If I said that London Transport’s original operating area was a consequence of an expected shortage of electricity in London, you might be rather surprised. However, that is what I am saying, so I had better explain why.
Where London starts and finishes has exercised many minds for many years, and even today the comparatively modern Greater London boundary of 1965 is not satisfactory for all purposes, notwithstanding some adjustments of the border. For want of a sensible area within which transport services could be organized, there existed for 36 years an area called the London Passenger Transport Area. This essay explains what it was and how its boundary came about.
Metropolitan Police District
Throughout Queen Victoria’s reign, the want of any definition of London’s border had continually troubled the authorities. A convenient border arose in 1829 when the Metropolitan Police was formed. This boundary was pushed outwards in 1840 to embrace an area roughly 15 miles distant from Charing Cross, and it was often used as a proxy for the boundary of London.
During the early Victorian period, various measures were taken by the government to licence omnibus drivers, conductors and vehicles in the London area, but from 1853 these powers were delegated to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, and so began a system of tight regulation of public transport by road within the Metropolitan Police District (MPD). The police had already been landed with the management of the Public Carriage Office (PCO), to which these new duties were added. The PCO looked after the licensing and inspection of public carriages and cab drivers, including investigating their character and knowledge and the police only lost this responsibility in 2000.
At this stage the Metropolitan Police was solely concerned with the compliance and licencing of drivers, conductors and their vehicles and, in the case of buses, was not concerned about the actual routes the buses chose to operate.
London Traffic Area
The London Traffic Act 1924 established a London & Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee to assist the Minister of Transport in determining policies for transport provision in the London region (mainly as this affected road traffic). As may be inferred from its catchy title, the committee had a remit within an area larger even than the Metropolitan Police District, and a ‘London Traffic Area’ was defined, by an irregular boundary extending from Welwyn to Redhill, and Beaconsfield to Wickford. This placed the boundary very roughly 25 miles from central London, the boundary itself following convenient local authority boundaries. The Committee produced many reports respecting transportation within this area until its abolition in 1962.
Within the (smaller) Metropolitan and City of London Police Districts, the same Act gave the respective police commissioners powers to act as licensing authorities to control the operation of buses. The police commissioners were thenceforth authorized to establish ‘approved [bus] routes’ between particular terminals and along particular roads and require buses authorized to ply for hire to adhere to the particular schedules, fares and fare stages they supplied in advance. The commissioners could also establish restricted streets over which the number of vehicles was controlled. Outside the MPD bus services remained wholly unregulated.
We must now ask why the London Traffic area was so large. There was much disagreement at the time about the size of this area, but attempts while the bill was in Parliament to constrain it to the Metropolitan Police District failed on the grounds that many of London’s traffic problems actually began well outside the metropolis.
The area was in fact quite arbitrary. The foundations of this Act go back to 1923 when this supra-local government body was first considered by the Ministry of Transport and it was found that there was no convenient boundary to which it could be tied. However, at that time the supply of electricity was also overseen by the Ministry and it so happened that a number of joint electricity authorities had just been set up in the hope that by pooling resources and working together to build larger and more efficient power stations, the rising need for electricity could be met by existing (mainly private-sector) suppliers. I should add that at that time there was no national electricity grid. Because of the way existing power stations were located, and existing transmission lines were laid, the areas needed to be quite large. For the London Electricity District an area of about 1980 square miles was chosen, forming a ring of about 25 miles diameter from central London. The area was to be the responsibility of the London & Home Counties Joint Electricity Authority. A large chunk in the Watford area was omitted from the scheme for some reason, and there were small gaps near Windsor and Dorking, but with those readily fixable imperfections the area seemed as good as any other and was in consequence selected as the London Traffic Area (the omissions near Watford, Windsor and Dorking now included).
The fall of the conservative government in 1923 meant the proposed bill did not get anywhere, but during a transport strike in early 1924 the draft bill was retrieved by the new labour government because the clauses relating to the regulation of buses, it was alleged, would reduce revenue abstraction by the so-called pirate buses, enabling the striking bus and tram staff to get a pay increase (the strike was politically embarrassing while the British Empire Exhibition was about to be launched). In some haste, the bill was pushed through Parliament intact, and the London Traffic Area was created, based on the electricity district and with little time or inclination to think of anything better.
Traffic Areas and Bus Regulation
The Road Traffic Act 1930 sought to regulate the operation of buses throughout the United Kingdom, and to this end divided England and Scotland into a number of traffic areas. Most traffic areas were regulated by a team of three traffic commissioners who took responsibility for licensing public service vehicle drivers and conductors, the issuing of licences for those vehicles and approval of fares and routes—the latter with a fairly light touch.
