Transport plans

Polling day in the Fortis Green by-election.

I make myself get up, having lain awake all night waiting for my 4am alarm call. Delivering early morning leaflets is a real labour of love. But actually once you are up and out – if it’s going to be a nice day it is a very beautiful time to be out and about. You get to see the dawn breaking and the world waking up. Call me an optimist.

Then rush off to City Hall to Chair Transport Committee. Today’s special event is Transport for London coming to answer to their 5 year business plan. Their Head of Finance, Jay Walder (one of the infamous Americans) is in the spotlight. One of the real difficulties when you are chairing someone like Jay is, trying to curtail very long answers and explanations without being rude.

Witnesses often want to bring in the history of their decisions in answer to our questions – which is fine with an audience who don’t know the situation. But the PR side is less useful for Transport Committee members from all parties who are all very experienced and knowledgeable on these issues already.

Anyway – my anxiety on that was simply to do with timing. We had an awful lot of questions we wanted answered in a relatively short time.

One of the key issues for the committee was the Mayor’s fares strategy. Having listened to the back and forth explanations of TfL – topped by Jay’s admission that they have created the most complicated fare structure in the world – I think they have got themselves in a mess over fares.

Their argument, to be fair, is that as electronic ticketing becomes more widespread it will allow them the flexibility to encourage the best use of the bus network’s capacity.

My view is that it just confuses the public – and as with Oyster at the moment, the public end up paying more as there is no cap on a day’s usage. Flat fares are much better for the travelling public. The simpler the fare structure the better.

The next key issue was really about risk. The business plan has to make assumptions about fares rises and also the levels of government grant over the next four years. If nothing goes wrong or slips – the plan is viable and the loan agencies will stump up the £3 billion in borrowing.

The big question for the Committee was who underwrites the risk, e.g. if costs escalate. Couldn’t really get an answer on this in plain English. I can’t really see the government bailing us out if things go wrong – so the answer is Londoners, through their council tax bills, will have to shoulder most of the risk.

Whilst I’m a fan of bonds and of London government being able to borrow to fund the big transport improvements we need – in practice the government seems to be using the ability to borrow money as a cover for not giving London enough money directly.

And there were other issues – but enough is enough.

We passed the Assembly report on the West London Tram. We basically like the idea of a tram – but have serious concerns as to whether it will work. There are three key concerns: the suitability of the Uxbridge Road to take a tram down its middle; the viability of the business case (dodgy) and the lack of investigation into cheaper viable alternatives.

It was a good report based on substantive investigations and witness evidence. Needless to say – although sporting almost exactly the same concerns – the Greens and Labour brought out a minority report which is attached in the Appendices.

And we finally agreed the revised terms of reference for the Parking Scrutiny which begins in the New Year. The fun never stops.