LondonUnlocked

Interviews | Fiyaz Mughal

InterviewsEditor

Fiyaz MughalFiyaz Mughal is a Liberal Democrat candidate running for the nomination to be the Party's candidate for Mayor of London. His campaign commitment is to build a London 'based on these four pillars: fairness, social and financial equality, localism and community cohesion'.

Fiyaz was kind enough to answer LondonUnlocked's questionnaire. These are the same questions which are being posed to eah candidate running for the nomination, and the position of Mayor itself, providing a searchable archive of the various candidates views.

Fiyaz's views on London's transport are robust and well thought out and we believe that he is certainly a candidate who can offer a great deal to this important debate.

  • Personal:

    Firstly, how do you travel in to work on an average week?

    I walk into work where I can and this is about 4 times a week. I am lucky as my work is only about 2 miles from where I live in North London. If I worked in Central London, then I would certainly take public transport since it is easier, less congested than the roads and frankly less stressful.

    If you own a car, what model is it? How often do you use it?

    I own a Peugeot 206 (1055cc) and I also own and cycle occasionally though like any other cyclist, I find London’s roads daunting and threatening.

    What is your current view of the London transport network?

    The London Transport Network needs to be looked at with covered cycle paths and walking trains being at the heart of them. Not only are these healthy alternatives, they also help to reduce congestion and many will use them if they feel safe and if they receive information whilst using them. For example, there are no specific walkways for walking trains for those parents who want to walk with their children to school and there are no information signs stating how many minutes the destination is. We also need to open up some of London’s waterways like at Fleet which will further enhance the beauty of London and give people scenic spots to walk to work on. Allied to this, the Thames should seriously be looked at as a transport method to get people to work and I am afraid that we have not utilised the massive opportunities that the Thames provides in getting people across the City.

    Mayoral Campaign:

    Why would London be best served by you being Mayor?

    I think that my vision and manifesto for London best serves this question. They can be found here and here.

    What are your transport priorities for London?

    The first priority is to renegotiate the wasteful contracts that TfL is currently engaged in. I do not believe we should be blaming PPP in principle for practical failures, but we can renegotiate it to operate more in Londoners’ favour. I would also seek to see what lessons can be learnt from the dramatic improvement that has taken place in London Buses over the last seven years – which has been achieved without the addition of a vast new bureaucracy. The medium-to-long term priorities absolutely have to have an environmental focus. It is simply not an option to just expand the networks we have and keep the bare bones of our current system. As the population continues to rise we risk becoming one of the most gridlocked and polluted cities on earth. We have to focus less on the current positions – “Cars”, “Freight”, “Tubes” – and more on the process. That means getting Londoners from A to B cheaply and in comfort, and that will almost certainly involve far stronger measures against the use of cars as transportation in both inner and outer London, because they are simply the least numerically and environmentally efficient form of transport there is. But the environmental priorities must have a positive flipside, must offer a realistic alternative to car transport, and that is where innovation will come in.

    What would you like your legacy to be for London's transport future?

    I would like our notion of transport to enter a phase of revolution over the next five years. We can do it differently – transport can involve more exciting, healthy and less stressful journeys, and it doesn’t have to be the one part of London life that all Londoners dread. Ken’s approach has been a very down-to-earth one of tackling decades of under-investment in the tube, and I respect that. The tube will always be at the heart, culturally and logistically, of London transport. But we can build on it with a more innovative approach to what the whole concept of transport can mean – commuting by waterway, bike and electric car pools, better and safer cycling networks, dedicated bus roads that simply don’t allow old-fashioned car traffic to get in the way of the proportionately higher number of commuters on public transport. I would like to see transport plans fostering innovation and inventiveness among Londoners themselves. It only needs one bright Londoner to invent the waterbourne equivalent of the commuter scooter and we open up the potential of the canals as routes!

    Current Transport Policy:

    What is your view of the Mayor's transport plan?

    The plan encapsulates much important research, and the framework in which the policies are placed is carefully worked out – to a fault. In many ways it is a good beginning. I think there are several problems with the plan, which fall into the categories of (1) overall direction and (2) implementation. The key examples of problems with direction is an insufficiently environmental emphasis, and the fact that much of the onus on encouraging alternative means of transport is put onto employers. City Hall has itself carried out a model consultation and set up its own transport plan for employees, in the hope that their example will be followed. But employers are not going to respond to a moral demand that they take action – they need incentives and/or an explanation of how this will benefit their business. One example of a problem with implementation is that the boroughs are insufficiently funded to carry out the substantial portions of the strategy that fall into their remit. One alternative source of funding cited in the GLAA 1999 are borough surpluses from their parking management businesses. This unfortunate piece of earmarking has resulted in a culture of targets within borough parking management and there have been notorious examples of unfairness in treatment of members of the public and their vehicles.

