Friday, June 19, 2009

Budget Committee Examines Fares

Thursday's budget committee took evidence from TfL witnesses and Kulveer Ranger - the mayor's director of transport policy - on the contentious subject of fare rises.

Setting the fares is a power exercised by the mayor, with reference to the TfL budget and professional advice. TfL forecasts its requirements annually in the October business plan and these are firmed up in the March budget. A number of factors are making predictions unusually challenging this year.

Current Position

Recent months have seen London Underground ridership - and therefore revenue - falling. The number of Underground passengers correlates closely to the number of people commuting to jobs in the capital, so the recession is having an effect, although the impact is less damaging in London than in other parts of the country.

However bus ridership remains unchanged, partly because a different demographic group uses buses and partly because inability to afford Tube fares pushes passengers onto buses as an alternative.

And the good news is that the number of tourists is up, responding to the favourable exchange rate. This particularly affects passenger numbers in zone one.

So given the turbulent position, TfL were reluctant to hazard a long term forecast at this time.

Budget Objectives

Obviously TfL is required to balance its budget, but key objectives in the coming year include:

Protecting the capital programme, most importantly Crossrail. Lower inflation rates in the construction sector may actually lead to savings against this budget heading.

Progressing with the introduction of Oyster pay as you go on main line rail services.

Continuing migration from cash payment to Oysters - interestingly, only 1.4% of bus revenue is now generated by 'on bus' ticket sales. And the figure is probably lower for bendies.

Bus Miles

The committee briefly considered an idea for TfL 'loyalty cards' floated by Lib Dem Caroline Pidgeon. The idea would be to reward passengers for travelling during off peak periods. It is an intriguing suggestion which the committee may well return to in detail on another occasion.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mayor's Question Time

It's MQT this morning and the first three questions all concern London Underground. We can expect some robust discussion around last week's RMT strike and I also plan to use the opportunity to raise concerns about the modernisation of Wanstead Station.

Wanstead is due to close for refurbishment next week with passengers expected to use nearby Snaresbrook Station instead. Unfortunately the capacity of Snaresbrook is limited and the station may become overcrowded. A lot of the older residents worry that the extra 15 minute walk will be too much for them.

Jenny Jones has a question about violence against women - something that we all (I hope) want to tackle. Expect some debate around the new approach to this problem being pioneered by Boris.

James Cleverly is going to ask the Mayor about rising rates of tuberculosis in some boroughs. He wants Boris to promote vaccination in boroughs with high TB rates.

John Biggs is raising questions around City Hall expenses. Our regime is rather limited and very transparent compared to goings on at Parliament and the matter was raised briefly by Richard Barnbrook last month, without much success. John refers to expense accounts as the troughs of the professional classes - how revolutionary...

And we have demonstrators opposing the removal of kerbs on main roads. They raise a real worry that blind or partially sighted people might stray into the path of oncoming traffic.

The Paris to Dakkar of question times will begin at 10:00am.

Friday, June 12, 2009

LBC Saturday Morning

I'm off to do the morning paper review with Ken Livingstone on LBC tomorrow. Now what shall we talk about???

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Assembly Condemns The RMT

This morning saw the monthly plenary meeting of the Assembly and most members struggled in despite the Tube strike. We took the opportunity to comment on the unwarranted industrial action in the following terms:

We condemn the RMT's irresponsible strike action, which will cause huge disruption to over three million Londoners and cost the London economy £100 million.

This motion was approved by all the members, although Labour did seek to make the following amendment:

This Assembly also condemns Mayor Johnson's failure to work towards improved industrial relations within TfL and his lack of leadership on this issue.

For a change they were left on their own, with the Greens abstaining and the Lib Dems opposing their amendment.

We also took the opportunity to thank the other unions, including ASLEF, who turned up to work, along with a considerable number of RMT members who braved the picket lines to keep services running. By lunch time London Underground were running trains on nine of the eleven lines.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Labour Comes Unstuck

This somewhat shaky picture of Labour's Romford HQ was taken from the top deck of a passing 252 on my return from St George's Hospital (see previous post). Although blurred, the sense of desolation is palpable. It wasn't only their posters that came unstuck over the weekend...

