Extending Oyster: one person persuaded!

Keith Flett kindly wrote in the local newspaper about my push to get Oyster more widely accepted on train services:

Full marks to Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, for raising the issue of pay as you go Oyster Card use on rail networks in Haringey. At the moment they can’t be used on the line from Finsbury Park through to Hornsey and beyond, although the train operator First Group seems to be happy for this to take place on its services out of Paddington.

Meanwhile on the other side of the borough, recent changes means that Oyster can be used on services out of Liverpool Street to stations in Hackney which includes Seven Sisters and Tottenham Hale, but not beyond.

How visitors and tourists make sense of this glorious mess one can only wonder.
– Keith Flett, Mitchley Road, N17.

You should be able to use Oyster on trains north of Finsbury Park

Extending the use of Oyster to First Capital Connect’s overground train services running north out of Finsbury Park is the subject of my latest local column:

To us public transport users in London it seems as plain as the nose on our faces that Oyster should be extended to our local overground rail (and everywhere actually) – so we can go boldly and easily wherever we choose! But no – we still have to put up with a two-tier ticket system if we want to use our local overground stations like Alexandra Palace and Haringey.

We are stalled because First Capital Connect are holding back from extending Oyster north of Finsbury Park station. Having to get separate tickets to travel in the same city is akin to Soviet-style bureaucracy – not what you expect in a world-class city like London.

These days we’re no long train travellers but customers – but whatever then happened to putting the customer first? This sort of bureaucratic small mindedness does rather make a mockery of their slogan, “Your Journey, Your Choice, Your Railway” – but not “Your Convenience” or “Your choice of ticketing” it would seem.

Other train operators like First Great Western and South West Trains have already committed to making their passengers happy and will install the Oyster pay-as-you-go system in the next year – and they are putting First Capital Connect to shame.

Recently I met with the Oyster specialists Cubic – who delivered Oyster for our tubes and buses – at Alexandra Palace overground station and they are keen as mustard to get on with it. So I’ve written to First Capital Connect calling on them to get on with it – and you can too at Freepost RRBRREEJKTKY, First Capital Connect, Customer Relations Department, PO Box 443, Plymouth, PL4 6WP.

But before you do – you can read the rest of the piece here.

Tap in and tap out: yes please

It’s one of the great successes of Transport for London. Yes – you heard right – TfL and the word ‘success’ in the same breath. I’m talking Oyster!

Now we tap in and tap out without a second thought. We nimbly flit from tube to bus – tap in / tap out. And then we try and nimbly flit from tube to bus to train – and oh dear – we can’t!

To us public transport users in London it seems as plain as the nose on our faces that Oyster should be extended to our local overground rail (and everywhere actually) – so we can go boldly and easily wherever we choose!

But no – we still have to put up with a two-tier ticket system if we want to use our local overground stations like Alexandra Palace and Haringey. We are stalled because First Capital Connect are holding back from extending Oyster north of Finsbury Park station.

Having to get separate tickets to travel in the same city is akin to Soviet-style bureaucracy – not what you expect in a world-class city like London. These days we’re no long train travellers but customers – but whatever then happened to putting the customer first? This sort of bureaucratic small mindedness does rather make a mockery of their slogan, “Your Journey, Your Choice, Your Railway” – but not “Your Convenience” or “Your choice of ticketing” it would seem.

Other train operators like First Great Western and South West Trains have already committed to making their passengers happy and will install the Oyster pay-as-you-go system in the next year – and they are putting First Capital Connect to shame.

Recently I met with the Oyster specialists Cubic – who delivered Oyster for our tubes and buses – at Alexandra Palace overground station and they are keen as mustard to get on with it.

So I’ve written to First Capital Connect calling on them to get on with it – and you can too at Freepost RRBR-REEJ-KTKY, First Capital Connect, Customer Relations Department, PO Box 443, Plymouth, PL4 6WP.

Now, don’t get me started on that Freepost address with the twelve-letter string we all are meant to write out – that’s the sign of another service, the Royal Mail, which also seems to have forgotten what serving its customers really mean. They’ve got the address, they’ve got the postcode – but on top of that they expect people to remember and repeat such an unintelligible set of a dozen letters each time you want to use the address. Customer friendly – not!

