In the first few days following the bus and train bombings in London, the general feeling of the transit-using public, both in the U.K. and the U.S., was one of fear and suspicion. After a few weeks had passed and conditions returned relatively to normal, METRO spoke with Robert Jack, managing editor of Transit magazine, a London-based public transit journal, to get a firsthand perspective on the tragic events of July 7. (For more on terrorism and security, see our special section on pg. 98.)
How would you describe the general feeling of the city on the day of the bombings?
People were horrified but not surprised. London was expecting an attack. I did not see any panic or hysteria. Transport for London did an amazing job of getting the transport network back to normal as quickly as possible. Full bus service resumed at 4:30 p.m. that day, and the Tube was running as normal the next morning, except on parts of the network affected by the attacks.
From the rider perspective, how have the attacks affected the public transit scene in London? Has ridership decreased?
While regular commuters are continuing to travel as normal, there is evidence that visitors and weekend shoppers have been deterred from coming into central London. London Underground revealed in early August that passenger numbers on the Tube have been down by around 30% on weekends since July 7, and 5% to 15% down on weekdays. Train operators have also noticed a downturn. The general opinion appears to be that it will take around three months for patronage to fully recover, unless there are any more attacks.
Do you think this attack was preventable, and if so, what types of reasonable actions can be taken to make transit a harder target?
I don’t think there was anything that could have been done. You can’t search everyone who gets on a bus or a train. There are developing technologies that may come into play that might help to reduce the risk, such as CCTV systems, which can recognize the faces of suspects and pinpoint suspicious items. However, public transit systems will always be vulnerable to a determined terrorist attack.
Have there been any new measures seen as disruptive or inconvenient to typical passenger behavior?
There have been random searches at stations of people with bags. The searches have focused on particular ethnic groups. This has been controversial, but overall I think public opinion is that the police are doing the right thing. You might be interested to know that a poll for CNN and Time magazine found that 61% of 1,000 Britons surveyed would accept delays or longer journeys if it meant tighter security on buses and trains. About 47% said they would accept higher fares.