The contract between the two firms was written up in 2006, and was supposed to run until 2015 - but will now terminate in March 2012. But you can see why CBSO is upset: the company says it’s invested millions of pounds into radically improving the quality of advertising on the Tube network – from installing high-tech flatscreens on the walls next to escalators, to jazzy track-side LCD displays which switch off just before the trains pass them. In fact, CBSO claims that it’s created ‘arguably the most technologically advanced advertising infrastructure’ of any public transport system in the world. So having to switch off all those screens every other weekend while LU performs essential escalator maintenance must be rather a frustrating and costly experience.
Admittedly, the relationship between the two companies could hardly be described as beautiful: they're already embroiled in a legal dispute over how revenues should be split. CBSO added that it’s been trying to enter into ‘fruitful, bona fide discussions to address the extraordinary costs and delays attributed to them’, but rather like a District Line train to Wimbledon when you most need it, they have so far yet to materialise.
To be fair to LU, it’s had a tough couple of years: to begin with, it’s spent the last few months feverishly trying to make sure the Tube system is ready for the estimated 3m extra journeys a day that will be made during the Olympic Games (and, considering transport minister Norman Baker suggested employees ‘dig out their walking boots’ to avoid the congestion, it’s obviously not looking good). It’s also had to cope with a ‘massively delayed’ public-private partnership construction programme, plus the demise of Metronet and Tube Lines, the PPP companies contracted to maintain its lines, in 2008.
LU insists it’s ‘engaged in discussions’ with CBSO to prevent the ads from being pulled, claiming that even if the contract is terminated, it owns the infrastructure. But if the High Court order does go through, that’ll put a serious dent in its finances just in time for the Olympics. The bad news is that it’ll probably be commuters who pick up the bill. Hmm. MT thinks it might give those Boris Bikes another try…