“Mosquitoes” were designed to annoy all under 25-year-olds. It’s time to ban them

Photo: Mike Baird via Creative Commons

There’s a particular shopping area just off the Canterbury ring-road that I can’t help but associate with headaches. Attached to one of the buildings for a long time was a bit of kit called a Mosquito, which, like its natural namesake, had the sole purpose of annoying people. But not everyone. Just those who happened to be under 25.

Like something out of the fevered dreams of a youth-hating Frankenstein, the Mosquito creates a high-pitched irritating sound that takes advantage of the natural decline in humans’ hearing. If you’re under 25 then the only thing you can think about is getting out of the area. If you’re older, then you can carry on with your day oblivious to the auditory apocalypse that all the young people in the vicinity are being subject to.

As the product’s website tells us, the device is pitched at business owners looking to stop young people “hanging around in rowdy groups, littering, smoking and drinking, playing music and generally preventing you from enjoying your home or business.” Which, to be honest, sounds like an understanding of young people derived solely from reading the Daily Express. But sound, unlike the Express, doesn’t discriminate. Everyone under the age of 25 is affected, from choral students to Brownies. 

Compound Security Services, the Welsh company that makes the Mosquito, proudly boasts that the device is 100 per cent legal, yet serious concerns have been raised about the human rights implications of this blanket approach to deterrence. Liberty, the human rights advocacy group, argues that the devices violate the European Convention on Human Rights, most notably Article 14, which prohibits discrimination.


Usage is hotly debated on a local level as well. A testimony on the Compound Security Services website from a member of Sheffield City Council Licensing Board, describes how in certain situations, the installation of such a device might be a mandatory condition of an alcohol licensing application. Yet in 2011, a 17-year-old led a successful campaign to get the device banned from council buildings

Councillors in Kent also banned the use of the devices on council buildings after talking to their youth members. A branch of Co-op in Lancashire similarly got rid of the Mosquito on their property following a campaign by a 19-year-old autistic man. People with autism can be hypersensitive to noise and the National Autistic Society cited numerous reports of autistic people complaining of particularly adverse effects from the devices. Due to the over-25s’ immunity to the sound, the issue isn’t even on the radar of most people – and fighting it is left to those affected.

Now I wasn’t particularly affected by Canterbury’s Mosquito since it was protecting a Waitrose – which is a shop you only start to find interesting in your late twenties anyway. But the ethics of the devices remain highly dubious regardless of what they’re guarding, especially when those most affected are those often without much in terms of political clout. As it stands, anyone can buy them online and so they can be abused, like the couple in Suffolk who wanted to stop their neighbour’s children from playing in the garden.

In Ireland they’ve recently declared the devices a form of assault. The UK should follow suit. As Baroness Chakrabarti, who directed Liberty for many years, said: “What type of society uses a low-level sonic weapon on its children?” If you put it like that, banning it seems the obvious choice.

 
 
 
 

Transport for London’s fare zones secretly go up to 15

Some of these stations are in zones 10 to 12. Ooooh. Image: TfL.

The British capital, as every true-blooded Londoner knows, is divided into six concentric zones, from zone 1 in the centre to zone 6 in the green belt-hugging outer suburbs.

These are officially fare zones, which Transport for London (TfL) uses to determine the cost of your tube or rail journey. Unofficially, though, they’ve sort of become more than that, and like postcodes double as a sort of status symbol, a marker of how London-y a district actually is.

If you’re the sort of Londoner who’s also interested in transport nerdery, or who has spent any time studying the tube map, you’ll probably know that there are three more zones on the fringes of the capital. These, numbered 7 to 9, are used to set and collect fares at non-London stations where the Oyster card still works. But they differ from the first six, in that they aren’t concentric rings, but random patches, reflecting not distance from London but pre-existing and faintly arbitrary fares. Thus it is that at some points (on the Overground to Cheshunt, say) trains leaving zone 6 will visit zone 7. But at others they jump to 8 (on the train to Dartford) or 9 (on TfL rail to Brentwood), or skip them altogether.

Anyway: it turns out that, although they’re keeping it fairly quiet, the zones don’t stop at 9 either. They go all the way up to 15.

So I learned this week from the hero who runs the South East Rail Group Twitter feed, when they (well, let’s be honest: he) tweeted me this:

The choice of numbers is quite odd in its way. Purfleet, a small Thames-side village in Essex, is not only barely a mile from the London border, it’s actually inside the M25. Yet it’s all the way out in the notional zone 10. What gives?

TfL’s Ticketing + Revenue Update is a surprisingly jazzy internal newsletter about, well, you can probably guess. The September/October 2018 edition, published on WhatDoTheyKnow.com following a freedom of information request, contains a helpful explanation of what’s going on. The expansion of the Oyster card system

“has seen [Pay As You Go fare] acceptance extended to Grays, Hertford East, Shenfield, Dartford and Swanley. These expansions have been identified by additional zones mainly for PAYG caping and charging purposes.

“Although these additional zones appear on our staff PAYG map, they are no generally advertised to customers, as there is the risk of potentially confusing users or leading them to think that these ones function in exactly the same way as Zones 1-6.”


Fair enough: maps should make life less, not more, confusing, so labelling Shenfield et al. as “special fares apply” rather than zone whatever makes some sense. But why don’t these outer zone fares work the same way as the proper London ones?

“One of the reasons that the fare structure becomes much more complicated when you travel to stations beyond the Zone 6 boundary is that the various Train Operating Companies (TOCs) are responsible for setting the fares to and from their stations outside London. This means that they do not have to follow the standard TfL zonal fares and can mean that stations that are notionally indicated as being in the same fare zone for capping purposes may actually have very different charges for journeys to/from London."

In other words, these fares have been designed to fit in with pre-existing TOC charges. Greater Anglia would get a bit miffed if TfL unilaterally decided that Shenfield was zone 8, thus costing the TOC a whole pile of revenue. So it gets a higher, largely notional fare zone to reflect fares. It’s a mess. No wonder TfL doesn't tell us about them.

These “ghost zones”, as the South East Rail Group terms them, will actually be extending yet further. Zone 15 is reserved for some of the western-most Elizabeth line stations out to Reading, when that finally joins the system. Although whether the residents of zone 12 will one day follow in the venerable London tradition of looking down on the residents of zones 13-15 remains to be seen.

Jonn Elledge was the founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.