    Are you happy with the Olympic transport plan?

    The first version of the plan published this month makes substantial improvements on the consultation document of a year ago. It does make a real effort to address the concerns raised by the House of Commons Transport Committee’s Reports. Most pleasing is the renewed emphasis on encouraging spectators to use pedestrian and cycle routes to access the games in the shape of a “Active Spectator Programme” although I think it remains to be seen whether this will translate effectively into a legacy. I still think however that the whole plan could have been more profitably approached with the potential of water transport at its heart. This seems a pretty obvious focus given the environment of the Olympic site, and it would have been a good basis for developing both an impressive spectacle during the games and an easily maintained legacy after it. In general, although I share the common concern about the short time margins now remaining, I have faith in the Liberal Democrat members of the Greater London Assembly and in the Transport Select Committee to keep up the scrutiny on the plan. We won’t achieve our transport aims without continuing constructive criticism and the 2012 team do seem to respond to that.

    What would like visitors to the Olympics to see when they arrive in London?

    I think the most favourable impression we could give is that we have integrated the Olympics into the heart of London life – not just physically and in terms of surrounding environment, although that is important, but in terms of our sense of occasion and community. I would like visitors who may have heard of London being dangerous, unfriendly and polluted to be pleasantly surprised by the positive benefits of the games on the whole community. The worst thing, and a sign that the “legacy” aim of the games had failed, would be if the Olympics area were perceived as a silo of prosperity in an un- integrated area.

    What is your view on the public sector taking the lead in funding transport projects in the future given the Metronet crisis?

    On a broad level, I think there are very legitimate concerns over the contradictions in TfL’s role if they take on certain projects themselves. They will then be auditing their own work in the form of their own Annual Report, which cannot be in the public interest. Historical problems also pertain regarding their past record in managing their workforce to avoid strike action, and they will need to be seen to have a firm strategy in place to prevent disputes from escalating if they are to retain public confidence. The proposal for TfL to take the lead in funding also rides roughshod over the common-sense notion that a single entity – whether private or public – should be in charge of trains, tracks, signals and all on any one piece of the network. The current situation where these things are farmed out separately is nonsensical, the Tim O’Toole has indicated that this will continue to be the case if TfL does move in to certain areas of the network.

    What is your view on CrossRail?

    CrossRail is much needed and especially as we move towards the 2012 Olympics and it will link Farringdon in the City of London with Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf. It will mean that more people will use public transport instead of vehicles though I am worried that businesses in London who will be hit with Supplementary Business Rates to raise finance for CrossRail. Many businesses are not aware of the future impact on them and further still, rising costs with CrossRail mean that post 2010, projects including the West London Tram, Phase 2 of the East London Line extension to Clapham Junction, the extension to the Croydon Tramlink, the DLR extension to Barking and Dagenham – will all need to be renegotiated. Furthermore, the Evening Standard (10/10/07) reported that the Government had handed to Transport for London, the whole management of the CrossRail project. It now becomes vital that TfL manages CrossRail’s costs to deliver the project on time and within budget. The omens are not encouraging when TfL’s debts (£900 million) to the Metronet Administrator are considered.

    Transport and Security:

    What security measures would you like to put in place on London's transport network?

    I would like to see rail cabin guards and guards on the Underground. More and more, Londoners want to stay out longer, especially from Thursday to Sunday nights. Women want to feel safe and know that they can get onto the Tube system say at 11 pm and that the train that they will be travelling in will have a guard to assist in the case of an emergency.

    Road Transport:

    What is your view of the Mayor's plan to take cars out of certain areas of central London?

    I am fully supportive of all such measures as I believe our current road traffic system is unsustainable both in environmental terms and in terms of liveable communities. However, that does mean the onus is on the Mayor to show that viable alternatives are available, and that means more than just increasing the frequency of buses. People are used to being able to travel whenever they want, as fast as they want, and above all they are used to shopping quickly and conveniently. If we can replicate these things, both through improved transport and other community improvements like viable local sources of goods, we will obviate the need for car use in London.

    What is your position on the Congestion Charge?

    I support the congestion charge in principle and believe it has played an important part in at least maintaining the current levels of traffic flow. I have read the Bow Report’s findings that the charge’s profits have been misreported. I am not altogether convinced by these findings as they are based on the assertion that capital expenditure should be deducted from the profit figure. That may be true from an accounting point of view, but if the capital expenditure has been on infrastructure improvement, as the profits of the charge were meant to be, I do not see why they should not be claimed as “profits” for the purposes of telling the public how much investment is being made. However, I recognise this does need to be looked into more carefully.

