603 bus

The bigwigs from Transport for London came to Parliament to meet with the London Lib Dem MPs to answer specific questions from them. Quite a line up! Tim O’Toole (tube), David Brown (surface transport), Ian Brown (overground) and the Commissioner for Transport – Peter Hendy.

Needless to say my constant refrain is ‘gissa bus’ – and specifically the extension to a full time route for the 603. What is like trying to get blood out of a stone is the cycle where I ask, I get told that a full time route is not financially viable – but then they won’t say what demand level will make it viable. However, today after pushing and pushing the point, David Brown has said that he will finally get back to me with some sort of figure. I could see scepticism in his eye – because he is convinced that the model TfL use to assess viability predicts demand accurately. I say bollocks to that. Anyway – I want to try and prove their model wrong. So – if they say 10 passengers per hour or 20 or whatever – I will find them!

Asking Tom Chambers for an autograph

A fun thing happened yesterday – well two in fact. And it has been quite a grim couple of weeks so very welcome.

First off I was at the BBC to do the Jeremy Vine show – and while I was waiting in the ‘green room’, I saw Tom Chambers from Strictly Coming Dancing pacing up and down – obviously also waiting to go on a show. Well – we are big Strictly fans in my house – and so, despite the hideous embarrassment I would have to suffer – I went up to him and introduced myself. And yes – asked for his autograph for one of my daughters.

He was so nice – despite, I assume, getting approached quite a lot. When I told him that my daughter had put money on him (I know – betting- sorry) he looked a bit surprised. I hastily added that she was 19 – and that she had a double bet – him for Strictly and Alexandra for X Factor! He said all his friends had money on him too!

And then the second nice thing was going to a presentation by Peter Hendy (Commissioner of Transport for London) and Tim O’Toole (Manager of London Underground). Nice for two reasons – firstly I think these two are class professionals – way better than most I have met on my sojourn through life. Secondly – brilliant presentation by Tim on the improvements to the tube up to 2020. Just setting aside the actuality for a moment – the way he illustrated what would happen on each line was the most dynamic presentation I have seen for years! As the first 20 years of my professional life were as a designer – just a pleasure to watch.

Highbury and Islington station is set to be moved

A quick update on the saga of the Finsbury Park sign that puts Highbury & Islington on the Northern Line – Tim O’Toole from Transport for London has got back in touch with me:

Dear Lynne

I refer to your email dated 5 June and addressed to Peter Hendy. I have been asked to respond.

The sign is certainly misleading and the local Group Station Manager has arranged to have it amended.

The comment [on your blog] posted by Mr Mark Valladares, is indeed correct. The line from Finsbury Park to Moorgate was, until the 1970s, a spur ofthe Northern line. This is the type of quirk one finds on such an oldsystem and that is treasured by the cognoscenti. You are right toexpect us to eliminate such items, however.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Yours sincerely

Tim O’Toole

Now that’s what I like – Tim O’Toole, hands on and dealing with it! Thanks Tim and all hail the power of the internet!

Mobile phones on the Tube

Give live interview to LBC on London Underground’s move towards introducing the technology that will allow mobile phones on the tube.

I remember arguing with Tim O’Toole (MD London Underground for Transport for London) when I was still on the London Assembly – and we then came out against them as he could not reassure me about the risks involved following the Madrid bomb – which was set off by a mobile phone. And I had a sneaky suspicion that the risk might be being minimised befause of the very attractive revenue stream that accompanies mobile phones.

However, time has passed. I am more reassured than I was – and on balance the benefits of being contactable during an emergency or even if scared outweigh the fears. Also – as we now know – the Madrid bomb was set off by the timing device – and so didn’t need a signal anyway.

On a personal note however, those bloody ringtones. Now – there really will be no hiding place.

Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill

Arrive City Hall to take part in ceremonious signing of Book of Condolences following last Thursday’s terrorist attack on London.

A rabbi comes up to me and started to harangue me suggesting that I (presumably as a Liberal Democrat) should go to Jenny Tonge and ask her to make the same statement she made about understanding suicide bombers now to our home-grown suicide bombers.