London (already heavily regulated) was different. A Metropolitan Traffic Area (MTA) was formed, comprising the Metropolitan and City of London Police Districts, and only one (Metropolitan) Traffic Commissioner was appointed. The Metropolitan Traffic Commissioner took over route approval for routes that were not classed as short-stage carriages, such as long distance buses and coaches passing to or through London. The Metropolitan Traffic Commissioner also took responsibility for issuing Public Service Vehicle Licences and certificates of fitness for all vehicles operating stage, contract or express services that operated within the Metropolitan Traffic Area. The Metropolitan Police continued to undertake approval of all drivers and conductors residing in the MPD and continued to apply existing legislation to so-called short-stage carriages (i.e. buses) operating local services along ‘approved routes’.
At the end of 1930 we have the Metropolitan Police District and the Metropolitan Traffic Area which shared a common outer boundary about 15 miles from the centre, and the much larger London Traffic Area with a boundary about 25 miles from the centre. Confusingly, the London Traffic Area overlapped several traffic areas set up under the 1930 Act, but as the LTA was not involved in bus regulation this appears not to have been a problem.
The Arrival of London Transport
This is not the place to set out the history of London Transport. Suffice to say that by about 1930 there was political consensus to set up a public board to which a public transport monopoly was to be given (or in the case of the railways, to be shared). The railway side of matters will be looked at later. But what was this area to comprise?
The London Passenger Transport bill was introduced in Parliament in March 1931. There was much debate about its area of control but the minister, Herbert Morrison indicated that the consensus was the area should include London and the whole of the suburban ring from which the to and fro daily traffic of London workers was generated. The London Traffic Area appeared ready made for this purpose and the principle of adopting it was quickly accepted.
The mechanics of this impacted on other jurisdictions. As first proposed, it was intended to expand the remit of the Metropolitan Traffic Commissioner to cover the much larger London Traffic Area (which enclosed very nearly 2000 square miles). This kept administrative responsibilities simple, with just the one boundary. London Transport was to be given a monopoly in carriage of passengers within the LTA and would be able to operate buses without road service licences. Other operators would be able to operate to and from London but would require road service licences granted by the traffic commissioner and could not carry passengers locally within the LTA (without London Transport permission). However London Transport was to be given powers to carry passengers anywhere outside the LTA if it obtained the requisite road service licence for each such service so far as it operated outside the LTA. The bill proposed retaining the duty of dealing with driver and conductor licencing with the Metropolitan Police inside the MPD, making it the traffic commissioner’s job outside. The bill recognized the difficulty caused by this split responsibility might be awkward and allowed for this to be changed, if needed, to make the Metropolitan Police responsible for driver and conductor licensing within the whole of the LTA (in a modified form this was done)
The Need For Compromise
These proposals generated furious opposition from bus proprietors. Objections centred on London Transport’s apparent freedom to operate anywhere in the country—which was considered unreasonable on several grounds. Even within the LTA, there were well argued concerns about the questionable impact its monopoly would have on established local services in many towns on the periphery of the area, the effect of which in no way served to benefit London but would seriously damage existing interests. The bill went before a joint select committee of both Houses at the end of April 1931, with legal representation for all interested parties. The bus proprietors made their objections very clear. Transport professionals argued that no sensible bus operation would work to this arbitrary collection of random local parish and district borders. Bus operators argued that borders ran through established bus operations, splitting them and making some services (and some operators) unviable. Towns that ought logically to be included were overlooked and those who looked outwards from London were dragged in.
Few felt that the intended boundary was not about the right distance out, but it needed to be adjusted to suit the local transport conditions area by area. This ought to have been no surprise since the intended boundary had been contrived to suit the needs of the electricity supply industry and related to the flows of electric power! The committee quickly saw that there was no particular need to resist accommodating these entirely reasonable matters and within a short space of time, during May and June 1931, London Transport’s architects willingly conceded that a fresh boundary line would be needed in many places.
Working with counsel for the various bus operators, a new boundary was contrived that sometimes followed the border of the LTA, but frequently followed an entirely new line, occasionally embracing additional towns or areas (such as Hemel Hempstead and Tring) but with instances where the boundary was pulled back to avoid areas where there was no strategic reason to serve them, such as the area just west of Woking. In many cases the boundary followed the route of main roads rather than administrative boundaries. The new area was known as the London Passenger Transport Area (or LPT Area) and it was crafted with meticulous care and compromise.
