A leading transport commentator has said that there’s disappointingly little to choose between London’s two leading candidates for Mayor on one of the major issues facing the capital.
Christian Wolmar is one of the country’s leading transport correspondents, and was short-listed in Labour’s selection process for London Mayor last year. But he has been left underwhelmed by the announcements from the front-runners, Labour’s Sadiq Khan and the Tories’ Zac Goldsmith, who announced their proposals for Transport for London last week.
Writing for Londonist, Wolmar said, “It is a shame that the transport debate is focused on narrow financial issues. The trouble is that both candidates are playing very safe; they’re worried about hostages to fortune which in the febrile air of London politics is quite understandable, if disappointing.
“Neither manifesto highlights what could have been an emblematic policy: the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, something both candidates have said they support.
“Nor is there much mention of the congestion zone, the one way that serious money could be raised… The congestion charge could be increased in price — as belatedly has been supported by Boris — or extended.”
Wolmar, whose own selection campaign included an entire manifesto booklet on transport policy alone, says, “If truth be told, the London Mayor’s job is nearly all about transport.”
He writes: “It is the one area where the Mayor has direct control over a huge budget, and where policy decisions can make a real and immediate difference to Londoners’ lives.”
The policies announced last week saw Labour backing a four-year Tube fares freeze and a one-hour bus-hopper ticket, while the Conservatives offered… well, not a great deal, apart from trying to push the scare tactic that freezing Tube fares would create a £1.9 billion “black hole” in London’s finances.
“While Zac has argued this will result in the collapse of the investment programme, Sadiq responds that Mike Brown, the Transport Commissioner, has agreed his plans are deliverable,” Wolmar writes. And the implication of Goldsmith’s opposition to a fares freeze, says Wolmar, is that the Tories will continue to increase commuter costs ever more.
Goldsmith’s policy announcement contained “little detail”, Wolmar writes. “For example, if the implication of his financial policy is that he will increase fares, then by how much?”
Apart from that, “in truth, there is much in common between their two transport manifestos — much more than either would admit. Both support expanding the network through Crossrail 2, protecting the Freedom Pass (those pensioner votes are all important), supporting cycling, ensuring the introduction of the night Tube, reducing the number of strikes on the Underground, improving air quality, and opposing Heathrow expansion.
“It does not leave much for major debate,” Wolmar says.
Part of Wolmar’s summary of the transport proposals is particularly relevant to Croydon, where there remains multi-million-pound plans for major road building.
Failures in the previous Tory Mayor’s administration have indeed cost Londoners nearly £1 billion in wasted transport funding, and could see the abandonment of any new public transport infrastructure schemes across Croydon, Sutton and Wimbledon, such as a tram extension.
“What is lacking from this debate,” writes Wolmar, “is any real attempt to address the long-term role of the transport system in London. The congestion charge is a key weapon in this, enabling the Mayor to reduce traffic at the same time as raising funds. Unless there is a concerted attempt to cut the number of cars driving in London, there will be gridlock.
“Any attempt to build their way out of the problem is bound to fail, as has been demonstrated already and yet there is little in either manifesto addressing this.”
- To read Christian Wolmar’s analysis of the Tory and Labour transport proposals for Londonist in full, click here
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