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KATHERINE SHONFIELD

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A South-east railway has announced a universal £1 fare this Bank Holiday. This may be a touchingly old-fashioned gesture intended to get the plebs in the open air for the day, or a move by an increasingly desperate transport company to court public popularity. Either way, the moment will be a reminder of the enormous possibilities of transport as a 'site' promoting public life and public interaction.

Flat-fare transport has - potentially - many of the qualities of the so-called 'public realm'. It is populated: it provokes many more people to move beyond the privacy of their domestic spheres. It is democratic: people of different class, race and status mix together. It is benign: there is safety in numbers. It is dwelt in: most users of necessity commit themselves to more than a fleeting inhabitation. It is embedded in our everyday lives: the public space of transport is used with a predictability only equalled by time at home and time at work.

Of late, many people have pointed out that Ken Livingstone's Fares Fair policy - the introduction of a flat fare for all London's transport in the early 1980s - was the single most effective means of transforming the public's urban experience. A new mayor could well give architects the brief to 'design' public transportation as well as its terminals. That, in tandem with flat fares, represents the most exciting architectural possibility yet for revolutionising public space at the beginning of the next century.

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