The London Transport Manifestos. Don’t Get Too Excited

If it weren’t for the serious implications of getting ‘the wrong kind of politician’, one could afford to treat the contemptible electioneering material as the bit of fun it must surely be. Election manifestos, in particular, are masterpieces of spin and dissembling that makes all other advertising look a model of accuracy. In few other places are apparently firm promises on examination so vague that they mean nothing, are so politically correct they will offend nobody and so ambiguous one really doesn’t know what is being promised. Few other documents would be allowed to misuse statistics on such a profound scale from such a carefully chosen basket of misrepresented ‘facts’. Few other documents, when there was nothing good to say, simply slag off the opposing teams as being even worse (hard to believe as that might seem). Probably no other medium sweeps previous history under the carpet and insists ‘we need one more chance’ or ‘we need a change’, neither without the slightest justification from the baby-kissing nonentities involved… Promises made and not kept by themselves are not referred to, but those of the other lot are!
I generalize, of course, and it must be because there is apparently an election looming in London. I have already fallen about laughing at the unutterable drivel that has dropped through my letter box, and read just enough of all of the pamphlets (on their way to the recycling bin, where they are of most use in saving the planet) to realize I really needed to see the manifestos to gain any real insight into what I am being promised. Life is too short to deal with all of the words, so it is with the greatest restraint that I have confined myself to the transport manifestos of what (without anticipating events) appear to be the two leading candidates on offer. Furthermore I’ll confine comments to public transport, which I think I understand.
I’ll deal with Boris first. This is not because I favour him – I have a dread of either having real power of any kind – it is simply because Boris’s was out first and had to be produced without certain knowledge of what Ken was to put in his, while Ken’s was probably influenced by Boris’s.
The Johnson manifesto “Investing in Transport” is a masterpiece of political sophistry and I shall retain a copy as an appropriate example of the art. It is fascinating to see how this old Etonian takes the credit for every plausibly good outcome over the last few years to the exclusion of everybody else. He takes credit for ending the PPP, for example, a process that surely self-destructed under its own steam. He takes credit for things that started under Ken, like the Victoria Line upgrade, not that Ken had any control that. He takes credit for introducing new air conditioned trains, already committed in Ken’s time, and of course entirely confined to trains operating largely in the open air where the expense and energy wastage is at best questionable. It’s wonderful stuff. The promises of more to come are a careful weaving of a small number of new promises into a range of other inevitabilities and a raft of re-launches of things that are already happening. All done with a straight face, it is although he believes this tosh himself!
Specifically, this approach has caused me to divide his commitments into two parts. Part 1 comprises firm promises that are intelligible and seemingly measurable; Part 2 is other stuff that is warm and cuddly sounding, but I’m not sure is very meaningful.
Part 1 – the firm stuff (arguably output-related)
  • To cut delays on the tube ‘by a further 30 per cent’.
  • To introduce automatic train control on 48 per cent of Underground rolling stock by the end of 2014.
  • To protect the Freedom pass for all TfL services from age 60.
  • To guarantee concessionary travel to certain groups and an associated courtesy card.
  • To introduce wave and pay ticketing.
  • To roll out the new bus for London with 600 in service by end of term (2016, not an Eton school term).
  • To roll out Countdown
  • More (ie a higher number) of accessible bus stops.
Part 2 – the reassuring stuff (mainly input related)
  • Protect investment for present upgrade programme (ie not spend it on reducing fares)
  • Ensure Crossrail stays on track
  • Insist funding for Crossrail 2 (Chelsea-Hackney) is part of HS2 funding
  • Secure changes to strike laws from HMG (requiring 50 per cent turnout)
  • Ensure transparency and honesty over fares policy
  • Lobby TOCs to accept Freedom Pass before 09:30
  • Lobby HMG to devolve rail franchising powers to Mayor
  • Work to extend DLR to Bromley and Tramlink to Crystal Palace
  • Work with Network Rail to increase rail capacity, mainly by lengthening trains.
I think most readers will be able to draw their own conclusions about these promises, but I make the following observations.
Boris claims that he has ‘reduced delays by almost 40 per cent since he was elected’. It is difficult to know where to start on this one, especially as the actual measure isn’t stated. The base measure (delays of 2-minutes or more) is not given.
I offer the following based on average of 5 years of Ken and 4 of Boris, compensated as necessary by prorating final two months of 2011-2012 as statistics not yet available. Of four measures that are readily available, my take on it is:
  • Percentage of schedule operated – 2.3% percentage improvement
  • Excess Journey Time – 16.5% improvement
  • Lost Customer Hours (ie unplanned) – 30% improvement on slowly continuing trend
  • Delays over 15 minutes – 33% improvement on slight downward trend.
I can’t get to 40 per cent on anything meaningful, I’ll publish it if I do. Clearly some of the improvement follows forced ending of PPP and introduction and settling down of new signalling and trains. It is difficult to see how Boris can take too much credit for any of it. His claim to be able to shave off another 30 per cent is a courageous one, based no doubt in part on continued introduction of new trains. There are hints in the detail that a bit more root cause analysis and coordination of action plans would help, but more than half of his list is about reducing delay impact rather than delays – laudable and belated, but not actually quite what his headline says.