National Falls Awareness Day

After visiting the library I went on to St George's Hospital in Hornchurch. 23rd June is National Falls Awareness Day (and also my birthday), so the NHS trust are running a campaign to reduce injuries suffered by elderly bus users.

When I chaired the transport committee, we produced reports on bus driving standards which highlighted the risks to older and disabled passengers, so I was very pleased to help to launch this campaign. The leaflet I am holding in the picture advises bus drivers and operators on good practice to prevent injuries.

Most drivers are very professional and considerate but the high turnover of staff means that not everybody keeps abreast of the latest guidelines. Bus drivers can really help by:

Allowing passengers enough time to sit down before pulling off.

Pulling up as close to the kerb as possible.

Avoiding sudden acceleration and braking.

Using ramps when appropriate.

In Havering we have an elderly population so it is also important for operators to allow time in bus schedules for pensioners to board and alight.

The team will be setting up a stall to provide advice in Romford town centre on 23rd June.

Elm Park Library

Today I attended the opening of the new Elm Park library. For many years the residents had to make do with a nissan hut to house the collection of books and Labour floated a proposal to redevelop the site for flats a few years ago.

The new building is the latest in a series of Havering Council projects which have seen new libraries sprouting up across the borough. This flagship building has a green roof which helps to insulate in winter and keeps out the heat in summer. It is also supposed to change colour with the seasons, giving the neighbours something to look forward to. Inside, the library is light and airy, with mobile book shelves to enable different uses of the space. A pleasant garden provides an outdoor reading area for children.

Pictured in front of the library with me are fellow councillors Jeff Brace (Hylands) and Barry Oddy (Elm Park).

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Movers & Shakers

Yesterday morning saw the Redbridge Movers & Shakers cycling event hosted at the new Hog Hill cycling centre. A gaggle of local celebrities gathered for a couple of circuits of the track, to promote cycling.

Those present included Ilforn North MP Lee Scott, London assembly Member James Cleverly and members of the new Redbridge Council cabinet with their leader, Keith Prince. Also there were journalists, including Guardian diarist Hugh Muir, although there was no sign of the bloggers who usually follow events in the capital. Lord Victor Adebowale was a strong contender from the second chamber.

My training paid off and I survived two circuits of the track, although I didn't follow the hardiest performers down a long hill - reasoning that I would need to cycle back up it again. The whole event was compered by former councillor and local historian, Peter Lawrence.

Over a buffet lunch the guest speakers voiced a common hope that cycling would become more mainstream. in the last eight years the number of cyclists in London has more than doubled and Boris - declaring himself a cycling fanatic - is determined to press on with policies to encourage more bike use in the capital.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Bank Holiday - East London Cut Off

On Thursday I met the mayor, along with John Biggs who represents the City & East constituency. On the agenda was the disruption caused by railway engineering work over the three recent bank holidays. Richard Parry from London Underground joined us and he told us they view bank holidays as a valuable opportunity. Well, so do my constituents, and they lose some of that opportunity when the rail engineers seemingly conspire to make reaching Central London almost impossible.

Recently the main line into Liverpool Street has been closed over long weekends, presumably for Olympic related work at Stratford. The inconvenience is compounded because the District Line to Upminster is also closed - for rail replacement - and so is the JubileeLine to Stratford - for the ongoing resignalling - and the Docklands Light Railway - for train lengthening. John described how residents in the Isle of Dogs felt completely marooned.

Because the Central Line has remained open residents of Redbridge have an alternative option for getting into town, as do residents of Havering to some extent. Network Rail have taken advantage of this situation by running their replacement bus service to Newbury Park rather than Stratford. Using this service from Ilford leaves the suspicion that you are being taken even further out of your way and a Central Line breakdown would leave no way to get into London at all.

The Mayor assured us that the worst is over on the Jubilee and DLR at least. Work will increase capacity on the Jubilee by 25% and on the DLR by 50% so the view is that a degree of pain now will be worthwhile in future. Unfortunately the work on the District Line is more open ended and nobody knew about Network Rail's activities. London Underground did reassure us that they would seek to coordinate their work more sensitively in future.