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A new future for London Transport

23rd October 1970
Page 54
Page 55
Page 54, 23rd October 1970 — A new future for London Transport
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

TO SUGGEST that planning the future of public transpo in London is a problem of great magnitude is stating the obvious. Travelling conditions during the rush hour are already approaching the point of becoming unbearable—indeed many commuters using the Underground or stuck inside a bus in a traffic jam might say that conditions are already intolerable. What, then, is the answer?

This is what the Greater London Council is trying to discover before making any firm policy decisions within the scope of the strategy defined in the Greater London Development Plan. The publication of the Green Paper "The Future of London Transport" (C last week) is described by Mr Desmond lummer, leader of the GLC as something ew in public participation. The aim, he sa s, is to stimulate debate and discussion and evolve a policy acceptable, not only to t e council and the London Transport Exec utive, but to people who use the service and hose who work in it.

The possibility of introducing a "free" public transport system financed from the rates is one that has been selected by the daily Press as the most controversial solution. It is only one of a number of suggestions made in the GLC Paper as a possible solution. Others include increasing fares during the rush hours, providing unremunerative off-peak services subsidized by the borough in which the services run, by extending the zonal fares system, and trying to reduce peak traffic congestion by stiffening up controls on the parking of cars in central London.

Many of the problems discussed in the GLC report are familiar ones, although the way they are expressed reveals a new sense of urgency—if not a change in the attitude of the Tory-controlled council to public transport in the capital. Some of the facts revealed, however, throw a new light on to the problem faced by LTE and the GLC.

For example, in inner London, outside the central area, more people travel to the central area by bus than by Underground and British Railways combined. Car ownership is growing steadily in this area, though more slowly than in outer London. Increasing use of management techniques to ensure reasonable traffic flow on the existing roads is likely to be necessary to keep the buses moving particularly on journeys to and from work.

The faster growth of car ownership in outer London together with the fact that most journeys are made by car or bus will be a predominant influence on transport in these outer areas. This is particularly so because the journeys tend to be diverse or orbital, a pattern for which rail and bus services are, in general, unsuited. Bus services will generally best be focused on the points of high demand provided by town centres, other centres of activity and, particularly for commuters, the major rail stations. There is likely to be an excessive demand for car access to town centres at peak time and already several boroughs are experiencing problems akin to those of the central area, requiring solutions on similar lines in the restraint and control of car use.

Problems outlined Problems discussed include congestion, staff recruitment and retention, concentrated rush-hours and finance. As already suggested a short-term measure to improve road congestion is to tighten up on parking controls, coupled with traffic management schemes to secure reasonable traffic speeds on the roads used by buses. The report stresses that the problems confronting London Transport must be dealt with in the cOnditions which at present exist and with the means available now.

The GLC's new attitude is revealed in a new decision to consider help with housing for transport staffs, to meet criticisms that this factor inhibits recruitment.

After describing the background to the GLC assuming financial control on January 1 1970 of a debt-free undertaking the report states that on the basis of the rate of wage awards forecast at the time no fares increase would have been necessary in 1970. Soon after the transfer date, the wages explosion occurred and to keep in line with wage movement in the London area the executive negotiated increases in wages and conditions of service averaging about 12f per cent. This was much higher than had been forecast and led to the substantial fares increase which came into effect in August.

Some of the measures to try to obtain maximum economy are described. For example, the additional savings from that part of the bus reshaping programme introduced in 1970 will be over Ulm per year. In a full year at the new wage rates and fares, buses would lose some £2m, but this loss is covered by surpluses on the railway operations, commercial advertising and rents.

Moving on to bus services which, taken alone, are unprofitable, the report remarks that London bus and train-services form a network. If each service were profitable there would be no need for a statutory

public transport undertaking in London —private operators would provide a satisfactory service. The financial problem is to achieve a reasonable balance of fares and services, so that services are economic and the undertaking is viable overall, and can remain so.

One of the advantages of buses compared with trains, is that services can be flexible. It is essential that buses should have a flexible response to changes in demand and that the organization should be such that local managers can respond quickly to local situations.

Possible action The report moves on to discuss several possible courses of action, which lead up to the question of the necessary fares structure, or possible free travel. First of the remedies suggested is a possible door-to-door service operated by buses; such a service could be provided at considerable cost in some areas, but was not practicable throughout Greater London. Subject to the results of a current survey to ascertain the potential demand. consideration is being given to an experimental door-to-door bus service on a pre-booked personalized basis for Heathrow Airport staff.

Attitudes towards the role of public transport may be seen as ranging between two extreme viewpoints. It can be a public service whose improvement and expansion is limited only by competing demands on public resources; payment by passengers is of minor importance or could be dispensed with altogether. The opposite viewpoint sees it as a service for which the users should be expected to pay the economic cost.

It must be accepted that a number of attempts have been made over the years to achieve staggering of working hours, but with little general success. In central London in the long term a solution might prove to be peak-hour pricing sufficiently high to compensate for the cost of providing increased services. Such pricing is subject to a number of practical operating difficulties, and may have the same effect in driving people from public to private transport as a general fares increase.

