Christian Wolmar: Widen the Transport Debate

Articles, Election 2008, LondonUnlockedEditor

Christian Wolmar has an excellent article in Comment Is Free about the propensity for London's transport debate during the election to focus on issues such as bendy-buses whilst the larger issues of PPP are almost ignored:

Bringing back the Routemaster is simply not realistic. There may be better alternatives to bendy buses, such as conventional double-deckers with more doors and fewer seats downstairs, but the main point is that there are far bigger matters at play in the election. The most pressing issue facing the successful candidate is what to do about the failure of the massive Metronet public-private partnership contract, and yet this has hardly featured in the discussions.

Mr Wolmar is entirely correct in his analysis.

Ken Livingstone has recently wrung some savings out of Bombadier by renegotiating their contract for supplying trains to the Victoria Line. This tact, of tighter contracts and better management, is Boris Johnson's pledged approach to running the network. Of course, how much of his plans are feasible remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Brian Paddick, increasingly slipping in the polls, offers the only radical option for the old Metronet lines - to run them as concession models. This policy has proven legs, but is chastised by the Mayor and ignored by Mr Johnson.

What is clear, as Tony Travers has argued before, is that a Boris Johnson mayorality would be strikingly similar in transport terms to Ken Livingstone's - on the big issues in any case. Being Mayor is a big job, and it is excusable for Mr Johnson to offer the electorate the same services with better management whilst he finds his feet.

However, if he is successful in his goal to become Mayor he must work quickly to ensure that London doesn't see a return to the fixed and bloated contracts which brought down Metronet and caused the taxpayer huge expense. A serious insurgent candidate should have already made plans for such an eventuality.

It would reassure many Londoners if Mr Johnson was to give a glimpse behind that curtain, and prove that there is far more to him than the "son of Routemaster."