I understand the point he was making – but felt it totally inappropriate moment to raise it. I generally end up with both Israeli and Palestinian being cross with me whatever I say in such cases – as I passionately believe that only a solution which gives enough of what each side needs (a two-state or an equally shared one-state) will ever work and cannot bear the repeated calls on history which can stretch back centuries with the old rights and wrongs paraded endlessly – getting nowhere. Only moving forward together will ever create peace.

OK – rant over.

We go upstairs to the chamber. One by one various people come forward to sign – Bob Kiley (Commissioner of Transport), Tony McNulty (Minister), Trevor Phillips (Chair of the CRE), Peter Hendy (Director Surface Transport, TfL), Tim O’Toole (Managing Director of Surface Transport TfL) and on.

It was very moving – very silent – very appropriate.

When the main group had finished, everyone else lines up to sign. I don’t know what others wrote – I wrote something like ‘Love is stronger than hate. Love will triumph’.

Then off to Westminster for the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill. I sit through the debate as having taken this bill through committee stage with my colleague from the Home Affairs team, Alistair Carmichael, I want to support him and also speak if I can get called.

Prior to the debate – there is a statement by the Prime Minister. I don’t agree with him on many issues – but he is head and shoulders above the others in Labour in performance terms. Maybe it goes with the territory. For sure – Gordon doesn’t have it in that same way. The statement updates us on the situation with regard to the attacks and progress made. There is this time more of a debate and Charles K does dare to raise the issue of Iraq – which all steered clear of last time which Charles Clarke made his emergency statement on the day of the attack.

At 4.30pm-ish we begin the debate on religious hatred. During the debate I pop out to the lobby where I have received a green card from – slipped into me in the chamber. A green card is filled in with the details of someone (a constituent usually) who has come to Central Lobby to lobby their MP. By the time I can get out – about 40 minutes after receiving the card – the person is nowhere to be found. However, I do bump into Pastor Nims (who leads the Peace Alliance) and he tells me that about 3-4,000 black religious leaders are outside Parliament to lobby against the Labour Government’s Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill.

Hurrah I say – about time everyone realised that the people that Labour set out to help by trying to stop incitement to hatred on religious grounds – will be exactly those who find they cannot practise their religion freely any longer.

Many of the arguments during the debate were repeats of, by now, well-rehearsed points. But I felt moved to intervene on Chris Bryant who was making a point (I think) about the difference between the belief and the believer – because Labour believe it is possible to hate a religion without hating the person who believes in that religion. Chris kindly lets me intervene to make the point that if you have love in your heart – then you may well be able to hate the belief not the believer – but if you have hatred in your heart – then the niceties of that distinction fly out the window. Basically – thugs and creeps likely to have religious hatred stirred up in them won’t give a toss about that very academic difference!

The debate is scheduled to finish at 10.00pm sharp – at which point Mr Speaker rises to his feet to call the vote. I am called finally at 9.58pm.

‘I’ll be brief, Mr Speaker’ makes the House laugh – sadly removing precious seconds. With little time – I make the point about the unintended consequences of this bill rebounding on those it sought to help – hence the presence of the thousands outside fearing loss of their freedom to practise their religion freely and simply state that legislation can’t stop hatred.

The LibDem amendment (supported by the Tories) fell – and so I voted against the bill – which I think will be a disaster.

Highgate, Ken and more Highgate

8am: meet key local campaigners over the Highgate Tube Control Centre. Tubelines want to improve the service on the Northern Line (good thing) but are doing this by putting a big ugly building in at the edge of Highgate Woods (bad thing).

We are meeting with Catherine McGuinness of the Corporation of London for a photo op and discussion. Tubelines has listened a bit to the campaign from residents living next to the site about their side of the site, but they have not taken, seemingly, a blind bit of notice of the damaging aspect towards the Highgate Woods side.

I assume this is because trees and squirrels can’t complain? However, Cllr Bob Hare (Lib Dem, Highgate ward), the Highgate Society, the Corporation of London and me are speaking out on behalf of all those who use the woods, the trees, the squirrels and indeed the bats.

We release a joint statement for the press.

