By the time of the 1908 Olympics, London had already had an underground system for 45 years, although the Underground ‘brand’ and logo that has become synonymous with a unified network was less than a year old.
This was originally established in 1907 by four of the six different railway companies that controlled the network as part of an effort to reduce the substantial inconvenience to passengers of buying separate tickets for each line, and going above ground to change between them.
The whole network was brought under the control of one (unsubsidised) company in 1933; the separate railways were renamed ‘lines’; and Harry Beck’s iconic map became the means by which the largest subway system in the world was understood. Today’s conception of the Underground was taking shape, and by the time it was nationalised in 1948, most of the network as we know it now was already in operation.
Public ownership lasted until 1984, since when the maintenance of the track and trains has occurred at varying levels of remove from the state. But the idea of a return to the early days, when extension of the Underground network was financed mainly by private investment from companies spurred by the prospect of fare revenue, looks remote. The vast majority of recent infrastructure investment has come from the public purse.
1948 saw a peak in tube usage, with 720m passenger journeys made. This figure would not be overtaken until 1985, by which time the Victoria (opened in 1968) and Jubilee (opened in 1979) lines had entered service. The 1999 Jubilee line extension, boasting the most spacious stations on the network, further boosted passenger numbers, which by 2010 had reached 1.1bn: 3 journeys per week for every Londoner, collectively travelling over 8bn kilometres.
If the original flat fare of the ‘two-penny tube’ of 1908 had increased only in line with inflation, the cost would today be 79p. The current fare for Zone 1 London Underground stations is £2.00.
Increased car ownership resulted in a decline in bus and tube usage in the 30 years after WWII. The trend has since been reversed. The chart shows estimated usage of the London Underground and bus services, measured in billions of kilometres travelled by all passengers.