I swapped the tube for the bus and it helped to lift my depression

The horror! The horror! Image: Getty.

I’ve been living in London for just over a year, but I’ve got to be honest: I feel like a bit of a fraud.

This is because I don’t worship the underground system that dominates the capital’s transport network. In fact, I think it’s a bit rubbish, really.

Don’t get me wrong – I know how useful the tube is. I’ve always been in awe of the technology that allows us to step into a carriage and zip across the city in next to no time.

But taking certain forms of transport can have a long-term impact on mental health that overshadows the short term convenience. And if there’s one thing that is guaranteed to have no positive effect on those with depression, it’s standing in a dark tunnel on a tube, pressed up against a guy who badly needs to shower, as you cling on for dear life.

The logic is fairly simple: if you spend a chunk of time during each working day stood in cramped, dark conditions, you’re more likely to generally feel down. Spare a thought for the people stuck down there, operating the tubes for hours at a time: in March, City AM reported that Tube drivers were the largest group of staff referred to counselling for stress, anxiety and depression in the 2015-16 period. As Finn Brennan, from the Aslef rail union, said:

“Tube drivers spend eight hours a day working in a small metal box deep underground while coping with the pressure of a demanding job... It’s not surprising that some suffer from stress or depression occasionally.”

“Small metal box” is exactly how I’d started to feel about the underground every time I stepped onto a carriage. After a few months of near-daily tube usage, it became hard to muster the energy to get out of bed in the morning, as the prospect of spending half an hour in a sardine tin on the Central line made me want to slap my alarm off, roll over and throw the duvet over my head.

One afternoon, I finished work to discover that my usual tube station was out of action, and realised I’d need to take a bus instead.

And, taking a seat on the top deck, I was struck by how different I felt. I didn’t feel like I was in a rush. There were no hordes of arrogant people pushing their way past me to get on first. And I could actually sit down, instead of resigning myself to a corner of the carriage that had just about enough room for me to breathe.

After I’d spent some time on the bus watching London speed by, I felt a strange sense of calm. I was reminded of long car journeys as a child, where I’d plug in my Walkman, switch off and stare out of the window at the scenes around me.

An hour later, and my usual feelings of lethargy and listlessness had lifted. Not eradicated, of course: a single bus journey is not a miracle cure. But I definitely didn’t walk into my flat feeling like my only option was to get in bed and refuse to leave until it was time to climb back into a metal box.

Over the last three months, I’ve been shunning the tube wherever I can and taking the bus instead. Now that I’m spending less time rushing to jump onto a metal box, and dedicating more of each day to chill-out time during my commute, my energy levels have risen and the feelings of general sadness don’t crop up as often.

The impact of living in crowded spaces has long been known to have a negative impact on mental health. During an Anxiety UK summit on mental health and transport, Alastair Campbell commented that, “The world of public transport can be an intensely... anxiety-provoking experience.” So many of us feel we have to rush onto crowded carriages each day, often suffering with feelings of melancholy or stress as a result.

Increasing your commute time may not seem like a great prospect, with many Londoners feeling they don’t have time to do anything but dash around – but if you’re generally feeling down and can’t pinpoint why, it’s possible that rushed and cramped travel that’s getting to you.

So take it down a notch: make extra time in the morning to get on a bus instead. Standing outside and breathing in fresh air while you wait, then being almost guaranteed a seat where you can take in your surroundings as you’re driven through London, is a reminder that the city is actually quite pretty.

That’s much better than standing in a box, being hurtled through the dark, then rushing into the office.


Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.