But back to the topic at hand – not only are First Capital Connect dragging their feet, but they seem keener to install Oyster at the stations south of Finsbury Park with higher passenger numbers than our smaller but vital stops north of that interchange. Wonder why that is?

In fact – we should have smart ticketing connecting all our transport modes nationwide – but the Train Operating Companies are also feet dragging as they don’t want to incur the maintenance costs – even though when he was Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said he would pay for the installation of the readers. And the Government – well they don’t see it as a priority and seem happy for it to take decades – only making changes when the rail franchises are up.

Personally, I think they should make the Train Operating Companies install the smart ticketing, insist it is compatible with Oyster etc and do it now – though with added safeguards to protect the data about individuals that ends up in the Oyster system.

Anyway first things first – local nagging is required to make sure that First Capital Connect don’t skip out our local overground stations and that they get a shifty on!

Tap, tap, tap…

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2008

Should Oyster go national?

Met with Cubic – the company who deliver Oyster – yesterday. I met them at Alexandra Park Station where they said that Oyster compatibility for such train services would be coming to in mid 2009. Hurrah! Having a joined up system will bring much benefit to local travellers!

But their bigger quest is to get Oyster-compatible ticketing across the nation. Their problem – it is low on the Government’s priority list – and no one in the Government transport team seems to want to champion it, even though it would be cheaper and more effective in the long run to do it as a complete scheme now – rather than piecemeal as and when franchises come up.

Of course – Cubic have their own interests in seeing Oyster go national, but seeing the benefits it has brought to public transport use in London, it is in all our interests to see it spread.

Brian Paddick on the campaign trail in Haringey

Lynne Featherstone, Brian Paddick and Monica Whyte promote a green alternative to plastic bagsBrian Paddick came to Hornsey & Wood Green and we visited a number of hotspots. The area is becoming a bit of a regular haunt of his – he was here during the Highgate by-election too. This time I showed him Wood Green cross – which is the area that local residents in the Wood Green area are most worried about crime wise. There stands a disused and vacant and deteriorating police box. Originally conceived and procured to ease peoples’ fears by having police on the spot – it never really opened for enough hours for anyone to have the slightest confidence that there would be a police person in the box. So it failed. Such a stupid waste for what was a good idea.

We went to Alexandra Park station (Oyster needed / on the way); Ally Pally – to show Brian the historic building which Labour Haringey first built up a debt (for which we locals had to pay) and then tried to sell on in a highly controversial deal – stopped at the moment by a local group taking Labour Haringey to court; then off to the 603 bus route in Muswell Hill where Brian pledged to extend the operating hours of this much loved route.

In Crouch End he promoted the Crouch End Traders ‘Bag for Life’ and posed in front of the Clock Tower whilst he did various interviews with the local press. He tried to squeeze in Weston Park Post Office – but in the end Monica Whyte (GLA candidate and local councillor) and David Winskill (local councillor) went there to meet a disabled lady whose life will be ruined if Labour’s proposed Post Office closures go ahead.

And I went to visit Bonnie – living with husband, two children and sister in two rooms in terrible state – but more of this story in a while. I am on the warpath for this one.

Encouraging practical alternatives to car ownership

Met Lynne Featherstone MP seeing how the Islington Streetcar street club workswith Streetcar. This is a car club. For those who don’t know – car clubs are just that. You become a member of the club and you can ‘buy’ access to a car, which will be stationed relatively near to you for an hourly, or 24 hour fee. It’s secured with a sort of version of the Oyster Card that unlocks the door – and then you have a pin number to feed into a gismo that removes the immobiliser and releases you the key to start it up.

There was one (well two actually) parked on the special on-street spaces reserved by the council in Islington (Lib Dem run of course!) for the car club – which is being enthusiastically backed by the council. Car clubs typically remove 20 private cars for each one of their cars. It is economic to the club member (only pay for a car when you need it), great for reducing congestion and car parking stress – and research amongst members demonstrates that people drive less miles per annum than they did when they owned their own car.

So – Cllr Ed Butcher (Lib Dem, Stroud Green) and I were meeting with Streetcar to see how they were progressing with breaking into the Haringey market. Opening gambits have been made – but I am sure Ed will be seeking to help them on their way. Transport for London gives funding to boroughs to promote the introduction of car clubs – so where there is money Haringey can be directed!

