By VICKI GERSON
A free-lance writer based in Chicago, she conducted this interview this summer while in England. She is also a regular Sunday columnist in the Chicago Sun-Times.

The London Transport:
The world's largest urban passenger system

"I DO believe" stated Kenneth Pope, chief press officer of the London Transport, "that London couldn't exist without its public transportation system."

The London Transport's main network of services extends over an area of approximately 630 square miles with nearly 8 million people living within the region. The London Transport has a fleet of 6,900 buses and more than 4,400 electric railway cars and employs a staff of 60,000. Today there are eight lines encompassing the London . Transport's vast underground network. "This is the largest urban passenger undertaking in the world," said Pope.

"The London Transport is not owned by the government," he added. "However, at the beginning of 1970, all overall policy and financial control was taken over by the Greater London Council (GLC).* Our capital debt was written off. Now we report to the GLC. But day to day control is our prerogative."

The London Transport, as are other transportation systems like the Regional Transportation Authority, is plagued with financial woes and needs a government subsidy to exist. The GLC's gross revenue expenditure for the London Transport was 374.0 million pounds which is 23 percent of the GLC's total budget. However, the London Transport has received less support from the GLC than in previous years. In 1976 the GLC gave 24 per cent of its total

*In 1964, by an act of Parliament the Greater London Council came into existence. The GLC is responsible for managing and operating London at a regional government level. It is the overall planning and traffic authority, licensing authority, and has other responsibilities as well.

budget while in 1975 30 per cent of its total budget was for fare relief. So on July 17, 1977, the London Transport with the approval of the GLC had to raise fares by 15 per cent in order to keep service at its present level.

In the future, apart from cutting operating and maintenance costs and worsening the quantity or quality of the bus and underground services, the London Transport must improve its financial position by seeking more revenue from its passengers, increased support from its taxpayers or increasing tourism which is its largest growth market.

Although Pope is concerned with the financial crisis faced by the London Transport, he said there still are "major projects on the horizon that I'd like to see completed. We are expanding our underground lines because ridership on the tube has been fairly static. The big reduction has been on the bus lines. Ridership has been steadily dropping over the last 20 years in the suburban areas of London."

Yet, the London Transport appears more successful than most American public transportation systems. "One reason, said Pope, "is that we have our faults and we're not afraid to admit them. However, I wouldn't want Americans to believe we're goody-goodies and can set an example to the rest of the world. What we do believe is if you visited London again, service would be a lot better than it is now."

November 1977 / Illinois Issues / 19


But mass transportation must succeed in the Chicago area, as it must in every other metropolitan area. It must be made available

suffocate the area with polluted air and to strangle it with massive traffic jams. Urban planners and transportation experts agree that the only way to relieve traffic congestion and insure the economic vitality of the city is to move the automobiles off the expressways and the commuters onto the trains and buses of the RTA.

There are a number of political and economic obstacles, however, that lie in the path of an effective public transportation system for the Chicago area. Disgruntled counties want to pull out, a move that some feel would cripple the whole system. The handicapped cry for facilities which would allow them easier access to mass transit, a laudable goal but one with a high price tag. Commuters can't be convinced to leave their cars at home and take the bus, in spite of a flashy media campaign by the RTA. The nine RTA board members seem to agree on little (one recent argument concerned whether six-year-olds were old enough to travel alone). And worst of all, there's never enough money; mass transit just cannot pay for itself.

But mass transportation must succeed in the Chicago area, as it must in every other metropolitan area. It must be made available to as many people as possible and people must be persuaded to ride. To cut air pollution and save energy, there must be less dependence on the automobile. Mass transit offers the only reasonable alternative.

The RTA has come through its formative years with a few scars but no mortal wounds. But there has been no dramatic increase in ridership since 1974 when the agency began operations, and attracting new commuters remains the number one goal. As the suburbs continue to- grow around the political and economic hub of Chicago, a regional transportation plan will become more and more important. The Regional Transportation Authority, created by state law and endorsed by the federal government, is and will continue to be the agency designated to provide that plan.

20 / November 1977 / Illinois Issues


|Home| |Back to Periodicals Available| |Table of Contents| |Back to Illinois Issues 1977|