    What is your view on using containerisation to reduce the number of vehicles travelling into central London for deliveries?

    I welcome this though there are additional costs related to storage and the infrastructure and holding facilities will also need further outlays, so there will be an initial increase in financial costs. Central London still needs a reduction in vehicular traffic and especially when there are large vehicles going into the heart of London. I would therefore look at such an option.

    The Environment:

    How do you intend to tackle the issue of climate change whilst balancing this with London's transport needs?

    For me, the two are interlinked. We have a unique opportunity in London to remake our conception of transport. I would pursue strong anti-car measures such as green bus lanes and improvements to the cycling network, and also introduce a stepped element to the congestion charge based on carbon emissions. But we need to provide a carrot to balance the stick. There must be a positive vision of how enjoyable and liveable London would be if the transport system was fundamentally changed.

    Do you believe that it is the role of the Mayor of London to make deals with other countries/cities around the world for cheaper petrol/bio-fuel etc?

    The answer to this is yes, though I would limit such a power to negotiating bio-fuel use and the last thing that the Mayor should be doing is flooding the City with cheap petroleum fuel. Whilst, I understand that nobody wants to pay more for petrol, the whole point of the financial levies raised on this energy source is to get people to use public transport and not their vehicles. I would also like to see the Mayor promoting electric vehicles more and the Mayor should also link up with manufacturers to look at ways as to how the vehicles can be better targeted to Londoners and whether price reductions can be introduced to Londoners.

    Transport Planning/The Future:

    Would you continue with the Mayor's transport plan if elected?

    I would keep much of the overall shape with regard to sustainability, but I think any Liberal Democrat would say that the whole plan needs to be shifted towards more environmental concerns. It is frankly a mixed message to say on the one hand that healthier modes of transport should be encouraged on the other that car journey times must be brought down. The team that put together the strategy have not made the basic mental shift towards the future – as a society we are simply going to have to come up with more attractive alternatives than the current road system, and in a city where alternatives are possible, these should be pursued at all costs.

    Looking at schemes such as Poma's cable cars, MonoMetro's urban monorails, and Skyweb's Sky Taxis, all of which have been implemented in urban environments around the world, would you be prepared to look at such systems as a way to compliment the current London transport network?

    All systems are worth considering on their own merits, and I would not rule anything out. Innovative schemes like these are likely to be right at the heart of the forward-looking London I would like to create; it is one of the world’s great cities and its appearance ought to reflect that. But these solutions – like any other – ought to be considered within the context of London’s transport needs, and not adopted as an expensive flagship project that solves a limited number of zone 1 problems. At this stage, I can see the Sky Taxi system being the most profound and radical shift in transportation methods as it would, if implemented widely enough, obviate much of the need for cars. But these are very long term questions and it is all speculative without further study.

    What steps, if any, would you take in involving the public in transport decisions that affect London?

    I have gathered some disturbing evidence that TfL consultation surveys are not giving people the choices they are supposed to. The pattern seems to be that TfL draw up a plan, spell out the positives, then ask the public whether or not they agree with it, and the response is unsurprisingly supportive. There is little opportunity for the public to actually respond with queries on small points that may affect the areas in which they live or work. The Cross River Tram survey published in September 2007 is a good example. The rubric stated that the main advantage of the planned route was that it was “quickest/most direct”. Among the positive respondents (77%) a large number unsurprisingly stated that the main advantage of the route was that it was the quickest and most direct! Later questions dealt with the proposed tramline through Aldgate, where there has been controversy surrounding TfL’s decision not to use the old tramway tunnel but to build a new terminal, which will cause the bus-stops outside Aldgate station to be relocated making the walk between transport links longer. The questions do not give the respondent any opportunity to ask about this and simply ask whether or not they agree that the tram line should go through Aldgate. There is a better way to gather this sort of data and get Londoners involved with transport decisions. Obviously balanced surveys have their place to consult with the public on general strategic direction. But we could supplement them by Consultation Points at transport hubs explaining what a particular plan will mean for that location in terms of appearance, improved links etc – perhaps these points could be supplied with indelible markers and a whiteboard, or suggestion boxes. I see a role for a transport regulator similar to OFWAT and OFCOM, dealing solely with London transport. This would reassure Londoners than independent standards are being applied to their transport systems and give them a higher authority to which they can address their concerns – I could foresee the complaints system within London Buses and London Underground improving dramatically if this was effected!

    Once again, we would like to thank Fiyaz for taking part in our survey of candidates, and to wish him well for the race.