Then at 10am my last Mayor’s Question Time at City Hall. I am sad to go – but as ever have a bit of a spat with Ken. Basically a skirmish over his failure since re-entering the Labour womb to deal effectively with the Tube PPP. The performance is abysmal and the private companies, in my view, unlikely to deliver even what was in their original bid. We are a Capital City – get us out of it! Ken has got to threaten more – and/or get us out of the contract at the Government’s cost. Spending too much time fixing for us to use mobile phones on the tube – and none on getting the infracos to deliver the basic services!

Anyway – still sad to be leaving. I have just so enjoyed it all.

A couple of hours later I pop up to see Ken because I have promised residents campaigning on another issue to raise the issue with him. Ken and I chat for a while – and then he says – have you come to say goodbye? And I say no. I have come to request a deputation on the Highgate Tube station fence issue.

Ken has actually seen the fence and seems to totally agree and says he doesn’t need a deputation – let’s just deal with it. He drags me through to Redmond (right hand man’s) office and we run through it. Redmond says he will contact Tim O’Toole (Transport for London) and ask him to take down the fence and see what he says.

Glad I won’t be there to hear the expletives! – but this is Ken at his finest, actually standing up for what matters. I wait with baited breath.

In the evening, after my first three line whip vote in which melee I find myself next to Boris (my new best friend from Question Time) Johnson and ask him which is the ‘ayes’ and which is the ‘noes’ lobby? I clearly don’t want to go the wrong way. Boris claims not to know … Very charming – but I don’t believe a word.

Special test from the voters

Plenary session at City Hall questioning transport supremo Bob Kiley – followed by Mayor’s Question Time with Ken.

As I walk from London Bridge Station (following a journey from hell on the Northern Line) I pass a cafe. Sitting and looking very sad and lonely is Ken having a cup of coffee. I watch him for a while – as it is a really striking picture and wish that I had had a camera.

Anyway – to cut to the chase – my big issue is the £1.6million that Ken spent on external legal costs fighting the PPP (tube privatisation). Now I thought the money was definitely worth spending – we had to try and stop probably the worst contract in the world being foisted on London. We failed. But my beef with Ken is that for him it was clearly ‘gesture politics’ (the most expensive in history) as now he’s back in the Labour fold we don’t hear a peep from him against the PPP – nor do we see action to take control of a failing contract.

So I put this to Kiley and he lets rip against Metronet who are managing to disrupt London almost every time they overrun on engineering works. Clearly from recent media outbursts from Tim O’Toole and now Kiley – frustration at TfL is rampant.

So I helpfully suggest that they sack Metronet – none of this waiting and putting them on notice to improve or else. That should already have been the case. Clearly financial penalty is no barrier to their poor performance – time to cut losses and run. I mean, John Weight, the Chief Exec of Metronet, came before my committee a few weeks ago. I pushed him on his responsibility for the overruns. He admitted publicly it was entirely a management issue in terms of planning and managing access and that he was on the case and it would all be alright.

Clearly not given the tube’s performance! They should be sacked and the Mayor should make the Government suffer the consequences – and then let us fund the Tube by bonds.

I go upstairs as I have to leave a bit early for an appointment – only to find everyone going mad. Did I really say sack Metronet? Yup!

Latter, I get on with delivering our ‘Flying Start’ leaflet in Hornsey. It is pouring with rain one minute then bright sunshine. A woman runs up to me in Harvey Road saying ‘are you Lynne’ etc. She tells me that they have had a problem with dumping and rubbish for years and Haringey Council has done nothing. But the previous night they had formed a Residents’ Association and rung up to complain about their dumped rubbish. And, lo as if by magic – at midnight the waste collection company turned up and removed 42 black bags.

Now – you might think this was a shining example of service – but ‘scuse my cynicism – how many times in Haringey does Accord turn up to pick up rubbish at midnight? Must be an election! People are not fooled. She certainly wasn’t.

Three hours delivering and my body says rest and food required. Go home to discover 200 or so emails which have to be answered.

But in the middle I get a phone-call from a man. He is a Tory ringing because he says that it is obvious that the Tories cannot win in Hornsey & Wood Green and he is thinking of voting LibDem. But he is worried about asylum and immigration and wants reassurance from me that we won’t ‘let them all in’.

He doesn’t wish to give his name.

