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May 31 2017

Public Transport and the Changing City


During the Industrial Revolution, city configuration changed. Previously, artisanal craft neighbourhoods were situated within the city walls but based around the outside of an elite centre. The elite centre was populated by the wealthy and higher class merchants. Outside of the city walls suburbs were populated with social groups deemed ’aliens’, as well as professions that were not deemed respectable enough for inside the walls such as leather tanning. This was probably due to the mess and smell produced by this type of work.

The industrialisation of cities altered the configuration of metropolises and their districts into distinct class defined areas. The wealthy moved out of the city centre with the rise of public transport availability. Working class housing areas became situated closer to the centre of major conurbations as the inhabitants were unable to afford public transport to travel to work destinations. More typical working class places of employment such as mills, foundries, and factories therefore would often be found in the Central Business Districts (CBD) close to where the working classes lived, within walking distance.

With the emergence and subsequent expansion of the middle class, the neighbourhoods outside of the city centre extended outwards as those working white collar jobs would commute into the centre for work but were able to afford to live in a nicer area away from the poor conditions of the slums - closely packed, poorly lit and overcrowded working class areas. The richer areas tended to be situated in the West, especially in London, where the prevailing wind comes from the West, resulting in fresher air this side of town. The East End was populated with poorer areas and other industrial suburbs, such as the docks. The air here was less fresh and the housing quality poorer in the East End.

The widespread use of public transport by white collar workers and the aspirations of the middle classes to distinguish themselves gave ample opportunity for the railway industry to capitalise on the commuting public. At the introduction of trains as a publicly accessible mode of transport, there were three distinct classes: 1st, 2nd and 3rd class carriages. In the late 19th Century, many railway operators abolished 2nd class. The reason 2nd class accommodation on the railways was stopped was to force lower paid middle class workers, such as clerks, to buy 1st class tickets to avoid the dirt of the 3rd class. Working classes that could afford 3rd class often dirtied the carriages with by products from the type of work they did – coal grime, chimney soot and other by products of their professions. Not wanting to get their clothes dirty meant the lower middle classes were forced to expend more money to retain their respectable appearance.

So how has public transport affected city configuration in the modern world and what are average commuter costs?

In London, it seems that wealthier groups of people, that can afford to live in zones 1 and 2 are now living closer to the central areas, inverse to that of the industrial city scape. Affluence tends to decrease the further out from the city centre as commuters migrate further away chasing cheaper house and rent prices. This has led to gentrification of typically working class neighbourhoods like hackney. Moreover a disgruntled working class that are having to face paying more for accommodation (on average) as market house prices increase, coupled with the increased costs of paying for public transport to commute in for work and longer journey times is emerging.

Looking at Manchester and the extension of the MetroLink, we can see that the better connected an area the greater its desirability. The middle classes, much like the industrial city, are focused in these suburbs outside of the centre, but there is also a resurgence of popularity for city centre properties amongst the young professionals.

In Didsbury, a popular area in South Manchester for the commuter class, both rents and house prices appear to increase the closer the property is in range of easy access public transport. Using data compiled by Julian Wadden, the average selling price of a property in Didsbury that is less than 1km away from a MetroLink station is circa £250,000 compared to £210,000 for a property just over 2km away. That’s an extra £40 every metre closer to a MetroLink station! But with one of the primary requirements for buyers and renters, having to face a daily commute to work, ease of access to public transport is high on the priority list.

In the rental market, Tenants are also more likely to sacrifice the desire for space, both in and outdoors, in pursuit of accommodation close to public transport or closer to work, and it’s easy to see why. With the rising costs associated with owning and running a car, and greater congestion on the roads, public transport has become the obvious alternative. Britain has seen a surge in rail travel, up 37% in a decade with over 1.3 billion journeys made in 2010.

Despite the desirability of living near to public transport, it transpires that over a lifetime commuters spend 10,634 hours travelling and spend on average £118 a month in London, £78 a month in Manchester and £74 a month in Bristol.

With statistics like this, it will be interesting to see how transport providers respond to the growing needs of more frequent and easy to access public transport, and the increasing costs of tickets. Furthermore, it begs the question how the configuration of cities change in the future with technological advancements, changing social formations and work environments.

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