TfL's Boss?

Articles, LondonUnlockedEditor

200809091041.jpgAndrew Gilligan writes in the Standard about Mayor Johnson's failure thus far to reform TfL:

The real problem is not that Boris has kept Ken's 2009 fares plan but that he has, so far, left almost everything else about Livingstone's TfL intact, too. It's a problem because TfL is the Ed Balls of public administration: nothing like as good as it thinks it is.

It genuinely believes, in the words of its commissioner, Peter Hendy, that it is an “efficient and effective” provider of bus and train services.

In fact, under Livingstone and Hendy's stewardship, it has achieved the worst of all worlds: rapacious fares, vast public subsidy and often mediocre service.

The article continues:

Less than a year ago, as further leaked emails show, Mr Hendy was secretly plotting with Ken's chief of staff to “refute Boris's transport ideas”. Now, in a truly gymnastic feat of brown-nosing, he has apparently persuaded the new Mayor that his sole purpose in life is to implement those very same ideas.

It's surprising that someone as bright as Boris can fall for this obvious nonsense.

These are harsh words from Mr Gilligan, who has been named in the past as one of the Mayor's "media cheerleaders" (albeit in partisan publications). However, they also reflect the frustration felt by many Londoners at the fact that TfL remains unreformed.

Dave Hill, in his excellent Guardian London blog, suggests that Mr Johnson has in fact "gone native". With Tim Parker's departure and a greater hands-on role being played in the running of the city by the Mayor, there may be something to this.

Sir Simon Milton, now Boris Johnson's de-facto chief-of-staff (as he seems to like to call himself) interviewed in the Standard yesterday paints a slightly different picture - one of a mayoralty slowly finding its feet. As he comments in the profile piece, “It's fair to say that until now we've not had the cohesion we'd have liked, but we're on the road to changing that.”

We've written at length about the challenges facing the Mayor when looking to transport, and of some of the possible solutions.

What is clear is that a narrative of purpose exists in transport policy-making at present, though it's presence may not be immediately obvious to Londoners. Our discussions with senior City Hall officials confirm that "managing and decreasing congestion" are of high priority to the transport team. Perhaps team-Boris should try to explain their focus better?

However, what remains to be seen is what zeal the Mayor has for reform. TfL remains largely unchallenged since Boris Johnson's election, and a brush should be taken to it.

The Mayor needs the ability to stand back and look strategically at the institutions of London under his control (the role which Mr Parker was meant to be assuming), rather than being swept along in the tumultuous business of governing and then pivoting towards re-election.

His ability to manage that task may well define Mr Johnson's time as Mayor. It will certainly define transport in London for the next four years.