So I explain to him, that we need strong policies on migration but what this should mean is looking carefully at how many migrants the country needs and can cope with in different areas (of the country and the economy). The real problem at the moment lies with illegal immigration – which is not only bad for us but appalling for the people as well.

He goes on about asylum seekers – too many – send ‘em back etc. I make it clear that unlike the Tories I would not wish to put any quota on asylum. I would not want to come from a country that closed its doors on someone fleeing for their lives.

He came back at me about the quantity coming in – and on – and on. In the end I said to him ‘Look I am not a Tory – I am a Liberal Democrat – I just don’t believe what you believe’ or words to that effect.

At which point he said that I would have his vote (much to my surprise.) Then he said he had done something mean. He wasn’t a Tory supporter. He was a lifelong Labour supporter who wouldn’t vote Labour this time – but who wanted to test me out in private.

Clearly I had passed the test!

So Mr G of Muswell Hill – thank you – because you made me laugh – and at the end of a long day it was definitely the best medicine!

Bob Kiley's pay

Rush outside after Transport Committee to do a TV snippet on Bob Kiley’s bonus and Oystercard.

Liberal Democrats finally got the figures and performance criteria of London’s traffic supremo – only thanks to our request under the Freedom of Information Act. Mind you, I think it should be a matter of public record – after all Londoners are all paying!

Mr Kiley gets a basic of £312,000 per annum. And over the last two years, in each year he got a bonus of £275,000 (96% of the full bonus) and this year is expected to get as much as £365,000 bonus.

The criteria for the pay are extremely vague, flabby and flawed. For a start – we have no idea what Mr Kiley is meant to do for his basic salary. I would have thought quite a lot for that amount. And yet in the performance criteria we find things he has to deliver like increased bus mileage and reduced congestion. ‘Scuse me – given the amount of extra buses we have all paid for over the last few years it would be a bit of a shock if bus mileage hadn’t increased. Ditto for reducing congestion – with the Congestion Charge it seems to me that was the main point.

Another strand of Bob’s bonus is helping to get borrowing from the government. This he has certainly delivered on and without Kiley I don’t think the government would have trusted Ken to borrow money. Budgeting is not his strong point…

However – Lib Dems will now pursue what we should have got for our money out of Mr Kiley’s basic salary and somewhat more specific targets for a bonus.

Call me old-fashioned – but I always thought a bonus was for doing extra well – not simply doing your job!

And of course the other biggy of the day was Oystercard packing up across London this morning. It wasn’t down for long – but it’s a good example of how things can go catastrophically wrong. (A corrupted disk Tim O’Toole had said in committee when I asked him to make a statement.)

Imagine if TfL had advanced the dream at this stage of everyone getting rid of their small change because you could buy bread and milk on Oystercard. Doris would have gone thirsty and hungry this morning.

After a Metropolitan Police Authority meeting, I rush to Transport for London to see Peter Hendy – supremo of all transport that runs on the surface of London.

This visit is about the Croydon Tram. There is a row between the guys running it and Transport for London. The people running the tram seem to believe that TfL may be trying to put them out of business by running competing bus routes. TfL think this is rubbish.

Peter (who is pretty robust) seems quite open to any suggestion from Croydon Tramlink about a way forward – but he certainly needs something from them on the table before any rescue plan could be brought forth.

And in the evening: with an election just around the corner – I do some telephoning!

Should the Northern Line be shut?

The tube! I am chairing the London Assembly’s Transport Committee this morning and Tim O’Toole came in to give evidence – Managing Director of London Underground (LU) for Transport for London – followed by the hard men of the private companies – the Chief Execs of Tubelines and Metronet.

There was recently an explosive exchange of bad will in the press between LU and the private companies. The Northern Line is failing appallingly and the engineering overruns on a Monday morning are becoming legendary.

Tube users are getting a raw deal. Improvements, such as they are, are small and slow – and some areas are getting worse. These guys – the three of them between them – share the blame.

In the press Tim O’Toole has basically said that the private companies are not putting resources in fast enough and are thinking about their profits (we anti-PPP brigade could have said ‘told you so’!). There is a hint that he believes that the penalties that Metronet are incurring are not high enough and that it may be cheaper for them to overrun on a Monday morning causing misery for those trying to use the tube rather than finish on time.