In reaching that compromise different complications arose. London Transport’s promoters wanted to reach certain important destinations, such as Aylesbury, but were content to avoid suggesting that it should form part of their operating area. This was achieved by excluding those places from the LPT Area but conferring operating rights along the key access roads—such as the A413 into Aylesbury and the A40 between High Wycombe and West Wycombe. The corollary of this was that there were places within the LPT Area that formed natural traffic objectives for operators from without, and they were given rights to use certain defined roads without requiring London Transport approval. Examples of these may be seen at Old Woking and in Beaconsfield.
The treatment of London Transport’s powers now needs explaining. The new board had powers to run buses throughout the whole of the LPT Area and on certain roads to traffic objectives beyond this area. Following the protests referred to earlier, the board was not given powers to run services anywhere else.
However, about four fifths of the LPT Area, as now defined, also lay within the LTA. This coincident area was known as the ‘Special’ area and it was within this area that London Transport was granted an absolute monopoly of carriage of passengers by stage and express carriages (or buses and coaches, in everyday parlance). Within the special area other operators were not actually prohibited, but they were forbidden to pick up and set down anyone within that area, though they could freely carry anyone starting outside and finishing their journey within London, or vice versa, providing they had a road service licence issued by the Traffic Commissioner. This was usually self enforcing by either not having a published fare for a local journey within London or publishing the same fare as would apply to the first stop outside London, making it very unlikely anyone would pay it. London Transport could permit another operator in writing to both pick up and set down passengers within the special area, but this privilege was very rarely granted. As alluded to earlier, in certain cases other operators could use certain roads to reach objectives within the LPT area (including special area) set out in the bill (Staines, Shepperton and Weybridge being examples of towns served by outside services in this way).
It was also considered helpful to allow a further degree of latitude in how far away London Transport could operate services, reflecting the possibility that circumstances can change faster than the law can keep up. This was done by giving London Transport a general power to run services beyond the LPT boundary, but only to a ‘convenient terminal’ not more than a mile beyond the boundary of the LPT Area in the case of Berkshire, and half a mile everywhere else. In the case of contract carriages (or hired buses) the distances were five miles beyond the boundary into Kent but ten miles anywhere else. It was not permitted to have a separate fare for such a destination. Equally, other operators were allowed to intrude within the special area without London Transport’s consent, by up to half a mile to reach a convenient stand or terminal.
Redefining the Metropolitan Traffic Area
One consequence of this new approach to settling the LPT Area is that the role of the traffic commissioner had to be revisited. Neither the LTA nor the LPT Area was suited as the boundary of the traffic commissioner’s jurisdiction so the Metropolitan Traffic Area had to be enlarged. The general principle was that the MTA was enlarged at least to the LPT Area boundary, or the LTA boundary where this were larger. However, in certain instances where the LPT Area passed through a town, the MTA was further enlarged to meet a convenient administrative boundary. For example in High Wycombe, the LPT boundary lies in the town centre while the Metropolitan Traffic Area encompasses the whole town.
It may be seen from what has been said that three boundaries had been created where previously there had been only one, and these boundaries might in places run together and in other places zig-zag all over the place and crossing over each other quite incoherently. The challenge now was to communicate what had been done to interested parties.
Defining the Boundary
An outcome of this iterative method of determining the boundary was that it was impractical to describe it by means of the customary aggregations of existing administrative areas—which could usually be achieved by words alone. Instead, the boundaries were drawn on a huge signed map submitted to Parliament in June 1931, and the LPT Area remained so defined until it was abolished in 1969. The signed map was a composite of the appropriate Ordnance Survey half-inch sheets, trimmed to just beyond the LPT Area, with the coloured boundaries drawn on and legend and title in manuscript. So that the various boundaries were available for inspection, the promoters hastily printed versions of the map for the benefit of parliamentary officers and apologised for the fact that the overprints were a little out of register, referring interested parties to the signed version where precision were needed. To date, no copies of these printed maps have been located.
The true definition of the LPT Area is given in the seventh schedule of the 1933 Act, as follows: The London Passenger Transport Area shall consist of the area comprised within the continuous purple line shown on the signed map (… the map signed in triplicate by the Rt Honourable the Earl of Lytton … and has been deposited, as to one copy, in the Parliament Office of the House of Lords, as to another copy, in the Committee and Private Bill Office of the House of Commons, and, as to a third copy, at the Ministry of Transport). With so many interested parties concerned with the precise location of each of these administrative boundaries there came an urgent need for readily available copies of maps that showed them at a tolerably large scale, and so was born the Ordnance Survey one-inch sheets of the London Passenger Transport Map.
