This morning's Transport Committee featured a rather broad brush session with Peter Hendy and Isobel Dedring, now secure in her role of Deputy Mayor and Deputy Chairman of TfL, following a confident performance at yesterday's confirmation hearing.
With Tube problems once more in the headlines, the committee were anxious to test London Underground's readiness for the Olympics. The most important line will be the Jubilee and last night one of its trains failed in the Western section of the line. This was the result of a freak breakdown of its power unit and the backup as well. Attempts to use a second train to tow the first one clear came to nothing as that train became stuck as well! LU made the difficult decision to walk over 750 passengers along the tunnels to daylight.
Peter assured us that the passengers involved would receive refunds and that a repetition of this event was most unlikely during the Games. TfL has signed up to a 14 point plan aimed at reducing Tube delays by 30%. As well as better maintenance and investment the plan features innovative elements such as the blue light emergency response vehicles now driven by LU engineers. In future when passengers are taken ill on trains they will be moved more quickly so that the service can resume.
Despite continuing poor industrial relations it was some years since the Tube had suffered a complete shutdown. The recent Tubelines strikes had very little effect on passengers and staff had now returned to the negotiating table.
Labour members were keen to prove the existence of the mythical 'surplus' that Ken planned to use to cut fares. Peter admitted that there were underspends on the capital projects but these were deferred costs rather than savings. For example Crossrail had experienced delays in aquiring some property, but it still needed to be bought so the underspend was temporary and couldn't be used to cut fares.
Darren Johnson suggested increasing the congestion charge to provide an income stream but other members were not enthusiastic.
TfL were making a strong case for Government funding for Crossrail 2, based on the need to boost the economy with vital infrastructure projects. High Speed 2 would - after its extension to Leeds - ultimately double the number of passengers at Euston Station and with the Northern and Victoria Lines already crowded, Crossrail 2 and a new Euston Station would be the only way to accommodate demand. It was envisaged that Crossrail 2 and High Speed 2 north of Birmingham would be under construction at the same time but Crossrail 1 would be complete by then so the capital could bear the disruption.
The delay to the introduction of wave and pay contactless ticketing had been caused by problems on the buses. The project would be paused for the Games then work would restart with the aim of introducing wave and pay before the end of the year.
I asked about extending the successful Oyster Card to cover rail services outside London. The Department for Transport are not keen, preferring to develop their own ITSO card. ITSO has been in development for years now and it is still more of a concept than a reality. It is used solely for Freedom Passes on Scottish bus services, which isn't much use for London commuters...
The committee were very supportive of TfL's bid to take control of suburban main line services. The improvements to London Overground demonstrated what TfL could achieve by prioritising inner city metro services, with manned stations, improved environments and new rolling stock. However politicians outside London were not convinced and worried that their constituents would suffer worse services as more trains were made to stop for stations within Greater London.
Peter said that the Mayor's pledge to bring in 600 of the new buses by 2016 was achievable. The pilot running on route 38 had proved to be very popular with almost every passenger. The exception was Jennette Arnold who hated it and no doubt missed her favourite bendy bus.
She made a good point however about the role of the conductor. Obviously he was needed to secure the open rear platform but Jennette also felt he should intervene to ensure that passengers folded buggies and left space for wheelchairs and older users. Peter agreed, indeed there is a role for bus drivers here too - performed brilliantly by some but not at all by others.
With 80% of journeys using the road network, TfL were implementing a much needed 'congestion busting' plan. The committee awaits the results eagerly...
We also plan to review the operation of the new 'Cabbie Cabinet' as well as progress on the East London river crossings, particularly the new Greenwich to Silvertown Tunnel. More detailed sessions will be held with expert witnesses but this was a good broad brush start to the new term.