Oyster card capping

Mayor’s Press Conference at City Hall, with his tirade at an Evening Standard journalist still fresh in everyone’s minds. This was a Ken masterclass in how to try and front down the massed ranks of the media and win the day. He didn’t quite make it – not because it wasn’t a masterclass in political dodging and weaving – but because his fundamental, stubborn refusal to at least ‘regret any upset he had caused’ just came over as a spoiled child.

What did astonish me was the depth of vituperative attacks on the media and particular individuals. Even if warranted (and Ken’s version of history is not always correct) it was wrong for him to have let rip in such crass style. Ken said, in response to the almost astonished gasp at his outbursts, that that is why the public love him – ‘cos he says what he thinks.

What a shame that someone who is in a way so talented is also so flawed.

The Olympics were rather shoved into the background and the only other ‘announcement’ was about the capping of Oyster Card. Hurrah! Let’s be clear (because I have been lectured very soundly by Jay Walder – finance head for TfL) on promoting the wonders of Oyster card and not being a mean, nasty critical politician. So hats off to Oyster. I do believe it’s the future – but capping has been a long time overdue.

Up until now people making lots of journeys have gone on being charged so that their daily tally could add up to lots more than the most expensive travel card. This ‘capping’ will now mean that you will never pay more than the cheapest way of making your journeys. So – at last – well done.

Oyster cards

Walk into office to be greeted by howls of laughter from my press officer and office manager. Marina Hyde (Guardian Diary – which one tries to avoid coverage in) has been sent my Christmas Eve newspaper column.

It was just a bit of fun – a festive fairytale with a bit of political mischief (as the Ham & High billed it). It followed on from my last year’s Christmas Fairy tale.

Anyway – Ms Hyde appeared concerned about my mental well-being and asked for reassurance which I gave later in the day along with the Doctor’s suggested remedy of becoming a Member of Parliament to ensure no relapses.

Pop in to Budget Committee for the part on the transport budget. I decide at the end (when non-members of the committee can raise issues) to have a go over the Oyster card mess that has erupted over the holiday period, at the introduction of new fares. We need to get this sorted as Oyster is a great idea in which public confidence is being shaken by the number of cock-ups by Transport for London.

I note with some irony that the vast majority of cock-ups mean that TfL gets money it is not entitled to out of our pockets.

Humps and tubes

Assemble in the chamber for the three-minute silence. Brief speech by Ken followed by the silence. Many members and staff of the Assembly gathered. It feels appropriate to mark such an event with some formality.

Then, telephone interview with Transcalm.They are undertaking a marketing exercise to see how their ‘magic’ hump can best become a nice little earner. I inform the interviewer of my view that Dunlop were short-sighted (I may have used the term stupid) to have failed to take up the opportunities of a trial in Haringey.

Basically this road hump lies flat if you go over at the prescribed speed but remains a hump if you are speeding (as you pass over it too fast for it to deflate). I love the idea of rewarding good driving and punishing bad.

To date – the ‘magic’ hump has been trialled thus: two humps in a slip road in Puddle Dock. I suggest that they run it on a residential road in Haringey and/or a bus lane. When I set up a meeting to facilitate this in Haringey – the price they wanted to charge was still 50% of the normal price. Now these babies are not cheap – particularly in the short term – and the company who will make a mint if they take off should be willing to give a better deal than that to councils or authorities willing to give it a trial.

Then on to looking at Transport for London’s overspend on their budget (for budget committee tomorrow). They are £70 million over – despite raised fares – and have lots of problems with Oyster card bugs. So if they are going to bug London’s travellers, I am going to bug them about their bugs.

My other bugbear (excuse the pun) today is that London Underground have missed 4 out of 6 of their reliability targets. I got the answer to a Mayoral question and it’s a sadly familiar pattern: targets missed, performance down. It just adds insult to injury when the tube fares are the highest in the world, have just been raised and this coincides with big cheese Bob Kiley’s £51,000 rise and the tubeworkers’ 5.2%.

Guess who isn’t invited to the table – me and you. We pay more and get less. Bet Ken wouldn’t use that as his manifesto message.

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.