The problem of providing unremunerative services outside peak hours is discussed at some length as is also the question of continuing completely unviable services. An extension of the rural grants provisions set out in the Transport Act 1968 to cover such services is suggested. Another solution, from the narrow point of view of the executive's financial position, is reduction or withdrawal of service. The social effects of this are hard to quantify with certainty in monetary terms, but •elimination on any significant scale would be in conflict with the aims of the council's transport policy.

Fares structure As far as can be foreseen at present the recent major increase in fares, together with the capital contributions already approved by the council and the Government, should ensure the financial soundness of the undertaking until at least the end of 1971. The fares structures can be used for two purposes—to raise money, and to influence demand. The council will have to decide to what extent the users should pay for the total cost of the service provided and also to what extent, if any, fares should be used as an instrument to control demand for individual services or at particular times of the day.

In recent London Transport fare changes, there has been an increased differentiation between rail and bus fares, and between fares for travel in the "inner zone" of central Condon and the "standard zone" in the rest of Greater London. There may be further scope for differentiation of fares between one rail or bus route and another.

The formulation of a new fares structure for buses based on fare stages chargeable at one new penny per stage has been suggested. This would require fare stages between a quarter and half mile apart, with fares to all destinations changing at every stage. The idea is dismissed on the grounds of unacceptable complexity of administration. Also rejected is a flat fares system applied universally throughout Greater London. Such a system is most suitable on relatively small, compact transport undertakings where the length of passenger journeys does not vary much. In an area as far-flung as that served by London Transport (broadly 900 square miles) a graduated fares structure for the ordinary run of services would seem more equitable, the report states.

It then moves on to the "free" public transport system financed from the rates which it states has been strongly advocated. This would provide, at least theoretically, the maximum freedom of movement for all sections of the population and visitors and should be easier to manage. It would also be marginally cheaper to run for any given Level of service because all fares-collecting and ticket-issuing would cease and some staff and equipment would no longer be required.

The GLC points out, however, the many other considerations. First, any such proposal might impair management discipline and would present management with the major problem of deciding on proper allocation of resources without a price mechanism. Secondly, as one-man operation of all buses was being introduced anyway, the additional saving S from fares-free transport would be limited to some £10m-£15m a year. Good order and the safety of passengers would also require the system to be effectively under surveillance. Thirdly, it should be pointed out that free travel does not of itself improve quality. For many journeys people would prefer to continue using their cars for the convenience, time saving and comfort they offered.

Some car users might change to bus or train but if all motorists travelling to the central area during peak hours transferred to public transport the increase in passengers would only be 10 per cent. Any proposal for fares-free transport would have to extend to those parts of British Railways journeys made within the same area to avoid a large transfer of passengers from BR to LT services. In these circumstances, and at the present level of service, the total cost falling on the rates might be some £130m—a levy of 4s in the £ from the rates. The justification for such large rate increases must be seen against the uneven distribution of benefits among Londoners, and by the fact that these benefits would apply to non-Londoners as well as residents. The London Transportation Survey showed that half of all Londoners worked within three miles of home. Perhaps a third live less than two miles away and are thus spending less on fares to work than many of them would pay in increased rates.

Even if free transport was limited to that part of inner London bounded by Ringway One a rate levy of more than 2s in the £ would be required over the whole of Greater London, but there would be a considerable problem in deciding the extent to which outer London rate payers should meet the cost of transport in inner London. Serious boundary problems would also arise. To start and finish all services at the boundary of the chosen area with enforced interchange would mean a serious and unacceptable worsening of facilities and be physically impracticable without prohibitive costs.

Other proposals The possibility of charging full fare for children under 14 is also discussed—the half-fare concession costs £4.8m a year. But full fares might drive some of the children off the trains and buses on to bicyles or their own two feet.

On the subject of Government grants the Green Paper suggests that the 75 per cent grant for new railway lines should be extended to apply towards all London Transport railway and bus capital expenditure in the same way as 75 per cent grants are paid towards capital expenditure on principal roads. A speedy and significant contribution to the executive's financial wellbeing would be the freeing of London Transport's fleet completely from fuel duty, which at present costs some £2.5m a year. Tax remission might further extend to vehicle excise and psv licences.

Under the reshaping plan suburban bus routes will be adjusted and identified more closely with major shopping and rail centres as indicated in the Greater London Development Plan. The report speaks well of the Red Arrow services in central London which help the maintenance of a frequent service with a greater degree of reliability than some of the conventional longer routes.

Additional bus measures outlined in the report include the use of Marconi bus location equipment to be experimentally introduced on one cross-London service, the introduction of bus cages (defined no waiting areas at bus stops), and the possibility of operating motorway buses running both radially and orbitally on the proposed primary road systems.


Organisations: Greater London Council
People: Desmond
Locations: London

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