In just under two years time, Londoners will elect another Mayor. They'll probably re-elect Sadiq Khan for a second term... unless the Conservatives can pick a candidate with charisma and policies that appeal. They've started looking very early.
Nominations opened last month, attracting a dozen would-be Tory Mayors, but no big names. A number of high profile figures from the right of the political spectrum had been approached, but declined, leading to a longlist of ten lesser known councillors, entrepreneurs, peers and one MP. The selection process has moved fast, and we now have a shortlist of just three, one of whom will be attempting to topple Sadiq in 653 days time.
The three are Shaun Bailey and Andrew Boff, who are currently members of the London Assembly, and Joy Morrissey who's a councillor in Ealing. Between them they tick the ethnic minority box, the LGBT box and the women's box, which helps make the party look more progressive. And they've also each been interviewed by the website Conservative Home, who asked for their views on the Mayorship, crime, housing and transport. You can read their full interviews here - [Shaun][Andrew][Joy]
This blog being what it is, I thought I'd focus solely on their thoughts on transport, because that should be illuminating enough. Meanwhile John Bull from London Reconnections ran through the entire longlist on Twitter yesterday, in a long thread you'd no doubt enjoy reading.
For many London commuters, the journey into work is often delayed or generally unpleasant. Much of this is down to a lack of investment in our transport network.
Nothing to see here. Moving on...
In the last mayoral election campaign, the current Mayor promised that Londoners “won’t pay a penny more” in transport fares. He broke this promise within his first year. Even though fares have been frozen for pay-as-you-go users, for the average commuter using a travelcard, fares have continued to rise. So not only has the Mayor broken a key election pledge, he has ensured that TfL now has a £640m blackhole in its balance sheet from lost fares revenue.
Technically Sadiq only pledged to freeze 'TfL fares', and he has, so his campaign promise was sound. But he was also disingenuous in never explaining clearly what this meant, hence a lot of people were pissed off when they discovered their travelcards and fare caps going up, and Shaun could easily capitalise on that anger. As for TfL's financial black hole, that's a very real consequence of Sadiq's four-year freeze, and whoever's Mayor in 2020 won't have the option of adopting populist policies on fares again.
Because of the poor state of TfL finances, Sadiq Khan has had to cancel an upgrade of three tube lines and has pushed back the renewal of the Tube network’s fleet of trains. If elected as Mayor, I would once again get a grip on TfL finances, as Boris Johnson once did, and increase transport investment in our network to ensure that journeys are on time and more pleasant for everyday commuters.
Project slippage is always an issue for tube projects, with squeezed finances only making several delays worse. But Shaun's assertion that Boris had a grip on TfL finances is astonishing, given his love of wasteful grand projects, and how easily he forgets the bonfire of cancelled transport projects when Boris first came to power.
The Mayor also promised that there would be “zero strikes” in office. So far, Sadiq Khan has, on average, had more strikes than any Mayor since the creation of the GLA. To break the stranglehold of the unions on London’s transport network, I would accelerate the purchasing of driverless trains.
I don't remember the last eighteen months being particularly strike-y, but Shaun will have picked his statistics carefully to ensure they're true. As for the idea that driverless trains might solve the problem, that pipedream plays well with the electorate, but even automated trains aren't staff-free, as strikes on the DLR repeatedly prove. Overall, there's not much meat here.
Khan has decimated the finances of TfL and it will require creative thinking to avoid bankruptcy.
Andrew's not mincing his words here. He's certainly the experienced pair of hands on this shortlist, having been deeply involved on the London Assembly for years, and he puts himself forward as a potential Mayoral candidate on a regular basis.
I will: Boost sponsorship on the tube;
You've lost my vote instantly there, Andrew, although I'm sure many passengers would be only too happy to prostitute the network to the highest bidder to bear down on fares.
I will: Break up TfL into its operational and investment businesses to bear down on costs;
Andrew hopes to make our public services more like private corporations. It's a common Conservative aspiration.
I will: Accelerate the introduction of driverless trains;
No. See earlier.
I will: Seek to ban Tube strikes and replace them with a compulsory mediation process involving an independent judge;
Every Mayoral candidate is always obsessed by cutting tube strikes. But banning them altogether usually proves to be one impractical step too far.
I will: Scrap free travel for partners, friends and lodgers of TfL staff;
It's generally agreed that scrapping this particular perk would save peanuts. But miserable curmudgeons are always happiest when they've stopped the 'undeserving' getting something for free.
I will: Expedite the move towards a 100% diesel-free bus fleet;
The current Mayor's already onto this one. Sounds like Andrew wants to do it rather quicker.
Khan’s battle against motorcycles will be reversed. Motorcyclists will be recognised as part of the solution to London’s congestion and air quality challenges.
The Mayor's latest Transport Strategy wants to see a move away from motorised transport, which Andrew sees as an attack on personal motorbike use, and so far Sadiq's failed to give him any reassurance this isn't the case.
Safety improvements for those who wish to cycle will continue but I believe that TfL will need to be a lot more sensitive to what residents are saying about the impact of the routes on public safety and the viability of town centres.
But Andrew doesn't appear to be siding so strongly with cyclists, the hint being that local concerns should trump cavalier projects, which'd be the death knell for many a segregated lane, quietway and traffic-calming measure.
And finally I want to be very, very clear about Heathrow. The GLA will not assist in any way the implementation of the Government’s second-rate, unambitious and environmentally destructive plans for a third runway. I will contribute however much is needed to to fight against it and present the alternatives.
That's identical to the current Mayor's position. Elsewhere in the interview, however, some significant divergence.
I want to see us speed up electrification of our city both to keep us at the forefront of technological developments as well as cleaning up our terrible air quality. We should set an ambitious target to have the entire fleet of London buses electric or zero emission. We also need to work with councils and private companies to get more charging points installed across London. At the moment they’re often heavily concentrated in the more affluent areas of central London.
Joy's number one priority is electric vehicles, particularly those for Londoners who drive. Meanwhile the Mayor already has a target for an all-electric bus fleet, although Joy clearly thinks 2037 can and should be beaten.
We also need to ensure we have taxis people can trust which are accessible for people with disabilities. We need an open and competitive playing field, welcoming entrants like Uber but ensuring drivers are vetted and properly trained and supported before being licensed, to keep both passengers and drivers safe. It’s also vital that there are always enough accessible cabs on the road and that drivers of licenced cars realise they have a responsibility to transport everyone – able-bodied or not – as part of their obligation to TfL and Londoners.
There's a fascinating disconnect between Joy's responses and those of Shaun and Andrew. They were primarily focused on public transport, whereas Joy comes from a very different car-driving, taxi-riding, Uber-hailing demographic. Is this the kind of person we want in charge at TfL?
Finally, we need to be realistic and honest about the need to invest heavily in our infrastructure. Sadiq Khan’s reckless fares freeze blew a £640 million black hole in the TfL budget that’s seen investment in track maintenance and orders for new underground trains plummet.
I think that's code for "we should put the fares up", which is indeed absolutely what whoever's Mayor in 2020 needs to do. I wonder who'll be brave enough to say so... and whether it'll make a blind bit of difference in the battle between Sadiq and whichever also-ran gets picked to oppose him at the ballot box.