During our conference in Manchester, l was a panelist at a fringe meeting organised by TfL on London’s transport upgrade and Britain’s future growth. It gave me an opportunity to say a few home truths. However, first, I began with congratulating the Mayor and TfL for the nationalisation of the PPP and in particular, for bringing the tube line’s PPP contract back in house, last June.
That said l expressed concerns on some of the project management of these upgrades, and in particular the disparity between some lines. Why is it, for example, that the newest extension to the tube on the Jubilee line, is attracting so much more time, energy and investment with its signal renewal contract than its oldest counterpart which runs between Farringdon & Paddington? This section of the underground (in particular Edgware tube) is home to a signal box dating back to 1928 and still uses levers to get trains through the station! The rightful place for this piece of equipment is in a museum and not as a mechanism on a very busy part of one the busiest networks in the world.
Crossrail (not unexpectedly) got support from across the whole of the panel, however, concerns were voiced on how it would fare after the comprehensive spending review later this month. I emphasised the critical role it will play in the regeneration of localities like Southall & Hayes in West London and how in the latter case we should not be held to ransom by BAA who own the rail tracks into Heathrow.
Buses in London are probably one of the best loved part of our public transport infrastructure. This is judging by the growth in the numbers of bus passengers since 2000 with 2.25 billion passenger journeys made last year, similar to the levels we had in 1962. Critically, three quarters of the bus network serves outer London and has usage across the social spectrum, and even has the Marylebone Cricket Club members using it. Yet net bus subsidy for London will decline by almost 40% in real terms by 2017/18 due to the Mayor’s decision to shift the burden from the tax payer to the fare payer.
Finally on the issue of fares and the Mayor’s 2011 fare decision. He has specific powers to set fares in London making the decision a political one based in part upon the advice by TfL which indicate the revenues it requires. The usual formula is the Retail Price Index (RPI) plus 2% which TfL work towards. However last year, even when RPI was minus 1.4%, the Mayor imposed a 3.9% increase on the tube fares and 12.7% on the buses. The relevant RPI rate is 5.1%, so we can expect at least an inflation busting 7% plus increase in fares. This estimate does not take account of the estimated lost revenue of between £50-70 million from the west extension of the congestion charge, which will no doubt add to the financial woes of the Mayor. The moral is, be prepared to be hit very hard by the Mayor at the beginning of the New Year.