Only two firms remain in contention to buy LTA Advertising out of the 49 who expressed an interest when the Department of Transport ordered the sale last summer.
They are a team of LTA management and employees, and the LDI consortium - LT's preferred bidder - led by Transportation Displays Inc, the largest transport advertising company in the US, and Hambro Investments.
Whoever gains control next month will have access to an audience which, especially on the Underground, is an advertising campaign manager's dream. They will also have to adhere to strict controls on what can be displayed.
Bus adverts are viewed by about eight million people a day with a combined average income and expenditure that is the highest in Britain. Posters on the Tube are viewed by an estimated three million Londoners over a month, of whom 42 per cent are teenagers and young adults, and 39 per cent fall into the coveted AB social group.
Capitalising on advertisers' desire to target this high-
earning, youthful audience, LTA charges higher rates for campaigns shown in 22 central London Tube stations and the two serving Heathrow airport. A single panel on the escalator at Leicester Square or Liverpool Street can cost pounds 60 per month to rent, while the biggest 'across the tracks adverts command pounds 2,000.
All 3,800 advertising campaigns carried on LTA's 200,000 sites last year were closely vetted by a committee of the company's LT-appointed senior executives, including the managing director. LTA has ten criteria which all proposed campaigns must meet, and in borderline cases seeks the opinion of the Advertising Standards Authority on whether an image or text would attract complaints.
Robert Thurner, communications manager with LTA, said selectors reject potentially offensive posters or those likely to attract graffiti, because of their proximity to travellers.
'Our terms and conditions of acceptance have to be more rigorous than, say, those for outdoor hoarding companies as our audience is closer to the advert and could be standing in front of it for several minutes. The Tube passenger is more captive than a motorist who glimpses a poster as they drive past it.
'Also if you have people standing on the platform it's easier for them to deface adverts than those displayed on the side of the road.
'We won't put up posters which portray people as sex objects or are obscene, we recently rejected some posters for a high street fashion store which has appeared on other sites because we thought it went too far. We are mindful of not wanting to harass women travelling alone late at night.
LTA recently refused to carry a poster for the new Pedro Almodovar film Kika featuring a woman wearing a Jean Paul Gaultier dress with latex bare breasts daubed in fake blood. In common with all film posters this was brought before a committee including representatives of film distributors and the British Board of Film Classification.
Even though the blood was clearly not real, Mr Thurner said the image breached conditions against the depiction of violence and could set a precedent. The company promoting the film has argued the picture was a jokey illustration and less controversial than pictures of scantily-clad women advertising sun tan lotion. An alternative poster minus breasts or blood has been approved.
Other campaigns turned down in recent weeks include one protesting at the Criminal Justice Bill paid for by the band The Levellers, which contravened the 'no politics rule. Another, from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) which claimed 50 per cent of chickens contained salmonella, was refused as it made a claim which could not be substantiated.
There are few bus and Tube adverts which attract complaints, and that is unlikely to change. According to Mr Thurner, LTA's purchaser will not allow an influx of violent or pornographic images, whatever payment is offered.