Monday, 3 January 2011

New life for old data - Public transport trips in London, 1901 to 1928

This one's for the geeks.

I have been struck in my day job by how shallow the historical record is as presented by many online official statistical sources. Internet-era records frequently cover only the internat era, or parto f it. Meanwhile, a vast wealth of data (which often cost a vast amount of wealth to accumulate) sits locked away, on the printed pages of books on shelves in libraries that nobody visits any more.

I love finding useful old data in books nobody reads any more, and I think more of it should be shared online where others can see it. The chart below and the accompanying data are a first attempt to do. In and of itself it has no great significance. I just like the idea of this stuff being more available than it already is.

The data is from a table in a book I stumbled across in LSE library, the introductory volume of 'The New Survey of London Life and Labour', a major social research project carried out by the LSE in 1928-32 and described here. The survey data has itself been digitised recently, but the data I copied is secondary data detailing the trend in public transport trips taken in London in the first few decades of the 1900s. It covers railway, tram and 'omnibus' services (motorised buses began in 1902, and the last horse-drawn bus ran in 1911). Note that the chart shows millions of journeys
(so there were just over a billion tram journeys in 1927, for example), and it excludes journeys on foot, by bike or by private car, which would all be included nowadays.

Clearly, these were years of astonishing growth in London's public transport system. There were 1.1 billion journeys made in 1902, or 166 per head of population, but by 1928 there were 3.9 billion journeys, or 496 per capita, i.e. a tripling in the daily rate of public transport trips in 27 years. The growth of the omnibus is particularly remarkable, from 280 million trips in 1902 to 1.9 billion in 1928. In comparison (although presumably an imperfect comparison due to different methodologies), there were 3.5 million trips per day on the bus and tram in London in 2009, equivalent to about 1.3 billion in the year as a whole (see table 2.1 in this pdf).

1 comment:

  1. I don't know about the UK, but I know that in America, municipalities essentially forbade all new private investment in mass transit starting around the time that we see the huge spike in omnibus ridership (this applied mostly to elevated lines, although also to streetcar and subways, whose fares were frozen at 5 cent/ride, which prohibited them from earning enough money to expand service).

    - Stephen Smith


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