, many commuters didn’t choose the best route they could.

The effects of travel time

Out of those who did change their routes post-strike, a large number were commuters who traveled on slower lines. These passengers didn’t take into account their travel speed and, thanks to the forced experimentation, they realized that certain longer routes can actually take less time.

The interpretation

The commuters who changed routes saved on average 40 seconds a day during and after the strike, while the other 95% lost about four and a half minutes during the strike.

While the immediate effects were clearly negative, because it subjected commuters to forced experimentation, the strike ended up improving the overall efficiency of the underground network.


Another clear result is that people end up using sub optimal routes because of the lack of information. While aspects such as crowdedness can’t be easily fixed, if the map better showed the distance between stations and the speed of the line, efficiency would go up.

The results of the study

The general conclusion is that people underestimate the benefits that experimentation brings. This was clear in the case of the commuters, but the same can be said for people everywhere.

The London Underground ended up being more efficient because of a strike, which is a pretty unexpected result. This means that with care and guidance, forced experimentation could be used in different situations in order to greatly boost productivity.

The study itself is very interesting and includes many facts that you might not know. That’s why I think you should give it a read. Chances are that your daily routine can be greatly improved through experimentation. Let’s just hope that it won’t be forced.

Did you find the study interesting? What do you think about all this? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below. 

If you’d like to learn more about connected cars, check out the other articles on my blog.

Philipp Kandal