Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Boris Johnson has a long 'way to go' on transport

Boris Johnson today revealed the first draft of his draft Transport Strategy, to be later re-drafted again, before the final draft is re-drafted in the drafty winter of next year.

Ordinarily today would be a day to bury bad news, but for Boris this appears to be a day to bury non news. That is, the non news which is his revised transport plans.

There's a fair amount of dog-whistling in there of course. Talk about the 'persecution' and 'oppression' of motorists, and the 'vindictive' £25 congestion charge.

There are also the obligatory Borisisms about 'beached' whale buses, 'sheep-dip-style railings' and 'scud' missile-style pot holes.

Hide and Seek

But whereas your ordinary shepherd would stand at the brink of the hill and wait for the dogs to run to his whistle, our own shepherd is intent on leaping into the nearest hedge.

So while he speaks in one breath about the "unconscionable" length of traffic light phasings, in the next breath he praises "the pedestrian-friendly phasing of the traffic lights."

And while he praises at one turn the huge increase in bus use, at the next he criticises the saturation of London's roads by those same buses.

So this is not so much the Blairite-style triangulation described by Tony Travers, as the Borisite-style political incoherence described by Christian Wolmar.

Now as far as actions are concerned, Boris's first few months have seen clear reversals in the drive to shift people from cars to public transport.

New transport infrastructure plans have been filed away, and motorists have been let loose.

But when it comes to selling that to the people, Boris is unsure whether to pose as Ken or as 'Kennite' and whether to scrap Peter Hendy or the Bendies. 

Let's hope he works out his identity crisis before he is forced to draft the final transport draft next year.

First Reactions


Jenny Jones (press release) said...

"This document aims to outline the London Mayor’s future priorities for spending a £36 billion budget. It is good journalism, but poor policy making. I welcome the fact that he has pledged to continue with a set of transport projects which where already in place before he was elected mayor, but there are no big innovations which will benefit London’s environment, or make it a more affordable city. Schemes like the cycle corridors, the Velib style bike hire and hybrid buses, were already in the pipeline.”

“It is the gaps in the new transport document which are most telling. There is no mention of the increased pollution that could be created by the abolition of the mid year inspections for taxis, or by the increased number of buses if the mayor goes ahead with the replacing bendy buses. There is no mention of the mayor having scrapped probably the biggest hydrogen vehicle purchase in Europe. He has also scrapped the £25 charge for gas guzzlers, whilst announcing above inflation fare rises. Whatever the mayor claims, it is clear that public transport passengers will be paying more, whilst drivers will pay less.”

Val Shawcross (Labour press release) said...

"This is a huge disappointment for London's travelling public. In his six months as Mayor this drivel is all Boris has managed to come up with.

"Any serious transport strategy for London would include a commitment to additional major transport schemes and a clear aim to shift people from private cars to public transport, walking and cycling.

"He talks about investing in major projects yet only lists a few schemes, Crossrail for example, which were underway before he was elected. There is no discussion of how transport will support economic regeneration in London. He avoids any discussion of the proposed Cross River Tram, the Thames Gateway Bridge, the Docklands Light Railway, transit schemes, or the Croydon Tramlink extensions. He is indecisive and dithers on the congestion charge.

"There is nothing about how the Mayor will encourage people onto public transport, but plenty about giving back road space and speeding up traffic lights in favour of the 'oppressed' motorist. He is openly hostile about children using the bus service. He seems to have no view on which areas of London are currently lacking in good, fast transport links and there is no attempt to indicate where he feels public transport passengers are particularly disadvantaged. There is no linkage in this document to any plans for an economic or housing growth plan for London. Creating the links between people's homes and jobs should be fundamental to any transport strategy.

"He talks briefly about clean air but suggests no mechanism for ensuring that London has a clear and decisive programme to reduce pollution and carbon dioxide from traffic.

"This document represents a shocking failure to understand the importance of transport to Londoners and fails on every single level to provide London with a 'direction of Travel' on our future transport needs. It is utter drivel."

Chris said...

Calling it drivel might be going a bit too far, but it is true that there is very little new here. He has banked stuff like Crossrail which is already committed to and will reverse a couple of things which have already been done. It's hardly an inspiring start.

Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem press release) said...

“There is much to welcome in Way To Go, but it is alarming that key projects like the Cross River Tram and DLR extensions are dismissed as ‘political’ when they have a strong business case and would regenerate disadvantaged communities at a time of economic downturn.

“I find it very odd indeed that a Tory Mayor moans that there is no government funding to deliver these projects instead of looking for private sector funding or enterprising business groups who believe they can make a profitable business out of them.

“We absolutely support the Mayor’s war on chaotic street works, his wish to rid our streets of the clutter of signs and railings, and his enthusiasm for bikes. We look forward to real action on the bike hire scheme which we proposed back in 2001.

