Anarchy 44/The whippet plan

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The whippet plan


Some­time in the future, if Buchanan’s ideas are ever car­ried out, our urban roads may run on three levels. Long before that, we can ex­pect an at­tempt to con­trol the in­crease in big city motor traf­fic by ad­di­tional tax­a­tion. But will any gov­ern­ment be brave enough to re­strict the elec­tor­ally im­port­ant private car owner from using his vehi­cle in the centre of London and other cities, yet not com­pens­ate him with a much im­proved pub­lic trans­port ser­vice? And this, be­cause of the huge cost of build­ing under­ground rail­ways, means buses.

  The buses have been los­ing pas­sen­gers to private cars, scoot­ers and even bi­cycles for about ten years, and the ques­tion is can this self-pro­pelled part of the pop­ula­tion ever again be per­suaded to rely on pub­lic trans­port?

  It will be dif­ficult to con­vince the motor­ist that pub­lic trans­port can be as quick and con­ven­ient as his private car. How can a trans­port con­cern pro­vide a ser­vice elas­tic enough to cope with both the shop­per and the rush hour worker? Even if the growth of traf­fic is checked arti­fi­cially it is un­likely that the over­all volume will be dimin­ished.

  Let us take London as our ex­ample be­cause the prob­lem is really big. London Trans­port want to in­crease their “Standee” buses ut, though they may re­duce oper­at­ing costs, will they pro­vide a much bet­ter ser­vice to the pub­lic and help to make London a more agree­able town to live, work and enjoy our­selves in?

  Towns are places for people to live in and as well as pro­vid­ing a com­muter ser­vice the trans­port sys­tem should en­able us to move about con­ven­iently from point to point within the central area, other­wise town life will wither and die.

  We want mobil­ity within the central area so let us start by get­ting rid of the pon­der­ous big red bus. In place of this the “Standee”, or why not the “Whippet” one-man bus with peri­meter seat­ing for about 20 people and with stand­ing room down the centre for an­other 20 rush hour pas­sen­gers. These single-decker buses would have auto­matic doors, one for “on” and one for “off” and fares on the single price carnet sys­tem (by which tickets are bought in ad­vance like books of stamps). None of this is new but it would help in­crease the mo­mentum of sur­face trans­port.

  Hav­ing changed the buses let us also change the route pat­tern. Within the central area we need many more and much shorter routes. The “Whippet” buses would oper­ate, per­haps only two or three at a time, on short shut­tle routes, not run­ning to time­table but con­trolled by super­visers. The short­ened back­wards-and-for­wards routes would cut out gaps in the ser­vice. They could, with the smaller buses, run on many streets not now used there­by cover­ing some of the trans­port de­serts of London, such as Blooms­bury and May­fair. On the short­ened routes
the staff would be­come known to their pas­sen­gers, thus en­cour­aging an ef­fi­cient ad friendly ser­vice.

  What would this in­no­va­tion mean in prac­tical terms of jour­neys in central London? A typ­ical shut­tle route would be be­tween St Pauls and Tra­fal­gar Square, via Fleet Street and the Strand. The ser­vice would be con­tinu­ous and there would be no de­lay at the ter­minal points. Com­ing from the Strand the bus would drive round Tra­fal­gar Square and be off again down the Strand towards St Pauls. Chan­ges of driver need take only a minute. An­other route would be be­tween Marble Arch and St Giles’s Circus at the foot of Tot­ten­ham Court Road. This would cut out the pre­sent ac­cu­mu­la­tion of many dif­fer­ent bus routes run­ning along Oxford Street. The shut­tle ser­vice along Oxford Street would be fed by other routes meet­ing this main artery at right angles.

  How would this new sys­tem af­fect the com­muter or shop­per com­ing to central London from the outer sub­urbs? We must as­sume some re­stric­tion on private cars com­ing into London dur­ing the rush hour periods and this would make it pos­sible to pro­vide a bet­ter ex­press bus ser­vice using double deckers, prob­ably with fewer stop­ping points than Green Line buses, and not trund­ling all the way across central London but turn­ing at key con­nec­tion points such as Ald­wych (from south London) or Marble Arch (from the north west). These ex­press ser­vices, costed on their own, would prob­ably be un­pro­fit­able be­cause peak peri­ods of com­muter traf­fic are one-way, but they could be sub­sid­ized by the shut­tle routes within the central area which should be highly pro­fit­able.

  No bus route (as hap­pens at pre­sent) would start in the sub­urbs, cross Central London and dis­ap­pear out­wards again. Pas­sen­gers would un­doubt­edly have to use their feet when mak­ing con­nec­tions be­tween shut­tle routes, but this hard­ship could be made less cruel in a damp climate by ar­cad­ing the streets at some ter­min­als and even heat­ing the pave­ments.

  At busy ped­es­trian centres, strips of mov­ing pave­ment similar to flat­tened out es­calat­ors should be con­sid­ered.

  These sug­gested chan­ges are aimed at mak­ing the town trans­port sys­tem more flex­ible with­out in­volv­ing us in crip­pling cost while we wait for our Buchanan triple layer roads. Travel­ling in towns might even be­come en­joy­able as well.

  Each week­day, about 1,250,000 people travel to the City and West End. Of this total, 220,000 travel in 5,200 bus loads, and about 100,000 in 70,000 private cars. The re­main­der travel by tube or train.

  The buses dur­ing duty oc­cupy an area of ap­proxim­ately 1,250,000 square feet and the cars, while travel­ling and at rest, some­where in the region of 10,000,000 square feet of pub­lic space. This is a very con­serv­at­ive estim­ate indeed, as park­ing alone could ac­count for this. We may fairly as­sume that the space oc­cupied by trade vehi­cles is of a smaller order. As will be seen, each car oc­cupant util­ises about 100 square feet of space through­out the entire day, whereas the bus pas­sen­ger oc­cupies under 6 square feet and that only dur­ing the time he is travel­ling.

martin hutchinson
in The Listener