With regard to the Northern Line – a new proposal from Tubelines made its public debut. It is clear to anyone who uses it twice a day (as I do – and yes I declare a great interest) that radical renewal and repair is called for. Apparently Tubelines have submitted a proposal to LU (Tim) which breaks the line into seven sections. Each section would be closed and totally redone, with the whole line taking about a year. The public will be consulted on this (or told about it) and replacement transport will be provided while each section is shut.

It’s only a proposal – but it’s the only game in town as far as I can see at the moment.

Anyway – there was a bit of a squabble about line closure per se – as this enables the private companies to do their engineering work more quickly and cheaper. Who reaps the financial benefit? LU (and I) think that we (the public) should get a refund on monies saved – but the private companies will undoubtedly find reasons not to pay it.

The other raging battle is over figures and discrepancies. In his media outburst, it was clear that Mr O’Toole believes (and the report to the TfL board says so) that only a tiny percentage of work promised on renewal or repair of stations and escalators etc has taken place. In committee both sides were shirty. I put it to both of them – and they equivocated about interpretation of figures to the point where they could both be right.

Just keep up the pressure – that’s all I can do. The PPP is a dreadful contract and Tim O’Toole is doing a good job considering the pup he’s been sold. I suspect his very public outburst on the performance of private companies came as a result of extreme frustration with a contract that puts him quite squarely between a rock and a hard place.

Busy media day

Busy media day today. Splashed across Evening Standard front page is news of a ‘leaked’ document from the Assembly showing the appalling performance to date of the two private companies running the tube – and their manager, Transport for London.

I am really cross as it wasn’t a ‘leaked’ document – it was just the background briefing for members of the Assembly Transport Committee (which I chair) who will be questioning Tim O’Toole (MD of the tube for Transport for London) and the two Chief Execs of the private company on Thursday when they come before me in public session.

Cross – because the witnesses will now be forewarned. We always give them the questions or subjects so that they can prepare their background. However, the point of a public session in scrutiny is to put them on the spot.

Give a long interview to Metro on the failings of the PPP. How long have you got? Late with almost everything they are contracted to do – from over-running engineering to station upgrades.

Thursday’s session should be pretty interesting!

Also the Standard has taken my news release based on figures I have got hold of on how Capita (the Mayor’s favourite contractor administering the congestion charge) has had to pay GBP 4.5 million in fines – that’s GBP 7,400 per day. Even worse – the Mayor is going to extend their existing contract and almost certainly give them the contract for his westward extension to the congestion charge.

Well – given they are still missing 21% of their targets (improved from missing 35% previously) they are hardly going to kill themselves to improve when they know that seemingly whatever their performance they are going to be not only re-employed – but given new contracts.

It’s in the Standard and I do an LBC radio pre-record on the Capita release. Transport for London telephone – absolutely furious. However, the figures came in official Mayoral answers to written questions I had submitted.

Red faces I understand at TfL – they are now saying they gave the wrong figures in the Mayoral answer.

Capita have only had to pay GBP 3.7 million in fines not GBP 4.5 million.

I am sure that makes all the difference – not!

Then – to my surprise – BBC want to tape me talking about Ken’s climbdown over the Royal Ballet School. Happy to oblige. Ken has made a complete arse of himself by trying to use planning consent as a means to engineer his social policies – in this case the real sub-text being a view that a Royal Ballet School in a Royal Park is too posh and elitist.

My understanding is that this is rubbish as any budding Billy Elliott anywhere in the country aspires to come there – whatever the background.

Caught out, Ken is trying to assert that concessions by the school that they will make more strenuous efforts to attract diverse kids is the reason he has now been able to change his mind.

Last media call of the day is about the Parking Enforcement scrutiny I have instigated and been chairing at the London Assembly. We are in the process of writing up the evidence. It has become clear that the report will be ready in time for the April meeting – but if Blair calls the election – it might not be allowed to be published during that period.

There is some ruling somewhere that no one should gain any advantage from its publication. I would argue that it is the normal work of the Assembly and shouldn’t be stopped. I will ask for a legal ruling on this in due course.

Back to Hornsey & Wood Green to whip round to various houses collecting envelopes and then mountain of emails and casework to attend to.