To claim to introduce ATC on 48 per cent of the Underground as though it’s all down to Boris is an interesting claim. It is already 35 per cent and the balance comprises the Northern Line, in the process of being equipped as I am writing and planned for some time. This will also happen under Ken, of course, as presumably will introduction of ATC on sub surface lines as the contract is let.
I have commented on the new bus elsewhere, nothing further to say here.
Countdown is already being rolled out and there are no metrics about accessible bus stops, all about making sure that the accessible buses can actually stop at stops to enable accessible features work.
I have no comments on Part 2 which have the character of ‘good intentions’.
Let us now look at Ken’s offering.
Ken’s manifesto is inevitably simpler as he doesn’t have the last four years in office to go on about. His manifesto gets straight into things and sets out the following.:
  • He will cut fares by 7% on election, freeze them the following year (effectively another reduction of maybe 3%) and then peg them to inflation.
  • He will restore Freedom Pass to those 60 or over and agree funding deal with Councils
  • He will ‘improve’ London bus services to make them more relevant and appealing to users. This is composed of several sub-promises, including:
    • Focusing on improvements to suburban services where there are fewer alternatives;
    • Making ALL bus stops fully accessible;
    • Improving bus priority measures
    • ‘Dealing with’ roadworks
    • Cancelling New Bus for London project at the nine buses ordered so far.
  • Make certain tube improvements. Much of the proposal here was to bad-mouth Boris’s promise-keeping and it was quite hard to identify the positives. The only specific I could find was that to ‘bear down’ on Monday morning overruns. There were input-type promises such as employing Val Shawcross to champion the passenger and to spend all allocated money.
  • He will reintroduce a Zone 2-6 saver card, substantially replacing a now withdrawn travelcard facility.
  • He will ‘make the case to HMG’ for running the Capital’s suburban rail services.
  • He will work with TfL to restore ‘Tube Etiquette’.
  • He will work to justify the construction of a number of new transport schemes, a few of which were dropped in Boris’s early days but which TfL believed could not be justified under any regime. The listed schemes are:
    • Crossrail 1 to Ebbsfleet
    • Crossrail 2 (Chelsea-Hackney)
    • Crossrail 3 (Euston-Waterloo)
    • Cross River Tram
    • DLR to Dagenham Dock
    • South London Line to Victoria (presently scheduled to be curtailed after ELL extension to Clapham opened)
    • Croydon Tramlink to Crystal Palace.
  • Ken will campaign against HS2 on grounds it affects too many London homes.
Most comment is probably unnecessary. Some similarity might be noticed with certain aspects of the Boris manifesto (presumably the stuff TfL is working on regardless).
On the whole Ken’s offering, with one exception, lacks very much detail and is not supported by what we might call rigorous argument! Much is unlikely to bear significant fruit in a mere 4-year term. It may be regarded as a good thing it is quite short and lacks tedious and otiose fantasy! I did notice at the front some commitment to reducing congestion and pollution, but have so far struggled to connect it with any of the specific promises made. It’s all a bit thin.
In short Ken’s main plank is his promise to cut fares, a proposal that Boris’s team reckons will cost over £1.2bn. Ken always has been a great fares cutter. On the last two occasions (1982 and 1984) the opportunity was taken to use the cuts to facilitate introduction of zonal fares, a very useful side effect, but there is no equivalent benefit this time. Ken says the cut is affordable because TfL is presently returning a surplus and can therefore afford it. We do not of course know what the finances might look like next year so it seems a bit of a chance. The promise (which no doubt will be thought popular) will have an annual cost, though, and even if there is a surplus TfL can only otherwise use it to fund investment, if it is not simply to be wasted away, so that is why Boris is making a meal of protecting it. That doesn’t of course mean an investment will necessarily be a wise one for huge amounts are squandered within capital programmes, something Boris seems content to keep silent about (politicians often confuse spending money [easy] with delivering benefits [difficult]).
I have some thought’s about Boris’s dark hints on ‘driverless’ trains, but I will leave those for another day – it won’t happen during the next term.
There won’t be a ‘plague on all your houses’ option on my voting form. I shall seriously consider which is the least worst candidate to go for, or which party needs a good kicking, depending on what sort of day I’m having, but I don’t think either manifesto is likely to help me very much. I’m looking forward to a visit from the next party canvasser though: I have my questions ready. They’ll not be back!
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About machorne

I have always lived in London and taken a great interest in its history and ongoing development. This extended into the history of its transport services, about which I have written a number of books - I have spent most of my working life working in the industry and observing changes from within, mostly to the good, but not always so. I continue to write, and have a website with half finished stuff in it so that it is at least available, if not complete. Several new books are in hand. I have many 'works in progress' and some of these can be found on my website; the we address is http://www.metadyne.co.uk
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