“The document is an elegant and entertaining essay by Boris, but we still await his detailed Mayor’s Strategy, as this is perilously thin on specific proposals. It shows Boris still has a way to go before he has anything approaching a worked-out set of proposals for a revised Transport Strategy.”

Anonymous said...

No sign of La Gilligan then? Shouldn't he be commenting on such an important day as this?

The Troll said...

He's too busy trying to find himself.

Tom said...

Perhaps he's having trouble remembering all his usernames and passwords?

Andrew Hodges said...

Suffer all you oppressive bullies. I am moving out of the UK because of the horrible transportation issues all brought upon all these freaking tree huggers!

I can't stand the purposely slowed down traffic and Boris knows this. Let's speed up traffic and get some people OFF the trains so that they are not so FULL!!!

prj45 said...

"After all, the advantage of a hop-on, hop-off platform is that you can decide on the spur of the moment that you like the look of the weather or the scenery or the shops, and opt to walk"

IIRC it was frowned upon (probaly forbidden) to hop on and off between stops. Good conductors blocked the back so it couldn't be done, and were instructed to do so.

prj45 said...

"That means zapping, one by one, the baffling posts that have sprouted in the pavements for reasons that no one can quite remember"

Er, they are to stop cars and trucks fully mounting the pavement. If he walked around the city he would see many of them are at a jaunty angle after being side swiped.

prj45 said...

"But I am the first to admit that some cyclists do not go out of their way to earn the admiration of other Londoners. They jump the lights. They go the wrong way down one-way streets. They mount the pavements and terrify pedestrians. If we are going to do so much more to encourage cycling – and we are – then cyclists must understand that I will encourage – with my policing hat on – whatever steps are possible and necessary to crack down on aggressive cycling."

Ha ha! Was he wearing his policing hat when he jumped red lights, rode on pavements and barrelled through pedestrians on his mobile phone?!?

The Troll said...

"I am moving out of the UK because of the horrible transportation issues all brought upon all these freaking tree huggers!"

Good luck with that.

"I can't stand the purposely slowed down traffic and Boris knows this. Let's speed up traffic and get some people OFF the trains so that they are not so FULL!!!"

Hey calm down, you're leaving. We'll figure it out.

Anonymous said...

Well yes indeed, bus conductors were supposed to strongly discourage people from hopping on and off between stops, which meant physically preventing it (if they could) or giving people an ear-full if they couldn't. Boris is sailing very close to the wind if he's saying that he's going to bring in a new bus that allows you to get on and off between stops, and writing the rule-book for the conductors on the "21st century Routemaster" will be a very interesting process.

Anonymous said...

Here's an amusing take on Boris' transport policies.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this ought to be on BorisWatch, but I find that I cannot post to BorisWatch from the location where I am now (the "post" button disappears).

Someone commenting on BorisWatch raises the question of the motorway box. This is interesting. The motorway box was officially scrapped in 1973 but then no-one quite knew what to do. One of the reasons that Labour lost the GLC elections in 1977 was that it hadn't put into place a real alternative. The scrapping of the motorway box was a decisive decision: it meant that London was going to be built around public transport and not the private car. But very few politicians realised that they had to spend on cycling and public transport some of the money saved by scrapping the motorway box (which would have cost billions and billions of pounds).

Livingstone came closest to understanding this, and so we had the beginnings of a long-term vision for public transport. Clearly Boris doesn't understand this. LCC and GLC engineers worked on the motorway plans for years, even though there was no approved funding. Even when central government in 1969 dropped clear hints that it wasn't going to fund motorways in London the GLC carried on developing the plans, and taking them to public enquiries. Boris however drops public transport schemes at the slightest suggestion that funding might be difficult.


The Troll said...

You are of course more than welcome over here Guano. You can't trust that lot at Boris Watch you know ;)

It is an interesting parallel and one which Boris clearly doesn't grasp. he was talking yesterday about Livingstone 'deceiving' Londoners into believing that there is 'magic money' that there just isn't, but in reality the magic money only comes if you put in the work for it.

Boris's abandonment of these projects will mean that central government will pass London over for investment which may otherwise have gone our way.

But ultimately investment will only come if there is a clear vision of where that money will lead to. Under Livingstone, that vision (love it or hate it) was clear. Under Boris it clearly isn't.

Anonymous said...

The 1973 decision to scrap the motorway box was a turning point: London would have to be built around public transport and non-motorised transport. But it has always seemed to me that here were substantial sections of the population who had difficulty coming to terms with that: there is always a hope somewhere in a corner of their mind that someone can come up with a way in which they can drive around London when and where they want. The dog-whistles in Boris' discourse try to tap into that. Livingstone is disliked because his strategies have as their starting point that this isn't possible.

The motorway plans for London kept on being developed for 20 years before anyone added up the costs and said that it wasn't possible. It was wishful thinking writ large. A public transport project is usually scrapped at the first sign of difficulty.