The Ordnance Survey is the government’s mapping agency and had the job of producing detailed maps showing these boundaries. This was achieved by means of 12 maps at the 1-inch to the mile scale, about the minimum where the boundary lines could be interpreted on the ground. A small section of one of these is illustrated here, showing the High Wycombe area. The Metropolitan Traffic Area is shown green, the LPT Area in purple, and the London Traffic Area in yellow.
Naturally, the need to consult 12 sheets in order to gain an impression of the boundary locations could be very inconvenient and for routine use a whole range of maps were produced at a wide range of scales.
The largest I know of was a special production comprising relevant sections of the OS black & white outline maps at 1-inch scale with the various boundaries and other information overprinted in colour. It is dissected and stuck on a thick linen backing, the whole lot folded in a gold-printed cover. It is absolutely vast and I have no room large enough to unfold the whole thing.
A more practical proposition is the half-inch map. My copy, again specially produced, comprises 9 dissected panels on linen, this time of the relevant parts of the OS coloured half-inch map, again carefully over-printed. Mine is folded in maroon covers. There is some evidence this was produced in-house by F.H. Stingemore. It is still rather larger than the average office desk.
A more convenient size map was based on one of Stanford’s 3-inches to the mile maps of London (mine is dated 1947) and again overprinted in colour. This one is very much an at-a-glance edition and gives a reasonable amount of detail, good enough for most purposes. But there were lots more maps showing these areas and these appeared in lots of documents and reports.
Dealing with the Railways
So far as London Transport’s railways are concerned the need for a map was less essential since, being static and well defined, railways coming into new ownership could be described within the body of the 1933 Act itself. On the maps, all railways usually appear in the same form as they would on an ordinary map; any stations within the LPT Area boundary being deemed to be subject to the 1933 Act, whether main line or London Transport stations.
A major feature of the new legislation was the creation of a Standing Joint Committee of London Transport and the four main line railways. One function of the Committee was to manage the statutory revenue pool, already mentioned; the LPT Pool achieved cooperation conspicuously well until the Second World War put paid to it. The original intention was that the pool would comprise railway services between all stations within the LTA, but as events unfolded this became more complicated. In essence, the main line companies were required to pool revenues with London Transport within the new LPT Area, the LPT map clearly showing which stations were in or outside.
However, a difficulty arose where London Transport was authorised to run bus services beyond the boundary. In this event, the same external catchments would then be served by both pooled (bus) and non-pooled (railway) operations and this was felt undesirable. In the end it was decided to include railway stations that were outside the LPT Area where they abutted such roads; these are shown on the LPT Map underlined in purple—see both West Wycombe and Wendover by way of examples. These stations were shown with a purple underline on the official map and the 1-inch versions, but rarely appeared on the small scale versions.
Demise of the London Passenger Transport Area
The LPT area survived nationalization unchanged and even survived the setting up of London Transport as a separate board in 1963. The LPT area even defined a special fares area within which British Rail participated. When the Greater London Council was created in 1965 it was given full responsibility for traffic and traffic planning and the London Traffic & Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee and London Traffic Area were abolished. The London Passenger Transport Area was abolished at the end of 1969 when a new and far smaller London Transport area was defined, coincident with the new Greater London Council area—now the area of the Greater London Authority (GLA). It might be added that when the GLA was established in 2000 the Metropolitan Police District was adjusted to the same boundary and no longer follows the line shown on this map.
The boundary of the Metropolitan Traffic Area was altered in 1983 during wider changes to the traffic areas. In 1984 the surviving powers of the Police Commissioner to grant driver’s licences for buses and coaches was transferred to the Metropolitan Traffic Commissioner. Subsequent changes have seen the Metropolitan traffic area dismantled, the areas south of the Thames and the whole of Greater London passing to the South Eastern Traffic Area, and areas to the north of Greater London passing to the Eastern Traffic Area.
I will leave it to others to consider the abandonment of a plausibly sensible regional approach to transport operations and the creation of a relatively hard boundary so close to central London and cutting across the commuter belt the way it now does. The new, smaller London Transport area suited the politics of the day but it is awful from the transport planning point of view with large towns such as Watford, Epsom, Epping, Brentwood, Swanley and so on being separated from a coherent transport plan for the natural requirements of the area by an arbitrary political boundary (witness Met line Watford Junction extension and the politics of it). In 1933 this was addressed by a flexible approach, a degree of revenue pooling and some common sense. These days there is much to be said for a much larger area for transport planning and the 1933 approach might be worth revisiting.