It’s a commonplace enough scene: a mum on the platform with two young children trying to work out whether this is the right tube to jump on. Deciding that it is, she hops on closely followed by her son. Her daughter though is in dreamland, apparently unperturbed and due to the inordinate length of deliberations the doors now start closing. Alert to the danger, two passengers jump out of their seats and with the kind of determination only adrenaline (or perhaps kryptonite) can produce, jam their hands on the near-closed doors. Trouble is that the doors are so near shut that they can’t haul back the doors and reunite the family. So someone shouts out ‘Pull the emergency cord!’ I’d like to say that I’d anticipated this moment but prompted by another’s shrill exclamation, I grasp the lever and the doors are released. The door grabbers are relieved and mother and children are happy again. The only person to be put out by the experience is the tube driver who is very grumpy when I own up to my deed and he arrives to reset the device.
For the remainder of the journey I find myself looking at the lever (emergency cords having gone out of fashion) and then it strikes me: There is something missing. Apologies if this is ancient history but the trains of my youth used to have a sticker above the cord stating somewhat threateningly ‘Penalty for improper use £50’. Now I’m not a brave person (when it comes to being relieved of money) so I’m so glad the sticker was not there. A moment’s hesitation (thinking of the potential financial loss) could have led to a family’s day out being cancelled in utter misery and distress. We so often think of ourselves first and others somewhere after that. So, especially in this big society era we’re entering, I reckon it’s right to incentivise good behaviour. Or at least, to remove the disincentives.