More on free transport

Free public Transport in London (see May SOCIALIST STANDARD) is still under serious public discussion. It is finding supporters in some strange places.

The April issue of Commerce International, the journal of the London Chamber of Commerce, asked various people to comment on the suggestion that “London Transport without fares would b# more efficient”.

Some, like Sir Desmond Plummer Tory leader of the GLC, were against this on the grounds that it would encourage “financial irresponsibility”. By which we assume him to mean that the capitalist maxim of “no profit, no production” would not be applied so directly. Others, including the chairman of the Chamber of Commerces own Transport Committee, were in favour. Some of the figures given reveal the waste of capitalism. According to Tory Islington councillor John Szemerey “at present some two fifths of London Transport’s annual working expenditure is spent on collecting the money to pay for the service”.

The British architects’ association commented with remarkable insight in the May issue of their RIBA Journal:

“To abolish fares on all city public transport would make economic sense, social sense, and moral sense. And it would be practical and more efficient. It is a common sense reform which would immediately make life better for a lot of people; and in present conditions in London, it would be perhaps the simplest and most effective way of making the city a bit more tolerable for its inhabitants. You don’t even have to be a liberal, let alone a radical, to agree with this. But it isn’t going to happen, of course, because it’s still too far fetched to make political sense. Moral: when people are told that something is ‘utopian’, it usually means that some other people don’t want them to do it.” (our emphasis).

Their views were commended by Labour councillor Sir Norman Prichard in a GLC debate on 12 May. He also pointed out that the Woolwich ferry across the Thames was an existing example of free transport paid out of the rates.

Although of course in a socialist society all transport would be free, to implement free public transport in London on its own would merely be another reform of capitalism which would at best only palliate the problem of traffic congestion. What interests us as socialists is that a proposal to abolish prices is getting such serious discussion. We want to extend this discussion and to hear the arguments of those who advocate free transport against our proposal that everything should be produced free for people to use and that all prices should be abolished, on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production.

To those who have their doubts as to whether this is practical we can only repeat: when people are told that something is ‘utopian’, it usually means that some other people don’t want them to do it.

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