Leicester Square in the heart of the West End is a major tourist venue. If you are there in the summer heat you might like to buy a bottle of coke, which will set you back £1.39. What do people do when they have had a lot to drink? Using a public toilet in Leicester Square will set you back 50p. They used to call that spending a penny, and that was in the days when there were 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound.
Actually, these are not public toilets, they have now been privatised
. What will some people, especially the young, do rather than pay 50p to use a not-so-public toilet? We know the answer to that.
From public toilets to public transport, except that this is now public in name only, and is run purely for the convenience of the operators.
Transport For London is currently trying to abolish cash payments
on its buses. If they were going to allow people to travel fare-free, that would be a laudable exercise, but you can forget about anything like that. Rather this is intended to save money, though it remains to be seen how. Where does this leave the occasional traveller? Where does it leave the tourist, or the person who wants to ride one way, perhaps travelling home from a hospital? Then there is the extortionate price of any sort of travel. An off-peak combined travel card for buses, Underground and main line trains will currently set you back £8.00, and the price is set to rise yet again after Christmas.
If "public" transport in the capital is extortionate, running a motor vehicle does not bear thinking about. Recently, Hammersmith & Fulham Council
announced plans to almost double the rent it charges local residents for garages.
The same council has been accused of pushing up the cost of living by, ironically, an ill-conceived attempt to revive the high street
For the tourist there are still many things that are free in London and many bargains to be had, but when visitors and residents alike are viewed by the people who run the city primarily as cash cows, the former, including overseas students, have a viable alternative, namely they can vote with their feet. The recent London Olympics
and Paralympics provided a boost to the city and to the country as a whole, but that was a one-off; the people who run London must rethink the way tourists in particular are catered for. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making a profit from tourism, that is what marketing and business are all about, but visitors deserve and should get value for money. And so should the people who live and work here.