Tag Archives: TfL

Speaking up

 

I realise that to be surprised by over-reactions in social media is akin to expressing shock at the rising of the sun each morning but I must admit I have been a little taken aback by some of the sentiments on my timeline in relation to the tube strikes. A lot of it centres on Bob Crow. His media image, which I think in part he plays up to, certainly allows for him to be a conveniently pugnacious caricature of a union boss.  For the media there is a vaudevillian fairground wrestling aspect to a match up of Crow v Johnson. The Black Crow v The Blonde Bombhsell. (An image I wish I hadn’t conjured as I fear my dreams will now be haunted by these two men in leotards grappling like greased pigs.)

 

It is remarkable that the situation has been allowed to deteriorate to where we are at present and to some extent this represents a failing on both sides. However, the Union is using the power that it holds to cause public inconvenience in an attempt to bring Johnson and Tfl to the table to negotiate. Given the asymmetries in power this tactic is understandable. 

 

Boris has painted the process by which the strike was called undemocratic. The irony in him saying this having been elected on a similar turnout should not be lost on people. In some of his utterances on the strike I think we have seen that once there is a scratch to the carefully cultivated veneer of amiable, Woosterish buffoonery we see his true Thatcherite colours.

 

In London Johnson has presided over cuts to the police and fire service despite election promises that this would not happen. This strike was precipitated by his desire to close all ticket offices despite previous pledges to keep them all open. The resulting loss in jobs represents a hefty chunk of the membership of the two unions on strike.  In my view they are duty bound to protect those workers interests and I do not believe this was a decision they will have entered into lightly.

 

I believe that this form of representation is vitally important in our democracy. Increasingly, as party memberships decline we need people to come together to ensure their voices are heard. Unions are a part of this. What we normally see is those with the wherewithal being able to shout the loudest and ensure their voices are heard by their representatives. The unions were established to give a voice to those who had been marginalised. This role remains but they are not the only outlet for this.

 

The other night I went to the pre-election meeting held by St Mary’s Park councillors. The topics were varied, touching on everything from dog mess (not literally) to affordable housing.  I was pleased that the council seem to be moving away from the misguided notion of removing the traffic barrier at the end of Battersea High Street thereby creating a rat run.

 

What was noticeable about this decision was that the councillors distanced themselves from the decision after vocal opposition from local residents who had attended the meeting to let their displeasure at the plan be known. The power of a small part of the local community working together was impressive.

 

For me though there was a stand out moment to the meeting. A teenager,Virgilio, from the local Surrey Lane estate, spoke to the meeting and asked for support from the councillors and the community to make sure the estate’s playpen was fit for purpose. Virgilio had come as part of the Surrey Lane People’s organization, a local community group. It was refreshing to see this group bring in local residents to this forum who may not have attended in the past.  For too long it has been too easy for local representatives to ignore these citizens’ concerns if they are not involved in the processes of local democracy such as this meeting and voting in local elections. Unions provided (and still do) a vital way for workers to make their voice heard and progress their interests. These sorts of citizens organizations can do the same for local residents in often historically marginalised communities.

 

Local politics needs more groups like this if representative democracy is going to function as it should. The more that people from all across our society feel sufficiently involved and enfranchised then the better our society will be. At the next local meeting it would be great to hear from residents of Badric Court or Totteridge House similarly speaking up for their area and making sure their issues resonate as they should with those who are supposed to represent them.

 

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On the buses

As I grew intoxicated by the liberally applied Lynx of my literal bosom buddy for the bus journey to Victoria this morning I found myself wondering about the future of our bus network in London. As a result of sustained investment the buses in London are now widely used and generally provide a good and valuable service. Whilst it did not feel like it in the febrile sardine tin that is the 170 in rush hour, London as a whole is well served by its bus network. However, there is a risk that the current lack of forward planning for the buses means that olfactory assaults such as the one I suffered this morning become the norm for the London bus commute.  

The benefits of buses have already been widely noted. They reduce congestion and can thereby have environmental benefits. They are vital to the economic performance of the city and also are important in terms of social justice as they tend to serve more deprived areas more widely than other transport services.

Why then is the bus network so often overlooked in favour of more glamorous transport solutions? It is a vital component of any plan for transport in London and yet the Mayor does not appear to have any cogent plan for its development. Rather, Boris has spent £15.5 million and £6 million per annum on his cable car project. Although, in fairness, as empty, corporate sponsored vessels they do serve as an apt metaphor for so much of his tenure as Mayor.

Boris’ flagship move with the buses has been to introduce new routemasters at a cost of over £11 million. These buses also require a bus conductor to man them at a cost of £63,000 per annum per vehicle. To spend these sums of money and not increase the capacity of the bus network is absurd. To prioritise aesthetics over practical solutions is to place style over substance.

With an increasing population the pressures on the bus network are going to grow considerably. TfL predicts an increase of 7% in bus passenger journeys. If investment in the bus network is not carefully managed then we will find that the service will deteriorate from the current levels whereby the users of the service are largely satisfied. 

At present however subsidies are likely to be cut. This decrease in funding is likely to result in further increases in fares and examination of cost cutting measures. Fares have already risen by 57% on Boris’ watch. As the bus is generally used by those on lower incomes, with around two-thirds of all bus trips made by Londoners whose annual household income is less than £25,000 compared to one-third of all rail trips, then any fare increase predominantly falls on those least able to afford it.

Cost cutting measures could impact on the ‘concessionary’ age groups, namely school age children and adults over 65, and the availability of free travel to these groups. This would impact the important social role of buses. The intangible benefits of increasing the mobility of the elderly and the young should not be overlooked. The other obvious area in which cost cutting measures could be implemented is by maintain a downward pressure on staff costs. If this is not carefully managed it could result in problems with staff retention and impact on the quality of the service offered. 

The worry is that without a cohesive plan the ability of the bus network to meet more demand with less money is seriously damaged. This will have deleterious social and economic consequences. It is vital that the Mayor does not overlook the bus network and develops a policy that priorities expanding capacity of the bus network in the most cost efficient way. Grand gestures such as the new routemaster are a complete red herring. Sadly the signs are not promising. There are plans in place for river transport but none for the bus network. Boris’ commitment to showmanship rather than solutions could cost the capital dear.

Links:
http://londonist.com/2013/05/new-bus-for-london-cost-revealed.php

http://www.if.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/No_Entry_final_report_definitive.pdf

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-15035471

http://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Bus%20Services%20in%20London%20Report%2C%20Transport%20Committee_0.pdf